Financial empowerment key to raising the tide to lift all boats

By Suzii Paynter March


“A rising tide lifts all boats.” Unfortunately, local economies are not oceans. Growing a local economy takes initiative, persistent effort, focused strategy, time, investment, and genuinely hard work.


The Greater Waco area has been a beneficiary of City, County, and private investment to bring new opportunities to fruition. But new growth in one sector does not lift all boats. Complementary initiative, investment, focused strategy, and genuinely hard work are also needed to build up the tools of our community for financial empowerment – so that there is a rising tide for all boats.


In 2019, the City of Waco was selected to participate in the second cohort of cities to receive a CityStart grant from the Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Fund. The CityStart initiative offered a structured approach for stakeholders to understand the current state of financial security needs in Waco and craft a City of Waco Financial Empowerment Blueprint for success.


Financial Empowerment Blueprint
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The groundwork has been laid through preparation, hard work, and collaboration. This Blueprint report provides a tangible road map for future action.


Echoing the culture of collaboration and cooperation in Waco, this report combines the knowledge from CFE Fund experts, City of Waco goals, input from local stakeholders, and the needs of the community to create an actionable plan for immediate use.


What is financial empowerment? The CFE Fund categorizes financial empowerment efforts in seven categories. Waco is on the road, but we have some important work to do to be stronger in each area :

  • Asset Building: saving for the future and being able to weather financial shocks and setbacks. For example, increasing home ownership builds assets.

  • Banking Access: having access to safe, affordable checking and savings accounts to be part of the financial mainstream. Keep earnings secure by saving.

  • Consumer Financial Protection: Being protected from and keeping assets safe from predatory practices.

  • Financial Education and Counseling: supporting household financial security with professional financial counseling and coaching; often integrated with social services.

  • Small Business Development and Financing: providing space, education, and lending to support the creation of a healthy and diverse small business ecosystem. For example, providing a directory of minority owned businesses and contractors.

  • Workforce Development and Support: providing skills, education, and support (through goods and services) designed to elevate the workforce, build new skills to meet demands, and retain talent in the Waco area.

  • CDFI-Designated Organizations: using their Community Development Financial Institution certification to continue lending in low-income areas and using CDFI status to promote financial security and partner with other small business resources.

What does financial security mean in Waco? Not only does a city’s financial security significantly increase with the presence of the seven components listed in financial empowerment, but they must also work and intertwine in a harmonious way to support through continuous and mutually reinforcing activities.


Economic development is incomplete without an investment in and strategies for financial empowerment that are tailored to our community. The City of Waco Financial Empowerment Blueprint is a roadmap for the journey.


Prosper Waco is working with partners for greater financial empowerment including American Bank, Alliance Bank, ExtraCo Bank, First National Bank of Central Texas, McCif ( a new CDFI), City of Waco leadership, the chambers of commerce, Start Up Waco, Baylor University, McLennan Community College, Texas State Technical College, Grassroots Community Development, Habitat for Humanity, NeighborWorks, and UpSkill Waco.


Financial empowerment complements economic development and requires investment with intention. Waco can benefit from practical changes – we can have a rising tide that will lift all boats.


Suzii Paynter March is chief executive officer of Prosper Waco.