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Community Highlights

Three Days, Three Programs: Highlights From West Virginia

Collaborative team for three recent programs to accelerate Opportunity Zone projects in West Virginia. Left to right: Josh Cook, West Virginia Forward; George Murray, Small Business Administration; Wes White, West Virginia Department of Commerce; Mary Hunt, Benedum Foundation; Jeanne Milliken Bonds, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Community Development; and Aaron Sporck, office of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito.

Morgantown, Shepherdstown and Charleston were the sites of three panel discussions focused on how to accelerate West Virginia Opportunity Zone projects. The programs discussed West Virginia Opportunity Zones and were the collaborative effort of Jeanne Milliken Bonds, Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond Community Development; Josh Cook, research fellow, West Virginia Forward; Mary Hunt, program director, Benedum Foundation; Claude Worthington, Benedum Foundation; Marten R. Jenkins Jr., president, Natural Capital Investment Fund; Aaron Sporck, director of Economic Development, office of U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito; and Wes White, deputy director, WV Department of Commerce.

“The Community Development function in the Federal Reserve is focused on access to credit and economic growth in low-income and underserved communities. To that end, it’s important to have business and property owners in the same room with investors and local government to listen and plan how Opportunity Zone investment can be made with synergy and balance to help meet community needs,” explained Jeanne Milliken Bonds.

Investors, lenders, developers, property owners, entrepreneurs, business owners, lawyers, accountants, researchers, legislators, and community and economic development professionals totaling more than 350 attended the programs, and more than 100 tuned in via webinar. “I am honored to work with the partners to move West Virginia in the right direction,” said Wesley White of the WV Department of Commerce.

On Thursday, April 25, in Morgantown, the team presented a panel discussion in partnership with the WV Bioscience Summit. On Friday, April 26, Shepherdstown University was the site of a half day program, and on April 29, the WV Regional Technology Park in South Charleston hosted a program. “Our communities need to unlock capital for cultivating resilience and development. Working together, we can understand how best to use the new Opportunity Zones program along with other tools to grow and sustain healthy local economies,” said Mary Hunt of Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and former chair of the Richmond Fed’s Community Investment Council.

“By understanding and sharing the characteristics of West Virginia’s designated Opportunity Zones and the deal structures this program facilitates, we can help the state achieve maximum economic and community development impact,” said Josh Cook of West Virginia University.

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, while on the Senate floor recently, mentioned that her staff had participated in a three-day education tour conducted in partnership by West Virginia Forward, the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, the West Virginia Department of Commerce and the Benedum Foundation. Capito noted the importance of the educational tour: “Opportunity Zones have the potential to help transform communities throughout West Virginia [to] create jobs, drive economic growth and attract investment in the areas that need it most.”

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