Last week Accelerator for America and the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University released a policy brief entitled “Opportunity Zone Investment Prospectus Guide.” The paper, co-authored by Ken Gross and myself, can be found here.
The origins of the Investment Prospectus tool lie in the firm belief that the goals of the new Opportunity Zone tax incentive – expanding economic opportunities for places and people left behind — cannot be achieved by the market and outside investors alone. Cities in the broadest sense — local governments for sure but also universities, philanthropies, employers, local financial institutions and community development organizations — will need to act with deliberate agency and purpose if Opportunity Zones are to spur growth that is inclusive, sustainable and truly transformative for each city’s economy.
To enable such intentional action, Accelerator for America engaged New Localism Advisors to create a replicable product — an Investment Prospectus — to enable cities, counties and states to communicate their competitive advantages, trigger local partnerships and identify sound projects that are ready for public, private and civic capital. Our aim was to help communities and investors get smarter and more precise about the broad range of investment possibilities that exist in Opportunity Zones and, literally, help make and shape markets where there were none. More broadly, our goal was to help cities organize their stakeholders around a unified vision of inclusive growth and drive local resources and decisions towards aligned investments in infrastructure, place-making or skills-to-work, the co-location of public, private or non-profit institutions (to create employment density and business demand) and the creation of institutions with capacity, capital and community standing.
To date, mayors in five cities — Joe Schember in Erie, Greg Fischer in Louisville, David Holt in Oklahoma City, Pete Buttigieg in South Bend and Michael Tubbs in Stockton — have led multi-sector efforts to design and release the first versions of an Investment Prospectus. The five cities have deliberately followed a common template and routinized format in order to enhance the potential for replicability across multiple cities.
Ken Gross and I co-authored this Opportunity Zone Investment Prospectus Guide to speed the process by which dozens of cities adopt this market tool and build Investment Prospectuses that are customized to local assets and advantages and scalable across cities by asset classes and product types. Our ambitions with Accelerator for America are large (perhaps delusional): to grow the number of cities with Investment Prospectuses from our original five cities to fifty communities by March 2019 and unveil them at an Investors Summit at Stanford University. We ultimately hope to make Investment Prospectuses searchable by typology, geography, asset class, deal size, population and other critical indicators. This should help investors aggregate capital for particular purposes within and across cities and move quickly to find investments they otherwise would not.
Using the Louisville effort as a base, our Investment Prospectus Guide walks through each core element of the Investment Prospectus unveiling, where appropriate, information about the source of data, why the data was chosen, and what cities should do with it.
A few things to consider as you read the Investment Prospectus Guide.
First, it is our firm belief that every city can produce an Investment Prospectus. One timely place to start: some 238 cities prepared comprehensive overviews of their assets and advantages as part of the recent competition for the second headquarters of Amazon. We highly recommend that these cities review their bids and use these assessments to inform and build an Opportunity Zone Investment Prospectus. In many cases, cities identified publicly owned assets that could be part of an Amazon campus; many of those assets are located in Opportunity Zones and could find a productive purpose.
We fully recognize that many small and even medium-sized communities face capacity challenges that may impede the creation of an Investment Prospectus. To that end, we highly recommend that a community engage the low-cost services of an entity like PolicyMap, which gives cities access to critical data on demographics, real estate, jobs and more and provides easy-to-use online mapping that is a core element of the Investment Prospectus tool. States could also play a critical role in helping small communities design and deploy Investment Prospectuses, either in concert with or separate from an organization like PolicyMap. Local philanthropies can make the relatively small investment necessary to make this happen.
Second, the Investment Prospectuses written to date have relied on quantitative data that is available nationally, primarily from federal agencies. Our view is that we have created an initial platform — an Investment Prospectus 1.0 — that is well positioned for further data collection and more granular analysis. To this end, we are encouraged by several developments. Financial institutions like Mastercard have volunteered to build on our initial work and apply their sophisticated data around consumer spending patterns at the census tract level, further revealing market dynamics and possibilities. Enterprise Communities has been leading efforts in Atlanta and Seattle to inventory public assets; the smart disposition of publicly owned land or buildings could make the multi-layered financing of community development projects work. With help from the Kauffman Foundation, Ross Baird and I are experimenting with ways to have the Investment Prospectus contain a “heat map” of aligned public and philanthropic investments in Opportunity Zones as well as go the “last mile” and get more precise about the capital needs and possibilities of actual investable projects.
Finally, cities have been the focus and drivers of the Investment Prospectus tool created to date. Ultimately the Investment Prospectus tool should be scaled up and scaled down. There is no reason, for example, why a state or metropolitan planning organization couldn’t adapt the tool to work across city and county lines and urban, suburban and rural Opportunity Zones. At the same time, more detailed Investment Prospectuses should be created for specific Opportunity Zone typologies, say a central business district or university district or hospital district or, perhaps most significantly, a low-income community.
The Investment Prospectus offers cities, in short, an opportunity and format by which to organize how they think about and carry out economic development. It is a market tool created for a market incentive that will help cities maximize Opportunity Zones in specific and drive inclusive growth in general. Interesting, right?