Foreign Investment for Local Growth: The Case of Toledo

The National League of Cities Center for Research and Innovation has joined with Next American City to explore how cities are developing innovative models for tackling complex urban issues and strengthening their local economies. In the coming weeks NLC will feature a series of case studies on foreign direct investment, fiber connectivity, and immigration. This blog highlights the first of these, Bringing Chinese Investment to American Citiesthe story of foreign direct investment in Toledo, OH.

Despite national election rhetoric, many at the local level are exploring foreign investments as a way to grow local economies. One such community is Toledo, OH and its mayor, Mike Bell, who has been courting Chinese investment to revitalize real estate development, grow health care and pharmaceuticals, high-tech manufacturing and transportation/distribution industries, and in the process, create new jobs and bolster city coffers.

Toledo’s Story
Like many other rust belt communities hard hit by the recent recession, Toledo is suffering a foreclosure crisis, shrinking manufacturing base, declining population, and overwhelming budget deficit. Elected in 2009, Mayor Mike Bell, proclaimed that to pass through the recession, “we just needed a bridge.” For Bell, that bridge came in the form of foreign direct investment (FDI); an investment in a community by a foreign entity that creates new businesses, provides capital for development projects, develops or expands production or manufacturing facilities or provides new ownership of an existing enterprise.

“In the spring of 2011, the city sold two long-available sites on the Maumee River: the Docks, a restaurant strip that went for $2.5 million, and a 69-acre parcel in the Marina District that went for $3.8 million that had once meant to be the home of an amphitheater and more but was now desolate. The buyer: Dashing Pacific Group Ltd., a partnership between two Chinese investors, Yuan Xiaohong and Wu Kin Hung.  Later, the 350-room Park Inn was sold for $3 million to an undisclosed Chinese investor.”

Seeing the potential of foreign investment for the community, the Mayor recently worked with the Regional Growth Partnership (RGP), University of Toledo and many other regional partners to host nearly 200 Chinese business people and officials during the Five Lakes Global Economic Forum. The goal: to help foreign investors see the opportunities in Toledo first hand.

But not everyone in the community is sold on the benefits of FDI.

The case study details how “Keith Wilkowski, a Toledo Democrat who was runner-up to Bell in the 2009 mayoral race, cautions against a city-building strategy that believes in a “cataclysmic investment” that will, once and for all, bring Toledo back. Wilkowksi cycles through Toledo’s past supposed panaceas: the Portside Festival Marketplace abandoned six years after it was built, the Owens-Illinois Building that was left by its namesake firm in 2006, the 3-year-old $150 million downtown Huntington Center stadium, the brand-new Hollywood Casino. And now China is the answer to Toledo’s prayers? “It’s both harder and more rewarding than that,” says Wilkowski.”

“And Mayor Bell, for his part, doesn’t entirely disagree. He argues that encouraging diverse, sometimes foreign, investment in Toledo is no magic solution, but it just might be part of establishing a broad, sustainable base for Toledo’s economic rebirth.  Skepticism about that path, RGP’s John Gibney, vice president of marketing and communications, says, isn’t surprising. Even those connected to and invested in the China push have their doubts. But he explains the thinking, though, driving the willingness to give it a shot. “A lot of things this community has been doing haven’t been working, so why not try it?”

Learning from Toledo
According to a 2011 survey by the National League of Cities, the overwhelming majority of city leaders (83%) felt that expanding trade opportunities and attracting foreign direct investment was important to the success of their local economies. Meanwhile, only 30 percent report being involved in foreign direct investment opportunities.

For cities across the country seeking to add FDI to their economic development toolbox, there is much to be learned from Toledo’s approach.

• Focus on key assets
The foundation of an effective FDI strategy is a clear understanding and realistic assessment of strengths and weaknesses. Toledo’s strategy is built around its key assets including waterfront, workforce and distribution access, to draw investment that aligns and builds on local strengths.

