Five Rules for Staying on Economic Development’s Cutting Edge

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Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

I recently shared “Five Rules of Staying at the Cutting Edge of Economic Development” at the annual Van Wert City Economic Development Partnership dinner. It was refreshing to get into the heart of Ohio to see firsthand the importance of Ohio’s smaller communities in the state’s growth. The Van Wert community has a strong manufacturing base, a connection with the area’s agricultural base, a great Vantage Career Center, strong elected leaders and involved business leaders.

My invitation to speak came from Cynthia Leis, a program director with OSU Extension who works in partnership with the City of Van Wert, area businesses, colleges and Chambers. OSU Extension plays an important role in Ohio in providing economic development services to many small communities. Their services are particularly valuable at a time when resources are limited.

Here are the five rules I shared with an audience of Van Wert area business and community leaders:

    • Think Regionally:  A community is part of the area’s regional economy. Businesses make investment decisions based upon workforce availability, proximity to customers and suppliers. They don’t care about political boundaries.

    • Leadership and Collaboration: A community’s success is based upon elected and business leaders working together.

    • Be Prepared: Businesses can make investment decisions very quickly. They may look at your community for a new site even without talking with the community. So when the opportunity comes up, the community has to be ready.

    • The Best Attraction Strategy is a good Retention and Expansion Strategy: Communities looking to bring new businesses into their area should start by making sure that their existing businesses are successful. Location decisions are based upon partnerships.

    • The Kitchen Sink Rule: Incentives are only one part of the strategy. A community doesn’t need to give away the “kitchen sink” in incentives. Equally important is the quality of life in a community (education, affordable housing, parks and recreation).

As EVP of Strategic Initiatives at Finance Fund, I get the great job of meeting with businesses of all sizes and community champions to learn more about what’s needed in local communities to drive job and economic growth. These discussions inform Finance Fund’s program development process and ensure that we are creating loan and grant programs that are responsive to local needs. Our Small Business Loan Fund, Community Health Loan Fund and Healthy Food Financing Initiative are great examples of flexible financing tools we’ve developed in direct response to needs identified by rural and urban communities.

We’d welcome the opportunity to meet with you to learn more about your community and share details about the flexible loan and grant funds we have available for projects in low-income urban and rural communities – for projects that typically don’t qualify for a traditional bank loan. Please feel free to contact me at markbarbash@financefund.org.

Harvesting Changes to Ohio’s Menu

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Kimberly Scher, EVP Communications and Development

Kimberly Scher, EVP Communications and Development

Vegetable soup, pot roast, zucchini bread, fried apples, roasted butternut squash, potato onion tart, eggplant parmesan – I recently pulled out my recipes and made plans to cook up some of the sweet, savory, satisfying flavors of fall.  My grocery list is full of fresh ingredients, herbs and spices that go into making memorable meals that will fill my family with healthy food.  My favorite farmer’s market will supply a lot of what’s on my list and I can always head to my neighborhood grocery for the rest. 

I never spent much time thinking about where to shop for or how to afford the food my family enjoys.  Like most people, I dislike the hassle of driving to the grocery or farmer’s market and lugging everything into the house. Other than that, preparing healthy meals and spending family time around the table are some of the best parts of daily life.
VeggieSoup

My perspective on food access has changed, however, as I work on Finance Fund’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative aimed at getting more healthy affordable fresh food retailers into underserved communities across Ohio. Each time I pick up a bag of apples, slice a pepper, toss a salad or reach for the milk, I think about families who can’t easily get to a grocery store because it’s a taxi cab ride or three bus transfers away. Or can’t afford fresh food on a limited budget or outside of SNAP or WIC benefits. Or have no idea how to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables for their family. Instead, many people eat a high-fat, high-sodium diet of processed foods available at local corner stores – or fast food that’s inexpensive and easy to access in their neighborhood.

fall-vegetable-hash-sl-lThe crushing health implications for Ohio are staggering.

