Remarks by Dr. Rajiv J. Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation At an Opportunity Zones Announcement for Washington, D.C., Oakland, Dallas, and St. Louis
September 9, 2019
As delivered on Friday, September 6, 2019 at Busboys and Poets Anacostia, Southeast Washington, D.C., U.S.A
Hello, good morning. Thank you for that kind introduction, and thank you John [Falcicchio] and Mayor Bowser for having us here today.
We’re really excited to be joined by – you know, The Rockefeller Foundation, as you mentioned, has had a history of working with cities around the country. We’re proud of our work with Washington, D.C. on resilience and the resilience plan for the city. We’re also proud of our work in more than two dozen other cities around this country. And one thing we have learned is that dynamic mayors committed to doing practical things to help lift people up and improve their cities, is what continues to give us hope when sometimes our politics are a little fractured at other levels. And so we’re excited to have some of our mayoral partners from other cities here today: Eric Johnson from Dallas, thank you for joining us. Lyda Krewson from St. Louis, thank you for being here. And Maraskeshia Smith from Oakland, the [assistant] city administrator, thank you for representing Oakland today.
I also want to say, The Rockefeller Foundation is based in New York, and we have been there for 106 years, and we’ll continue to be there for probably another 106. We do have some roots in this community and one of them is our great trustee, Patty Stonesifer, who led Martha’s Table, and all of you know her commitment to Anacostia. And another one is our Chief Operating Officer, Steve VanRoekel, who lives in Washington as well…so we’re here with you all the time in D.C.
When we look at the Opportunity Zone tax credit and the opportunity that that affords investors to put their resources to work in local communities, we believe that it will unlock billions and billions of dollars of investment in almost 8,800 designated Opportunity Zone communities around the country. And these communities, like Anacostia, are minority-majority communities – they are majority-minority communities, sorry. They have a poverty rate that’s two or three times the national average; they have an unemployment rate that’s three or four times the national average. So we were proud of our work with governors around the country to help designate zones that we believe need and will benefit from investment, if it’s done right.
Here’s the catch: this week, there’s been a lot of news about Opportunity Zones highlighting investments that maybe are not being done with the same spirit that you just heard from Bo [Menkiti] and that you see next door at the MLK Gateway. And so, we see it as our task to bring together civil society organizations as best we can, to work with mayors, work with investors, to try to have more MLK Gateways – and fewer examples of wealthy developers benefitting from projects they would already have done. And so it meant a lot to me to hear Bo say that that deal would not have happened without the Opportunity Zone designation and law and fund. And we believe there are thousands of similar transactions that can create hundreds of thousands of jobs around the country that, like that case, will in fact be benefitted by this, if we do it right.
So our task as The Rockefeller Foundation is to try to make the law work for working families in communities as intended.
We have supported the Opportunity Zones Reporting Framework: a framework we created with 20 other major U.S. foundations and impact investors. It’s voluntary because we’re a foundation, not a government. But we encourage everyone who makes an Opportunity Zone investment happen to join that reporting framework, and publish the impact of your investment and your development on the local community – because data and transparency is a big part of making sure we’re helping people who live in these communities.
We’ve worked with the Treasury and the IRS and we look forward to working with the White House to see if we can optimize and improve some of those reporting requirements and standards going forward.
We will continue to partner with great cities and great mayors, which is why we are announcing today a [nearly] $4 million commitment to support these four cities: to help them create Chief Opportunity Zone Officers or designate a senior official to take responsibility for the program; to help invest in partners, like LISC and BCT Partners, that can do the community engagement and make sure that every single deal that gets invested in with Opportunity Zone funds does what happened next door – 70 community meetings, a lot of outreach and listening, a lot of making sure that if there are 150 jobs coming here, there are also going to be new jobs created by Antwayne [Ford] and his company right here in Anacostia that are great technology jobs, that have the opportunity to really improve training and workforce access for local community members.
Those are the kinds of things that we get to support and those – we are hoping, the result of that – are a lot of great examples of communities and families being lifted up at a time when America needs a little less cynicism in our politics and a little more practical optimism on the ground.
And so we’re honored to be here with you, a group of optimists who are making it happen. And I’m going to introduce our – in this city, our optimist-in-chief – Mayor Muriel Bowser.
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