As a nonprofit driven by building business as a force for good, we know that capital is a component of building not just wealth, but also the social, environmental, and economic well-being that we and our partners pursue.
One source for capital is Ecotrust CDE. In 2005, we formed Ecotrust CDE to support the innovation we were seeing in the region. Although its creation is an unusual step for a nonprofit organization, we saw the need for a full range of capital–public, private, and philanthropic–to accomplish large impact projects.
“We also want to enable growth for businesses that generate economic value, such as jobs; community revitalization; and ecological restoration.”
A Community Development Entity (CDE) is an entity designated by the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund to assist with public-private investments in low-income communities. We, through Ecotrust CDE, pushed this definition further–we also want to enable growth for businesses that generate economic value, such as jobs; community revitalization; and ecological restoration.
Since its establishment, Ecotrust CDE, in partnership with private businesses and Tribal governments, has issued $277 million in New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC) to support 27 projects. Ecotrust CDE prioritizes working with people of color-controlled and -owned entities, including Tribal organizations. We recognize that these partnerships are important in the work to ultimately shift capital and power. Additionally, Ecotrust CDE’s work includes rural areas, where economic and community needs are great, as are the possibilities for environmental restoration and progression of working lands. And, Ecotrust CDE supports our other mission-aligned work. Fees earned from Ecotrust CDE not only go toward sustaining itself, but they also fund our non-profit programs and other mission-related investments.
So what does that look like in practice? Here are a few of our current projects that exemplify the triple-bottom-line benefits that can be achieved through NMTC investments.
For years, the Kalispel Tribe near Usk, Wash. relied on a lagoon treatment system for wastewater processing. Over time, the aging facility began experiencing overtopping of the lagoons, which can significantly impact public and environmental health. As a result, the Tribe was required to use capital that could otherwise have been invested in local projects to instead transport wastewater to a facility off the Reservation.
In 2014, the Kalispel Tribe partnered with Ecotrust CDE to secure NMTCs to provide capital for upgrades to their wastewater treatment facility. To-date, the Tribe has increased their wastewater treatment capacity from 4.6 million gallons to 12.95 million gallons, meeting the increased needs of residents and visitors alike. These upgrades also resulted in the creation of 25 construction jobs and 18 permanent jobs. Capital was also secured for the expansion of their buffalo preserve, enabling the Tribe to rehabilitate 18.96 acres with aeration, reseeding, and fertilization for buffalo pastures. The herd’s improvement parallels the increase in community health.
Fry Foods was a food-processing facility in Ontario, Ore, where the unemployment rate is higher than the state average and one in four people live below the federal poverty line. Fry Foods was a key customer for mid-size agriculture in the region and one of the largest local employers. The facility closure in 2012 caused significant impact to the region, with the loss of 240 jobs.
In 2015, Ecotrust CDE worked alongside partners to reopen Fry Foods. Reopening the facility enabled the creation of 134 construction jobs and resulted in important upgrades. Today, the facility has added 108 full-time permanent jobs and growing. Employees receive health benefits, paid time off, and access to job training programs, that include classes in English as a second language and Microsoft Suite, as well as training in welding work. Reinstating Fry Foods, whose products go out across the country, catalyzes an economic boost to the local area.
Navajo Tribal Utility Authority
An estimated 15,000 homes and 60,000 people–mostly elders and young children–were without electricity in the Navajo Nation, in 2018.
In November of that year, Ecotrust CDE and the Navajo Nation completed the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) NMTC transaction. NMTC equity was used for the construction of a substation that connects more Navajo Nation households to the recently completed Kayenta Solar Facility, a 27.3 MW solar farm.
This investment resulted in 30 full-time construction jobs, 70% of which were filled by low-income people and/or people of color, and four permanent jobs, all of which were at living wage with benefits. The substation also allows for the expansion of the Tribe’s solar farm and increases their electric grid capacity. For every household added to the grid, the quality of life, potential to succeed at school, and connection to jobs and community increases. And for every new Navajo Power household, the Tribe moves further away from coal, its previous power source and economic driver, toward a resource that is renewable and abundant.
We have seen over and over the economic, social, and environmental revitalization that can occur when communities and businesses can access the capital and advisory support they need to put ideas into action. Ecotrust CDE’s work continues to identify partners and projects with this potential and move capital into their hands. We are proud to be part of the work that our partners have achieved and look forward to the future possibilities that NMTC can enable.
Top photo: Lumber stacked high at Ochoco Lumber Company, a project which has since concluded its seven-year partnership with Ecotrust CDE. Photo courtesy of EFM.