ImpactAlpha, February 3 — Andrew Crosson was a decade deep in the work of community economic development in central Appalachia when he got the call three years ago to lead Invest Appalachia, a nonprofit community impact fund, as founding CEO. He understood nonprofits and philanthropy and Appalachia’s challenges. “What I brought was a vision and an understanding of the ways this fund needed to function if it was going to benefit the region,” says Crosson. “I didn’t know a lot about the finance and investment side of community development.”
Invest Appalachia is taking a catalytic and community-based approach to advance economic inclusion, health equity, climate resilience, and place-based impact in a region that has suffered decades of disinvestment and extraction. The fund closed on $19 million of a targeted $40 million raise, and has built an additional $2.7 million Catalytic Capital Pool to provide loan-guarantees, technical assistance and grants to crowd in investors.
Crosson was raised “in relative poverty” on a small farm in the mountains of western North Carolina – a public school kid “who got free lunch through school and went to college on financial aid and scholarships,” he tells ImpactAlpha. After graduating from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, he earned a master’s degree in sociology with a focus on rural development from the University of Granada in Spain.
In 2012, Crosson joined Rural Support Partners, a Central Appalachian consulting firm that works with rural leaders, nonprofits and other partners to develop local food systems, clean energy projects and other high-impact initiatives. “Andrew’s reputation as a collaborator on systems-building efforts, coupled with his deep experience with across sectors made him a strong candidate” to launch and lead Invest Appalachia, says Stephanie Randolph, who chairs the organization’s board.
At Invest Appalachia, Crosson is exploring projects like a substance abuse recovery and workforce development project in Kentucky, and a downtown revitalization project that will house solar and zero-waste social enterprises in West Virginia. He has formed a community advisory council to guide the fund’s priorities. “The approach has been looking at those projects starting with the potential solution,” he says, “and then figuring out what kind of financing they’ll need to get to the finish line.”