Close to one million Ohioans live in the crucible of greatest need — at the intersection of high rates of diet-related death, low-income, and poor access to supermarkets according to findings of Finance Fund’s statewide Food Study, conducted by The Food Trust with support from the Ohio Regional Convergence Partnership.

Caroline Harries, from The Food Trust, and I shared details of the Food for Every Child report at a recent statewide coalition meeting sponsored by the Philanthropy Ohio Health Initiative. Dr. Andrew Wapner, chief medical officer for the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), was also on the agenda and presented Ohio’s Plan to Prevent and Reduce Chronic Disease: 2014 – 2018.  The plan notes that chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers are the leading causes of death and disability in Ohio.  Associated risk factors such as obesity, tobacco use, inactivity and poor nutrition are driving more than $50 billion annually in healthcare costs and lost work productivity. The ODH plan strives to prevent more than 600,000 new cases of diet-related disease by:

  • Increasing access to healthy food
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Encouraging preventive health screenings

Finance Fund is helping by creating a statewide fund that will better enable healthy food providers to enter low-income markets. Currently, we are talking with stakeholders statewide to better understand the barriers and address the policies that are keeping healthy food providers from serving markets where there is greatest need.
salad-bar

As you think about the bounty that fall provides, please consider what you and your organization can do to educate, support and fund efforts to bring the harvest to every Ohioan’s table.  If you’d like to learn more about the Food Study and how you can come alongside Finance Fund to improve access to healthy food in Ohio, please contact me at kscher@financefund.org.

Business and Banking Insights From CEO Klein

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Finance Fund President and CEO James R. Klein

Finance Fund President and CEO James R. Klein

This summer, I was honored to be included among banking and finance industry leaders in Columbus Business First’s  “People to Know in Banking and Finance” feature and subsequent roundtable.  As President and CEO of a nonprofit community development financial institution, my perspectives were unique.

Like most traditional for-profit banks, Finance Fund Capital Corporation manages risk, identifies opportunities and raises capital. Unlike them, we serve a double bottom line – producing a traditional capital return on investment as well as a social ROI to catalyze economic and environmental change in struggling communities.

A lot of our work is focused on locally owned and operated small businesses, health care facilities improvement and expansion, and healthy food retail projects in food deserts. In addition, our portfolio includes commercial real estate projects, fueled by New Markets Tax Credit financing, that drive economic growth on a larger scale. Time and again we see our loans and grants generate an economic development ripple effect that helps transform struggling communities into healthy, vibrant places to live, work, go to school and raise a family. Our case studies and interactive map tell the story of the breadth and geographic spread of our work.

In case you missed the Columbus Business First feature, here’s the link and we’ve included the interview content herein.  Thanks as always for your interest in our work.

Business First

 

 

 

James Klein: People to Know in Banking and Finance 2014

Katy Smith, Print Editor

How did you get into this industry? I was recruited to become Finance Fund’s first executive director in 1989 based on my education and experience in finance, business and community development as director of a local community-based economic development organization and two public housing authorities in Minnesota. Since then, we’ve made steady progress. Assets under Finance Fund’s management have grown from the original $50,000 investment made in 1987 to $296.4 million in 2013, leveraging over $1.2 billion. This growth resulted from strategic planning and partnerships, managed risks and strong belief in facilitating change by enabling the flow of capital to distressed communities. Today, our work is focused on economic development, health care and community facilities, small business, commercial real estate and housing.

How will the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act affect the businesses and individuals who are your clients? Finance Fund Capital Corp., which is the community development financial institution affiliate of Finance Fund, is not a bank or traditional large financial institution. As a statewide, nonprofit financial institution, the corporation occupies a separate but important space in the financial world. We provide financing to businesses that typically do not qualify for a traditional bank loan on their own and operate in low- to moderate-income Ohio communities. With our help, our clients will often qualify and apply for additional financing from traditional sources such as larger, regulated banks and financial institutions. Further regulation, oversight, information and transparency in the financial world will provide borrowers with even greater confidence to move forward in the future.

