Impact Investors Turn Their Attention to Buffalo

Fueled by a number of public-private partnerships, economic development efforts in the greater Buffalo region have begun to attract the attention of large foundations and investment firms looking to create more impact with their dollars.

To that end, representatives of eight national foundations and three investment firms gathered in the Rust Belt city earlier this summer to discuss a variety of socially responsible investment opportunities, including training programs for jobs that pay "family-sustaining" wages, investments in companies with strong environmental records, and offering credit to local land trusts to buy land for preservation. "We're a community that's really on the move in terms of economic development, and these investors are coming to town to meet with local economic development leaders to begin the conversation of opportunities where they can put capital to work in the local community," said Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo.

The foundation's potential partners in that effort include the Minneapolis-based Community Reinvestment Fund, which is considering targeted investments in projects designed to encourage the growth of small businesses and good-paying jobs; Community Capital Management; the National Development Council; and the F.B. Heron, Kresge, Hitachi, and Open Society foundations. "It's clearly about economic development, but it's not about grants," Dedecker said. "These foundations are coming in to look for opportunities in which they can invest their actual endowment."

For example, Heron, a $300 million New York City-based foundation that works to address poverty, has experimented with a number of "mission-related" investment techniques, from brokering loans, to purchasing debt, to making private-equity investments in businesses and communities. "Poverty is not marginal anymore. It's not if we help someone get access to a loan, they can buy a house," said the foundation's president, Clara Miller. "If they don't have a job, having access to a loan is not good, and owning a house is not always good, either. So we said maybe we should go farther down the food chain and say how can we intervene to make sure people have jobs."

"National Foundations Investing in Buffalo." Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo Press Release 08/24/2014.