Health, Business and Economic Leaders Convene on Healthy Food Access

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Finance Fund EVP Mark Barbash

Finance Fund EVP Mark Barbash

An overflow crowd of more than 175 Central Ohio citizens joined Finance Fund for a lively panel discussion on “Turning Food Deserts into Oases” at the Columbus Metropolitan Club luncheon on February 25.

I had the honor of moderating this panel discussion, which highlighted many different activities that are being developed around healthy food access and local food systems around Central Ohio, the state and nation, along with the importance of increasing access to capital for projects.  The CMC conversation came on the heels of the release of policy recommendations to state legislators in a report prepared by The Food Trust on behalf of the Ohio Healthy Food Financing Task Force.

The recommendations report “Supporting Grocery Development in Ohio” identified the need to establish a healthy food retail financing program in Ohio.

PanelistsPresentations by my fellow panelists highlighted some of the key issues:

  • Caroline Harries, Associate Director at The Food Trust in Philadelphia, talked about their work with the Task Force to map the state for healthy food access gaps and identify major policy and programmatic issues in Ohio. She also discussed the effectiveness of the healthy food financing program in Pennsylvania, and how this model could be applied in Ohio to improve health outcomes and promote economic development.
  • Dr. Mykeisha Williams Roberts, Deputy Health Commissioner in Columbus, talked about their work to identify health issues in the city’s neighborhoods, and specifically those that were occurring because of the lack of access to healthy foods, which contributes to diet related diseases.
  • Michelle Moskowitz Brown, Executive Director at Local Matters, discussed the important role that education plays in changing buying, cooking and food purchasing habits. She noted that Local Matters’ earliest strategy was a year-round hands on curriculum called Food Matters, which was aimed at kids, who are part of the decision making process in their households. When they learn how to grow and cook food from around the world, as they do in their classroom, their consumption increases and their choices influence the household.

In the Q & A that followed the presentations, many people supported the idea that fresh food retail is an important component of neighborhood revitalization in urban areas. Others raised important questions about the linking of urban and rural areas through local food system programs, helping farmers to produce for local consumers (rather than large commodity distributors), and other ways of improving community health.

Ohio Prioritizes Healthy Food Access

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ReportCoverToday at the Statehouse, the Ohio Healthy Food Financing Task Force called upon Ohio’s local and state government leaders to create a culture of support for healthy food retail development in underserved communities. At the news event, the Task Force released a new policy statement Supporting Grocery Development in Ohio” including analysis and success stories.

One of the recommendations calls for state seed funding to establish an Ohio Healthy Food Financing Fund (HFFF) that would provide healthy food retailers with access to flexible financing needed to overcome the barriers associated with locating in underserved communities. This one-time funding would enable vendors to open, renovate, or expand retail outlets that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. The Fund will provide underserved Ohio communities with better access to fresh foods, quality employment opportunities, and opportunities for revitalization.

Despite Ohio’s internationally recognized agricultural and food processing activity, the state is home to many communities with too few places to purchase healthy, affordable food. This food access crisis has put over 2 million residents, including more than 500,000 children, at risk for chronic disease and diet-related death. ProduceBasketFull

Eligible healthy food projects will be located in all types of communities (urban, rural, small, and large) that are underserved in terms of food access. To qualify as eligible, projects must commit to providing fresh fruits and vegetables and serving primarily low-to-moderate income communities.

Finance Fund convened the Task Force last year. It includes 50 leaders from the health, business, civic, government, grocery, philanthropic and other nonprofit sectors, who worked for a year alongside national food advocacy expert The Food Trust to identify policy recommendations to support healthy food retail development and expansion in areas in greatest need. The 2014 report, “Food for Every Child: The Need for Healthy Food Financing in Ohio” identified urban and rural areas across Ohio where healthy food retail development is needed most.

I invite you to contact me to discuss this initiative in greater detail or find out more about investing in HFFF or developing a healthy food project at jrklein@financefund.org

Citi Leadership Program for Opportunity Finance

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Tara Campbell, VP Lending

Tara Campbell, VP Lending

In January, I joined fellow industry leaders at the first meeting of the Citi Leadership Program for Opportunity Finance. The session was filled with great insights on what other leaders are doing to impact their organizations as well as the communities their organizations serve.