Do you think the U.S. banking system has been safeguarded from too-big-to-fail threats? Our government has taken positive steps in this direction, but the success of these safeguards ultimately remains to be seen.

What is the best way to attract investors (such as venture capitalists) to Ohio startups? Bank investors as well as community development financial institution investors all look for the same thing – value. If they can find value in an investment, there will be interest. There are various ways to add value. Banks’ primary value-add is capital yield. An investment has the expectation of producing a yield and capital return. The return on investment is the bottom line. A community development financial institution may have a double or even a triple bottom line. Characteristically, in this market segment, there is a social return on investment in addition to the ROI. Some segments of the investor market are attracted to opportunities that include a social return on investment. Some investors are interested in seeing some type of environmental return such as energy savings, clean air or alternative energy sources. This is considered the third bottom line. A key source of funding for our work is through public programs such as federal and state New Markets Tax Credits. We strongly encourage further action from Congress to support extension and permanency for this proven-effective credit and other incentives to attract private investment to underserved communities.

What would you change about the industry? We are still living in the aftermath of a dramatic crisis in the financial markets. There have been a number of changes after 2009 that affect the industry, not the least of which were banking regulations. In my opinion, the changes themselves were based in reasonable logic and intent. The way that they were applied, however, did not follow the same path. As a result, there are some rough spots in the application of regulations. Movement away from the one-size-fits-all approach to regulation toward something that allows all levels of the industry to function effectively in the market would address a barrier to basic functional performance for small and medium-sized banks.

Appalachian Leadership Academy Faces Funding Challenges

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Director of Development Valerie Heiby

Director of Development Valerie Heiby

Recently, the Appalachian Leadership Academy (ALA) graduated its 2014 class including two individuals that I coached through the program. We congratulate ALA graduates Lisa Fulk, Leigh Kelley, Tracy Mathews, Lisa Robinson, Diana Roush, Kandy Tanner, Clinton Throckmorton and Anna Shope.

Keynote speaker Cara Dingus Brook, President and CEO of the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio, shared that childhood poverty has increased by 70% over the past 10 years and that leaders across the state and community action agencies have their work cut out for them.

“Leaders must continue to help others move forward to address the disparities throughout the state and especially in the Appalachian region,” she said. “No child should lose hope. We have a great group of dedicated leaders working on the issues of poverty.”

Through the year-long program, participants develop skills in capacity building, networking, and succession planning, staff development as well as communication, visioning, financial management and budgeting. Each participant completes a capstone project supported by their organization. The projects require them to make use of the skills they acquired through ALA, while bringing a needed component back to employers.

The 2014 class speaker Lisa Fulk said, “ALA taught me to manage programs and lead people! We learned about conflict resolution and communications and how leadership is not about a title, but the ability to inspire others to get results.”

ALA is a collaboration between the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development, and the Institute for Local Government Administration and Rural Development at Ohio University’s Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs.  ALA has been informed that it will be defunded even though the need for capable leaders in the Appalachian region of Ohio has not subsided. Therefore, ALA is seeking to diversify its funding and is seeking greater private sector support. .

ALA 2014 Graduating Class

ALA 2014 Graduating Class

Continuing this program is important to me personally as I am a 2007 ALA program graduate and a child of Appalachia. I was born and raised in Gallia County, located in southeastern Ohio, along the Ohio River in the heart of Appalachia. My roots and the branches of my family tree are still there.  It will always be home to me.

Program supporters equip participants to make a real difference in their communities as engaged, conscientious citizens with leadership and diversity skills. Graduates take away a higher level of self-confidence, a new found respect for the region they represent, new knowledge and understanding about the challenges that the Appalachian region faces, and a renewed sense of pride in the organizations they serve.

If you’d like to learn more about ALA or are interested in providing financial support, please get in touch at vheiby@financefund.org.

