Acadiana Planning Commission: Using Opportunity Zones to Support Rural Wealth Creation

The Cajun Woodstock festival benefitting St. Jude Children’s Hospital was identified in the Invest Church Point prospectus as a form of cultural capital for the community of 4,500 residents (Photo credit: Invest Church Point prospectus)

Following the creation of Opportunity Zones in 2017, the Acadiana Planning Commission (APC), located in Lafayette, Louisiana, moved quickly to position its seven-parish region for investment through the new tax-based incentive intended to support distressed communities.  APC partnered with One Acadiana, the regional chamber of commerce, to create Invest Acadiana, an initiative and accompanying web portal to promote investment in the 25 Opportunity Zones (OZs) across the region.  Through this initiative, detailed and informative prospectuses for both the city of Lafayette and the entire region were published and in time Invest Acadiana became a model for how small metro and rural regions could leverage Opportunity Zones to encourage economic development.  The regional partners also gained national attention for their efforts and were recognized by Forbes in December 2019 as one of the “Top 20 Opportunity Zones catalysts” in the country.

Inspired by this initial success and recognition, staff at APC continued to explore ways to use Opportunity Zones to encourage a new way of thinking about economic development, particularly in small towns throughout the region.  Says Monique Boulet, APC executive director, “What Opportunity Zones have done is open the conversation in our communities about the possibilities and how to reinvest and reinvigorate by looking at assets in places that may not recognize them.”

Exploring WealthWorks and Multiple Forms of Capital 

It was that focus on lifting up community assets that led the APC team to explore the WealthWorks framework.  WealthWorks is an asset-based approach to economic development that builds value chains, leverages multiple forms of wealth (or capital), and is rooted in local control and inclusivity.  For their OZ initiative, APC was particularly interested in ways rural communities and small towns could explore and highlight the various types of capital that exist locally.  WealthWorks does this by focusing on eight forms of capital: built, financial, individual, intellectual, natural, political, social, and cultural.  Wealth creation activities seek to build more than one type of community capital without harming other assets in the process.  This framework creates the space and vocabulary for communities to take a holistic look at their wealth and showcase their people, places, and environment.

WealthWorks encourages communities and regions to lift up 8 forms of capital or wealth as part of its inclusive  approach to economic development

In preparation for taking a wealth creation approach, APC staff reached out to colleagues at the Region Five Development Commission, located in Staples, Minnesota.  Serving five rural counties, Region Five has embraced WealthWorks since 2014 and has infused this approach into all aspects of its mission, including project delivery, regional initiatives, partnerships, and much more.  Over phone calls and video conferencing, staff at Region Five shared their knowledge and expertise to train APC in using a wealth creation model for their rural OZ outreach.

Chad LaComb, economic development planner at APC, said his team was drawn to the WealthWorks model because it flipped the script on the traditional narrative about struggling small communities and created a language that allowed communities to better express all they had to offer.  “We noticed that a lot of the statistics we were using to promote the Opportunity Zones were often perceived as negative for the communities.  The inherent nature of the OZs is to address distressed areas so we were discussing things like high poverty and high unemployment.”

Creating Community Prospectuses as “Real Marketing Tools”

Located in Acadiana Parish, the Town of Church Point is one of the small communities that worked with APC to create a community prospectus.

With two Delta Regional Authority (DRA) grants and support from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) for a VISTA staffer, over the course of a year three APC staff researched, wrote, and promoted seven prospectuses for rural communities and small towns across the region that highlight the multiple forms of wealth and assets that exist in their communities.  More than 20 stakeholder meetings and focus groups were held – both in-person (prior to the pandemic) and virtually through Zoom – to conduct asset-mapping exercises, identify case studies and projects to highlight, and compile data.  The result was the creation of highly accessible and visually-engaging prospectuses that Boulet calls “real marketing tools” for small communities to showcase their assets and amenities.

The Town of Church Point is one of the small communities that worked with APC to create a prospectus.  Located in Acadiana Parish, Church Point is home to around 4,500 residents, has a poverty rate hovering around 34%, and a median household income of around $31,000.  By these metrics alone, Church Point appears to be an unlikely candidate for investment, let alone having a 45-page document that highlights community assets and wealth.  Yet the Invest Church Point prospectus does just that and is a powerful example of how using the WealthWorks framework and documenting multiple forms of wealth can change the conversation from one about what is lacking in a place to what opportunities exist, oftentimes in plain sight.