• Coordinate regionally
Local success in a global economy requires leveraging, strengthening and marketing the breath or resources available in a region – not just lies what within municipal borders. For Toledo, regional coordination of foreign investment efforts and creating a regional identity is proving both beneficial and necessary. “In the past, says Bell, local leaders were unprepared to sell the area’s merits. But more than that, in the area’s sometimes contentious political environment, they were unwilling to row in the same direction. “What we weren’t doing was functioning as a region,” Bell says, who argues that what’s good for, say, nearby suburban Perrysburg (population: 21,000) is good for Toledo.”

• Build relationships
Depending on the country, relationship building can be paramount in FDI. Toledo is being proactive in lead generation by relying heavily on networking, relationship building, and engaging a trusted “middle man” to accelerate these relationships and position the community to take advantage when an investment opportunity arises.

• Respect, understand, and educate about cultural differences
The city of Toledo and its regional stakeholders are also aware of the need to respect cultural differences, and also of the need to help bridge differences in business practices between the U.S. and China that often impeded successful investment.  For example, a session at the economic forum called “Differences in Doing Business in the USA” focused on how Chinese companies can find help navigating such issues as licensing their goods to U.S. firms, hiring a local sales rep, going in on a joint venture, and starting a subsidiary.

Learn more about how cities can promote foreign investment.

FDI in the U.S.
In recent years, local FDI strategies have gained traction as domestic investments have slowed and credit has tightened.  According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2011, U.S. FDI inflows grew by $283.4 billion, representing a 13 percent increase over 2010. Although Chinese investment is a very small percentage of FDI into U.S. communities comparatively, the amount of investment from China has been steadily growing.

But what is the impact of foreign investment on local communities?

In 2010, foreign owned businesses in the U.S. accounted for over 5 million jobs, most in the manufacturing industry, and invest $40 billion in research and development annually.

From cities as diverse as Chattanooga to Toledo to Seattle, FDI has helped create new jobs, boost wages, strengthen manufacturing and service industries, bring in new research and technology and raise productivity. FDI has also facilitated new economic activity in places that may not otherwise have attracted the necessary investment or capital, strengthened local export economies, and attracted foreign suppliers.

Although FDI holds promise for local communities, it is also important for local and regional leaders to diligently vet new investors coming into the community, and to view FDI not as a silver bullet, but one potential part of a broader economic strategy.

Read Bringing Chinese Investment to American Cities to learn more about Toledo’s efforts.

Foreclosure Fatigue Sets In as Housing Market Improves

Imagine my surprise at how quickly the attention paid to mortgage borrowers suffering through foreclosures, short-sales and default notices is quickly abandoned as good news continues to arrive in the form of rising home prices and sales. As with wars, famines, natural disasters and celebrity meltdowns, issue fatigue is finally sweeping the mortgage foreclosure crisis into a neverland of footnotes and asterisks.

It’s fine to celebrate positive housing news. Sales of new single family homes surged 5.7 percent in September to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 390,000, the highest level in 2 ½ years. September year-over-year increases were 27 percent. Census figures earlier in the month reported a 15 percent increase in new housing starts during September and an 11 percent increase in building permits.

Nearly all the numbers focusing on housing show improvement. But the experience of the 21st Century’s most significant economic recession ought to remind us that numbers are inherently selective. By the time this housing debacle finally ends nearly 5 million Americans will have lost a home and be left with credit so badly damaged they won’t qualify for a mortgage until well after the next Presidential election. And if rules are adopted that demand larger down payments and smaller debt-to-income ratios, the Millennials won’t be buying houses until they reach their 40’s.

Arguably, the “crisis” has abated and it’s hard to focus on housing when confronted with World Series baseball, Dancing with the Stars and a new Tom Hanks-Halle Berry movie. Fatigue is real and if we get tired of floods and wildfires and famine, the plight of the “dislocated homeowner” hardly warrants any greater attention.