NMTC Under Fire Despite Proven Effectiveness

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Finance Fund President and CEO James R. Klein

Finance Fund President and CEO James R. Klein

  The New Markets Tax Credit Program (NMTC) has come under fire recently in two reports, one released by long-standing NMTC critic Senator Tom Coburn and the other in his commissioned report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In his press release and report, Senator Coburn asserts that the NMTC program results in the government benefiting “favorite” big banks and private investors.

We agree that the program does help banks and investors achieve a modest incentive against federal income taxes at a time when investment returns are hard to come by. The program is designed to do just that – entice private investors to bring capital to economic development projects in low-income and distressed communities that otherwise would not be funded.

That’s why the NMTC Program works.

In fact, as mentioned in a recent release from the New Markets Tax Credit Coalition, “Data from the U.S. Department of Treasury indicate that the NMTC has delivered more than $60 billion in capital to businesses and revitalization projects nationwide in some of the poorest communities; these investments have generated over 550,000 jobs in some of the poorest rural and urban communities in America.”

The Coalition’s release notes that both the GAO and Senator Coburn’s report ignore the impact of NMTC investments nationwide.  For more than a decade, NMTC investments have made proven significant and tangible impacts in terms of job creation and retention, access to affordable and healthy food, improved health care facilities and manufacturing in low-income rural and urban communities. The program is the federal government’s most effective tool for community revitalization.

Without NMTC in Ohio, development of important economic growth projects in underserved communities throughout the state would slow down, or more likely not even happen. This means fewer jobs and less revenue circulating within distressed economies.

_DSC0180For example:  Finance Fund provided NMTC financing that made it possible for Freeport Press to make major upgrades and improvements in its printing operations — including the addition of a state-of-the art web press that increased production and expanded employment opportunities in this rural community. Today, Freeport Press is the area’s largest employer and was listed among the 2013 INC 5000 fasting growing privately owned companies.

I invite you to take a look at some of the NMTC case studies on our website to see the NMTC at work in Ohio. You can reach me with comments or questions at jrklein@financefund.org

Feeding Appalachian Ohio Children

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Tara Campbell, VP Lending

Tara Campbell, VP Lending

Appalachian Ohio is home to the poorest of the poor – a place where poverty, drugs, lack of transportation and employment opportunities often leave single mothers and grandmothers raising multiple children that they can’t feed without regular government assistance and supplemental food deliveries.

Clearly, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and volunteers are working hard to fill the rumbling stomach of extreme poverty using grant dollars to buy, prepare and transport food. These Herculean efforts to feed hungry kids through food deliveries and hot lunch feeding centers are vital to the health and well-being of many Appalachian families.

Last week, I made an eye-opening visit to Jackson County in Appalachian Ohio with fellow Finance Fund leaders Kim Scher and Andy Hardy. We met with southeast Ohio representatives from the offices of Governor Kasich, Auditor of State Yost, Senator Portman and Congressman Johnson, then helped feed hungry kids a hot lunch. The children can get lunch daily at several sites in Jackson with funding from the Ohio Dept. of Education Office of Child Nutrition programs. This excellent program helps feed kids during the summers when school is not in session and they are most at risk of food insecurity.   

At the meeting, we shared Finance Fund’s recently released Food for Every Child report that maps areas where there is greatest need for access to healthy food in low-income areas that have high rates of diet-related death. The report was well-received as was the idea of developing a statewide financing vehicle to drive healthy food retail centers in underserved areas such as Appalachian Ohio.

After the meeting, we saw contents of a typical five-day food box that includes canned fruit and vegetables, tuna salad, packaged shelf-stable milk, cereal and snacks – supplemented with produce provided by General Mills. The food boxes are delivered to 575 children each week in a $2.3 million program funded through the Governor’s office. When the volunteer delivery drivers arrive, there is excitement as kids run up asking, “What did you bring me to eat?”