The curriculum, developed by Opportunity Finance Network (OFN) and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, offers a combination of leadership development experiences built around four key elements:

  • Transformational leadership frameworks and tools
  • Applying transformational leadership to the opportunity finance industry
  • Understanding leadership and management
  • Building effective teams to lead transformational change

The first session focused on why community development financial institutions, known as CDFIs, exist and our role as leaders within our organizations. OFN President and CEO Mark Pinsky shared a few key takeaways:

  • CDFIs make it our business to do something impossible every day.
  • We must take risks, innovate, expand our reach – good intentions are not enough.
  • CDFIs unite financial equity with social, economic, and political equity – with equity we align capital with justice – because equity.
  • Leadership is about creating transformational change – both systematic and structural.

Another great speaker sharing key insights was Enterprise Community Loan Fund President Lori Chatman. She emphasized “great leadership exists in the intersection of three things: environment, self and team.” This set the tone for one of the themes for the day transformational change happens in stages – individual, organizational, industry/movement.

I look forward to the opportunity to learn from fellow Citi leaders in this program and share this knowledge with others.

Vacant Commercial Properties Bring Potential for Community Revitalization

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Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

One of the biggest challenges in Ohio community development is finding ways to revitalize aging commercial strips in neighborhoods and small communities. Realizing the potential of vacant properties and at the same time assisting local residents in starting small businesses was the focus of a recent Greater Ohio Policy Center workshop hosted by Finance Fund and co-sponsored by the Ohio CDC Association.  

The workshop attracted representatives from cities, counties, CDCs, port authorities, banks, foundations and real estate development from throughout Ohio to brainstorm ways to link the entrepreneurial efforts of local residents with renovating vacant commercial properties. Successful outcomes could improve neighborhood commercial areas, raise property values, create jobs, generate tax revenue and revitalize neighborhoods.

Workshop participants heard presentations from two groups that are piloting programs. Mihalo (Mike) Temali from the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) in Minneapolis described their program that provides intensive assistance to small businesses – many involving Somali immigrants – and also develops small business incubators and markets in core neighborhood areas. Kimberly Faison from ProsperUS Detroit described their efforts to replicate the NDC program in several neighborhoods, but with a focus on commercial strip revitalization.

Following the presentations, participants brainstormed the current work in neighborhood commercial revitalization, the expanding activities of the county Land Banks, and the work of groups like ECDI to provide intensive assistance to small business entrepreneurs.

It was stimulating to hear about the challenges of Ohio groups in these areas, and to discover that there is much common ground. Here are several key “take-aways” for further discussion: 

  • First, while there are a number of groups working in this area around the state, there is a need for greater coordination.
  • Second, redeveloping neighborhood real estate has to be done in a sustainable way, so that the vacancies don’t come back again.
  • And third, there are opportunities for many groups to participate, including local banks, foundations and CDCs.

As a follow-up, Greater Ohio will be convening a working group to explore opportunities in Ohio for similar efforts. Finance Fund will be part of the working group and will report back periodically. If you have questions or would like further information, please get in touch with me markbarbash@financefund.org.

 

 

 

Ohio Healthy Food Effort Makes News

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Kimberly Scher, EVP Communications and Development

Kimberly Scher, EVP Communications and Development

State and local officials, nonprofit development groups and grocers have made increased access to healthy affordable food an Ohio priority in 2015. The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently ran a story that highlights Ohio’s efforts.  The paper’s Washington Bureau Chief Stephen Koff writes, “A study by the Columbus-based Finance Fund, and Philadelphia-based partner, The Food Trust, found that more than 2 million Ohio residents, including 500,000 children, live in neighborhoods underserved by supermarkets.  They may have access to food at corner stores, but it is unlikely to be fresh or healthy.”

