After 15 years of service to the Federal Reserve System, Community
Affairs Officer JoAnne Lewellen recently left the Minneapolis Fed.
Lewellen joined the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City in 1986
as an examiner in Consumer Affairs and Trust. She transferred to
the Minneapolis Fed in 1988, where she was promoted to manager in
1990 and assistant vice president and Community Affairs Officer
in 1993. Lewellen has a bachelor's degree from the University of
Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, and a law degree from the University
of Missouri-Kansas City.
Shortly before her departure, Community Dividend asked
Lewellen about the Community Reinvestment Act, the evolution of
the Community Affairs program during her tenure with the Minneapolis
Fed, and the program's accomplishments in the Ninth District.
Community Dividend: You became the Minneapolis Fed's Community
Affairs Officer, or CAO, in 1993. How has the community development
scene in the Ninth District changed since then?
JoAnne Lewellen: Throughout the Ninth District, there's
much more discussion around regional policies than a few years ago.
The focus used to be very locally based, so this is a big change
in how we view issues and how change is implemented.
Another change I've seen over the last few years is that people
are starting to look at community development in a more holistic
way. Organizations are trying to learn about multiple issues in
their community that may have an impact on their specific work.
Therefore, they're increasingly aware of factors that affect economic
conditions in their community and how these factors are interrelated.
Community development is more complex under this kind of model,
but it should produce results that are sustainable.
I also see an increasing emphasis on small business development
throughout the District. Communities are putting less emphasis on
seeking big business and are focusing on nurturing small businesses,
including start-ups, within the community.
CD: What was the Community Affairs program like in 1993,
and how has it evolved?
JL: The Community Affairs program has changed significantly
since then. In 1993, we had less than two full-time staff members
and we now have more than five. Community Affairs has more visibility
now, since we started the program from scratch and built it up.
Bankers and community groups have always been receptive to information
on community development programs, but we have had to overcome an
overall lack of knowledge of what we do.
CD: Community Affairs has developed initiatives for three
program areas in the Ninth District: the Twin Cities and other urban
areas, rural areas and Indian Country. What are some of the most
significant contributions Community Affairs has made in urban and
JL: For the Twin Cities, our convening ability is significant.
There are many organizations and active government partners in the
metro area, so the challenge is getting the right people together
to talk about specific issues and to learn about the programs available
to address them.
In rural areas, we've been providing information that can't be
obtained elsewhere through the Community Dividend, training
and banker roundtables. Given the smaller number of rural-based
organizations, developing partnerships with existing rural development
organizations and creating ties to expand their activities is our
main objective. This can be crucial, because many rural areas seem
to be struggling with how to define and sustain themselves.
CD: Much of your work has focused on community development
in Indian Country. What are some of the most notable Community Affairs
accomplishments in this program area?
JL: The knowledge we've gained from working with many of
the reservations in our District has enabled us to make these issues
visible to a national audience and to share issues and ideas with
other Reserve Banks that serve native populations. Identifying global
issues, such as financial literacy and sovereign lending, and then
assisting with programs to address those needs has contributed to
community development in Indian Country. I think the fact that we
are committed to building and maintaining relationships with tribes
and their members is also significant.
CD: Let's talk about the Community Reinvestment Act. You
were Community Affairs Officer in 1995, when the regulations were
last revised. What effect did those revisions have?
JL: When I think back to the revisions made to the CRA in
1995, it's clear that they achieved the stated goal of moving examinations
to a more performance-based evaluation than before, and it also
reflects the ever-changing community development environment in
which banks operate.
CD: When the revisions were made in 1995, the federal regulatory
agencies agreed to review the CRA again in 2002. What comments do
you expect they'll receive during the upcoming review?
JL: It will be interesting to see what kinds of comments
are received from both the nonprofit and banking communities. My
guess is that they may receive comments on the three tests [lending,
service and investments] and their relative significance in the
examination process, the geographic focus of the assessment area
and possibly on the definition of community development and whether
or not it should be changed.
CD: Many new community development tools—such as Community
Development Financial Institutions, revolving loan funds and the
New Markets Tax Credit Program—have emerged in recent years. What
role can the Fed play in promoting these tools and facilitating
the development of others?
JL: Our strength is the ability to attract an audience
or convene the necessary partners to discuss an issue or a program
in an open forum. So providing information and educational programs
about the new tools is a good role for us. I also believe that we
shouldn't be afraid to provide a forum to discuss the pros and cons
of a particular community development tool. If there's a strong
view that's critical of a certain tool or program, then we shouldn't
be afraid to present that viewpoint. We don't know how organizations
are going to use a certain tool, but we can provide them with as
much information as possible on the subject and let them make an
educated decision as to whether or not it is a good fit for them.
CD: Looking back on your time with the Federal Reserve
Bank of Minneapolis, what accomplishments or initiatives are you
especially proud of?
JL: For me, personally, I'm proud to have used my knowledge
about the diverse issues of the Ninth District and its communities
despite the large geographic area and dynamic environment in our
program. Within the Federal Reserve System nationally, I'm proud
of providing leadership in Community Affairs in the early use of
the Internet for distributing information, and in strategic planning
by directing the formal assessment of our working environment at
the national level.
I'm most proud of building the Community Affairs program. You can't
accomplish much of anything without an established program, and
we've been able to build ours from scratch and sustain it over time.
Given our limited resources and a constantly changing environment,
it's a real challenge to maintain our knowledge base and determine
what role we can play while operating within our mission as part
of the Federal Reserve System. I'm proud of the fact that we've
met that challenge by increasing the visibility of the Federal Reserve
Bank in the community development arena and providing intellectual
leadership in Indian Country that has elevated those issues to a