Minnesota Opportunity Collaborative Inspires Statewide Investment

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Minnesota is making Opportunity Zones work for their communities!

The Minnesota Opportunity Collaborative, which launched in spring 2019, continues to expand its efforts to inspire investment in opportunity zone projects across Minnesota. MNOppCo is committed to bottom-up collaboration to put the opportunity zone incentive to work for communities that have historically suffered from a lack of investment. MNOppCo’s grassroots effort is unique among statewide opportunity zone programs and has helped ensure that it directly serves the communities that can most benefit from the legislation.

MNOppCo has its roots in the efforts of The Northspan Group, Inc. and Community Exchange, two nonprofits devoted to local community development. Northspan, a Duluth-based consulting firm, assisted numerous entities with their submission of qualifying census tracts for certification and spearheaded MNOppCo’s project directory concept via a Duluth LISC pilot project. Along with MN-OZA, a Minnesota-based opportunity fund, Community Exchange staff developed the curriculum used at several of LISC’s earliest trainings in the state. Later, Northspan and Community Exchange joined forces to launch MNOppCo at a statewide level.

MNOppCo has three major areas of work: creation of a directory of opportunity zone projects, stakeholder education, and facilitation of statewide collaboration on opportunity zones.

First, MNOppCo’s efforts to build a directory have resulted in one of the nation’s most robust databases of opportunity zone sites and projects. Its directory includes over 15 projects and over 25 industrial parks, major buildings, or attractive vacant sites located in zones. These project listings allow MNOppCo to connect developers with investors and facilitate projects in communities across the state. Projects entered in the MNOppCo directory are also placed on a national project platform operated by The Opportunity Exchange (TOE), which allows national investors to view Minnesota projects. To date, the platform has generated eight known inquiries into Minnesota projects from these national investors.

Second, MNOppCo has worked extensively to educate communities about the opportunity zone incentive. MNOppCo has held training events in 23 of the 78 zones in rural Minnesota to date, in addition to participation in several larger events in Duluth and the Twin Cities and several presentations to statewide audiences. The program’s workshops in communities across the state bring together developers, real estate professionals, potential investors, public sector staff, elected officials, accounting and legal resources, and community advocates to identify shared needs and advance common solutions. Our experience to date has shown us that proactive work to bring partners to the table can advance development that aligns with community vision.

Finally, MNOppCo works to advance statewide collaboration. The Collaborative launched a monthly webinar series in June 2019 that features insights from community practitioners from across the state who share their experiences with the incentive. MNOppCo also works to bring opportunity zone stakeholders together through events such as the September 18 Be Inspired Summit, which will bring in national speakers and award cash prizes to the winners of Community Exchange’s Opportunity Zone Challenge competition.

MNOppCo will continue to work with statewide and national partners to increase exposure for our projects and bring in the best available resources to support our work. Generous support from its founding partners has allowed MNOppCo to deliver its trainings free of charge to communities. We aim to continue this model going forward so that we can reach deliver training for community partners in every opportunity zone in the state and continue to inspire investment that uplifts these long-neglected zones.

MNOppCo has been made possible by support from numerous founding partners, including Duluth LISC, Twin Cities LISC, the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, Department of Employment and Economic Development, and Southwest Initiative Foundation.


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MNOppCo is powered by The Northspan Group, Inc., a Duluth-based private non-profit development organization that has provided professional business, community, and organizational development consulting services throughout the Upper Midwest since 1985. For further information on MNOppCo or Northspan, contact President & CEO Elissa Hansen at 218.481.7737 or ehansen@northspan.org.

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Elissa Hansen

Karl Schuettler
since: 10/2016
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