Model & Strategy

The Problem
Cities are the last mile, where the majority of Americans interact with the government and where the government is closest to the people. Mayors and their teams must work daily to confront and surmount massive societal challenges at the ground level. Frequent changes in federal policy and funding can have a significant impact on access to capital and opportunities, placing greater pressure on local governments. Accelerator for America (AFA) was founded in 2017 in a time of federal retrenchment from local communities; AFA was started by a group of mayors, labor leaders, corporate CEOs, and nonprofit executives who saw the need to band together to create better solutions for economic mobility and to address strategic disinvestment in neighborhoods. Local governments and their leaders do not have adequate capacity to address the scope and scale of poverty and economic distress; cities need additional, specialized resources and support to appropriately tackle these significant challenges and chart a better future for historically marginalized communities.

The Solution
Accelerator for America’s solution set evolves to fit the national context. From 2017 to 2019, when federal funding was scarce, AFA helped cities navigate Opportunity Zone legislation to unlock private capital to advance projects in economically distressed communities. When the pandemic hit in 2020, AFA created a new approach to assistance and recovery efforts led at the local level that was adopted in ten states across the country. Now, with the historic new federal investments through the American Rescue Plan, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act, and CHIPS+Science Act, AFA has been focusing the last two years on assisting local, regional, and state leaders with the deployment of these funds for maximum long-term impact.

AFA adapts and quickly innovates and evolves to meet the timely needs of communities and the available resources. In the current capital-abundant context, AFA’s primary interventions include producing actionable playbooks/investment guides, organizing peer learning cohorts, and direct partnerships with elected officials and their teams to help them effectively organize for opportunities, blend and braid capital sources, and deploy funding for a more equitable and inclusive economic recovery. AFA is a critical intermediary, bringing together private, nonprofit, and government leaders to solve big problems.

At a Glance
Founded: 2017
President and CEO: Mary Ellen Wiederwohl
Economic Empowerment
Location of work: Domestic, Northeast, West Coast, Midwest, Southwest, Southeast, South Central
Accelerator for America
Los Angeles, CA
National changes from the ground up.
Meet Mary Ellen Wiederwohl

Mary Ellen has more than two decades of experience in business, civic leadership, and public affairs. She is the founding leader of Louisville Forward, the city’s economic and community development arm. Under her leadership from 2014 to 2020, Louisville Forward was named a Top Economic Development Organization six times by Site Selection Magazine. During her city tenure, Louisville experienced more than $17B of new capital investment, made substantial new investments in affordable housing, and introduced industry-leading innovations in talent development and the future of work. She also served as interim president and CEO of LHOME, Louisville’s homegrown CDFI.


AFA worked with more than 80 cities nationwide on capacity building and attracting capital for projects that benefit distressed and vulnerable communities.

AFA supported local communities nationwide in generating more than $40B in local transit and infrastructure funding independent from federal investment.

In 2023, AFA directly served at least three dozen communities in three separate cohorts attacking urgent issues around affordable housing, land use, infrastructure, and innovation.