21 Dec Meet the Forbes OZ 20: The Top Players Investing for Lasting Impact
Every new tax law creates a new loophole. There will always be bad actors and unintended consequences. As stories on tax policies go, it makes for a scandalous read. But there is another story, one less salacious but equally important, of bold investors and creative civic leaders using OZ law as it was meant to be.
Powered by the Sorenson Impact Center, we are debuting the Forbes OZ 20: The Top Opportunity Zone Catalysts. Comprised of 10 trailblazing community organizations and 10 innovative OZ funds, the Forbes OZ 20 shines a light on the players harnessing the new tax policy to unlock transformative economic potential and create lasting change in America’s overlooked communities.
To pick the top 20, the Sorenson Impact Center, based in University of Utah’s Eccles School of Business, judged finalists based on Opportunity Zone Reporting Framework, which prioritizes community benefit and engagement, transparency and impact. Applications were scored by experts at Sorenson Impact and judged by an advisory board comprised of leaders in the opportunity zones landscape. Below are 20 examples of how OZ policy can be used as a powerful tool to promote responsible capitalism. Take a look.
Top 10 Community Organizations
Baltimore Development Corporation
HEADQUARTERS: Baltimore, MD
The Maryland-based nonprofit focuses on attracting entrepreneurs to open, expand, or relocate businesses in the Charm City. Armed with tax-credits, lease-to-own real estate programs, direct financing, and permit streamlining, the BDC connects private and public organizations to bring transformative investment to Baltimore’s OZ communities. The program recently used OZ incentives to convince Galen Robotics, which makes surgical robots, to move to Baltimore from Silicon Valley.
City of Erie
HEADQUARTERS: Erie, PA
The combined efforts of the Chamber’s Flagship Opportunity Zone Development Company and the public/private Erie Downtown Development Corporation have attracted interest and investment to the Pennsylvania city of just over 100,000 people. Two new Opportunity Zone Funds have been announced in the last six months, with plans to invest some $60 million across Erie’s OZs. Both organizations have partnered with Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth and KPMG to accurately track, measure and quantify the economic and societal impact of OZ investments.
City of Philadelphia
HEADQUARTERS: Philadelphia, PA
With a specific plan to spur local job creation, affordable housing, access to nutritious food, and safe childcare Philly’s Opportunity Zone Steering Committee is gathering public and private players into a unified OZ strategy. To further spark impact investing, the city has joined the state of Pennsylvania to offer robust tax incentives where entrepreneurs and investors pay little-to-no-state taxes on projects that deliver economic impact on underserved communities. Notable OZ projects include Golaski Labs, a $7.5 million 45,000 square foot mixed-use development in the historic Wayne Junction community, and the Equal Justice Center, a $150 million mixed-use development in Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood which will include 51 affordable senior residential units and 30,000 square feet of open green space.
HEADQUARTERS: Acadiana, LA
Invest Acadiana was born on the Bayou. The organization represents 25 Opportunity Zones across nine parishes in southern Louisiana. Dedicated to revitalizing Lafayette and the surrounding areas, Invest Acadiana connects private partners with state, local, and federal agencies to deploy capital and tax incentives to spark economic growth in the region. As part of the Mayors Innovation Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Invest Acadiana will be featured in a comprehensive case study on early-stage land use projects to build community wealth in a Lafayette Parish neighborhood.
HEADQUARTERS: Atlanta, GA
Chaired by Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the economic development authority of Atlanta is creating city-backed programs and financial incentives to fuel job creation, growth, and neighborhood revitalization. Offering workshops for OZ investors and founders, a pipeline of projects, a dedicated OZ website, and a transparent system of metrics and tracking, Invest Atlanta puts the full weight of City Hall behind Atlanta’s dynamic business community. Recently Atlanta received a $1 million grant from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Opportunity Zone Community Capacity Building Initiative.
HEADQUARTERS: Birmingham, AL
Opportunity Alabama connects OZ communities, investors, entrepreneurs, plus larger institutions like banks, universities, and development organizations. Founded by Alex Flachsbart, the organization is building programs that educate communities on OZ policy and measure the social impact of projects across Alabama’s 158 OZ communities. Opportunity Alabama has also launched an OZ Fund to invest in projects statewide.
HEADQUARTERS: Christiansburg, VA
Most of the Opportunity Zones action is centered in cities. Opportunity Appalachia is bringing OZ investments to America’s coal county. Headquartered in Christiansburg, VA, Opportunity Appalachia represents six rural regions across Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, and more. The program is currently investing $7.5 million in fifteen projects (real estate, green energy, manufacturing, tourism) that will create an estimated 700 plus jobs—10% of which are dedicated to workers graduating from addiction recovery programs.
HEADQUARTERS: Cleveland, OH
Backed by the City of Cleveland, Opportunity CLE has set aside $50 million worth of loans for OZ projects. Representing Cuyahoga County’s 64 Opportunity Zones, the organization has an online portal that links entrepreneurs to potential investors and institutional partners. The group grades OZ projects on a scorecard based on job creation, affordable housing built, engagement of the local workforce, and impact on underrepresented communities. One current development, The Tappan project, will build 59 affordable housing units and is estimated to create more than 100 new jobs.
