Cities Are Taking a Regional Approach to Closing the Skills Gap

This post is the fifth installment in a series focused on NLC’s Cities and Unequal Recovery report, which highlights the findings of our 2015 Local Economic Conditions survey.

Middle skills occupationApprentice working with engineer to inspect manufacturing machinery. (Getty Images)

Economic development consistently ranks as a high priority for local officials across the country. Alongside this priority is a growing focus on the need for increased postsecondary education opportunities at two and four year colleges and career and technical education institutes. The leadership of local officials is critical to increasing these opportunities, which in turn can provide a substantial return on investment for their community.

In July 2015, NLC partnered with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce to hold a mayoral summit on postsecondary success in Los Angeles, supported by The Kresge Foundation and J.P. Morgan Chase.

Source: JP Morgan Chase

Source: JP Morgan Chase

The summit marked the release of the Los Angeles Skills Gap Report, which shows that Los Angeles County has a diverse economy with a wide array of middle-skills jobs – those that require a high school diploma and technical training, but not necessarily a four-year college degree. Unfortunately, it also shows that many Los Angeles residents lack the education and skills that employers are looking for. This means that many industries are struggling to fill key middle-skills positions, while many potential workers remain either unemployed or underemployed.

Studies show that this dilemma is playing out in communities across the country. NLC’s own Cities and Unequal Recovery indicates that despite the significant economic growth in cities over the past two years, there continues to be a skills gap.

At the summit, city leaders highlighted the postsecondary success initiatives they are using to combat this skills gap. Robert Garcia, mayor, Long Beach, Calif., showcased the Long Beach College Promise and the Long Beach Internship Challenge to expand on-the-job learning opportunities for young people. Rusty Bailey, mayor, Riverside, Calif., talked about Completion Counts, an initiative that helps students apply for, attend and complete community college.

The city of Los Angeles is in the process of establishing local goals for college success with a number of partners, including the Los Angeles Community College District and several universities in the region. These goals will help ensure that young people have the resources they need to achieve postsecondary success and create a stable and thriving workforce in the city and the greater Los Angeles region.

Like Los Angeles, many cities are adopting a regional approach to close this skills gap. In San Antonio, Mayor Ivy Taylor supports the SA Works initiative, which has a goal of creating 20,000 new applied learning opportunities, including a countywide STEM degree accelerator project through the Alamo colleges, as well as a place-based training program for 300 Eastside San Antonio residents.

This initiative is part of SA2020, a nonprofit whose mission is to help connect the community for a stronger San Antonio. SA2020 has helped create an alliance between City Hall and the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce that focuses on regional industry needs, and works to ensure that workforce needs and postsecondary offerings are aligned so that residents have the training they need to take on middle-skilled, well-paying jobs in San Antonio and Bexar County.

A C Wharton, mayor of Memphis, Tenn., established the nation’s first Office of Talent and Human Capital within the mayor’s office to provide dedicated staff focused on developing, retaining and attracting talented workers to Memphis and Shelby County. The mayor has also connected with the business community to provide pathways for residents to access jobs in Memphis’ growing service, healthcare and knowledge-based industries.

Local leaders can play an essential role in developing this approach by investing in activities that strengthen their region’s competitive advantage by:

  • Establishing and maintaining a leadership structure to guide and sustain college access and completion efforts.
  • Setting community goals and rally necessary partners.
  • Maintaining and analyzing real time data on postsecondary attainment.
  • Aligning local industry needs with community colleges and credentialing courses.

To learn more, check out NLC’s page on postsecondary success.

Miles Sandler
About the Author:
Miles Sandler is the Senior Associate for Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Miles can be reached at

Four Ways City Leaders Can Boost Entrepreneurship and Propel Economic Growth

This is a guest post by Josh Russell and Jason Wiens. This post is the fourth installment in a series focused on NLC’s 2015 Cities and Unequal Recovery report, which highlights the findings of our 2015 Local Economic Conditions survey.

Startup density varies from city to city across the United States. (Kauffman Index of Startup Activity)

City leaders across America understand that entrepreneurship is key to the success of their economies. That is the message from the 2015 Local Economic Conditions Survey conducted by the National League of Cities.

In that survey, 47 percent of cities said the “number of new business starts” was a positive driver of local economic conditions. New business creation was viewed by more city leaders as source of local economic improvement than any other factor.

These perceptions of chief elected officials are in line with decades of data that show new and young businesses are the primary source of net new job creation. When it comes to job creation, age matters more than size.

But how do these perceptions reflect the reality of entrepreneurial growth in these cities? Is entrepreneurship flourishing in cities where leaders viewed it to be an important contributor to economic growth?

To answer these questions, we looked at a sample of cities linked to their metropolitan statistical areas from 2002 to 2012. Here is what we found:

  • Over the last decade, average startup rates are consistent among cities regardless of their views on new business creation.
  • Startup rates converged in 2012 to 6.9 percent for cities that believed startup rates were an impactful economic factor and to 6.8 percent for cities that did not.

While there is little difference between startup rates in cities that viewed new business creation as an impactful economic factor, the real story is found when we look at employment in startup firms.

The percent of employment in startups has diverged among cities that believe startups are and are not an important economic factor. In those cities that viewed startups’ impact positively, new businesses were adding more jobs than in cities where leaders did not view them to have a positive impact. In 2012, on average, firms in cities that viewed new businesses as having a positive impact started with 15 percent more employees.

2011 marked the first year of an increase in new business creation since the start of the Great Recession. To further boost entrepreneurship and propel economic growth, local leaders have a menu of tools available to them.

