This is the fifth in a six-part interview series with team coordinators from each of the six Connect Capital initiative teams. Team coordinators help their multi-sector teams steward work to address their community’s shared priorities.
The Central Appalachia region boasts a wealth of assets: a beautiful natural environment and resources; strong local and regional identities and culture with resilient, creative, and committed people; and well-established and effective cross-sector regional networks. Spread across more than two hundred and thirty counties throughout rural West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee, Central Appalachia is filled with entrepreneurial energy and economic potential.
However, after more than a century of dependence on extractive industries and the rapid decline of coal over the last decade, the region and its residents are facing increasing environmental, health, and social welfare risks. The Invest Appalachia (IA) Connect Capital team is working to identify investment opportunities and aggregate and distribute blended capital resources throughout the region. IA is a transformational effort ready to ignite regional markets, cultivate dynamic talent, and create equitable economic opportunity for central Appalachians.
In this interview, Stephanie Randolph, Program Officer at Cassiopeia Foundation and team coordinator of the Invest Appalachia team, shares the team’s vision for a new entity that will facilitate capital attraction and investment into the Central Appalachia region. Stephanie has a long history and passion for sustainable community development. Her experience in community and economic development, fundraising, and as a program manager influences her approach as a grantmaker seeking to support holistic and sustainable strategies to address community needs.
What are you all trying to do?
As a regional network, we are trying to build resilient communities and accelerate market development throughout our six-state region. We are doing this by focusing on supporting and streamlining capital flow as a key tactic to address challenges that stakeholders on the ground are experiencing. We expect to be able to offer a blend of capital to build up strengths and abilities as well as address critical gaps in the funding and financing pipeline—that is, find solutions to make the deals that seem impossible, possible.
How is this work building on what you all have been up to in your communities?
Connect Capital has provided representatives from across the region focused and guided periods of time to wrestle with problems and challenges from a new perspective. It has helped us get at the balcony level, bringing in new tools and tactics to understand and address our challenges. An example of this is the way the Connect Capital process has helped identify and narrow our pipeline to identify batches of similar projects that when aligned with our blended capital investment strategy can help accelerate investable opportunities shifting one deal into a series of interconnected deals that can create a systemic shift for the regional economy.
What has been most interesting or surprising to you or your team so far?
We had a collective a-ha moment at the first Connect Capital meeting when the pipeline process was broken down into deal spotters, framers, and packagers. We realized we lacked sufficient professional capacity in the region to package deals at an accelerated pace. We have many institutions who perform at a high capacity and do a tremendous job. But if you ask them, almost all would say they need more staff with framing and packaging experience. We also realized that there were language and expectation barriers between spotters and framers in the region. It led us to ask: How can we create common language that can ease the flow between deal spotters, framers, and packagers? That is a central question that we keep going back to.
How are you hoping Connect Capital will help?
Through the Connect Capital initiative, we keep being asked the questions that we aren’t seeing. It has helped us understand many of the language challenges we have with our partners as we dive into more specificity. We have been pushed to clarify the use of the generic terms like “investment” and focus, when needed, on what concretely we will need financing and funding for. As we improve our language and gain deeper clarity on each partners contribution and expectations, we will be able accelerate pipeline development. We expect the Connect Capital team to continue to push us, highlighting the gaps we don’t see, to strengthen our partnerships and the regional investment ecosystem.
What are you most excited about next?
We are excited to see how the outside world reacts to our work. We think we have come up with an innovative model for those looking for high-impact investments but who find this region difficult to understand. We offer an exciting way they can tap in and leverage investments into meaningful projects that have an impact on the ground both at the deal and system level. We’re excited to take this outside the hills and hollers and see what response we get from investors.
Anything else you’d like to share about the Invest Appalachia work?
This has been a two-and-a-half-year effort. We explored the philanthropic and impact investment space and have tried to turn the model on its head by asking: what do people on the ground most need, and how can we attract investment that can accelerate the work already happening on the ground for system level change? Our partners on the ground know what works, but they have been caught in critical funding and financing gaps. We want to make the work we know can happen more sustainable. It’s about feeding the networks that have been working together for some time to create a demand for capital at a scale that is attractive to those outside the region and accelerates the economic transition in a manner that is just and equitable for all Appalachians.