But while fatigue may be understandable, the out and out thieving actions by state governments of the funds dedicated to housing from the National Mortgage Settlement is not only intolerable but possibly criminal. In a report from Enterprise Community Partners researchers discovered that nearly half of state governments are bleeding off portions of the funds allocated to help states pay for housing counseling, mortgage mediation, legal aid and other housing programs to instead address shortfalls in state general fund budgets.

Among the worst offenders are Alabama and Georgia, the latter which sent its entire $99 million share of funds to economic development programs. Missouri used its $39 million to prevent higher education cuts. California used $410 million from its share to fill budget holes for its $15 billion deficit which did include some old debt service on affordable housing bonds. The South Carolina legislature, over the veto of Governor Nikki Haley, and sent its $31 million share to business attraction programs and to the general fund.

The mortgage settlement intended that a modest $2.5 billion, out of $25 billion overall, go to help distressed homeowners facing the calamity of losing a home. In the absence of more federal money to stabilize neighborhoods and preserve communities this sum offered a considerable level of assistance. If the well of sympathy as indeed gone dry, the very least that can be expected is that those who have been provided for in the mortgage settlement get what is due to them without any interference by revenue-hungry states.

Why the Workforce Investment Act Matters — Part III

This is the third in a series on the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and NLC’s belief that Congress must reauthorize and modernize the Act to ensure that it meets the needs of today’s workers and employers. In this third blog we will explore how these locally-based job training programs have translated into real world outcomes that have benefited unemployed, underemployed and economically disadvantaged adults and youth throughout the United States.

Why the Workforce Investment Act Matters — Part III

By Neil Bomberg

Having looked at the ways in which the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) is structured and operated, it is now worth asking how has the nation’s Workforce Investment Act system performed?

A review of national data suggests that it has performed very well. Overall outcomes are extremely good, especially when one considers that many WIA participants are among the most difficult to help find work.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 81 percent of all participants and 80 percent of all employers who participated in the WIA system said they were satisfied with the assistance they received.

Among low-income adults who participated in WIA programs:

• Fifty-five percent obtained employment. While this number is lower than it should be (the goal was 72 percent) it is significantly higher than the placement rate for non-WIA individuals, which is less than 25 percent.
• Eighty percent of those who obtained employment remained on the job after six months and 72 percent found a job which matched their skills levels.
• Seventy percent who received job training entered employment and 87 percent of those remained on the job more than six months.

Among dislocated workers who participated in WIA programs:

• Fifty-seven percent obtained employment as a result of their participation in WIA. Like the adult figure, this is lower than it should have been (the goal was 77 percent) but it more than twice the placement rate for non-WIA individuals which is 25 percent.
• Eighty-eight percent of those dislocated workers who obtained employment remained on the job after six months.
• Of those dislocated workers who received job training services 78 percent entered employment and 90 percent of those remained on the job after six months.

Among youth aged 19 to 24, 63 percent entered employment or returned to school, 57 percent obtained a degree or certificate, and 38 percent made measurable literacy and numeracy gains. Among youth aged 14 to 18, 87 reached their desired skills attainment levels and 67 percent obtained a diploma or its equivalent.

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses a new type of hybrid high school/community college, the merits (and demerits) of casinos, Chinese and Japanese FDI, and downtown development. Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

Since education is so closely tied to our nation’s future economic success, it’s very encouraging to see out-of-the-ordinary schools like New York’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School cropping up. Pathways is a school that features a six-year curriculum developed with help from IBM where students “emerge with associate’s degrees in applied science in computer information systems or electromechanical engineering technology.” This proactive program is designed to prepare students for entry-level technology jobs by giving them not only tech skills, but also skills to navigate the workplace. Other cities and states are taking notice, with Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, and Tennessee planning to create similar schools. In the end, it’s all about bringing careers closer to the classroom.