  1. Build connections. While capital constraints represent one of the primary challenges to entrepreneurs, research has shown that public venture funds and local incubation centers result in little to no benefit to entrepreneurs. Instead, cities should focus on fostering local connections among entrepreneurs and businesses. These local connections, as opposed to national or global contacts, are vital to an entrepreneur’s success. Focus should be put on events that cause entrepreneurs to think and act together, building a robust local ecosystem. Examples of early-stage entrepreneurship programs that can be implemented in cities include Startup Weekend and 1 Million Cups.
  2. Welcome Immigrants. Immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to become entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurial gains are not limited to low-skill sectors, but include high-skill and high-tech sectors as well. Immigrants and children of immigrants represented 52 percent of key founders of high tech firms in Silicon Valley and over 40 percent of Fortune 500 founders. While legal barriers to immigrant entrepreneurship result in missed opportunities for U.S. economic growth, cities can capture the benefits by welcoming immigrants and supporting their entrepreneurial ambitions.
  3. Support Women. Women face many unique challenges to starting a business and are half as likely to start businesses as their male counterparts. Among the top challenges are financial capital, mentorship, and work-life balance. Women are one-third as likely to access equity financing through angel investments or venture capitalists as men and begin companies with nearly half as much capital. Mentorship plays an important role in developing successful entrepreneurs, yet nearly half of female entrepreneurs say a lack of available mentors is a major challenge facing their businesses. Parenting balanced with work also results in lower rates of entrepreneurship among women. Women with STEM Ph.Ds are significantly less likely to engage in entrepreneurship if they have a child under two, while there is no statistical difference in entrepreneurial rates of comparable men. Local policies that support women in entrepreneurship can create positive economic growth in cities.
  4. Develop Human Capital. Higher levels of education are associated with increased entrepreneurial activity. While a high ratio of college graduates means more entrepreneurial firms, a substantial high school completion rate can further increase a city’s startup activity. Developing a strong school pipeline can help promote human capital and develop a strong, local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Stated simply, these policies are all about investing in people.

As entrepreneurship rates grow, entrepreneurs are reviving local economies across the nation. The role of city leaders in this arena is to create conditions that allow more entrepreneurs to start businesses and nurture that environment so that those businesses can grow. Cities that invest in people should see entrepreneurial benefits.

About the Authors:

Josh Russell is a research assistant at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.



Jason Wiens is Policy Director at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Three Ways Your City Can Prosper by Embracing Equity

This is a guest post by Sarah Treuhaft. This post is the third installment in a series focused on NLC’s 2015 Cities and Unequal Recovery report, which highlights the findings of our 2015 Local Economic Conditions survey.

Participants in the SySTEMic Solutions program in Fairfax County make a presentation on robotics. As part of an overall strategic plan for economic growth, cities can create programs like this one, in partnership with universities and area businesses, to funnel students into STEM-related professions. (photo: Northern Virginia Community College)

NLC’s 2015 survey of local economic conditions paints a clear picture of unequal growth in America’s cities, underscoring the need for bold, focused strategies to firmly link low-income communities and communities of color with regional (and global) economic opportunities.

Two years ago, New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio captivated voters with his “tale of two cities” narrative summarizing the dynamics of rising inequality in America’s largest metropolis. NLC’s 2015 survey of chief elected officials reveals how uneven growth is not isolated to high-tech boomtowns, but widespread among the nation’s cities.

The survey illustrates the challenge of poverty amidst plenty: While 92 percent of city mayors said economic conditions improved in the past year, 50 percent reported an increase in demand for survival services like food and shelter, 36 percent saw an increase in homelessness, and 24 percent reported a decrease in housing affordability.

Urban economies are coming back, but the rising economic tide is not translating into good jobs, rising wages, and ownership opportunities for low-income residents and communities of color. Our analyses of the Bay Area and Fairfax County, Va., revealed the persistence of racial inequities in these booming economies. A new report on New Orleans finds that although the region has “staged an unlikely economic comeback,” 41 percent of families are struggling to get by on less than a living wage — up from 35 percent in 2006 — and those families are disproportionately made up of women and people of color. And Alan Mallach’s research on older industrial cities shows how growth is isolated to a few high-density, walkable neighborhoods while income, wealth, and home values are stagnant or declining everywhere else, with African American communities losing the most ground.

Unequal growth is socially and economically unsustainable. Research shows that more equitable regions experience stronger and longer-lasting growth. Demographic changes are also magnifying the costs of racial economic exclusion and upping the value proposition of inclusion. As Baby Boomers retire, their jobs will need to be filled by a much more diverse generation.

Small business owners Al and Marie Pronko benefitted from a $10,000 cash award as part of Detroit's NEIdeas program, which helps local businesses as part of a larger strategy to spur economic growth in the city. (photo:

Small business owners Al and Marie Pronko benefitted from a $10,000 cash award as part of Detroit’s NEIdeas program, which helps local businesses as part of a larger strategy to spur economic growth in the city. (photo:

In the face of these trends, cities should embrace equity as their path to prosperity and take steps to foster inclusive growth: growing new jobs and new businesses while ensuring that low-income people and people of color fully participate in generating that growth and fully share in its benefits. Here are three ways forward:

Bake racial economic inclusion into growth strategies.