In Ohio, the Healthy Food Financing (HFF) Task Force of state agencies, foundations, grocers, corporations and nonprofit health and food access organizations reviewed the Food Study findings and identified barriers preventing healthy food retailers from locating in low-income communities. The HFF Task Force is now finalizing policy recommendations to help address those barriers.

One of the recommendations is to build a flexible business financing program that leverages additional capital to stimulate the development, renovation and expansion of healthy food retailers — ranging from fresh food carts, food hubs, community stores and grocery store chains to corner stores, co-ops, wholesale grocers, community kitchens, and farmer’s markets — in areas where they are needed most. 

As the article notes: “Part of the problem is age and density: Cities, though full of potential customers, are old and lack clean, green space.  A potential deal can take years to develop.  In a report this year, the Finance Fund and The Food Trust identified challenges including high development costs, land assembly, regulatory requirements, workforce turnover and training issues, security concerns and customer transportation.”

In an interview for the Plain Dealer story, Nate Filler, president of the Ohio Grocers Association and a member of the HFF Task Force, said, “The grocery industry operates on a one-and-a-half-percent margin.” Incremental costs, whether for insurance, lighting or extra staff training, eat into that. “We want to be able to be around for the area long after the ribbon cutting. We want to be sustainable for the community.”

Caroline Harries, associate director of the Food Trust, estimates that Ohio could support about 100 more stores.  The experience of the Food Trust has been invaluable. This national nonprofit is dedicated to increasing access to healthy and affordable foods. It was part of a coalition that attracted about 90 new food operations to Pennsylvania between 2005 and 2010.

Watch for further news on the policy recommendations which will be announced in mid-January.  Your questions and comments are welcome at kscher@financefund.org.  

The Arts Matter to Economic Development

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Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

Arts and cultural institutions such as theaters, museums and galleries as well as public art installations are an important part of creating livable communities.  They add unique flavor and nuance to each community, enhance civic vitality, and invigorate our lives and public spaces.

Earlier in December, I moderated a panel that focused on financing to sustain Ohio’s arts and cultural ecosystem, held at the Ohio History Connection in Columbus. More than 160 “keepers of culture” from around Ohio attended this first-of-a-kind conference dedicated to finding ways to enhance the state’s quality of life through the arts. 
The panelists included David Alexander, commercial banking relationship manager at US Bank; Jason Rittenberg, director of research and advisory services at Council of Development Finance Agencies, and Hugh Grefe, senior executive director at Local Initiatives Support Corporation. 

Two of the organizations highlighted are Finance Fund partners:

  • Franklinton Development Association (FDA) Executive Director Jim Sweeney described how FDA is
    Franklinton Mural

    Franklinton Mural

    encouraging the link between art, community and innovation through such projects as the Columbus Idea Foundry, the Franklinton Urban Scrawl festival and the development of artists’ life/work spaces.

  • Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. was represented by Executive Director Tim Tramble, who described their work in Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood to support housing and commercial development, along with art- based community building initiatives.

Other highlights of the day-long session included a keynote presentation from Jamie Bennett, executive director of ArtPlace America. This Cleveland native is a recognized leader in community based arts projects that are transformational. Also on the podium was fellow Buckeye Matthew Fluharty, director of Art of the Rural, a nonprofit group in St. Louis that works to support arts projects in rural America and expand the rural arts and humanities network.

Throughout the day, one facet of every conversation was very clear:  as communities seek ways to stand out, progress economically and attract more businesses and residents, many are turning to the arts to transform public venues, reinforce culture and regenerate places to live, work and play.

Rethinking Change Within Our Ideological Framework

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Finance Fund President and CEO James R. Klein

Finance Fund President and CEO James R. Klein

The times are always changing and Finance Fund is changing along with them to meet market needs. As we prepare to embark on a New Year, I find myself reflecting on our work in 2014. Our internal and external evolution stems from rethinking change and our responsibility and position within current and emerging economic systems.

Our focus in 2014 was threefold. Internally, we combined our Program and Fiscal teams under one team leader to increase efficiencies. Programmatically, we identified and prioritized funding programs to meet growing community need including accelerating our small business lending activity. In development, we expanded our outreach to a wider range of public and private revenue sources to enable greater mission fulfillment.