The prospectus is packed with images, infographics, and maps and opens with a brief profile of Church Point and definitions of each of the eight capitals.  The bedrock of the document are the in-depth descriptions of how the capitals exist in Church Point.  For example, the “Built Capital” section highlights the Church Point Cultural District, including a structure listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as bed and breakfast accommodations and RV parks, and transportation, infrastructure, and utilities information.  The “Cultural Capital” section features the various festivals held in Church Point, such as Cajun Woodstock fundraiser every April and the Courir de Mardi Gras held the Sunday before Mardi Gras.  Each of the eight capitals is covered featuring metrics, projects, and case study profiles.

The prospectus concludes with an overview of Opportunity Zones, including an explanation of how they work, the benefits they can deliver to communities, and a list of federal, state, and local incentives that can be leveraged to support the process.  All prospectuses follow a similar template, making each of them a one stop guide for how the Opportunity Zones incentive can apply to each particular community and what assets and capitals exist locally.

Screenshots from the Invest Church Point prospectus highlighting examples of cultural and built capital in the community, as well as catalytic investment opportunities.

Positioning Communities and the Region for Success 

APC staff view the OZ initiative as a way to enhance and elevate the mission of the organization in promoting economic and community development across the region.  This includes supporting the wider vision identified in the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, a five-year economic development roadmap.  “The CEDS serves as the baseline document for this work,” says LaComb.  “The prospectuses and OZ initiative are facilitating the goals and objectives in the CEDS.”  The development of these community prospectuses also meets updated CEDS content recommendations from EDA announced in January 2020 for how communities can further promote the economic attractiveness of their region by emphasizing Opportunity Zones as key investment-ready locations.  The inherently regional focus of the CEDS provides a unique platform to capture and promote the advantages of Opportunity Zone communities.

One of the communities with a new OZ prospectus that is poised to receive new investment is New Iberia, located about twenty minutes from Lafayette.  In February 2021, the U.S. Economic Development Administration announced $3.1 million to construct a 47-mile long fiber optic line that will deliver high-speed service to businesses, government offices, a new emergency operations centers, behavioral health clinic, and local residences in New Iberia, Lafayette, and Scott.  The project will generate around $26 million in private investment for the region.  This fiber line will better position New Iberia and others for investment – and it also will add a new form of “built capital” the community can leverage.

Achieving any long-term success will require continued collaboration across the region, said both Boulet and LaComb.  The nature of Opportunity Zones as a tax incentive to drive redevelopment has brought new personalities and institutions to the table as well as deepened partnerships already in place with state and federal agencies, chambers of commerce, and other public and private organizations.  With these new prospectuses, APC has put a valuable resource in the hands of local leaders, allowing communities to move beyond a dated model of economic development and truly imagine the possibilities for the future.

This case study was developed as part of the NADO Research Foundation’s Stronger CEDS, Stronger Regions program, funded through a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration,U.S. Department of Commerce.  The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Economic Development Administration or the U.S. Department of Commerce.  Contact Brett Schwartz at [email protected] with any questions.


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Regional Development Researcher Andrew Coker joined the NADO team in March of 2023 after spending two and a half years as the Regional Economic Resiliency Coordinator at West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. Andrew holds a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

At NADO, Andrew conducts research on the newest economic and community development best practices from Economic Development Districts across the country. He helps produce easily digestible information on complex regional issues through case studies, tip sheets, and research reports. Andrew also hosts training and professional development opportunities including conference sessions and virtual webinars for member regional development organizations.

Andrew is one of our Missouri-based team members and enjoys reading and training for his next triathlon.

Jack Morgan came to the NADO team in 2022 after seven years with the National Association of Counties (NACo) as a Program and Senior Program Manager. Prior to NACo, Jack was a Policy Analyst for Friends of Southwest Virginia. Jack holds a bachelor’s in geography from Emory & Henry College and a master’s in geography from Appalachian State University.

As a NADO Senior Program Manager, Jack leads capacity-building and peer-learning work supporting energy communities in economic transition, regional resilience, and recreation economies. He also helps with the EDA-Austin training program Emerging Leaders.