If you live in the DC area, you’ve probably seen about a gazillion campaign commercials concerning a new casino project in Maryland. Are these projects all they’re cracked up to be?The motivation behind allowing new casinos is that they often provide increased tax revenue for cities and states, which can be a blessing considering the current state of public finance. Also, they provide jobs, though the majority of new jobs are for lower-skilled workers, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But casinos aren’t immune to economic cycles, and industry revenues haven’t returned to their 2007 peak. Furthermore, “last year, wages and the number of jobs fell across the industry. And commercial casino tax revenue dropped in 9 of 22 states.” Competition from neighboring casinos in saturated markets can also put a damper on expected tax revenue increases.

“In just the first three quarters of 2012, Chinese businesses have invested $6.3 billion in foreign direct investment projects in the United States. It’s already the most capital Chinese firms have ever invested in the US in one year” says a new report from the Rhodium Group. Most of these deals are mergers and acquisitions – not greenfield investments – which can be interpreted positively or negatively depending on who you are. But Chinese FDI has largely been concentrated in advanced manufacturing and energy, sectors which provide higher wages for Americans.  Japanese firms are also getting involved, with Softbank’s acquisition of Sprint being the “largest Japanese acquisition of (an) American company in more than 30 years.” The deal highlights a cultural shift in the perception of Japanese FDI in America, where something that was once feared is now welcomed. Some of this fear has now been transferred to Chinese investment, sometimes justified, but other times overblown. Stay tuned for Monday’s post about Toledo, Ohio’s pursuit of Chinese FDI.

Why is Savannah, GA’s downtown booming, and how is Rock Hill, SC trying to revitalize theirs?Savannah has been able to take advantage of the tremendous assets it already has (walkability, tourism, history and the Savannah College of Art & Design) to transform its downtown for the better after a relatively rough period only a few years ago. It has turned into a modern take on an American classic. Rock Hill has also gone through a rough stretch with regard to its downtown, and, like Savannah, it has a historic city core.  Through infrastructure improvements, street-scaping, and a mix of incentives to attract businesses, Rock Hill is doing its best to take advantage of its historic assets, though not everyone is on board.

Cybersecurity Webinar: Is Your City Vulnerable to a Cyber Attack?

Chances are the answer to the question above is yes, and chances are there is more you can do to reduce the risk to your city’s infrastructure and its citizens.

To help raise awareness among city leaders about the threats local governments and their citizens face online, as well as the steps they can take to mitigate those threats, NLC will be holding a free webinar on “Cybersecurity Awareness” in conjunction with the Public Technology Institute.  The webinar will take place Thursday, October 25, 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM ET.  Participants will learn about cyber risks and vulnerabilities that governments face—both internal and external—and the actions they can take to provide for a safer and secure cyber work environment.

It is a good time for us to hold this webinar, as October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month.  Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has pointed out that  we must ask “all Americans to ACT—Achieve Cybersecurity Together.”  Cities play a key role in this effort.  They not only need to protect critical infrastructure and data, but also have a resposibility to educate its citizens and municipal employees.  We hope you will join us and find out more about what you can do to prepare your city and citizens.

Cybersecurity Awareness Webinar
Thursday, October, 25
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM ET

This is an issue every city leader should know about – for more information as to why, read more after the jump…

Read More

Why the Workforce Investment Act Matters — Part II

This is the second in a series on the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and NLC’s belief that Congress must reauthorize and modernize the Act to ensure that it meets the needs of today’s workers and employers. In this second blog we will explore how and why job training services are offered and what role the local workforce investment boards and city and county elected officials play in the development and implementation of these services.

Why the Workforce Investment Act Matters — Part II

By Neil Bomberg

Job training services provided by the federally-funded and locally-operated Workforce Investment Act (WIA) take many forms, so that the services provided can meet an individual worker’s or employer’s needs. Services can include classroom training, customized training, and on-the-job training, or some combination of all three.