Getting to equitable growth requires an intentional and strategic focus on removing barriers and building pathways for struggling workers and entrepreneurs to connect to jobs and business opportunities. Many cities are tackling this challenge and implementing new approaches to fuse growth and opportunity. Portland’s economic development agency just launched an Inclusive Startup Fund to provide capital, mentoring, and business advising to startups founded by underrepresented groups. Recognizing the importance of neighborhood businesses to Detroit’s renaissance, the New Economy Initiative held NEIdeas contests in 2014 and 2015 to provide financial and technical support to help neighborhood businesses grow. And in Pittsburgh, Urban Innovation 21 is connecting the city’s low-income African American communities with its knowledge-economy revival by placing youth in internships at area tech companies, supporting local entrepreneurs, and running a new Citizen Science Lab that offers hands-on life sciences trainings.

Implement a homegrown talent development plan.

City leaders recognize that workforce preparedness is central to their economic success, but often focus on attracting young, mobile, college grads from other states. To shift to equitable growth, cities need to cultivate their homegrown talent. Universal pre-K is a winning strategy and San Antonio’s groundbreaking program is already showing results for low-income, predominantly-Latino four-year olds. “Cradle-to-career” partnerships like Promise Neighborhoods are working to ensure children in low-income neighborhoods have the educational, health, and community supports they need to succeed. NLC’s survey reveals there is a great deal of room for cities to adopt targeted and sectoral workforce development strategies. One promising effort is New Orleans’s Economic Opportunity Strategy, which aims to recruit, train, and connect many of the city’s 35,000 jobless black men with jobs coming online at its major anchor institutions. Cities can also unleash talent by knocking down hurdles to employment. Passing “ban the box” policies that remove questions about prior convictions from job applications and creating municipal ID cards that help immigrants access financial and other services are key strategies.

Leverage public spending, investment, and planning as a force for inclusive growth.

While cities do not control all of the policy levers needed to move toward equitable growth, they can leverage their land use planning and zoning powers, procurement, and infrastructure investments to connect unemployed and underemployed residents to good jobs and transform disinvested neighborhoods into resilient “communities of opportunity.” The upturn in market activity presents cities with opportunities to implement classic equitable development tools — local hiring, community benefits agreements, permanently affordable housing, living wages, etc. — to ensure long-term residents benefit from publicly-subsidized development and can stay in their neighborhoods as they improve. Cities must also innovate new tools — like San Francisco’s new Retail Workers Bill of Rights — to turn low-wage jobs into jobs that support strong families and strong communities.

Now is the time for cities to lead on inclusive growth. Please join us at the 2015 Equity Summit October 27-29 in Los Angeles to explore these and other strategies for building “All-In Cities,” and sign up for our newsletter for regular stories about what works for equitable growth.

About the Author: Sarah Treuhaft is Director of Equitable Growth Initiatives at PolicyLink. She leads the organization’s work to advance racial and economic inclusion as an economic imperative and coordinates the development of the National Equity Atlas. You can connect with Sarah on Twitter @streuhaft.

How LinkedIn Can Help Your City Match Jobs with Trained Workers

This is a guest post by Nicole Isaac. This post is the second installment in a series focused on NLC’s 2015 Cities and Unequal Recovery report, which highlights the findings of our 2015 Local Economic Conditions survey.

Skilled workers, like this engineer maintaining the gas turbine of a power plant generator, are in high demand - but cities need more effective ways of connecting with them. (Getty Images)

Skilled workers, like this engineer maintaining the gas turbine of a power plant generator, are in high demand – but cities need more effective ways of connecting with them. (Getty Images)

While some contend that the United States economy may be impacted by a skills gap, at minimum, researchers have found that there is a skills mismatch between the available jobs and the majority of the trained workforce to fill these jobs.

According to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report, in countries around the world, 30 to 45 percent of the working-age population is unemployed, inactive in the workforce, or working only part-time. In the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, India, Brazil and China, this equates to 850 million people. In the United States alone, there are approximately 20 million people who are unemployed, underemployed, or marginally attached to the workforce, yet there are 5.4 million available jobs just waiting to be filled by people with the right skills.

We’re seeing these skills mismatch trends across American cities today. For example, the National League of Cities’ Cities and Unequal Recovery report suggests that the “skills gap” is the most common concern facing local economies, with 21 percent of cities reporting an increase in the gap over the past year, and exacerbated by the lack of coordination across leading partners for the respective components of workforce development.

This is a real challenge – and, given the number of available jobs and a recovering economy, a significant opportunity for cities across the country. As the report notes, “cities are rising to the challenge and embracing the opportunity by creating collaborative, systemic workforce development approaches to not only improve the local talent pipeline, but also to open communications with employers about assessing needs and improving hiring practices.”

Working with local, state, and international levels to address the challenges around skills, both in supply and demand, is strongly aligned with LinkedIn’s vision to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. We work towards this objective each and every day through partnerships with cities to address workforce issues with LinkedIn’s technology and insights from our Economic Graph. We know firsthand that online connectivity allows for faster, better job matching; smarter labor and educational policy making; more efficient hiring and skills assessments at companies; and overall economic improvement in developed and emerging countries.

That is why, in February, we worked on New York City’s Tech Talent Pipeline program, a $10 million initiative meant to train New Yorkers for high-tech jobs. Together, we analyzed aggregate LinkedIn data from more than three million LinkedIn members in the New York City region and 150,000 NYC-based businesses to provide Tech Talent Pipeline with insights on the current state of the city’s tech industry. Using the data, the city can determine how to strategically invest their resources to create the greatest economic impact.