We had a great conversation among thoughtful and inspired people committed to improving the quality of life for people. We all recognize the need for a comprehensive, long-term approach that includes driving area economic development through community-based assets that create jobs and provide needed products and services.

These conversations will continue throughout the state as we share research findings, and gather information and insights. I’d welcome your questions or comments at tcampbell@financefund.org

Boys look forward to a hot lunch.

Boys look forward to a hot lunch.

Food security for a hungry child.

Food security for a hungry child.

Prepared foods in Food Boxes are supplemented with fresh fruit and veggies.

Prepared foods in Food Boxes are supplemented with fresh fruit and veggies.

 

SE Ohio Representatives (from left) Susan Rogers, COAD; Tara Campbell, Finance Fund; Juli Stephens (Rep. Johnson’s office), Kathleen Young (Gov. Kasich's office), Todd Shelton (Sen Portman's office), Julia Wharton (DSA Administrative Assistant), Eric Johnson (Auditor Yost's office)

SE Ohio Representatives (from left) Susan Rogers, COAD; Tara Campbell, Finance Fund; Juli Stephens (Rep. Johnson’s office), Kathleen Young (Gov. Kasich’s office), Todd Shelton (Sen Portman’s office), Julia Wharton (DSA Administrative Assistant), Eric Johnson (Auditor Yost’s office)

Buckeye Prep Academy Opens as Key Community Asset

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Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

Mark Barbash, EVP Strategic Initiatives

A formerly closed Columbus Public Schools building has reopened as a new K – 8th grade charter school in Columbus’ Driving Park neighborhood. Last week, I joined neighbors and friends for the Buckeye Preparatory Academy’s festive celebration which introduced faculty and staff members, and offered a tour of the renovated school building as well as a carnival filled with games, live entertainment and ice cream.

The event has me thinking about how important schools are to the health and vitality of communities. How schools help encourage networks among people of different ethnic origins and backgrounds. How schools help shape the surrounding community through their academic calendar, student performances, sporting events, PTO meetings and celebrations. How schools promote good citizenship that ensures a safe and fruitful learning opportunity for all students.  How schools anchor neighborhoods and provide a sense of place, of connection and cohesion.

Karen Renee Dunn, School Principal

Karen Renee Dunn, School Principal

Finance Fund understands and supports the development and redevelopment of schools as economic and social drivers that build and strengthen communities, and help students envision a bright future. Finance Fund provided $1.5 million in New Markets Tax Credit financing towards the renovation of the school. Additional support came from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Ohio Capital Corporation for Housing and the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation Board of Directors, led by Steven Boone, Board President.

Buckeye Prep is sponsored by the Buckeye Community Hope Foundation and is committed “…to eliminate the Achievement Gap in all public community schools in Ohio through strong partnerships with schools, boards, and sponsors.” Buckeye Community Hope Foundation was approved by the state as a community school sponsor and has currently educated 8,000 children in 50 community schools.  

Parents and students met Principal Karen Renee Dunn and five teachers. Other celebrants included David Petroni, Buckeye’s Vice President, Angela Mingo from Nationwide Children’s Hospital, John Whitten, President of the Driving Park Civic Association, and Lucy Wolfe, from the Livingston Avenue Area Commission.

Buckeye’s commitment to the neighborhood goes beyond the new school. They are also working with the City of Columbus and Franklin County Land Bank to help renovate up to 50 homes in the area which has a 21 percent unemployment rate and is at 40 percent of the poverty rate.

As always, please feel free to send me a note at MarkBarbash@financefund.org.

 

Reflections on a Summer at Oxford

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Finance Fund President and CEO James R. Klein

Finance Fund President and CEO James R. Klein

I had the privilege of participating in the University of Oxford Advanced Management and Leadership Program in the UK in June. The discussions were led by well-established experts and critical thinkers drawn from Oxford’s various colleges as well as private industry. Our class included three dozen C-level executives from many business sectors and areas of the world.  I was the only US representative – which made my leadership, management and world views unique to say the least.