Training funds typically are distributed through individual training accounts that provide vouchers to job seekers; those searching for work then use the vouchers to enroll in eligible training programs approved and made available by the local workforce investment boards to meet specific employer needs within their communities. However, these vouchers are only issued after local workforce investment boards and city and county elected officials work with businesses within their communities to identify what types of job openings that exist, the kinds of skills that are necessary to fill those positions, and the availability of appropriate training programs within their community. In other words, individuals cannot simply decide to opt for a certain type of training unless it can be shown that there are opportunities to work in the field for which training is offered. (In a forthcoming blog examples of how this is done will be provided.)

Each job training program is designed to help workers gain new skill sets or upgrade existing skill sets, while providing them with some support services such as child care and transportation assistance, so that they can complete their job training program and move into a permanent full-time position that improves each participants employability and earnings. Often, training is provided by local community colleges who have worked with local employers to identify which jobs are growing in the community; other times it may be offered by a company that has determined that it is going to expand operations and needs new, skilled employees to fill those jobs. Still other times training may be offered by a local public-public private partnership that has been created to bring job seekers into a specific sector such as health care, hospitality, retail, construction or manufacturing.

Most importantly, there is no single way to implement an effective local workforce development program. It must be responsive to the specific needs of employers and workers alike, and it must be based on the labor situation within a given community; something that local workforce boards make up of local business leaders and city and county elected officials are particularly skilled at doing.

Education Re-engagement Centers Spreading

This week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled a new network of 13 “YouthSource Centers.”  These centers constitute the latest addition to similar one-stop dropout recovery efforts now operating in cities as varied as Davenport, Iowa, and Boston, Massachusetts.  Based on evidence of significant numbers of youth and young adults who have not finished high school and who need referrals to good education options, these “reengagement centers” constitute a critically needed new piece of local youth development infrastructure.  And cities play key roles incubating or hosting the centers, along with school districts and others.

Los Angeles’ new approach shares important characteristics with dropout reengagement initiatives in other cities – most importantly, cross-system collaboration to assist its 100,000 or so 16-24 year olds who are out of school and out of work.  The City of Los Angeles Community Development Department (CDD), which manages workforce funds, led the planning for the centers along with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).  CDD contributes $13 million to pay for physical space and to provide for operation of the centers by community-based organizations, and raised an additional $12 million from the federal Workforce Innovation Fund to serve 1,200 more potential students and pay for a rigorous evaluation.  LAUSD places a Pupil Service and Attendance Counselor at each of the centers, which represents an in-kind contribution totaling $1 million.

Reengagement centers in Philadelphia and Boston, started by city-school district and Boston Private Industry Council-school district partnerships, respectively, helped create interest in the approach by hosting visits by many in the dropout recovery field.  Boston closely tracks and supports re-engaged students after they pass through assessment and referral steps at the center, and can now boast a “stick rate” of nearly 70% of students remaining in school for one year after re-engagement.

Centers now operate in Omaha, Nebraska; Dubuque, Iowa; Portland, Oregon; each of the five New York City boroughs; and three New Jersey cities based on locally-built creative partnerships.  Denver, Aurora, and Boulder, Colorado are leading experimentation with “virtual reengagement,” in which roving outreach staff go where dropouts congregate and provide referral services on line — without anyone having to go to a certain address.  Denver Mayor Michael Hancock supports this with a public endorsement of the “Drop In Denver” campaign.

Federal education policy reflects an upgraded interest in dropout recovery via requirements for recipients of High School Graduation Initiative grants from the U.S. Department of Education.  The result: new centers opening in Davenport, Iowa; Chicago, Illinois; and Pasadena, California.  HSGI grants also partially support the virtual activity in Colorado.

For municipal leaders, the development of reengagement centers and similar upgrades to dropout recovery efforts bear close attention, and support when the time is right.  Moving dropouts back into school holds great promise for achieving credentials at the high school level and beyond, building more fully contributing citizens for the long term.