In June, we announced a partnership with the Markle Foundation called Rework America Connected. This partnership will provide an online destination that connects every sector of the labor force within Colorado and Phoenix, leveraging the job seeking and skills matching capabilities of LinkedIn. Through greater transparency among employers, educators, and job seekers, we’re aiming to create greater economic opportunity for the middle-skilled workers of Colorado and Phoenix.

We’ve been working with the National League of Cities and local governments and other stakeholders to identify and support workforce strategies for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Specifically, three of the cities recognized by the NLC – Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and Nashville – were recently highlighted as part of the TechHire initiative for their focus on training workers for today’s in-demand tech jobs. LinkedIn is partnering with Philadelphia employers, city officials and non- profits to assist with skills alignment in the city. In Nashville, we are working with the Nashville Technology Council to better prepare their curriculum with business needs. Finally, in Salt Lake City, we have been working with the local economic development teams on providing individuals with access in-demand jobs.

Our overall goal in working with cities is to provide individuals with greater economic opportunity, and we’re planning to take the lessons learned from these current initiatives and apply them more broadly in other cities and regions. These public private partnership models are one mechanism by which cities can utilize innovative approaches to age-old problems– through creating more efficient data-sharing models and leveraging the resources of private sector partners to impact communities now.

About the Author: Nicole Isaac is the Head of Economic Graph Policy Partnerships at LinkedIn.

How to Build a New Type of Urban Practice: Analyzing NLC’s Economic Indicators Report

This is a guest post by Ben Hecht. This post is the first installment in a series focused on NLC’s 2015 Cities and Unequal Recovery report, which highlights the findings of our 2015 Local Economic Conditions survey.

If we want to see dramatically better results, we need new ways of solving the complex problems facing American cities. The findings from NLC’s 2015 Local Economic Conditions survey highlight three opportunity areas where we can focus our attention to catalyze lasting change.

(photo: Bill Dickinson)

Many findings in the 2015 Local Economic Conditions report, recently published by the National League of Cities (NLC), mirrored what we at Living Cities are seeing in the field. We believe that the following three areas, highlighted in the report and below, are particularly important to understand and harness if we are going to build a new type of urban practice that gets dramatically better results for low-income people in cities:

Entrepreneurs, Small Business, and the Rise of ‘Urban Serving Businesses’

The NLC’s finding that “new business startups and business expansions are driving improved economic health in cities” couldn’t be more true. And it’s different than in other recoveries. For example, in our Integration Initiative sites in Albuquerque, N.M. and New Orleans, civic leaders are intentionally tapping into the potential of local entrepreneurs of color and unique contracting opportunities to build growth businesses and to get low-income people and people of color into jobs, especially at a sustainable, living wage. Encouragingly, the Kauffman Foundation recently selected Albuquerque as part of a new project to learn about and identify the best ways to build a local ecosystem to support these emerging entrepreneurs.

Relatedly, we’re seeing the rise of what we’ve termed ‘Urban Serving Businesses,’ structured as social enterprises and otherwise, that are building their businesses in cities, creating jobs and often delivering products and services that are improving the lives of low income people and the communities in which they live. Accelerators like Tumml and participants in efforts like Code for America and Venture for America are great examples of this trend. This is an area of opportunity for cities, and one that Living Cities and our partners are exploring on the job creation front. We’re about to undertake a landscape scan, in partnership with Deutsche Bank, to understand the state of that emerging sector, the ecosystems that currently exists to support them, and the gaps that inhibit their growth and long term success. We’re also interested in learning if a collaborative like Living Cities can play a role in that ecosystem, and what that role could look like.

Addressing the “Skills Gap” Problem from Cradle to Career

Yet, even as businesses grow, we’re still seeing that educational attainment and workforce preparation remain a challenge. As the NLC study found, the misalignment between skills available in the community and the needs of businesses is worsening. This reality is part of why we are a big supporter of the StriveTogether Network, where we’re learning about and testing promising solutions to fixing the skills gap permanently by re-engineering the systems that are failing our kids, from cradle to career. We’re particularly encouraged by the recent announcement of the six sites selected for funding from Strive’s Cradle-to-Career Accelerator Fund. In each site, leaders from the public, private, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors have come together to achieve needle-moving change across the cradle to career continuum, from readiness for Kindergarten to college completion and securing of a good job. They are using data for continuous improvement, disaggregating by race and income, and working to re-direct dollars from approaches that aren’t getting results to those that do. More than two dozen other sites are primed to learn from them and follow in their footsteps.

Innovative Affordable Housing Solutions: Looking the Problem with Fresh Eyes

Finally, the NLC’s study confirms what we are reading about in the papers and on social media every day. Despite “rising residential property values,” the “lack of affordable housing is a major concern facing cities.” We’re seeing communities across the country realize that the tried-and-tested tools that they’ve long relied on to attack the problem are grossly insufficient to address current conditions. That has catalyzed places like San Francisco and Boston to develop new approaches to building market-rate, mixed income, and affordable housing for their residents. In Boston, for example, the Mayor’s Innovation Team (i-team) is tackling the city’s affordable housing challenge in new and creative ways by helping agency leaders and staff through a data-driven process to assess problems, generate responsive new interventions, develop partnerships and deliver measurable results.

NLC’s new report highlights exactly the areas where we need to focus our attention. It provides further fuel for the argument that we need new ways of solving many of these old problems if we want to get dramatically better results. There are many promising solutions out there — in Albuquerque, Boston, Cincinnati and beyond. We all need to help them to succeed and to move them from the periphery of practice to the mainstream.

