From opioid addiction to crumbling infrastructure to stagnant wages, rural communities in the United States are in deep distress. In the last decade, nearly three-quarters of the country’s net job creation has been in metropolitan areas and rural areas accounted for just 3 percent of job growth. Rural areas have seen more businesses close than open and many have not seen income return to pre-recession levels. This is true for many parts of Vermont, which has the lowest median household income in New England.
While rural communities and urban cores are deteriorating, the recent record period of corporate profitability has resulted in a massive stockpile of unrealized capital gains wealth – over $6 trillion. To help spur private investment in low-income communities, the bipartisan Opportunity Zone proposal was included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. This initiative incentivizes private entities and individuals to invest their capital gains tax liability in Opportunity Zones for a decade or longer with step-up in their cost basis and a tax-free return on investment. Absent local engagement and coordination, however, this could create a financial return for investors without an accompanying social return to the families and communities within an Opportunity Zone. Kesha plans to focus on equity investment for community-led projects in distressed communities in Vermont. She will be working with a network of social innovators across the country seeking the best models for accelerating growth and prosperity in rural America.
Kesha Ram successfully completed her MPA at the Harvard Kennedy School in 2018. She came to the Kennedy School after serving four terms in the Vermont House of Representatives and running for Lieutenant Governor. While at the Kennedy School, she was a Sheila C. Johnson Leadership Fellow in addition to her Cheng Fellowship. Kesha also holds a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Planning and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Vermont, where she graduated magna cum laude in 2008. She has served on the House General, Housing, & Military Affairs; Ways & Means; and Natural Resources & Energy Committees. She is a Morris K. Udall and Harry S. Truman Scholar, and serves on the boards of the Center for Whole Communities, Emerge Vermont, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, and the Vermont Natural Resources Council.