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February 22, 2022 | Tom Ballard

“Opportunity Appalachia” adds Tennessee and North Carolina to existing three states

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

The “Opportunity Appalachia” (OA) program is adding two states as it launches Phase 2 of the initiative, and one of those is Tennessee.

In a virtual event kicked-off yesterday by Randy Boyd, an entrepreneur, former Tennessee Commissioner of Economic and Community Development (TNECD), and now University of Tennessee System (UT) President, roughly 90 individuals learned more about the program for which applications are due by April 15.

UT is the lead partner in the Volunteer State for the expansion with Stacey Patterson, UT’s Vice President for Research, Outreach and Economic Development, serving as the point of contact. The overall initiative is coordinated by Appalachian Community Capital (ACC), a 27-member Community Development Financial Institution intermediary whose members and their affiliates manage more than $1 billion in assets supporting economic development in Appalachia.

As described in yesterday’s interactive event, OA’s Phase 2 expansion also adds North Carolina to the three inaugural states – Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia – that produced 17 development projects in Central Appalachia seeking to raise over $250 million in financing. Under the expansion, 40 additional communities are expected to structure real estate project investments that support strategies for economic restructuring and diversification. Those new projects are expected to bring $400 million of new financing to the participating communities and create 3,000 jobs.

The goal is to build entrepreneurial communities where local business can thrive, creating quality jobs for residents, helping to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and revitalizing local economies. Investment priorities focus on downtown development, manufacturing, information technology, healthcare, education, food systems, clean energy, heritage tourism and recreation.

“Collaboration is such a key part of ‘Opportunity Appalachia,’” said Donna Gambrell, ACC’s President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO). After her brief overview comments, Kathryn Coulter Rhodes, Director of Organizational Consulting at Rural Support Partners in Asheville, NC, provided more details.

“It has to be a downtown or rural development real estate project,” Rhodes stressed, adding, “It (also) has to be an investable project.”

Many of the details she covered about topics such as eligible applicants and matching requirements are included in this document. One of those topics that she highlighted was how proposals will be evaluated, and those interested in applying should review that section carefully.

As previously noted, applications are due April 15, and the projects selected to move forward should be announced on May 23. Those successful applicants will then be eligible for technical assistance from providers qualified in areas like market research, financial and business planning, architectural and engineering services, and investor outreach. That assistance is projected to cost between $30,000 and $75,000 per project.

Following Rhodes’ overview, there were two panels.

  • Tom Rogers, President and CEO of the UT Research Park, moderated a panel of financial types that included: (1) Bill Pollard of BrightBridge Capital in Chattanooga; (2) Chris Leutzinger, Senior Vice President, New Markets Tax Credit Relationship Manager with Truist Community Capital; (3) Steen Watson of Chestnut Funds, also in Chattanooga; and (4) Grady Vanderhoofven of Three Roots Capital in Knoxville.
  • Lamont Carter of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (TNECD) moderated another panel that featured Paula Middlebrooks of the State Department of Environment and Conservation discussing brownfields or, as she said, “turning eyesores into assets,” and Brooxie Carlton, TNECD’s Assistant Commissioner for Rural Development.

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