In the midst of these evolutionary changes, however, we’ve remained true to our founding mission, vision and the following core business ideologies:

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Our years of steady outreach to state and federal policymakers in service to our industry bore great fruit in 2014. A few examples: Finance Fund started the year off by leading a coalition of Ohio CDEs to strengthen the Ohio NMTC program. We also expanded our position on the national stage on the executive boards of the CDFI Coalition and NMTC Coalition to influence positive change with policymakers on Capitol Hill.

Address Systems not Symptoms

Finance Fund sees community development as being most effective when it is focused on addressing the systems, rather than managing the symptoms of economic decline (e.g., government subsidies for food, housing, health care and child care). We are focused on ushering in change in new collaborative ways, disrupting obsolete and fragmented systems, creating opportunity and connecting low-income communities to economic opportunities.

No Margin, No Mission

The economic revitalization industry, and Finance Fund in particular, is filled with people who feel a calling to help others achieve a better quality of life. This altruism fuels great work where it is needed most, but must be supported with a positive net margin or our ability to achieve our mission will be under threat.

Let the Market Work

The free market system, which has generated great prosperity for our nation for more than a century, is under increased government burdens such as regulation, an overly complex tax code and massive debt, owned in large part by foreign investors.  We believe it is necessary for government to simplify regulations and the tax code, and have a more balanced budget strategy – thereby allowing the free market system to work more effectively.

Supplement, Don’t Circumvent

Optimal resource allocation requires that we understand the roles of public and private investors already at work in addressing key economic issues. Finance Fund comes alongside existing programs to provide gap financing where traditional bank lending cannot be extended. Through careful analysis of unmet community need, we avoid the cost and ineffectiveness of circumventing existing programs.

These business ideologies will continue to shape our actions on behalf of Ohio’s underserved communities.  We celebrate the accomplishments of this year and look forward to achieving even greater mission impact in the year ahead with the support of our exceptional staff, Board and Advisory Council leadership, partners, supporters, funders and friends. 

Grassroots Activism Creates Health Care System

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Julie Nichols, Quality Assurance Analyst

Julie Nichols, Quality Assurance Analyst

It is always extremely satisfying to see a grassroots movement take shape, then take effect. Ordinary people, united by a common vision and working collaboratively can achieve extraordinary things.

I recently attended an open house for the new Valley View Health Center project created by the Community Action Committee of Pike County (CACPC). The project helps address the dramatic need for quality, affordable health care services in the area. A group of concerned citizens established CACPC in 1965 in Waverly, OH, to promote self-sufficiency among Pike County’s low-income population and address major causes of poverty. CACPC began delivering intermittent primary care health services in September 1978. A year later, CACPC was granted Rural Health Initiative funding then became a Federally Qualified Health Center in April 1994.

Today, CACPC operates six health care centers and offers 75 programs aimed at serving the needs of each member of the family, from pediatrics to geriatrics. The current organizational budget exceeds $19 million and is funded through federal, state, and local grants as well as locally generated fees-for-service. 

Valley View provides quality medical, mental health and dental  services.

Valley View provides quality medical, mental health and dental services.

Finance Fund provided CACPC with a $150,000 economic development grant to help purchase a 5,000 sq. ft. building where comprehensive primary medical, mental health and dental services are provided. The target population for this project is all persons with an income below 200% of the poverty rate who reside in six contiguous census tracts and surrounding neighborhoods of Portsmouth, OH. The project has created four full-time jobs, one part-time job and six construction jobs and will dramatically improve access to health care in the affected area. 

Innovative Approaches to a Self-sufficient Ohio

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Philip E. Cole, OACCA Executive Director

Philip E. Cole, OACCA Executive Director

Community Action changes people’s lives, embodies the spirit of hope and improves communities. Last week nearly 50 Community Action leaders from across Ohio gathered at the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies’ (OACAA) Innovation Summit to collaborate, discuss and create innovative ideas to serve the needs of low-income people. Throughout the day, executive directors, program managers and senior staff members ignited a creative spark in each other by sharing innovative programs developed within their own communities, spurring new ideas that could be adapted in other communities.

