The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone is one of nine empowerment zones established by the Clinton Administration in 1994 to revitalize distressed communities by using public funds and tax incentives as catalysts for private investment. The borders of the empowerment zone in Upper Manhattan were created to assist the residents that had the highest concentration of poverty as indicated by the 1990 Census.

Our initial 10-year designation was accompanied by a federal grant of $100 million. In a collaborative effort unique in the nation, the governor of New York State and the mayor of the City of New York each matched the federal funding commitment, creating a total investment pool of $300 million. Of that pool, $50 million was designated for the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, leaving $250 million for investment in Upper Manhattan.

The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation (UMEZ) began operations on February 14, 1995, and made its first round of grants and loans in October 1996. In the years since, UMEZ has invested nearly $220 million in the neighborhoods north of 96th Street, catalyzing an impressive reinvestment initiative in urban America and revitalizing Harlem, East Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood. UMEZ has leveraged over $1 billion in investments and allocated $57 million in bonds.

Under the leadership of Ken Knuckles over the past decade, UMEZ has focused on workforce development programs aligned directly with employment opportunities, support for cultural programs and organizational development.

In 2004, UMEZ formed the Cultural Industry Investment Fund (CIIF) to leverage the strengths of Upper Manhattan's nonprofit organizations and artistic leadership. UMEZ recognized Upper Manhattan's remarkable concentration of arts organizations that represent multiple art forms, traditions, and aesthetics, within a deeply rooted industry and rich history. The result has been significant job creation, tourism, and economic activity, while strengthening these nonprofit institutions' capacity to nurture new cultural legacies.