This was easily the most thought-provoking, and most enjoyable, learning experience in my many years of education. Thought you might enjoy a few of the takeaways.

We began with a discussion of leadership, its role and purpose within forward-thinking organizations. Our findings, drawn from the group’s comments, debates and exercises, is that “Leadership is about building new capacity for learning,” and that “Good leaders must be able to learn, unlearn and relearn on a continual basis.”  We defined several traits common to all leaders to include: intelligence, emotional stability, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Various Oxford faculty presented their unpublished research on the subject and solicited feedback from the group. The emphasis was on the fact that group thinking does not always make the right decisions. The group is valuable when it relies on the individual’s thinking. Every individual’s participation is important.

It is not possible within this forum to provide much more than a few other valued takeaways:

  • The more you know, the fewer answers you have.
  • Embracing risk is not the same as taking risk.
  • Trust is the essential element of any team.
  • A leader’s aim is to delegate and train until he/she is no longer required.
  • Worry about what you can control today.
  • People remember recognition.
  • The vision is diluted with each delegation.
  • A leader makes the decision based on the best information, takes action and accepts the consequences.
  • How people talk to each other absolutely determines how well the organization will function.
  • Most people form trust based on face-to-face interaction (visual cues).
  • There is no perfect strategy. There are only strategies that are good enough to get where we need to be.
  • Avoid financial myopia remembering that strategy is knowing where we’re going, leadership is running to get there, and finance is the valued tool of measuring both.
  • Imagination is the short cut to a person’s heart.

 So what’s my leadership role at Finance Fund? I see myself as the chancellor of change, the curator of the creative, a malcontent of mediocrity and a consummate connector. Alliteration aside, I work alongside our senior executive team and staff to achieve short-term goals that add up to excellent long-term performance.  It’s not always about following the script. It’s about moving toward impact within the limits of the strategy. The contribution of leadership is to incent excellence in performance of the whole team.

 Our brand exists primarily in people’s heads so we know the importance of communicating our business strategy through good storytelling. We also know the importance of connecting strategy to measurable performance standards. We come to work every day to fulfill our promise to connect low-income communities with public and private sources of capital to improve the quality of life for people. 

 It’s good to be back at Finance Fund where theory meets practice and we can learn, unlearn and relearn every day.

Ohio Economic Development Projects Stall Without Federal NMTC Allocation

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Director of Public Affairs Andy Hardy

Director of Public Affairs Andy Hardy

When, the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund announced the federal New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) awards on June 5th 2014 for the 2013 round, Finance Fund was disappointed that we did not receive an allocation. To date, we had received a federal NMTC allocation in eight rounds totaling $240 million.

In conducting our analysis of the awards, it became apparent that no Ohio-focused community development entity (CDE) had received a NMTC allocation. As we thought about the negative impact this would have on the projects and investments we were working on, we began searching for funding alternatives for our pipeline projects.

Certainly, there are even greater implications for the state of Ohio. The state’s low-income and distressed communities simply won’t benefit from the private investment incentivized by the NMTC. This will slow or even stop important projects that would have served as economic growth engines to create jobs and circulate revenue in areas that need it most.

What’s more, there are implications for the Ohio New Markets Tax Credit Program as well. Unfortunately, the state’s NMTC program is coupled with the federal program. This means that for a CDE to apply for an allocation from the Ohio NMTC Program, it must first receive a federal NMTC allocation. Although out-of-state CDEs are eligible to apply for Ohio NMTCs, the overwhelming majority of allocatees have been Ohio-based CDEs. As it currently stands, without any new federal NMTC allocation to Ohio-based CDEs, very few, if any CDEs will be able to utilize the state program.

Efforts are under way to decouple the state program from the federal program. In February, a coalition of seven CDEs from throughout Ohio, led by Finance Fund President and CEO James R. Klein, met with state legislators to demonstrate the positive economic impact of Ohio’s NMTC program and discuss ways to streamline and improve the program.

