Created on May 5, 2014
Ed. Note: This post is part of the Commerce in the Community series highlighting the work of community leaders and organizations that are strengthening the middle class and providing ladders of opportunity for all Americans.
Below is an interview with Mark Edwards , Executive Director of Opportunity Nation, which he launched in 2011 with a coalition of more than 250 cross-sector partners. This post originally appeared on Commerce.gov
Q1: What is Opportunity Nation?
Opportunity Nation is a national, cross-sector campaign comprised of more than 300 businesses, educational institutions, nonprofits and civic organizations working together to expand economic mobility and close the opportunity gap in the US.
Our work is guided by the belief that the zip code where you are born should not determine your chances in life. If the ability to move up the ladder of opportunity grinds to a halt, we are in grave danger of losing the best of America.
Q2: How is Opportunity Nation working to promote job creation and economic development?
Working closely with nonprofits, community colleges and employers who are committed to helping young Americans gain the skills they need, we advocate for federal policies and public and private sector actions that expand opportunity, outlined in our Shared Plan . We also hold regional and national meetings that bring cross-sector leaders together. Lastly, we’ve created a first-of-its-kind tool, the Opportunity Index , that’s sparked research, national awareness and grassroots activism on opportunity-related issues.
Q3: How has Opportunity Nation utilized Commerce resources to accomplish its mission?
When Opportunity Nation launched, we knew our first job was to measure and define what opportunity means. In partnership with Measure of America, we created the Opportunity Index , a web-based tool that measures 16 key economic, educational and civic indicators of opportunity at the community level. The Opportunity Index provides annual rankings for all 50 states and letter grades for over 3,100 counties.
The sources for the Opportunity Index include the U.S. Census Bureau, the American Community Survey and the Current Population Survey, all of which are overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Q4: How have your partners used “Opportunity Index” to improve their communities?
The Opportunity Index provides a framework for community organizations, educational institutions, national, state and local policy makers, and businesses to track progress over time and to understand their role and impact across the opportunity spectrum. Examples include:
- In Iowa, the Des Moines Area Community College and a local foundation have launched “Opportunity Iowa,” that aims to raise public awareness about Iowa’s disconnected youth. The statewide initiative has launched a worker-training program with a top local employer and convened representatives of 200 community and education organizations to work toward improving county Index Grades.
- Gap. Inc. uses the Index to pinpoint high-need areas that would benefit from its “This Way Ahead ” program, which provides students and young adults ages 16-21 with a nine-month job training and leadership development program. By the end of the 2012 fiscal year, more than 1,000 youth had participated in the program.
Q5: If a reader is interested in learning more, what should they do?
Join us! Visit us at OpportunityNation.org  to learn more about our coalition, events and advocacy work and sign up to receive more information.
We also invite you to find your community’s opportunity score at OpportunityIndex.org . Plug in your zip code and learn about your community rankings in terms of key economic, educational and civic factors that influence the expansion of opportunity and upward mobility for residents.