By Leah B. Thibault
When we think of what distinguishes a town from its neighbor, we often speak of the businesses: the local coffee shop or deli; the funky boutique or bookstore; all important to the identity and economic well-being of a community.
But there is a second, equally vital, but more often overlooked group of service providers and nonprofits that tend to their communities’ physical, mental and emotional well-being.
These service providers are the daycares that make it possible for parents to work outside the home, or the hospitals that tend to all who need care regardless of their insurance coverage, or the art facilities and libraries that provide educational opportunities and cultural enrichment.
These service providers, many of them nonprofits, are often dependent on donations or grant funding, which can be unpredictable or restricted to very specific uses, making large-scale capital projects, like renovation or construction, difficult. It is notable, then, that over 1,200 community facilities were able to access flexible, affordable capital through the federal New Markets Tax Credit Program between 2003 and 2012, according to a national study by the New Markets Tax Credit Coalition.
Because of the New Markets Program, renovation is underway in Hudson, New York on a historic armory building that will serve as an educational and social hub for the city’s residents. While Hudson is largely know as a vacation destination for antique-shopping enthusiasts, many of the city’s year-round residents struggle with finding their place within an increasingly gentrifying area, as well as earning the worst educational outcomes in New York state.
The 26,000-square-foot facility will house the Hudson Area Library; Perfect 10, a nonprofit that works to prepare 4th- through 9th-grade girls for college; the Berkshire Union Free School District, which provides high school completion courses for young men unable to attend traditional schooling; and a new senior center operated by the city. In one building, residents of all ages, ethnicities and economic background will be able to access materials and programs to help them achieve their education goals as well as have a community space that is for the benefit of the residents, not the tourists.
Across the map in another tourism-based economy, the residents of Marfa, Texas are looking to develop their own community meeting grounds. As part of a larger downtown revitalization project, the Crowley Pavilion and Crowley Theatre are receiving much-needed expansions and upgrades. At the outdoor Pavilion, the local flea market, farmer’s market and regular community meals are held, making this open-air structure a vital meeting place for the city’s 2,191 residents. Similarly, the Crowley Theatre is made available to local nonprofits and community groups free of charge, giving this increasingly-artistic community a home for film screenings, musical performances and dramatic presentations.
While community facilities may not be the same level of economic driver as a new manufacturing facility, they are crucial to a community’s identity and potential. This is perhaps why studies show there has been an 82 percent increase in New Markets investment in education, a 53 percent increase in funding for community services, and a 32 percent increase in healthcare financing over the past five years. These jumps come as the value of these types of companies and places becomes more apparent, and the social being-well of a community becomes considered as much as its economic well-being.
Image credit: Galvan Community Center
Leah B. Thibault is Director of Operations for CEI Capital Management, LLC.