Submitted by Brett Wiler, Vice President of Capital Formation
Flagship Opportunity Zone Development Company
This Wednesday, on February 5, Erie won the Forbes OZ Catalyst Challenge Grand Prize at the Winter Innovation Summit held at the Sorenson Impact Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our competition included Opportunity Zones in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and throughout the nation. The judges determined that our plan to invest more than $60M in Erie’s Opportunity Zones placed Erie at the forefront of communities using this policy to attract capital to talented but underserved regions.
The recognition from one of the nation’s premier business publications is a pivotal moment and tremendous accomplishment for this region. For decades, Erie has faced challenges and setbacks that were often beyond our control. That said, we have also neglected to use some of the tools available that other communities use to build a strong local economy.
That era is over.
We are going to use every tool available. The families who call this region home deserve no less.
The Erie of tomorrow—and the Erie of today—has shown an ability to band together, collaborate, and work passionately and quickly toward a better future. Leaders at the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, the Flagship Opportunity Zone (a division of the Regional Chamber), the Erie Downtown Development Corporation (EDDC), the Erie Innovation District (EID), Mayor Joe Schember’s office, Erie Insurance, and so many others have embraced and championed Opportunity Zones as an important economic development tool.
There is a term for the residents and leaders who’ve continued to believe in Erie, even in our most challenging times. That term is “local patriot.” A few years ago, Atlantic writer James Fallows toured America in a small airplane. Fallows visited communities that seemed to have figured out a way forward in the modern economy. Those visits led Fallows to compile a list of eleven signs a city will succeed.
Second on that list was the presence of “local patriots.”
While they can be patriotic in the traditional sense, what Fallows meant by “local patriot” is a consistent champion for their community. Local patriots climb to the rooftops and tell the world exactly how special their community is.
While Erie still has its challenges, when it comes to local patriots, our region’s rooftops are standing room only.
Our local patriots have helped put Erie at the forefront of the national Opportunity Zone conversation. As a result, Forbes recognized our region as a national leader, a trendsetter, and a community other cities, regions, and even states can learn from.
It’s been a long, long time since Erie received that sort of recognition.
Yet, here we are.
We earned it.
Actually, you earned it.
However, our work has just begun. The coming years will see our region soar to heights it hasn’t seen in decades—but only if you and the rest of Erie’s local patriots continue to roll up their sleeves, climb to the top of any roof they can find, and tell the world just how special this community is.
This award isn’t an epilogue.
It’s a prologue—though it is a prologue we are incredibly proud of.
Now, let’s go write the rest of the story.