One of the most important recommended changes is to decouple the state program from the federal program.  This would make it possible for CDEs to apply for a state NMTC allocation even if they did not receive a federal allocation. This recommendation has been well-received by Members of Ohio’s General Assembly. Currently, there is legislation in both the Ohio House (HB 478) and Senate (SB 309) to accomplish this.

Without additional NMTC allocation to Ohio-focused CDEs in the coming year, qualified projects in the state are not likely to benefit from the federal NMTC Program.  Open-for-Business

So, just how important is the Ohio New Markets Tax Credit Program?  Here are a few statistics you may find interesting.

The Ohio NMTC program was established by the state legislature in 2009. Since then, this effective and efficient financing tool has successfully driven investment and job growth in Ohio’s low-income communities. To date, the Ohio Development Services Agency, which administers the Ohio NMTC program, has made 19 Ohio NMTC awards to nine different community development entities totaling $40 million in tax credit allocation. This equates to $102.4 million in investments. Ohio NMTC financed projects have created 557 new jobs and 1,665 construction jobs, and retained 1,670 jobs.

We will keep you up-to-date as Ohio NMTC reform legislation moves through our state legislature.  If you have questions or would like further information, please send me a note at ahardy@financefund.org.

 

Two Million Ohioans, 500,000 Children Lack Access to Healthy Food

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CFO Turoff addresses the Ohio Healthy Food Financing Summit in Columbus.

CFO Turoff addresses the Ohio Healthy Food Financing Summit in Columbus.

Good things happen when knowledgeable, experienced and committed people gather to address a challenge. Finance Fund met with city and state leaders, professionals from the supermarket industry, public health, economic development and civic sectors last week at a Healthy Food Financing Summit, hosted in Columbus at The Columbus Foundation. This concerned and caring group of like-minded people brought great insight to the question of how to address one of Ohio’s greatest challenges – improving access to healthy food in low-income neighborhoods.

Summit participants shared information and discussed some of the barriers that are keeping supermarkets and other fresh food retailers from operating in Ohio’s underserved areas. These include the cost and availability of land in urban neighborhoods, the difficulty of getting financing to build supermarkets in these areas, and the challenges of workforce training and retention.

A new report, entitled Food for Every Child: The Need for Healthy Food Financing in Ohio, demonstrates the scope and depth of the healthy food access problem statewide and in major Ohio cities using maps that document the connection between supermarket access, diet-related disease and neighborhood income levels. Finance Fund sponsored the study with support from the Ohio Regional Convergence Partnership. The study was conducted by The Food Trust, a national expert that has researched and successfully launched food access initiatives in other states.

The study found that nearly two million Ohio residents, including more than 500,000 children, live in lower-income communities underserved by supermarkets and other healthy food retailers. At the same time, a staggering 30.8 percent of Ohio children ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese. People living in communities without a supermarket suffer from disproportionately high rates of obesity and diet-related diseases including diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, while people living in communities with a supermarket are more likely to maintain a healthy weight. The study also notes that an investment in erasing the supermarket deficit in underserved areas would have significant economic benefits – supermarkets provide good quality jobs, serve as retail anchors and spark complementary development nearby.ProduceBasketFull

Food for Every Child concludes that “Ohio must address the critical need for more healthy food retail in many communities.” The study recommends that state and local governments in Ohio take the lead in developing a public-private response to ensure that all residents have access to the affordable, nutritious foods necessary to lead a healthy life.

Next steps in this initiative include educating policymakers about the issue and continuing conversations with stakeholders to understand the barriers to fresh food access and how to address them.  Expect a findings report in January 2015. In addition, Finance Fund will be exploring the possibility of creating a statewide healthy food retail financing fund to provide grants and loans to healthy food retail projects creating access for these underserved urban and rural communities.

If you would like to join the conversation, please contact me at dturoff@financefund.org or Director of Development Valerie Heiby at vheiby@financefund.org.

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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