Why the Workforce Act Matters — Part I

This is the first in a series on the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and the belief by the National League of Cities (NLC) that Congress must reauthorize and modernize the Act to ensure that it meets the needs of today’s workers and employers. In this first blog we will explore the foundation of the program, which is commonly referred to as the local public-private partnership (which includes local business leaders and local city and county elected officials), the one-stop system, and how these translate programmatically at the local level.

Over the next five weeks, NLC will publish other blogs that will address the kinds of job training that WIA programs offer, the impact that these programs have on workers and employers, some examples of effective programs, the kinds of changes to WIA NLC can and cannot support, and what members of the Human Development Committee are doing to ensure that the Congress is aware of city elected officials legislative wants and concerns.

Why the Workforce Investment Act Matters — Part I

By Neil Bomberg

Every year, the federal government invests billions of dollars in the nation’s workforce development system. Among the programs funded is the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) which provides training and employment services to millions of unemployed, underemployed and disadvantaged Americans through a national network of one-stop career centers that are governed by local workforce investment boards and city and county elected officials.

When WIA became law in 1998 it included a completely new and innovative approach to delivering workforce development services. One-stop career centers have become the backbone of a seamless employment-services delivery system in every state. These one stops are operated and governed at the local level by local workforce boards, comprised of business leaders, and city and county elected officials. They make up the public-private partnership for which this program is known.

The one-stops have provided workers and employers alike with access to the full range of employment services that have included job placement assistance, training, credentialing, unemployment benefits and career guidance, as well as access to other relevant government services, including 17 types of federal training and education programs. Over the past several years, these one-stop centers have successfully provided upwards of nine million Americans per year with employment assistance and millions of employers with skilled workers.

Most of the nine million Americans who enter the WIA system receive “core services” which are generally described as job search and job placement assistance, labor-market information, workplace counseling, and preliminary skills assessments. Others receive “intensive services” which are generally described as comprehensive skills assessments, group counseling, individual career counseling, case management, and short-term pre-vocational services, such as how to write a résumé and prepare for an interview. Both of these services are designed to help those looking for work and who have employable skills, find a job quickly. A smaller number receive “job training services.” These are designed to provide WIA clients with industry-recognized skills so that they may obtain employment, especially after core and intensive services do not result in finding a job.

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses cities’ quests to foster technology hubs, new strategies beyond traditional manufacturing, the impacts of re-shoring, a commitment to streamlining small business regulations, and rural economic development strategies. Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

Possessing high-tech startups is obviously a tremendous asset for cities, but developing a “tech hub” is not a realistic goal for all cities. At Slate.com, Matthew Yglesias explains that “while it would obviously nice to become the next Silicon Valley, the fact is that Silicon Valley is already where it is.” Focusing on the fundamentals (schools, infrastructure, etc.) is more important than choosing the “hot” sector of the day. Inventor extraordinaire James Dyson, of vacuum cleaner fame, recognizes the value of non-tech, which is why he is establishing an incubator at his alma mater that will focus on engineering physical products. Dyson says that “with the world abuzz with digital, we are losing sight of real engineering.

If manufacturing is going the way of agriculture in the 1800s due to technological advancement and globalization, economic development must look at opportunities beyond manufacturing in the traditional sense (including beer). In the case of western North Carolina’s Transylvania County, Dale Katechis of Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery located a production facility there because two of his interests – mountain biking and lowering shipping costs to the east coast – aligned organically. But there are also steps regions and cities can take to stimulate non-traditional manufacturing operations. Kalamazoo, Mich. recently modified its zoning regulations to allow bakeries and breweries to locate downtown. This heads-up move is serving to accommodate the already burgeoning “beer trail” in west Michigan. For more on how cities are courting craft breweries, check out this post from NLC’s Katie McConnell.

