Opus Foundation® Builds Community & Develops Workforce with ACRE


​With a desire to develop local workforces and support efforts to diversify the real estate industry, the Opus Foundation has awarded a total of $65,000 through three Impact Fund grants to the Associates in Commercial Real Estate (ACRE) program, a multi-partner, industry-supported initiative that recruits and educates people of color for professional careers in commercial real estate in the Milwaukee area.

ACRE was originally created and managed by Marquette University in cooperation with the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). Between 2005 and 2010, 180 students graduated from the program before it was discontinued due to financial constraints due to the recession. Representatives from the two colleges remained passionate about ACRE, and have since resurrected the program with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). LISC serves as project manager and fiscal agent for the program, responsible for promotion and marketing, recruitment of students, networking events, fundraising and program logistics. The three colleges provide curriculum development, instruction and classroom space.

The program is a good fit for the nonprofit LISC, which equips struggling communities with the capital, strategy and know-how to become places where people can thrive. Since its beginning in 1995, the organization has worked to increase family income and wealth, expand investments in housing and other real estate, stimulate economic development, improve access to quality education, support healthy environments and lifestyles and build robust civic infrastructure in neighborhoods.

The original ACRE program focused solely on real estate development and finance. Based on feedback from stakeholders, the current program has been expanded to include construction and property management. For each focus area, leaders in the field oversee the curriculum and presenters, and committed experts serve as volunteer instructors. Each year, 20 students participate in the 26-week curriculum, which includes classroom education, networking opportunities, applied project-based training and mentorship. Students are selected through a competitive process of screening, testing and interviewing. Typically, ACRE students have some college credits and work experience. The program is very popular, at times receiving 75 applications for 20 spots.  

The ACRE model is based on the premise that careers in the commercial real estate industry are often achieved through informal networks, so regular events are scheduled with ACRE alumni, industry professionals and community leaders. Several professional associations have endorsed and sponsored the program, including the Institute of Real Estate Management, Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee and the Commercial Association of Realtors of Wisconsin. These trade groups also organize portions of the curriculum, identify volunteer instructors, help organize networking events and offer one-year memberships to graduates.

“The Opus Foundation was instrumental in helping us relaunch ACRE,” said Donsia Strong Hill, executive director of LISC. “In addition to providing funding, the foundation’s generosity was a catalyst to leveraging additional investments essential to the success of ACRE.”

The Opus Foundation is delighted to support the program, which funds a variety of program expenses such as recruiting students, networking events, site visits and ACRE alumni support.

Pictured above are recent graduates of the ACRE program.

The Opus Foundation supports projects and programs that make our communities better places to live, work and raise families through grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of early childhood education, youth development, workforce development and community revitalization. Read more about the Foundation’s work here.