The Opportunities in Opportunity Zones

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is 1,097 pages long, an undeniably lengthy read. Who the heck has time to read it? However, if you mustered up the energy and found the time to read (or skim an online summary), you discovered that the bill included the Investing in Opportunity Act, and subsequently the Opportunity Zone program.

Aimed to revitalize economically distressed communities, the Opportunity Zone program seeks private investments in exchange for capital gain tax incentives. Former Department of Homeland Security Cyber Director, Mike Echols, is looking beyond the financial gains. He has an eye on an opportunity to educate and empower impoverished communities while aligning them with future employment opportunities. With that in mind, he created Cyber Secure Zones (CSZ).

Cyber Secure Zones

Cyber Secure Zones are designated and active cybersecurity enhancement zones that are guided by strong leadership, flexible partnerships and a set of desired outcomes supporting a “Culture of Cybersecurity.” A CSZ incorporate existing community infrastructure, government and public private cooperation to create economic development opportunities for CSZ residents. Most importantly, CSZs take advantage of the projected one-million-person shortage of cybersecurity professionals by 2022.    

Implementation is the key. CSZs will engage and partner with at least one national company, such as Microsoft, Dell, Attivo, or IBM, that can support the training center, provide adequate training capabilities, and foster a real workforce development environment. Based on research findings, community members will be taught skills that have been identified by employers as “desired.” A first step to meeting the projected talent shortage.

Additionally, a Congressional report advised that small businesses fail within six months after discovering they have had a breach. Small business is the engine of local economies. As such, local businesses in CSZ will learn to handle personally identifiable information and manage the cyber risks that threaten their businesses daily. Local business can build cyber resilience though training, reduced victimization and ever-growing community partnerships.

The Opportunity

So, with various other solid approaches, why use the Opportunity Zone program to create CSZ? The truth is, cybersecurity takes a back seat for many businesses, medical centers, individuals, and even governments. This is the case even as cyber exploits are the single overnight threat to a region. And ironically, even with a multitude of large-scale cyberattacks such as WannaCry, and data breaches, it seems as though businesses are willing to take cyber risks. On the surface it appears no one cares. Businesses don’t hire appropriately and prioritize many other requirements above digital security.

It is possible that our inability to muster a fight against hackers, who are finding profit in unauthorized access, is just a symptom of the broader issue? Could our ailment be rooted in a lack of knowledge and basic vulnerability, threat and consequence understanding?

The answers are easy to determine just by providing the awareness and job skills underpinning a skilled and dependable cybersecurity workforce. Once we have produced one, the answer will be irrelevant, and communities will be prepared to both manage emerging technologies and support a culture of cybersecurity.

A role and opportunity exist for every person above the fifth grade when it comes to developing a Culture of Cybersecurity in CSZ. Training supporting basic skills to technical programming, can provide low-income communities an opportunity to reverse negative statistics related to employment, crime, and education. Centers for training will give residents the means to dream about their opportunities as well as serve as an incentive that promotes personal growth.

Solving the Problem

For some people, the Opportunity Zone program may only be equivalent to attracting more dollar signs. However, Mr. Echols always says that if you solely go after the money, it is likely you will be disappointed with the resulting value of your effort. However, if you try to solve a problem, you will have all the money you need because the money will come to you. Cyber Secure Zones are meant to address real problems and real threats facing our country. As we continue to march into a tech driven world, preparation will be as much about the people as process and technology. This means we must invest in the people as much as we do the processes and technologies.

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