To Boost Opportunity, A Bank Focuses On A Region That’s Faced Tough Times

Workforce-oriented philanthropy is all the rage these days among leading banks, with companies like JPMorgan Chase, Citi and Bank of America rolling out ambitious grant programs. Tech firms like Google and Microsoft have also been active here. Lately, some of the heftiest corporate giving in this space has been to boost skills attainment and align workers with job-rich fields like healthcare and financial services.

The KeyBank Foundation is pursuing similar goals with its recent commitment of $24 million: better economic prospects and work opportunities in underserved communities. But it’s taking a region-specific approach. The grant, which is the KeyBank Foundation’s largest ever, supports JumpStart Inc., a public-private partnership initiative dedicated to small business and entrepreneurship. Most of its work takes place in Northeast Ohio, a region that includes Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown, and which has faced tough economic challenges in recent decades.

JumpStart’s KeyBank Business Boost & Build Program will be its most ambitious partnership with the bank, but hardly its first. KeyBank has supported the outfit for over a decade. According to Margot Copeland, who heads the KeyBank Foundation, “JumpStart has gone above and beyond what KeyBank expected, supporting entrepreneurship and the scale-up of small businesses” in the Cleveland area. “This is an opportunity to take the prowess that JumpStart has to new markets in Ohio and upstate New York.”

Jumpstarting a flagging economy (pardon the pun) is a philanthropic priority across much of post-industrial America, as we’ve seen with efforts like Detroit’s New Economy Initiative (NEI). The economic challenges of places like Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany, New York (which the current grant will serve) look similar to those of Northeast Ohio.

In places like New York City, plenty of employers may be itching for qualified “middle skills” jobseekers. But in the Rust Belt, entrepreneurship and scaling up existing businesses is also a priority. NEI and Jumpstart share supporters like the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Surdna Foundation.

At the same time, Copeland stresses that “the underserved in Seattle may look different than the underserved in Cleveland, but you’re looking at the same socioeconomic challenges from place to place.” In our conversation, Copeland highlighted KeyBank’s dedication to building thriving communities in a comprehensive way through education, workforce development and, increasingly, housing policy, in addition to business incubation. As we’ve reported, the bank has partnered with the Kresge Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Goldman Sachs on the Strong Families Fund, a $70 million pay-for-performance affordable housing initiative in the region. Inclusivity is another one of KeyBank’s priorities: making sure minority-owned businesses have equal opportunity to grow.

One part of the KeyBank Business Boost & Build Program at Jumpstart involves establishing a physical space, the Center for Technology, Innovation and Inclusive Growth, to serve Ohioan entrepreneurs. Technical assistance will be extended to small business in Ohio and upstate New York. In Cleveland, JumpStart will facilitate vocational training for youth and work on ways to connect them with employers.

In most cases, KeyBank prefers funding grantees it already knows well. Largely unproven concepts, like the online jobs/skills portals JPMorgan Chase is funding lately, aren’t really on Copeland’s radar. Many of KeyBank’s grants are multi-year, and it has longstanding funding partnerships with the United Way of Greater Cleveland, Cleveland’s University Hospitals Health System, and lots of other well-established Cleveland institutions. This latest JumpStart commitment, with its reach into upstate New York, represents a chance to serve cities beyond Ohio.

While KeyBank has branches in 15 states, Copeland considers her organization a regional funder. During her time managing KeyBank’s philanthropy, she’s had a chance to see what works in places like Cleveland and Upstate New York. As examples, she highlights KeyBank’s full-ride fellowships for minority students at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and Albany Medical Center’s “Grow Your Own” nursing program.

We’ve also written before about KeyBank’s Fellowship Endowment Fund at the Toledo Museum of Art, supporting greater diversity in museum leadership. In all these cases, it’s about building paths to better employment for people who are already in the area, minorities in particular.

This story originally appeared on Inside Philanthropy.