| Erie Times-News
When Boston-based Arctaris Impact Investors announced a $40 million Opportunity Zone investment in Erie in June, $30 million was earmarked for the Erie Downtown Development Corp.
The remaining $10 million, supported by a $5 million investment from the Erie Community Foundation, would be used to make “socially impactful investments,” said Mike Batchelor, the foundation’s president.
Beginning Thursday, Arctaris is inviting Erie-area companies, nonprofits and city government to help decide how that $10 million could best be used.
Jonathan Tower, CEO of Arctaris, announced Thursday that it is seeking proposals for projects that will improve the quality of life in Erie County.
Tower made his announcement as part of Erie Homecoming 2020, sponsored by the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership. This two-day event, which is being held online because of COVID-19, is an ongoing effort by the chamber to encourage investment in Erie, particularly from former residents or others with connections to the community.
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Tower said Arctaris is open to a range of investment ideas, including plans that would develop develop solar energy or expand broadband internet service.
“And we hope to hear from some good old manufacturing companies, which are our bread and butter,” Tower said Thursday morning as he toured some of the 12 EDDC projects that are in various stages of development.
Applications, which can be found at www.eriepa.com/arctaris, will remain open through Dec. 31.
Tower said the $10 million could be committed to one project or as many as three.
Tower’s requests for proposals was one of the highlights of the first day of the conference, which began with a conversation with the founders of Erie’s Black Wall Street.
Other speakers included Jim Sorenson, of the Sorenson Impact Center, which awarded Erie the OZ Catalyst Award in a national competition co-sponsored by Forbes magazine.
“Erie is making waves,” Sorenson said in his remarks. “Erie’s commitment to understanding community needs, prioritizing social impact and attracting impact-oriented capital,” earned them the award, he said.
Woven throughout the presentation were a series of 3-minute commercials highlighting opportunities to invest or offer assistance to Erie organizations. The videos, which will be archived, included promotions for the Ridge College of Intelligence Studies at Mercyhurst University, Radius Cowork, the Hagen History Center and the International Institute of Erie.
Fran Seegull, executive director of the U.S. Impact Investing Alliance, celebrated Erie’s efforts to rebuild and its use of federal Opportunity Zones.
“We are here today because we refuse to accept the status quo,” she said. “What is happening in Erie represents a revolution in what it means to invest with intention.”
Seegull praised Erie Insurance, which last year announced the creation of a $50 million Opportunity Zone investment fund. The money from that fund has since been used to make investments in the EDDC, Erie-based Whitethorn Digital and to enable the $40 million investment in Erie by Arctaris.
“We need more companies like Erie Insurance that are rooted in their communities and willing to step up,” Seegull said. “No one can sit on the sidelines.”
Like others on Thursday’s agenda, Seegull spoke about the concept of impact investing.
“Impact investing is really a new term for an old idea that capital can serve the interests of the owner as well as the community at large,” she said. “It is our hope that places like Erie will continue to lead by example.”
The conference also highlighted the early success of the Erie Center for Arts and Technology, which is transforming the former Wayne School into a facility to serve the needs of a disadvantaged community by providing services to at-risk youth and adults.
Tenants will include a school of nursing, the United Way of Erie County, a health clinic, a pharmacy, an athletics facility and the offices of the Blue Coats peacekeeping initiative.
Executive Director Daria Devlin talked about how ECAT tapped into a $2.5 million tax credit that had not previously been used in Erie. She also talked about opportunities for investing in the project.
Marcus Atkinson, an ECAT board member and former executive director of the nonprofit ServErie, said he feels good about the efforts of the organization.
“Now you have this revolving door of goodness, of benevolence,” Atkinson said. “I think that is a testimony of hope for this community.”
Tower’s announcement about the search for investment ideas came during a panel discussion between Tower, Batchelor and Mitch Hecht, founder of International Recycling Group, which recently announced plans to invest $100 million to build the word’s largest plastics recycling plant in Erie.
MAJOR PROJECT: $100 million recycling plant planned for Erie
Hecht said it was a news account of last year’s Homecoming and Erie Insurance’s plan to create an Opportunity Zone investment fund that led him to Erie.
Ultimately, Erie Insurance and the Erie-based Plastek Group combined for a $9 million investment in the recycling company.
For his part, Tower said Erie met all of the criteria that Arctaris looks for before making an investment.
The community had investable projects, the potential for social impact, and “a really clear vision of what it wants to be in the future.”
Tower said, “I am truly grateful to be investing in Erie. This is what we do.”
Tower, who hadn’t been in Erie for several months before arriving Wednesday night, said he was impressed by the level of activity.
“It was like time-lapse photography,” he said. “Last time I saw boarded-up buildings. Now, there are 14 construction workers working to get it ready.”
Tower said he’s looking forward to reviewing some proposals.
“We are looking for things that benefit low-income individuals. It could be a company that makes widgets that would create 50 jobs. This is not a wild-goose chase. It’s real. It’s actionable.”
Contact Jim Martin at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ETNMartin.