Jack is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is a member of the American Planning Association (APA) in the Regional & Intergovernmental Planning division. He also serves on the Emory & Henry College Alumni Board.

Taking road trips, reading non-fiction, and indulging in top-notch barbecue and coffee round out Jack’s days. He loves maps, mountains, and of course, all things sports.

Karron Grant joined the NADO team in 2023 as Administrative Specialist and is the first face (or voice) you’ll see or hear when reaching out to NADO. As Administrative Specialist, Karron manages our database and coordinates NADO event operations. He ensures members’ needs are met, contact information stays current, and NADO’s office is running efficiently.

Karron came to NADO after four years in the classroom teaching at The New Century School and Old Mill Middle North where he received the Patriot of the Year award. He attended Towson University and the University of Maryland Global Campus and holds a bachelor’s in international studies and humanities.

Visiting art galleries and museums, playing basketball and bowling, and taking in movies and music are some of Karron’s interests and hobbies.

Deputy Executive Director Laurie Thompson has been with NADO for 25 years. Laurie helps keep the NADO and NADO Research Foundation wheels turning through management of the daily operations of the Research Foundation, securing financial resources and overseeing grants management, and helping execute NADO’s Annual Training Conference each year.

Laurie holds a bachelor’s in public affairs and government from Mount Vernon College and a master’s in health services administration from The George Washington University. Prior to NADO, Laurie spent time as a Field Specialist and an Eagle Staff Fund Director at First Nations Development Institute.

When she’s taking a rare reprieve from her NADO work, Laurie enjoys traveling domestically and internationally to visit friends and family.

Jamie McCormick joined the NADO team as a Policy Fellow first in 2019, then moved into her current role as Legislative Associate in 2021. As Legislative Associate, Jamie keeps NADO members apprised of any policy and regulatory issues and communicates NADO’s policy priorities to federal stakeholders and partner organizations. She is also the first stop for members with inquiries on policy issues. The planning and execution of NADO & DDAA’s annual Washington Conference is also managed by Jamie.

Jamie holds a dual bachelor’s in political science and international relations from The State University of New York College at Geneseo and a master’s in international development studies from The George Washington University. In addition to her roles at NADO, Jamie also worked as a Legislative Assistant for the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association.

Outside of her NADO work, Jamie is an active volunteer with the VOLO Kids Foundation and a fundraiser for YMCA youth programs. She is also NADO’s resident baker regularly providing treats for those in NADO’s D.C. office. Traveling, taking her pup on walks, and hiking in the northeast keep Jamie busy. 

Brett Schwartz began at NADO in 2012 as a Research Fellow after earning his J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The following year, he was promoted to Program Manager and has now been leading as an Associate Director since 2018. Brett is responsible for managing NADO’s Economic Development District Community of Practice (EDD CoP), as well as researching and monitoring the latest trends in regional economic development and resilience, including best practices for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). With more than a decade of experience on the NADO team, Brett is a dynamic relationship builder helping connect and build capacity among the national network of regional development organizations.

Brett also holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s from Trinity College Dublin, as well as a certificate in mediation training. He’s a member of Catalyst Grantmakers of San Diego and Imperial Counties and was a participant in the 2021-22 Field Trips to the Future Cohort.

Brett is one of NADO’s West Coast team members residing in San Diego, CA where he enjoys spending time outdoors, attending concerts and festivals, and soaking up life as a parent of two young children.  

Communications Manager Katie Allison joined the team in 2023 to lead the strategic communication efforts of NADO. Katie creates and develops print and online materials, communicates NADO’s updates to members via weekly emails, and maintains content for and NADO’s social media channels. She also works with different departments to generate new ideas and strategies to effectively describe and promote the important work NADO is doing for EDDs and RDOs across the country.

An experienced nonprofit communications professional, Katie has worked for organizations in western North Carolina for nearly a decade. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from Wingate University where she was a four-year student athlete. Katie has also completed Vision Henderson County, a comprehensive leadership development program that promotes informed and committed civic volunteerism.

Katie stays busy trying to keep up with her two young sons whom she enjoys exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains with. Traveling to new and favorite places and cheering on the Atlanta Braves are some of her family’s favorite pastimes.