About the Author: Ben Hecht  was appointed President & CEO of Living Cities in July 2007. Since that time, the organization has adopted a broad, integrative agenda that harnesses the collective knowledge of its 22 member foundations and financial institutions to benefit low income people and the cities where they live. You can reach Ben on Twitter @BenHecht.


An Interview with NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony on Race, Equity & Leadership

Clarence AnthonyNational League of Cities CEO & Executive Director Clarence Anthony, seen here speaking at NLC’s Congressional City Conference in March. (Jason Dixson)

The tragedies that have occurred in Ferguson, New York City, Baltimore, and other communities throughout America have rightly sparked conversation about the social, cultural, racial and economic factors that affect the everyday lives of city residents – particularly minorities, at-risk youth, and the poor. What can cities do to promote equality and economic opportunity for people of all races, ethnicities, ages and economic backgrounds?

When tragedies like this occur, it not only erodes the relationship between the police and the community, it highlights the fact that there is a growing economic disparity that city leaders in America must recognize and address. High unemployment rates and low graduation rates among citizens in cities, towns and villages shows that certain neighborhoods have prospered while others have not. It’s important that city leaders understand that you have to engage with, and design initiatives for, all constituents in every neighborhood.

For example, city leaders must focus on creating vibrant downtowns while developing inclusive and affordable housing in neighborhoods. This type of approach to public policy will create more engaging cities where citizens can live, work and raise their families within the community that they call home. One way we can accomplish this is to create incentives so that the private sector will hire from within the community. When city leaders promote this type of growth, cities benefit and residents become vested in their community.

Cities should also examine the appointment process for city advisory boards and councils. For example, a planning and zoning commission that doesn’t reflect the ethnic, racial or gender diversity of the city is not truly representative of that city. From parks and recreation departments and advisory councils to tourist development councils and workforce boards, every policy board that advises the elected leadership should represent the diversity of that city. It can be done, but you’ve got to be very strategic and intentional, and have a real commitment to making sure that every segment of the population is represented.

These are just a few of the concrete steps that cities can take to ensure that their communities are equally represented in government. If a community is under-represented, and its needs are not served, then its residents will not be vested in the city as a whole. They won’t feel like the city is their home. And then you’ll see the tragic events that have happened in countless cities across the nation continue to occur. All of these cities have people who feel that they are not part of a community; that they are not “real” citizens with a voice in government. And they will find other ways to make their voices heard.

So there can’t be a disconnect between municipal authority and the people it represents.

You have to have that connection. You have to include them in the governance process, in the community process. I was just at a conference in Philly – Cities United – and it had a panel of young African American men, and their message was “Don’t talk at us; talk to us, and with us.” Many of them were in their mid-twenties, and public policy and programs are being designed for them – but without their input. That has to change. You have to include them in the development of the community in which they live.

The root causes of the recent tragedies are complex and nuanced. Two distinct events consistently stand out, however: the death of a young black male as a result of an interaction with police, and the violent public response that subsequently occurred. What steps can city leaders and local elected officials take to address the potential for these tragedies to occur in their cities?

There has to be an acknowledgement that there are still challenges in communities throughout America when it comes to race relations – specifically, race relations with police departments. Something must occur to strengthen trust between the minority community and police in cities throughout America. At this point, unfortunately, we are starting to see police being targeted in reprisal; community trust continues to erode. We must start a conversation of understanding and partnership – and that conversation must be led by city leaders. The elected officials who are members of the National League of Cities are exactly that type of group; they’re city leaders who strive to create a bridge between police and communities, so that real conversations can occur.

In addition, I think city leaders should start to re-examine – and implement, wherever possible – community policing policies that provide for a real understanding of the communities they serve; there must be understanding to have a relationship with the community. Once you have that relationship, you’ll be able to engage. So city leaders must be able to look at how they’re investing their resources and what kind of progress is being made throughout the community as a whole. When city leaders acknowledge that they have diversity in the community, and they create opportunities to bring people throughout the community together, that creates relationships and real conversations.

This is happening in some communities, but we need it to happen everywhere. The questions involving black males in America focus on more than just police relations – they take into consideration the high unemployment rate, the low high school graduation rate, and the level of poverty that exists in cities throughout America, among other factors. The takeaway is this: city leaders have to focus on improving engagement and relations in their communities. We have to look at how we provide creative and innovative techniques to reach the African American community so that we can achieve our goal of making true connections that are lasting and productive. It will take hard work and partnerships with our educational system and the private sector – and on the law enforcement side, those same partnerships need to develop, focusing on education and training on how to value diversity and how to communicate across cultures.

The change we need will not occur overnight; it will take patience and time to build the trust that our cities deserve. We need to spur conversation, in an effort to reach a certain level of trust and understanding between police and communities. The National League of Cities is quickly becoming a nexus of conversation about race, equity and leadership in American cities. That conversation is long overdue.

Do you see the Cities United event in Philadelphia as one of the forums for that conversation?

Yes. I think Cities United is not only a forum for that conversation, but an excellent tool to help elected officials get the technical expertise they need to deal with the larger issues involved. For example, Cities United provides consultants that help city leaders respond to the challenges faced by American cities that we’ve discussed today.

How does the National League of Cities’ lead that conversation?

Our REAL initiative is a very important tool and resource for city leaders. It’s designed to help them address racial tensions in their communities and create meaningful conversations around racial diversity and equity issues. REAL stands for Race, Equity And Leadership – and the piece that we really have to elevate is the piece on leadership, because our members are the ones who are responsible for governance in American cities.

