Located south of Stockton and north of Bakersfield in California’s Central Valley, Fresno is home to the state’s richest agricultural land and its most persistent poverty. While job growth has improved in recent years, the region’s communities of color, which account for 72 percent of the population, struggle with longstanding inequities that threaten Fresno’s economic progress.
While Fresno County’s average unemployment rate was 7.4 percent in 2018, the lowest since 1990 — the region continues its historic pattern of lagging behind both statewide and national unemployment rates. Latinos comprise nearly 53 percent of the county’s population; that same group experiences dramatically higher poverty rates than any other in the state, at just over 26 percent. In the exclusive enclaves of north Fresno, life expectancy is 90 years; in the city’s south and southwest, Fresnans live, on average, 20 years less. More recent efforts to end the region’s systemic inequality and expand economic opportunities have made inroads, but the situation requires both greater investment and greater equity to allow for every racial and ethnic group to participate and prosper. Despite its image of abundance as the nation’s top agricultural county, Fresno is a paradox. Adjacent to fields that feed the nation are communities that qualify as food deserts.
In order to attract the level of investment needed to set the region on more prosperous and equitable footing, Fresno is preparing to work with a new federal incentive introduced in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, known as Opportunity Zones. Through the deferral, reduction and elimination of capital gains taxes, Opportunity Zones have the potential to attract billions of dollars in private capital, making them one of the largest economic development initiatives in U.S. history. The City of Fresno is taking an exciting leadership role to spearhead the Opportunity Zone initiative by establishing connections among local cities, community stakeholders and potential investors. This process will coalesce around creation of an Investment Prospectus, which will group city priorities around a vision for leveraging private capital toward sustainable, equitable and inclusive investment. The prospectus will give investors a basis for evaluating opportunities by highlighting assets, advantages, partnerships, and even shovel-ready projects.
To support this work, the City of Fresno will partner with FUSE Corps to host an executive-level fellow for one year who will collaborate with local stakeholders including the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) to oversee creation of the region’s Investment Prospectus along with a first round of investment deals. These and subsequent deals will be designed to significantly benefit local residents and not just for-profit developers; leverage the capabilities of local institutions in the public, private and social sectors, and accelerate existing priorities for development. Since the City will be a first mover in the Opportunity Zone landscape, the fellow has an opportunity to create economic development models that can be used in similar communities across California and the rest of the country.
PROJECT SUMMARY & POTENTIAL DELIVERABLES
The following provides a general overview of the proposed fellowship project. This project summary and the potential deliverables that follow will be collaboratively revisited by the host agency, the fellow, and FUSE staff during the first few months of the fellowship, after which a revised scope of work will be developed and agreed upon by the FUSE Fellow and the host agency.”
Starting in October 2019, it is proposed the FUSE Fellow will study the market norms and best practices developed thus far for Opportunity Zones. An overview of Fresno’s economic, social and political panorama will also be necessary, including consultation with local and state leaders to understand the political implications and policy dynamics that can aid or impede the fellow’s work. Subsequently, the fellow will begin an extensive outreach and engagement with public, private and community stakeholders to determine local priorities. Community stakeholders will include activists, church groups, labor constituencies and other grassroots organizations that represent residents. The needs of local entrepreneurs and developers, particularly those from minority and underserved backgrounds, will also be heard and supported. The fellow will then undertake a review of the Investment Prospectus developed to date to make sure it conforms with an appropriate Opportunity Zone project focus and that it accurately reflects community priorities. Subsequently, in the second half of the year, the fellow will assess investment opportunities and take part in the selection process of the first round of projects with key stakeholders.
The fellow’s success in the endeavor will be evaluated based on several factors. Solid project management abilities, particularly in an economic development context, along with exceptional community management skills are essential to execute an ambitious agenda. Stakeholder engagement across a broad demographic range is of paramount importance, coupled with a commitment to establishing inclusive, sustainable, cross-sector collaborations related to the project. These engagement skills will go up against an historical mistrust of government and are critical to the success of the project. Therefore, leadership skills are another key ability the fellow will bring to the table. Finally, the fellow will stay ahead of the learning curve regarding Opportunity Zones, particularly regarding still-pending Treasury regulations governing investments. By the end of the year, the fellow will help deliver a groundbreaking plan that has the promise to deliver significant improvement to the lives of people who have traditionally been left behind.
- Conduct a landscape analysis and a review of best practices: Develop an overview of project’s main pieces — Opportunity Zones’ market norms and best practices developed so far; Fresno’s social, economic and political panorama; and the range of public, private and community stakeholders whose interests coincide with the project’s successful outcome.
- Engage and align stakeholders: Establish ongoing channels of communications with stakeholders to ensure that all viewpoints are incorporated in the Investment Prospectus, which will serve as Fresno County’s calling card to prospective investors by highlighting assets, advantages, partnerships and projects. To the extent that there are more projects on the wish-list than can readily fit in the prospectus, exercise cost-benefit analyses as necessary and find consensus on priorities in conjunction with stakeholders.
- Review and update Investment Prospectus: Review work done on prospectus and integrate information gleaned from extensive stakeholder outreach and subsequent analyses of priorities. Adapt the prospectus to any updates on Treasury regulations governing investments in Opportunity Zones. Finalize prospectus, engage the investor community and take part in follow-up meetings on project proposals.
- Promote and secure initial deals: Work towards successful completion of initial deals, in conjunction with key stakeholders, based on priorities set by Investment Prospectus. Time-permitting, take part in project implementation phase.
- Wilma Quan, City Manager, City of Fresno
- Lupe Perez, Project Manager, Economic Development Department, City of Fresno
- Lee Ann Eager, President/CEO, Fresno County Economic Development Corporation
- Will Oliver, Director of Business Services, Fresno County Economic Development Corporation
- At least 15 years of professional experience in project management, particularly in an economic development context, with a demonstrable track record in community management working with demographically diverse populations.
- Superior critical thinking and analytical skills.
- Ability to synthesize complex information into clear and concise recommendations.
- Ability to relate to a wide variety of diverse audiences with strong emotional intelligence and empathy.
- Excellent stakeholder engagement skills and the ability to use facilitative leadership techniques to coordinate stakeholder activities.
- Self-motivated, goal-oriented, entrepreneurial leader who can also be an independent worker.
- Persistent in obtaining information and creatively resourceful in identifying solutions to complex problems.
- Ability to create direction and movement within potentially resistant or skeptical
- Exceptional written and verbal communication skills with an ease in public presentations.
- Understands the need for solutions to support all people in a community regardless of race, religion, gender, immigration status, or ethnicity.