With the ideas flowing and the minds churning out new solutions, one question was consistent: How can we fund these programs?

That afternoon, one potential answer was presented: grants and loans from Finance Fund. Tara Campbell, Vice President of Lending, joined the summit to discuss innovative financing options for innovative programs.

Finance Fund has been a consistent partner to Ohio’s Community Action Network by providing grants, loans, tax-credits and a variety of other financing options to help fund projects. Their mission of building bridges to underserved communities aligns with our network’s mission to alleviate poverty and help low-income people achieve self-sufficiency.

At the end of the summit, our attendees left feeling invigorated and excited to begin the next steps of research and development. The passion of our network, matched with the passion of Finance Fund, has resulted in the creation and implementation of innovative programs across Ohio’s 88 counties. We are grateful to have Finance Fund’s continued partnership as we move forward creating new projects and initiatives.

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Philip E. Cole is a graduate of Bowling Green State University, University of Toledo College of Law and the Executive Scholars Program of the John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University. Mr. Cole has been the executive director of OACAA since 1989 and manages government and members relations as well as the OACAA staff.

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“Trust Your Gut” Wisdom from a Former White House Staffer

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Kimberly Scher, EVP Communications and Development

Kimberly Scher, Finance Fund EVP Communications and Development

Recently, I joined several hundred women from all walks of life who were enlightened and entertained by Alyssa Mastromonaco, former Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at the White House, from 2011 to 2014. She spoke at the 2014 Barbara K. Fergus Women in Leadership Lecture hosted by the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University. In a blog about leaving the White House, Alyssa writes: No advanced degree or job experience truly prepares you for the tidal wave of responsibility and the sheer gravity of history that beckons each day. The Arab Spring. Newtown. Hurricane Sandy. The Affordable Care Act. It is one of those jobs that never really leaves you.

In her feisty, warm, candid discussion of her career journey, Alyssa shared lessons learned along the way that helped shape her success. Her love of language prompted her to major in French and Japanese at the University of Vermont.  As a student, she learned the importance of connecting with people who share her personal interests – such as a passion for The Grateful Dead and Pilates. Later in her career, this insight enabled her to develop enduring relationships. “It’s important to create a bond beyond the work relationship so that when things go wrong you have something deeper to fall back on,” she noted.

Alyssa is grateful that her parents allowed her to make her own choices in college and career.  “You’ll never really succeed if you are coddled. You must give people the room to succeed or fail on their own,” she said. “It’s best to live on high wire every day. When making judgments, trust your gut and have confidence in your decisions. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

Her advice to women of all ages is simple and direct: “Work hard. Be kind. Own your own failures so you can own your own successes.  Always maintain your integrity. Never pretend to be anything you are not. Be yourself to succeed – this creates confidence in all aspects of work. It’s OK to ask questions of experts. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Help others. Pass it on.”

Great advice from someone who made The New Republic’s list of Washington’s most powerful, least famous people.

Her career journey is remarkable. A campaign internship for then-Representative Bernie Sanders ignited her love of politics and taught her how to effectively manage chaos, resources and people. A brief stint as a paralegal in New York after graduating with a BA in Political Science, taught her how to work in a professional environment as part of a team. These skills saw her through a multi-faceted political career that included work on Senator John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign and as Press Secretary for Congressman Rick Boucher of Virginia before joining then-Senator Barack Obama’s team as Director of Scheduling in 2005. Six years, a winning election and several positions later she was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at the White House.

When asked what’s next in her career, Alyssa said, “You don’t have to be scared. Ask yourself: What do I like to do? What am I good at? Who do I like to work with? Look for an adventure and an opportunity to be engaged and have influence.” On Monday, Vice Media, a news and entertainment group, announced that it has hired Alyssa as its chief operating officer.

Contact Us

P: 614.221.1114 | 800.959.2333
E: info@financefund.org
A: Finance Fund
175 South Third Street, Suite 1200
Columbus, Ohio 43215

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