Earlier, you posed the question, “What should city leaders do if something like this happens?” The challenges we’ve spoken about today are especially difficult challenges for any city leader to face, and it’s the responsibility of the National League of Cities to develop best practices around these issues, give city leaders the space to discuss the challenges they face with a network of peers, and then provide them with the tools they need to manage the situation if something like what happened in Baltimore or Ferguson occurs in their community.

I wish I could sit here and tell you that this will be the last time that tragedies like these will occur. But the reality is that, until a systematic strategy is in place to bring about full economic participation as well as improved relations between police and the communities they serve, these tragedies could happen in any city in America. City leaders are standing up and saying, “we need to fix these issues before something like this occurs in our community.” That’s a conversation that needs to be had. We’re going to start seeing city leaders begin to deal with the injustices, the inequality, and the creation of opportunities for all of their citizens.

And that’s what we have to do: we have to build a city in which everyone is a participant, where all citizens feel like they can raise their kids, and live and work and play in a safe and vibrant environment. You don’t call a place home when you don’t have a system of governance that supports you. Right now, I think that’s one of the biggest challenges American cities face. But if we can rise to that challenge, I think we’ll have more people out on the streets saying “Hey, this is our neighborhood; we own this.” We have to create cities that all citizens can call home.

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Associate Editor at the National League of Cities.

Five Ways to Celebrate National Small Business Week

Small businesses are an essential component of a strong local economy. Our nation’s small businesses not only create well-paying jobs, they also deliver vital goods and services, generate local sales tax revenue, and contribute to the unique character and livability of neighborhoods.

SBA_NSBW2015_FINAL_v2It’s National Small Business Week (May 4-8, 2015). How is your city celebrating? Share your plans with @robbins617 with the hashtag #Mayors4SmallBiz. (Photo Credit: Small Business Administration)

Local leaders are in a unique position to help support and develop a strong small business community. From NLC’s Big Ideas for Small Business report, here are five ways your city can support small businesses during National Small Business Week, and all year long.

  1. Establish a Small Business Resource Center. Create a business resource center that serves as a hub of information for entrepreneurs and the local small business community. These centers, like Kansas City’s KCBizcare, are staffed with experts who serve as mentors and liaisons to businesses in need of support or information.
  1. Advocate for Small Businesses via Community-Led Councils or Committees. Form a council or committee consisting of small business owners, entrepreneurs, and other community stakeholders to advise the city council and mayor on small business issues. In Cincinnati, the Small Business Advisory Committee (SBAC) provides feedback on policies and programs that impact business owners.
  1. Celebrate Successful Businesses. Thank small businesses and recognize their contributions to a city’s unique character. Seattle’s Office of Economic Development and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce select several local companies per quarter to recognize as part of the In Good Company The chosen companies are awarded a video profile on the Seattle Channel, a profile on the Office of Economic Development’s daily newsletter, a press release and proclamation from the mayor, and a free one-year membership to the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
  1. Encourage Local Small Businesses to Bid for City Contracts. Invest in the long-term future of small businesses by including them in the bidding process for city contracts. As part of the Business Empowerment Plan in San Antonio, the city offers a mentoring program for small businesses designed to help owners build skills that will prepare them for the contract application process. In San Diego, the city’s Small Business Development Program offers educational trainings on the city’s procurement process and helps entrepreneurs market their products and services to the city.
  1. Develop a One-Stop-Shop at City Hall. Create a one-stop-shop to centralize and streamline the interface between small businesses and city hall. Red tape and inefficiency are problematic for business owners because they waste time and resources that should be spent building their enterprise. The city of Chicago restructured its approach to serving small business by launching the Small Business Center, including an Express Lane service. These initiatives optimize business owners’ time at Chicago City Hall by providing access to staff from various departments at one time, and by better prioritizing requests based on the specific business needs.

Robbins_small (2)About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate of Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

The Arts Mean Business

This is a guest post by Jay H. Dick, Senior Director of State and Local Government Affairs at Americans for the Arts.

Meyerson_Symphony_Center_Dallas_1_fullsizeThe Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, Texas, is a visually spectacular example of the type of anchor for economic development that can be achieved when city governments invest in arts and culture initiatives. (photo: Matt Clarkson)

If your city had a new construction company move to town, this would be good news – more jobs, more economic activity, and more tax revenues to be collected. How about if your city received funding from your state to widen a road? Again, you would probably welcome this news with open arms. Now, think about a new arts organization moving to town. Would you look at this group with the same economic lens that you used to look at the construction or transportation business?

If your answer was no, here’s why you should!

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) with the National Endowment for the Arts recently released their second annual report measuring the arts and culture sector’s contributions to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). This year’s report found that the arts and culture sector represented 4.32 percent of the GDP – a higher percentage than tourism (2.6 percent), transportation (2.7 percent) and construction (3.4 percent) – at $698.7 billion!

(Americans for the Arts)

In other words, the arts and culture sector have a larger impact on your economy (in terms of GDP) than these other industries. The unfortunate problem is that we don’t readily recognize the economic value and impact of the arts. Luckily, more research is being done on this topic by groups such as the BEA and by organizations like mine, Americans for the Arts.

For example, did you know that, according to our Arts and Economic Prosperity IV study, the nonprofit arts are a $135 billion industry that supports over 4 million full-time equivalent jobs? Further, the nonprofit arts contribute $22 billion dollars in tax revenue, of which $6.07 billion is collected at the local level. Given that most local governments (that Americans for the Arts has studied) appropriate less than they receive in tax revenue, the arts are a wonderful investment!