Senior Program Manager Ciara Ristig has been a member of the NADO team since 2021, and helps with NADO’s EDD Community of Practice, EDD staff capacity building and other grants on a range of subjects, including equity and solar energy. Before NADO, Ciara worked as a Planner for the County of Santa Barbara and an Assistant Project Manager for REM Consult. Ciara holds a bachelor’s in urban studies and French from Bryn Mawr and a master’s in urban studies from Ecole d’Urbanisme de Paris.

When she’s not traveling, you can find her outrigger paddling and serving on the board of the Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama, CA, near her home base of Santa Barbara.

Carrie Kissel has been a member of the NADO team since 2005 when she began as a Research Fellow. She later moved into the roles of Program Manager in 2006, and then Associate Director in 2011. Carrie holds a bachelor’s in anthropology from Ball State University and a master’s in public anthropology from American University. As Associate Director, Carrie oversees NADO’s work in rural transportation and rural wealth creation. She provides technical assistance and support to rural regions on transportation and economic development issues and develops training and peer exchange events on transportation issues and rural wealth creation as an economic development strategy.

Carrie is a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and secretary of TRB’s Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council. She is also a member of the American Anthropological Association and the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

Reading, gardening, hiking, and kayaking are a few of Carrie’s hobbies, and she organizes and facilitates a DEI/social justice-focused book club in her community.

Melissa Levy has worked at NADO as a Regional Development Researcher since February 2023 and is the Principal Consultant at her own firm specializing in wealth-based economic development consulting. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, Melissa brings a breadth of knowledge to her role as a Regional Development Researcher. Melissa provides in-depth research, coaching, and training on regional economic resilience, rural wealth creation strategies, and economic development.

Melissa is a North American Food Systems Network trained AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion (ACRE) facilitator and a WealthWorks coach, facilitator, and trainer. In addition to her professional work, Melissa serves on the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Council, on the board of the Hinesburg Community Resource Center, and on the Hinesburg Economic Development Committee.

A true outdoorswoman, Melissa enjoys cross country and downhill skiing, paddleboarding, hiking, biking, and kayaking, as well as yoga, and teaching Tai Chi.

Program Manager Krishna Kunapareddy began her role with NADO in February of 2023 after 14 years of service at Boonslick Regional Planning Commission in Missouri. Krishna manages NADO Research Foundation’s Planning and Environmental Linkages and Center for Environmental Excellence projects. In addition to researching and writing, Krishna also conducts virtual workshops on innovative tools and techniques related to transportation planning.

She holds an undergraduate degree from Andhra University and a master’s from JNT University in India, as well as a master’s in city and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington. Krishna is also a certified Smart Cities Academy Practitioner and holds the Location Advantage certificate from geographic information system software company ESRI.

In her spare time, Krishna volunteers with Mentors4College helping high schoolers better plan for their post-high school paths. She is also a dedicated advocate for documented H4 Dreamers.

Krystal DeLeon joined the NADO team in October of 2020 as Database & Grants Manger, but in January of 2022 transitioned to her current role as Operations Manager. Krystal keeps NADO running through behind the scenes work of invoicing, solving any database issues that may arise, producing membership reports, and much more. Her organizational skills and thorough knowledge help the NADO team operate more efficiently across all departments.

Prior to NADO, Krystal was the Conference Services Coordinator for State Services Organization. She is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), a licensed realtor, and holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Liberty University. When she’s not keeping NADO’s operations in order, Krystal enjoys running and rock climbing, and adventuring with her husband and son.

Senior Program Manager Bret Allphin joined NADO in April of 2022 bringing with him a wealth of knowledge after a 20-year career with Buckeye Hills Regional Council in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to his bachelor’s in political science and master’s in public affairs, Bret is licensed Geographical Information Systems Professional (GISP). He is NADO’s go-to team member for all things mapping while also supporting members with transportation and economic development technical assistance services.

An avid sports aficionado and former collegiate athlete, Bret enjoys cheering on his Cincinnati Reds, hitting the trails on his mountain bike, and improving his golf game whenever possible. Bret is an involved community member in Marietta dedicating much of his spare time to serving on local nonprofit boards.

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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

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