State of Colorado
Offering sales tax rebates, fast-tracked permitting, infrastructure subsidies and utility discounts Colorado is aiming to supercharge OZ investments. Led by Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade, the state has started education programs to spur projects and built transparent tracking systems to measure OZ impact on historically underserved areas. Communities like Pagosa Springs, Montrose, and Colorado Springs have been early movers offering education, job training, marketing, and tax incentives to drive growth in OZ tracts.
We Grow KC
HEADQUARTERS: Kansas City, MO
Fueled by funding from the Kauffman Foundation, We Grow KC is connecting Kansas City’s entrepreneurs, real estate developers, financiers, and investors to attract lasting investments in KC’s OZ communities. The nonprofit is also developing strategies to use KC’s anchor institutions (University of Missouri Kansas City, Cerner, Hallmark, AT&T) as engines to drive business growth across KC’s six major OZ communities.
In the Zone
The top ten community organizations on the Forbes OZ 20.
Top 10 Opportunity Funds
HEADQUARTERS: Baltimore, MD
Launched by venture investor Ross Baird, Blueprint is a network of impact investors looking to deploy capital in OZ tracks across the country. Its first project, based in Texas, will help rehab and reinvigorate downtown San Antonio and build affordable housing projects in fast-growing Austin. Projects in Baltimore are planned too. Blueprint puts specific emphasis on sparking wealth accumulation for communities and developing entire neighborhoods, not just one-off projects.
SIZE: $50 million
HEADQUARTERS: St. Louis, MO
The St. Louis Missouri fund is plowing $50 million to redevelop the nine-acre City Foundry site. The project will transform the former polluted, 100-year-old train motor factory into a hub of offices, bars, entertainment, and food. The fund has partnered with St. Louis University. It will install college labs to focus on public health and food security for the St. Louis community.
SIZE: $7 MILLION
HEADQUARTERS: Seattle, WA
Through the Strong Communities Fund II, Forterra works with hundreds of partners to create community-led real estate projects. Forterra’s goal is to bring mass timber construction to affordable housing, linking equitable urban development to rural employment. One of its projects, Wadajir, will offer 100 high-quality affordable housing units and 20,000 square feet of market space for more than 75 small business operators currently being displaced by gentrification.
Four Points Funding
SIZE: $20 million
Armed with $20 million, Four Points is investing in rural communities across Colorado. The fund has invested in more than 300 distressed properties in the state and seeding capital to start-up across western Colorado. Aside from forging a new path in startup and rural OZ investing across the Western Slope region, Four Points’ founders are focused on backing female and minority-owned businesses.
KNGDM Opportunity Fund
HEADQUARTERS: Not listed
Led by former NFL linebacker Derrick Morgan, KMGDM is aiming to raise upwards of $200 million to build affordable housing and student housing in markets like Nashville, Austin, Atlanta and Morgan’s hometown of Coatesville, Pa. The fund also invests in operating businesses that focus on education, health and wellness, and local job creation.
SIZE: $50 million
HEADQUARTERS: WASHINGTON, D.C.
The fund is a collaboration between Renaissance Equity Partners and America’s historical Black Colleges & Universities. The $50 million fund will invest in neighborhoods surrounding institutions like Howard University, Morehouse College, Stillman College, and more. The aim is to support gender and racial equity, local employment, and education.
SoLA Impact Opportunity Fund
SIZE: $165 million
HEADQUARTERS: Los Angeles, CA
The $165 million fund focuses on developing affordable housing across South Central Los Angeles, Watts, Compton, and other disadvantaged neighborhoods. Founded by Martin Muoto, a former venture capital partner at Accretive Partners and General Atlantic Partners, SoLa Impact targets the critical issues of homelessness, access to higher education, and living-wage jobs across LA’s OZ tracts.
The Pearl Fund
HEADQUARTERS: New York, NY
While most current OZ bets centered around real estate, The Pearl Fund is thinking high tech. The New York fund is looking to back start-ups in OZ communities focusing on internet infrastructure, cellular coverage, and green tech.
The Woodforest CEI-Boulos Opportunity Fund
SIZE: $20 million
HEADQUARTERS: Woodlands, TX
The Woodforest CEI-Boulos Opportunity Fund is a partnership between Woodforest National Bank, the community development financial institution CEI, and the commercial real estate firm The Boulos Company. CEI’s more than 40 years of experience working with low-income communities, combined with the real estate expertise of Boulos, invests in OZ real estate projects across the 17 states where Woodforest National Bank has locations.
SIZE: $250 million
LOCATION: San Jose, CA
Urban Catalyst takes a comprehensive approach to community engagement through hiring local contractors, partnering with local higher education institutions, and hosting community meetings. One of their first OZ projects is a new $250 million mixed-use senior living facility with 52 assisted living units and 32 memory care units. It will be the first senior living community built in San Jose in 35 years.