Roosevelt Room

2:37 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello everybody.  Good, Tim.  It’s a big day.

SENATOR SCOTT:  Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  In a few moments, I will sign an executive order launching a new White House Opportunity — this is a very big thing that Tim and I and everybody have been working on for a long time — and Revitalization Council.  This council will coordinate efforts across the entire federal government to deliver jobs, investment, and growth to the communities that need it the most.

With the creation of today’s council, the resources of the whole federal government will be leveraged to rebuild low-income and impoverished neighborhoods that have been ignored by Washington in years past.  Our goal is to ensure that America’s great new prosperity is broadly shared by all of our citizens.  Our country is doing better than ever, economically, and we’re able to do that.

I am thrilled to announce that our new council will be led by Secretary Ben Carson, who is here with us today.  Let’s see, where is our Ben?  (Applause.)

Also with us is Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary Wilbur Ross, who will both serve on the Council and play a critical role in its work.

The Council will focus its efforts on Opportunity Zones, a crucial part of tax cuts that we passed last year.  Under our new tax cuts, any distressed area that is designated as an Opportunity Zone will receive massive incentives for private sector investment, including zero capital gains tax on any investment held for at least 10 years.

We’re honored to be joined today by the person who led the fight to include Opportunity Zones in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and that is Senator Tim Scott.  Thank you.  Thank you, Tim.  (Applause.)

We’re also joined by Roger Campos of the Minority Business Roundtable, along with Jimmy Kemp.  Thanks fellas.  Appreciate it.  That’s great.

Pastor Darrell Scott, a friend of mine for a long time.  Where’s Darrell?

PASTOR SCOTT:  Right here.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Hi, Darrell.  Darrell.  Bishop Harry Jackson — Harry, that’s great.  And local officials from Baltimore, Maryland; Norfolk, Virginia; and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.

For decades, job growth and investment have been concentrated in a few major metropolitan areas.  This has created a geographic disparity — a very big one, in many cases — where some cities have thrived, while others have suffered chronic economic and social hardship.

With Opportunity Zones, we are drawing investment into neglected and underserved communities of America so that all Americans, regardless of zip code, have access to the American Dream.

Governors know their local needs best.  Following the enactment of our tax law, America’s governors designated nearly 9,000 neighborhoods as Opportunity Zones — from communities in the rural West Virginia, to suburban Arizona, to inner-city Chicago.

The Treasury Department has estimated that, as a result of these tax incentives, private businesses will invest $100 billion in Opportunity Zones.  And that will be incredible.

This Council will support communities like East Baltimore, where Pastor Donté Hickman is helping lead a groundbreaking project in the newly designated Opportunity Zone.

I’d like to invite Pastor Hickman to say a few words about today’s initiative.  He’s been an incredible leader, a man of faith, and somebody that we all believe very strongly in.

Pastor, please.

PASTOR HICKMAN:  Thank you, Mr. President.  I am here today, thanking you in advance for funding and resources that you will direct to the urban and distressed communities like Baltimore.  The executive order you signed today will make it possible for us to work with your administration on a common goal of investing to restore people as we rebuild properties in neglected communities.

As Pastor of the Southern Baptist Church, and through our Mary Harvin Transformation Center Community Development Corporation, in partnership with other faith-based stakeholder institutions, developed the East Baltimore Revitalization Plan, addressing development needs of over 100 acres just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, and was recently approved and adopted by the City Planning Department of Baltimore.

Our area has been federally designated an Opportunity Zone, and this bipartisan legislation can leverage public and private funding towards community revitalization.  Your influence on federal agencies and private entities through this executive order will enable distressed communities, like Broadway East in Baltimore, to obtain investment needed to capitalize and bridge funding gaps to create sustainable health, wealth, housing, educational, recreational, grocery, and employment opportunities.

It will strengthen small, emerging, and other businesses, as well as enable financial support of Historically Black Colleges and Universities like Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, where I attended.

Mr. President, I want you and every agency and potential investor to know that in Baltimore — and in particular, Broadway East, Baltimore — that we have the plan, we have the property, we have the people, we have the professional expertise, and we have the prospectus to jumpstart your urban initiative.  Baltimore is prepared to be a demonstration project for a national urban revitalization strategy.

We look forward to working with your administration on rebuilding opportunity in our urban communities that have suffered from disinvestment and dilapidation for decades.  And we welcome you to come to Baltimore to see the potential transformative impact of your leadership and investment through this executive order.

Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you, Pastor.

Today we are also proud to be joined by one of America’s most admired business leaders, the co-founder of the television network, BET, Bob Johnson.  Bob, please.  Hi, Bob.  (Applause.)  How are you?  Nice to see you.

MR. JOHNSON:  Thank you, Mr. President.  I’m here to applaud you on two things.  One, you may not even know about but Tim Scott does.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good.

MR. JOHNSON:  Just recently, your Department of Labor signed a historic document that created something called “auto portability.”  Auto portability is designed to reduce retirement leakage among low-income 401(k) account holders who tend to cash out.  And, Mr. President, you should know this: Sixty percent of African American and Hispanic Americans cash out of their 401(k) account.

When this program — the policy that Secretary Acosta initiated along with my company — is implemented, along with the big financial record keepers — the Fidelities, the Vanguards — this program will put close to $800 billion back in the retirement pockets of minority Americans.  So I just want to applaud you for that.  (Applause.)

Now, getting to the — getting to the most important thing, most of all — most of you probably know that I started BET on a half-a-million-dollar loan from a guy named John Malone.  That $500,000 in — that John Malone put into BET allowed me, along with a lot of other minority employees and others, to build a $4 billion business.