Many commentators are hoping that “re-shoring” will turn the tide of the US economy, signaling a return to increased exports and manufacturing capacity, but this view may be premature. The rationale behind the shift is the changing economic fundamentals between the US and China. Knowledge@Wharton notes that in 2000, “US wages were almost 22 times higher than those in China, but by 2015, wages in the US will only be four times higher.” While this may turn out to be true, the article points to the fact that wage rates are not the only determinant a company considers when deciding where to locate, not to mention there are options other than China to source low-wage labor, including Vietnam and Indonesia. Re-shoring is an encouraging development, but it probably won’t catalyze a new explosion in US manufacturing.

Two of America’s largest cities are re-focusing their efforts on streamlining regulations for small businesses. Responding to a spike in the number of fines levied on small businesses, New York is committing to a review of the city code to remove obsolete regulations, issue warnings instead of immediate fines, provide customer service training for inspectors, and establish an agency liaison to industry groups. Rahm Emanuel is also joining the party with a proposal to “restructure the city’s business licensing center with the aim of helping small businesses get licenses and find potential financial assistance more quickly.”

Economic development in rural locales presents its own set of unique challenges and opportunities. A recent article from the USDA outlines five key lessons for rural economic development strategies: 1) wealth creation is context dependent; 2) it is critical to understand the interrelationships among multiple forms of wealth; 3) degrading some types of assets may undermine the benefits of investing in others; 4) diversifying assets may reduce risk; and 5) local ownership has benefits but may also entail risk.

Supporting Veterans Requires Locally Driven Collaborations

A few weeks ago, I traveled to San Antonio to participate in the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ (NCHV) 2012 Veterans Access to Housing Summit. Community leaders and government officials from across the country attended this event, and one theme consistently emerged – the need for local coordination to end homelessness among veterans.

With the federal government’s renewed focus and commitment to ending homelessness among veterans in the next 5 years, new resources have become available. Jeffery Quarles, Director of the VA’s Grant Per Diem program noted this fact and highlighted the ongoing need for local coordination in order to make these various programs work well together. Vince Kahn, Director of the National Center on Veteran Homelessness underscored the point. He discussed the need and challenge of ensuring that the right people are connected to the right providers, using the right resources at the right time to get the right outcomes and the right level of care.

A disabled veteran who loses work temporarily and becomes homeless for a short period of time may not need a permanent housing voucher. Conversely, a chronically homeless veteran is unlikely to maintain their housing without supportive services and some form of a housing subsidy. Ensuring veterans are connected to the resources most appropriate for their need does not happen without concerted coordination.

Fortunately, NCHV used the summit for the opportunity it was and had multiple sessions on this exact issue. National representatives from the VA engaged with summit attendees and outlined several steps they are making to increase collaboration with community stakeholders. First, national VA staff is asking community organizations to engage with local VA staff and, if necessary, coordinate with national staff to ensure local participation. National staff has issued an order to field offices around the development of a community engagement plan, but as of yet, there is not a specific staff person designated with enacting engagement plans.

To fill this engagement and coordination gap, community groups and city leaders need to proactively reach out to VA medical center directors, ask about their engagement plans and become partners with the VA to ensure the needs of veterans, particularly disabled veterans, are met. The VA cannot meet the needs of our veterans alone due to a lack of resources, but also because some veterans do not interact with the VA. Where federal resources are not adequate or appropriate, state and local resources, both public and private, are needed.

City leaders are ideally situated to use their positions and initiate a conversation about increasing collaboration with the appropriate community stakeholders. The experiences gained in addressing veteran homelessness must not stop there. The efficiencies found by coordinating community services can be extended to better serve other veteran and non-veteran populations, such as seniors, families, and individuals with disabilities.

In the coming weeks, NLC will be publishing several examples of how cities have helped lead collaborative efforts. Be sure to visit www.nlc.org/veteranshousing to learn the details and practical steps that can be taken to ensure all of our veterans have a place to call home.