Our Creative Industries: Business & Employment in the Arts reports provide a research-based approach to understanding the scope and economic importance of the arts in America. Nationally, 702,771 businesses are involved in the creation or distribution of the arts, and they directly employ 2.9 million people. This represents 3.9 percent of all U.S. businesses and 1.9 percent of all U.S. employees – demonstrating statistically that the arts are a formidable business presence and are broadly distributed across our communities. Arts businesses and the creative people they employ stimulate innovation, strengthen America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace, and play an important role in building and sustaining economic vibrancy. In addition to our national numbers, there are downloadable maps on our website of every state, federal legislative district, state legislative district, counties and some larger cities.

Cities of all sizes that, even minimally, invest in their local arts organizations can see economic benefits. For example, over 300 cities have created cultural districts to foster the economic viability of their downtown. Cultural districts are a well-recognized, labeled, mixed-use area of a city in which a high concentration of cultural facilities serves as the anchor of attraction and robust economic activity.

The Playhouse Square Center in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. (Getty Images)

According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Ohio, the Cleveland Playhouse Square’s downtown economic impact has been impressive. For every one dollar spent in ticket sales, $2.20 is generated in additional expenditures to the local economy. In a five-year period, 79 new businesses moved downtown, and the cost of downtown office space nearly doubled.

In the late 1990s, Paducah, Ky. had a problem – an area of the city, LowerTown, was run down. Fifty percent of homes were dilapidated; 73 percent of homes were renter-occupied; and there was a 17 percent unemployment rate with 51 percent of people living in poverty. To tackle the problem, city leaders came up with a unique plan: the Artist Relocation Program. City leaders partnered with banks and other businesses and reached out nationally to artists to invite them to move to Paducah. The program would offer them a very low-interest loan if they bought a house, agreed to make improvements, worked as an artist out of their house, and lived there for at least five years.

Dixie Leather Works, located in the LowerTown arts disctrict of Paducah, Ky. (photo: Paducah Visitors Bureau)

Dixie Leather Works, located in the LowerTown Arts District of Paducah, Ky. (photo: Paducah Visitors Bureau)

Ten years later, dilapidated homes have fallen to 3 percent; the renter-occupied rate is down to 15 percent; unemployment is down to 6 percent; and the number of people living in poverty has been reduced to 4 percent. This is all a direct result of the Artist Relocation Program.

These are just a few examples of how the arts and culture can help your city’s economy. The great thing about the arts is they are already in your city. The arts, unlike many industries, are not going to relocate overseas or to a different city. The arts are committed to serving your city’s residents and improving the quality of life. But what they do need are community leaders to recognize them as an industry worthy of both private and public sector support. So, please contact your local arts groups. Get to know them, understand their programming, and how they work to improve your city. And if you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly – I would love to help.

Jay H. DickAbout the Author: Jay H. Dick is the Senior Director of State and Local Government Affairs at Americans for the Arts, an organization which serves, advances and leads diverse networks of organizations and individuals who cultivate, promote, sustain and support the arts in America. Americans for the Arts has partnered with NLC for almost 20 years on a variety of programs.

Closing the Digital Divide in America

This is a guest post by David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation.

Chance the Rapper (left) and Comcast Executive Vice President David L. Cohen present laptops to students from Chicago’s Alcott College Prep at a recent event to announce new Internet Essentials milestones. (Comcast)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 52 percent of low-income households in the United States subscribe to broadband at home. What’s more, for certain low-income groups, broadband adoption still falls more than 20 percentage points behind the general population, according to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Today, access to the Internet at home is essential for all family members to keep up in this digital and highly competitive world— so much so that it’s hard to believe there are still so many families without it. Whether doing homework, applying for college, searching and applying for jobs, paying bills, accessing health care or using social media, think for a second about how you would do all these things if you didn’t have the Internet at home? Would you park your car in your nearest McDonald’s parking lot so you could hand your smartphone to your child to use the free Wi-Fi to write a book report? Would you send your daughter across town on a bus at night to a computer lab so she could do her homework? Would you walk a mile to your local library to sign your son up for a 30 minute session on a computer? I’ve traveled all around the country hearing stories from mothers and fathers who had to do all of these things for their kids because they didn’t have Internet service at home. It doesn’t seem fair does it?

Comcast post 2

In August 2011, we set out to try to help solve this problem by introducing Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program. It provides low-cost broadband service for $9.95 a month; the option to purchase an Internet-ready computer for less than $150; and multiple options to access free digital literacy training in print, online and in person.

That was three and a half years ago. Recently, we were proud to announce that thanks to the support and hard work of thousands of community partners, elected officials and dedicated employees, we have connected more than 450,000 families, or 1.8 million low-income Americans, to the power of the Internet at home. For a frame of reference, 1.8 million is larger than the populations of 96 of America’s 100 largest cities as well as 12 states. That is real and meaningful progress.

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On a local level, the Chicago metro area leads the way in closing the digital divide for the fourth year in a row. More than 50,000 families, or 200,000 low-income Chicagoans – nearly 25 percent of its eligible population – have signed up for Internet Essentials. Second best is the Miami metro area, with more than 41,500 families, or 166,000 low-income residents – 28 percent of its eligible population. The Atlanta metro area is third best with more than 25,000 families, or more than 100,000 low-income citizens – almost 20 percent of its eligible population.

