Communities across the United States are mobilizing around an ambitious place-based economic incentive – the Investing in Opportunity Act, a part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. By some estimates, this incentive could help direct hundreds of billions of dollars into 8,700 of America's most impoverished neighborhoods designated as "Opportunity Zones."
We must, however, approach this program with honesty and humility.
We are likely to get much better outcomes if we start with better inputs. That requires access to better information, including a better understanding of economic trends and patterns within and across Opportunity Zones.
For example, spending patterns can give local leaders a better way to understand and market potential unmet needs of the community. In the New Orleans neighborhood of Gert Town, data insights revealed that only about a third of residents in that Opportunity Zone buy groceries in their own neighborhood, yet the total spending by residents is higher than in the surrounding communities. Simply put: Residents need fresh food and companies are leaving money on the table.
For community leaders to build a case for investments – in grocery stores or other businesses – they need access to timely data insights about what's actually happening in their Opportunity Zones at a neighborhood level. That is why Mastercard and Accelerator for America, a non-profit formed by mayors and leaders to fight economic insecurity, have joined forces to provide 50 American cities with data insights and tools to develop investment prospectuses that will attract inclusive investments to their Opportunity Zones. Our goal is to help cities actively participate in the investment market to advance the interests of underserved communities, rather than passively allow investors to solely direct Opportunity Zone investments.