The Playbook lays out concrete steps that economic development experts and community champions can take to develop a pipeline of shovel-ready projects, build community consensus, and target mission-aligned investors for public and private sector capital. The Playbook highlights more than a dozen successful case studies and examples of community-led investment projects, including several from the state of Utah, where the Sorenson Impact Center is based at the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business, and around the country.
While originally conceived in response to the Opportunity Zone (OZ) program, part of the 2017 U.S. Congress Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Playbook takes a more expansive view of rural economic development and establishes a broad set of guidelines and procedures to help attract private capital to rural America.
“Rural America has suffered from massive underinvestment for decades, and early evidence suggests this has not radically changed with the OZ policy,” said Megan Brewster, Sorenson Impact Center Senior Manager and co-author of the roadmap. “However, our research in developing this resource identified a compelling group of rural innovators that have been able to buck this trend. This Playbook recognizes that innovation happens at the local level, so a regional approach that leverages public/private partnerships is key to unlocking the promise and power of these innovations to develop and diversify rural economies.”
Researchers from the University of California Berkeley have found that in the ﬁrst year of the OZ policy, the top 5% of OZ tracts received 87% of total investment, while 84% of tracts received no investment at all. While this gap may have lessened over time, the likely concentration of OZ activity has left many communities excluded from the beneﬁts of the very policy designed to overcome historical disinvestment. Rural communities are prime among these. The Playbook is also a response to the reality for many under-resourced rural leaders, who are often overburdened and understaffed despite seeking opportunities for their communities.
The Playbook provides a series of case studies of successful rural OZ projects, including:
- The St. James Hotel in Selma, Alabama (Opportunity Alabama)
- The Thrive Multigenerational Wellness Campus in Kentland, Indiana (Indiana Rural Opportunity Zone Initiative)
- The Union Block Building in Brigham City, Utah (Opportunity Utah)
- Intermountain Electronics Expansion in Price, Utah (Opportunity Utah)
In addition, the Playbook identifies additional sources for community investment funding, including federal and state grants and for-profit investment capital.
“One of the things that is so striking about this Playbook is that it provides an investment roadmap for communities beyond just the OZ incentive, offering a framework community leaders can draw on to help drive private capital investment at the local level, now and in the future,” said Patrick Mullen, Opportunity Zone Consultant with the Utah Association of Counties, a nonprofit supported by the state in providing technical assistance to rural OZ communities. “Here in Utah, we found that the key to success lies in structuring community-led transactions that start with a “bottom-up” approach at the local level. This Playbook reflects our experience that really empowering communities on the ground, whether they live in an OZ or not, is what makes the difference.”
Funding for the “Rural Opportunity Zone and Recovery Playbook” came from the federal Economic Development Association (EDA), with match funding provided by the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity (Go Utah). The principles in the Playbook were also validated with key local partners, including many of the State’s Associations of Government (AOGs), with an emphasis on the primarily rural Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments, the Six County Association of Governments, the Five County Association of Governments, the Bear River Association of Governments and the Uintah Basin Association of Governments. The Kem C. Gardner Policy Center also collaborated with the team to provide population and economic development data to participating municipalities.
The Sorenson Impact Center conducted more than a dozen expert interviews for this report and spent two years on the ground working with local leaders as a part of Opportunity Utah, Utah’s central OZ task force, which includes UAC, the Sorenson Impact Center, the Gardner Center, and Go Utah.
About the Sorenson Impact Center
The Sorenson Impact Center helps organizations achieve their impact vision by connecting capital to social and environmental solutions, helping organizations measure, report, and improve impact, and integrating data science and people-centered storytelling into all that we do. Along with our clients and partners, we share a vision of an equitable and thriving world where everyone is valued, communities prosper, and the measured impact of our actions guides decision-making. As part of our mission to train future impact leaders, the Center integrates academic programming and experiential learning into each of its practice areas. The Center is proudly housed at the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business. Learn more at http://www.sorensonimpactcenter.com
About Sorenson Impact Group
The Sorenson Impact Group, founded by Jim Sorenson, is a multidisciplinary organization focused on catalyzing intentional, scalable, and equitable investing to help solve complex, global social, and environmental challenges. We strive to foster an investment ecosystem that aligns mission and values with market-rate, risk-adjusted returns. Sorenson Impact Group stands unique as a multidisciplinary impact organization that can offer a full spectrum of solutions that the impact marketplace needs to grow and flourish. Our organization includes the Sorenson Impact Center, which is housed at the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business; the Sorenson Impact Foundation, which is one hundred percent mission-aligned; and Sorenson Impact Asset Management, which focuses on delivering market-rate risk-adjusted returns and intentional impact from investments in impact sectors that have been overlooked or underfunded. Learn more at http://www.sorensonimpact.com
About the Utah Association of Counties
The Utah Association of Counties (UAC) is a statewide organization whose members are the 29 counties of Utah. Through their elected officials, the counties direct UAC activities in providing services to county officials. UAC’s purpose is to improve the operation of Utah’s county governments and thereby improve the quality of services counties offer their residents. Learn more at https://www.uacnet.org
About Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity
The office, known as Go Utah, supports Utah entrepreneurs and businesses. We work to retain and recruit companies and bring more high-paying jobs to Utah. In addition, we work with industries, Utah regions, communities, and nonprofits to implement strategic economic development plans and reinforce Utah’s already diverse, prosperous economy. Learn more at https://business.utah.gov
About the Economic Development Administration
As the only federal government agency focused exclusively on economic development, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) plays a critical role in fostering regional economic development efforts in communities across the nation. Through strategic investments that foster job creation and attract private investment, EDA supports development in economically distressed areas of the United States. Learn more at https://www.eda.gov/