Daily Press (Sunday)

State should reinvest in talent and diversity

- By Lisa Lucas-Burke JAY PAUL/STAFF

In my two decades of serving the residents of Portsmouth, I have been given the opportunit­y to see Virginia’s finest exports firsthand. I’m not talking about goods you can hold in your hand, though. I believe that of all the many things our commonweal­th has to offer, our best products are talent and diversity.

Allow me to explain. In addition to serving as vice mayor of Portsmouth, I also chair the Board of Directors of Virginia First Cities, an organizati­on with a mission to bolster economic opportunit­ies for 17 of the commonweal­th’s oldest municipali­ties. Over the years, we have successful­ly lobbied the General Assembly to provide resources on a wide range of public policy issues relevant to our localities.

But our member cities couldn’t be more dissimilar in a lot of ways. We come from every corner of the commonweal­th, and represent a cross-section of Virginia as a whole.

Some are from large urban centers, while others serve more rural communitie­s. Some board members are lifelong Democrats, and others are conservati­ve Republican­s. But many of our issues before the state legislatur­e transcend geography or party labels — and chief among them has been to grow programs that support the expansion of community wealth-building programs for small businesses, nonprofits, affordable housing and commercial real estate. In other words, despite our outward difference­s, we can all agree that public entities should nurture talent, no matter where it might live.

In recent years, there has been a rise in Community Developmen­t Financial Institutio­ns (CDFIs) providing affordable microloans to those who have been traditiona­lly overlooked by more mainstream financial institutio­ns in the past — including entreprene­urs of color and/or those in economical­ly distressed areas of Virginia.

This is precisely why Virginia First Cities was proud to become a founding member of the Virginia CDFI Coalition, which was created in 2021 through a $10 million initial fund provided by the General Assembly. This legislatio­n is being patroned by Del. Cliff Hayes and Sen. Ghazala Hashmi.

It is no exaggerati­on to say that this fund, which is now known as the Commonweal­th’s Capital for Communitie­s Fund (CCCF) and is administer­ed through the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Developmen­t, has been a game-changer for Virginia localities by way of creating new jobs, new businesses and seeding economic growth for low- and moderate-income individual­s.

In all, the annual statewide impact of CDFIs is growing every single day. According to the coalition, there has been $212 million in capital provided to Virginia businesses — with two-thirds of those funds going to nonprofit organizati­ons alone. Further, these funds have accelerate­d approximat­ely 900 business originatio­ns, financed more than 1,500 units of affordable housing, and has directly been used to create roughly 2,500 jobs.

Here in Portsmouth, organizati­ons such as the Hampton Roads branch of Local

Initiative­s Support Corporatio­n (LISC) are doing amazing work via CDFI partners in the region. In addition to recently relocating its regional offices to Portsmouth, in recent years LISC has partnered with the Expand 757 Small Business Loan Program, which provides 0% loans and other available capital to entreprene­urs in the region; the B-Force Accelerato­r, which is a 12-week intensive course aimed at giving Black and Latinx businesses the tools they need to grow and thrive; and the Community Resilience Innovation Challenge, which has made $1 million available to businesses and nonprofits alike that are working on innovative solutions to issues in our community.

These stories — and the stories of so many others around Virginia — are not only a testament to the success of the Virginia CDFI Fund since 2021, but should serve as a call to action to lawmakers from both parties to expand the program and reinvest in Virginia’s talent and diversity for years to come.

Looking forward, the Virginia CDFI Coalition is seeking a boost to the state’s initial investment­s to the tune of an additional $3.5 million for the current fiscal year, and a $10 million increase per annum in the upcoming state budget.

We know these programs work, and by providing allies like CDFIs to businesses in communitie­s big and small, we can further use Virginia’s talent and diversity as a unifying force to provide equitable economic opportunit­y for us all.

Lisa Lucas-Burke is the vice mayor of Portsmouth and chair of the Board of Directors at Virginia First Cities, a founding member of the Virginia Community Developmen­t Financial Institutio­ns Coalition.

 ?? ?? Senators work during a session of the Virginia General Assembly on Feb. 24 in Richmond.
Senators work during a session of the Virginia General Assembly on Feb. 24 in Richmond.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States