Launching an Opportunity Zone in Fresno

Fresno, located in California’s Central Valley, has made progress in its efforts to end systemic inequities and expand economic opportunities. But city leaders know they must continue to address the persistent economic challenges — exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic — faced by its marginalized communities. To this end, FUSE Executive Fellow Clair Whitmer helped launch Opportunity Fresno, an initiative focused on generating sustainable, equitable, and inclusive investment in Fresno’s 47 Opportunity Zones. When COVID-19 hit, Clair helped support local businesses, creating new means of outreach and working on grant programs, while ensuring funds reached businesses in distressed neighborhoods.

Helping the Office of the Mayor respond to the pandemic, Clair worked with the economic development team to create a Facebook page, mailing list, and deeper, more interactive website to better support businesses. The mailing list now includes more than 2,200 businesses, giving the team a critical channel for communicating with this community during and after the COVID-19 crisis. Her team also worked on the city’s Save Our Small Businesses program, eventually taking over its administration and crafting guidelines to enhance the inclusion of businesses operating in distressed neighborhoods. Clair is continuing to support development in Fresno’s Opportunity Zones, while prioritizing the need to revitalize its downtown area, helping protect and reinforce the city’s economic resilience during and post COVID-19.