What this proves is the efficacy, Mr. President, of a program that allows capital to flow to places where people are seeking out opportunity.  And I am convinced that this program, where the tax incentives flowing out of the Treasury Department to business people, will cause people to invest money where before they saw risk, now they will see opportunity.  And that combination of putting money into communities will allow for those communities to become vibrant, to become safe, to create ownership, and, most important, to contribute to the wellbeing of this country.

I’m a fundamental believer that there are business solutions to social problems.  The Opportunity Zone program is that.  And I applaud you and Tim Scott for taking the leadership on it.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Bob.  That’s very nice.  Thank you.  Appreciate it.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much, Bob.

Under my administration, we are fighting every day for all Americans.  African Americans and Hispanic American poverty rates have reached their lowest levels ever recorded in the history of our country.  African American and Hispanic American unemployment have recently achieved the lowest rates ever recorded.  African American youth unemployment has reached the lowest rate ever recorded.  That’s pretty good, Bob, isn’t it?  Right?  Pretty good.

Last year alone, we lifted 1 million Americans out of poverty, which is a record.  We have launched a cutting-edge campaign to provide skills and job training to nearly 6.5 million Americans.  We are fixing disastrous trade policies that gutted middle-class communities.  And we are expanding real educational choice for our students.

As part of our commitment to building safe and prosperous communities, the Senate will soon vote on our landmark criminal justice reform package that we’ve all been working very hard on.  You have been working very hard on it.  The FIRST STEP Act, it’s called.  This legislation will giver former inmates and non-violent offenders the chance to become productive, contributing, law-abiding citizens.

But we have much more work to do.  The White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council will drive our ambitious agenda and drive it very, very powerfully.  No citizen will be forgotten, no community will be ignored, and no American will be left on the sidelines.  To achieve our national destiny, we all must unlock the potential of all of our people, not just some of our people.

Together, we will take our nation to new heights by realizing the full promise of America for every citizen in our magnificent land.  With that, I would like to invite Secretary Ben Carson to the podium before I sign the executive order.  I’d also like to ask Tim Scott to say a few words.  Great senator.  And then we’ll sign.  Thank you very much.

Ben, first.

SECRETARY CARSON:  Well, thank you, Mr. President, for that introduction and for — all of you for joining us today for this most important executive order signing.

Today, the nation’s unemployment rate is at a 49-year low.  Jobless rates among African Americans down to a record low of 5.9 percent.  Wages on the rise.

While we can all be proud of these achievements, one challenge has remained: There are still communities in our country that have seen little or no new investment in generations.

During his inaugural address, President Trump declared that “the forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”  It is critical that every American shares in the gains of the past two years.

Today, the President is establishing the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council through an executive order.  I’m pleased to chair this council, consisting of members across 13 agencies whose mission is to jumpstart the development in urban and rural communities through the creation of Opportunity Zones.

Located in economically distressed communities across this country, Opportunity Zones are home to approximately 35 million Americans.  The Department of Treasury estimates that the Opportunity Zone legislation could attract over $100 billion in private investment, which will go a long way to spur on jobs and economic development.

This kind of medicine is precisely what a doctor would prescribe to heal communities where nearly 1 in 3 people live in poverty, and unemployment is nearly twice the national average.

Too often, new investments into distressed communities are here today and gone tomorrow.  By offering incentives that encourage investors to think in terms of decades instead of days, Opportunity Zones ensure that development is here today and here to stay.

This long-term approach means that new growth becomes consistent growth and new jobs become steady jobs.  The result is an innovative market and place-based approach that creates a win-win for investors and distressed communities alike.

The Council will help improve the efficacy of this process and is ready to consider more than 150 actions to better target, streamline, and coordinate federal programs and Opportunity Zones.

These are still the early days, in terms of the work of the Council and Opportunity Zones, but the groundwork has been laid.  The seeds the President has planted are growing, and the promise they hold to improve places long forgotten and the lives of those who call these places home.  And with that, I invite Senator Scott, who was instrumental in creating the Zones, after which time the President will perform the deed.  (Applause.)

SENATOR SCOTT:  I just want to take the time to thank the President for his hard work and his dedication to people living in distressed communities.  As the kid who grew up in a single-parent household, mired in poverty, living in one of these distressed communities, I know firsthand the value of hope being brought into communities.

Under this administration — Mr. President, under your leadership — what we’ve seen happen in the last several months is unprecedented.  You can think first about Opportunity Zones.  When you and I had a conversation about the Zones over a year and a half ago, you immediately jumped on board and took the lead.  And because of your leadership, Opportunity Zones that will help distressed communities — over 8,700 throughout this country — is a reality.

The average poverty rate in those Zones are 31 percent.  Because of your leadership, because of your foresight and your vision, we now see hope descending on these Zones.

Number two, when you think about what Bob Johnson spoke about, the ability to positively impact retirement security in communities of color has increased because of your proactive stance on keeping those dollars in retirement accounts.

Number three, when you think about the power of education, the greatest chasm in this nation is caused by two primary issues: One is family formation; we can’t do much about that in government.  But number two is education.

THE PRESIDENT:  Right.

SENATOR SCOTT:  Your focus, sir, is changing lives that you may never meet.  But it’s happening every single day in America.

And finally, your strong advocacy for criminal justice reform to come to the floor of the United States Senate.  (Applause.)  Without any question, without your leadership, our Senate would not have made the decision to take it up in 2018.  So when it passes, the credit starts at the White House and starts with President Donald Trump.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

SENATOR SCOTT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, Tim.

(The executive order is signed.)  (Applause.)

This is a great thing.  (Applause.)  Thank you everybody.

END

3:56 P.M. EST