Crossing the digital divide is not just about getting families online, it’s also about teaching them how to use the Internet’s resources to its fullest potential. The clear-cut assessment across all broadband researchers is that the most widely noted reason for non-adoption is not the price of the broadband connection or any cost related to that connection. Instead, it’s a bucket of digital literacy issues, including a perceived lack of relevance of the Internet and a lack of understanding of its value. For instance, nearly half of non-adopters say they simply don’t need the Internet at home or are not interested, according to research by the NTIA.

To break down that barrier to adoption, we’ve invested more than $225 million in cash and in-kind support to help fund digital literacy and readiness initiatives, reaching more than 3.1 million people through our network of national and local nonprofit community partners. Partners like the National League of Cities have also played a crucial role in making more people aware of these training opportunities.

One of my favorite statistics that truly highlights the progress we are making is from research by Dr. John B. Horrigan, former head of research for the FCC’s National Broadband Plan and a preeminent researcher on broadband adoption and utilization. He found that even though Comcast is only one of multiple providers, and does not have broadband systems in two-thirds of the country, the company’s Internet Essentials program has accounted for one-quarter of all of the national broadband adoption growth for low-income families with children from the program’s inception through June 2014.

We look forward to the continued success of the program. We believe the Internet has the power to transform lives, strengthen communities and inspire a new generation of leaders – but we can’t do this alone. We hope you will join us in this fight to close the digital divide. If you’d like to get more involved and become a partner, please sign up at and help spread the word.

david cohen, comcast_150x187About the Author: David L. Cohen is Executive Vice President of Comcast Corporation. David has a broad portfolio of responsibilities, including corporate communications, government and regulatory affairs, public affairs, legal affairs, corporate administration and community investment, and serves as senior counselor to the CEO. He also serves as Chief Diversity Officer for the company.

Retention and Attraction Strategies for a Balanced Retail Sector

This is a recap from Big Ideas for Small Business, NLC’s national peer network helping local governments accelerate effort to support small businesses and encourage entrepreneurship. To learn more, email

Empress of China SFNeighborhood institutions, such as the Empress of China restaurant in San Francisco, are often forced to close their doors due to escalating rent prices – but city leaders can balance retention and attraction strategies to sustain a healthy and diverse local business community. (Image courtesy

Small businesses in some San Francisco neighborhoods are “disappearing as fast as an artisanal ice cube in a $14 craft cocktail” because of a development boom that’s turning neighborhood institutions, like the Empress of China and Lombardi Sports, into housing units. In Washington, D.C., local shops like Jak & Co. Hairdressers are closing their doors due to escalating rent prices.

At the same time, though, Cleveland has found it difficult to attract a full-scale grocery store downtown. Fort Worth also recently struggled to attract a retailer to a lower-income and underdeveloped neighborhood of the city.

What’s happening in these scenarios is nothing new. The real estate industry tends to develop where demand and buying power are high enough to create a return on investment. Even though cities don’t have direct control over the private real estate market, there are indeed strategies local governments can implement to create equity across neighborhood retail sectors.

City leaders should find the right balance between retention and attraction strategies to sustain a healthy and diverse local business community across all neighborhoods. Business retention strategies help existing local businesses keep their doors open. Business attraction strategies encourage or promote business growth in areas that wouldn’t otherwise be considered viable options for investment.

Achieving the right balance can undoubtedly be a complicated and ongoing process. Cities from NLC’s Big Ideas for Small Business peer network recently shared some of their local best practices.

Business Retention

 Legislating to preserve legacy businesses.  San Francisco is considering Legacy Business Legislation that would help retain local businesses in their original location by providing incentives to both the business and property owners. The businesses affected by this legislation are mom-and-pop restaurants, bars, and other small retailers operating in the city for at least 30 years. In recent years, these historic retailers have been “swallowed up” by the city’s development boom.

Providing business owners with site relocation assistance. For existing businesses that can no longer afford their leases, the choices are either to close up shop or relocate to a different neighborhood. Retail site selection tools, like the Retail Site Search from the Washington DC Economic Partnership (WDCEP), catalogue all of the available commercial spaces in the city. Every year, the WDCEP works with several business owners to choose a new, more affordable site for their business. The WDCEP tracks data on new business licenses that provides a unique vantage point into areas where businesses are growing and commercial rents are likely to rise.

Business Attraction

Partnering with a public hospital to build a grocery store in a food desert. Grocery stores are one of the more difficult types of retail for cities to attract in underserved areas. A public hospital in Kansas City, Mo., is supporting the construction of a grocery store in a section of the city that is now considered a food desert. The hospital’s vision is to provide access to fresh, affordable produce so that local residents are healthier and need fewer emergency room visits. Once it’s opened, the hospital will take over the management of the grocery store and offer classes on food and nutrition.

Using vacant space for pop-up retail. Temporarily filling vacant commercial corridors with pop-up retail businesses benefits the local economy in two ways. First, it reinvigorates the neighborhood by attracting visitors and customers, and can help reestablish the neighborhood as a “hot spot” for new businesses or development. Additionally, pop-up spaces provide local entrepreneurs the chance to test their products and skills in a low-risk environment. San Antonio’s OPEN initiative provides entrepreneurs with short-term leases in vacant downtown spaces, and aims to “authenticate downtown as a vibrant urban space, ready for long-term investment.” The Pop-Up Project in San Jose also connects retailers to vacant or underutilized downtown space.

A mix of these types of retention and attraction strategies will help ensure that all businesses have the chance to be successful, and that all neighborhoods have affordable goods and services available for residents.

Robbins_small (2)About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate of Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.