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.


A Smarter Way to Make Smart Cities

This is a guest post by Isabel Munson.

Songdo, South Korea has been billed as the world’s first “smart city.” (Image: Gale International)

Today, when we hear the term “smart city”, massive interventions powered by some of the world’s largest companies come to mind.

Take the $35 billion+ city of Songdo, South Korea, which was built from the ground-up with the help of Cisco. The planned city boasts 16 miles of bike paths, 40 percent of its area dedicated to outdoor spaces, and a designation as the biggest project outside the U.S. to be included in the LEED Neighborhood Development Pilot Plan (and first LEED Accredited district in South Korea). Most impressive of all is the city’s pneumatic waste disposal system, which funnels garbage from every kitchen in the city directly to a central waste processing center. Only seven employees handle waste for the whole city, and there are no garbage trucks or cans on the street.

But how can you make a smart city if you don’t have several billion dollars or the ability to build a development from the ground up? Aren’t expensive projects by big companies the only way to make your city smart?

Though it may seem counterintuitive, small interventions powered by small companies can have almost as large of an impact with a fraction of the price. The creation of small smart cities companies may seem unrelated to any municipality’s actions, but cities can do a lot to encourage and empower these innovations.

For example, the mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston focuses on incorporating futuristic design and technology into the city’s development. Its willingness to invest resources and take chances on new technology has helped small companies succeed while ensuring that Boston remains innovative. I work for one of those small companies, Soofa, a MIT Media Lab spinoff founded in 2014. With the support of New Urban Mechanics, Soofa was able to pilot 10 pieces of smart urban furniture — solar-powered charging benches — just a few months after creating the first prototype.

Soofa CEO Sandra Richter with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the first Soofa protoype. (Mashable)

Soofa CEO Sandra Richter with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the first Soofa protoype. (Mashable)

The feedback gained from this pilot phase allowed Soofa to make major bench improvements and complete their first production run this spring, with benches being installed in seven U.S. states.

The new Soofa Bench, with changes made based on results of the Boston pilot program. (Soofa)

The new Soofa Bench, with changes made based on results of the Boston pilot program. (Soofa)

Across the river, Cambridge was also willing to take a risk on a new startup by being an early adopter of Soofa Benches and a R&D partner. The Soofa Bench features a sensor brain that detects the environment around it — from noise and nitrogen levels to humidity and temperature. Cambridge realized that this wealth of data gained from urban environments can be harnessed for more effective city planning, evaluating the efficacy of various programs and developments, and most importantly, helping citizens enjoy their urban spaces! As such, Cambridge was willing to be Soofa’s R&D partner as they develop the most comprehensive sensor brain and data platform possible.

So, why are small interventions better? When entrepreneurs envision ways to improve the city, they dream big, but are constrained by cost and practicality. The resulting products have big potential with a much smaller price tag. Installing a bench is much easier than retrofitting aged infrastructure with sensors, and more cost effective. A solar-powered bench can seem like an unnecessary expenditure, especially to smaller cities, but this investment enables cities to be more efficient and enjoyable in the future.

Creating a space where local entrepreneurs can have their city-improving ideas heard and potentially supported by city governments is critical to the creation of smart cities. Even if no investments are made, gaining the input of stakeholders from professors to designers and engineers is invaluable to future city planning. Chicago’s Array of Things project is another great example of a city using their valuable local academic and technological resources to create a low-cost, high-impact smart cities intervention.

A rendering of the Chicago Array of Things sensor boxes’ functionality. (Chicago Array of Things project)

A rendering of the Chicago Array of Things sensor boxes’ functionality. (Chicago Array of Things project)

Chicago still took input from smart-cities giants like Cisco, but made a conscious choice to loop in local talent for the research and design behind the project. Though here we encourage cities to support small companies creating smart cities interventions, we must give big companies credit where credit is due. Without their push to encourage smart cities projects, smaller companies would never be able to sell their products or get funding — because no one would know what a smart city is! The research, awareness and funding from major companies in the smart cities space has been invaluable. That said, any city can be cost-effectively made into a smart city through small interventions powered by small businesses.

So, how do you future-proof your city? Prioritize the creation of civic innovation offices similar to New Urban Mechanics to support local talent and small businesses. Small, agile interventions end up having a big impact.

About the Author: Isabel Munson is the Data Strategy Lead at Soofa, an Internet-of-Things company dedicated to creating social, sustainable and smart cities. Her other musings on smart cities, #Soofatalk, may be found at or @mysoofa.

Children’s Savings Accounts: How Cities are Helping Families Save for College

Every family should have the opportunity to save for their children’s future, but this is simply not the reality for many low- and moderate-income families.

CGI America2From left to right: Laura Owens, ‘I Have a Dream’ Foundation; Heidi Goldberg, National League of Cities, Michael Sherraden, Center for Social Development at Washington University; San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros; St. Louis Treasurer Tishuara Jones; Governor John Hickenlooper; and Andrea Levere, CFED President onstage with President Bill Clinton for the announcement of the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future at CGI America. (photo: CGI)

The National League of Cities is proud to join CFED and over a dozen other partners in launching the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future. Announced this week on stage with President Bill Clinton at the CGI America Conference in Denver, the Campaign will work to ensure that 1.4 million children have a savings account for college by 2020.

Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are a proven two-generation strategy for helping children and their families move up the economic ladder. Higher education — the surest route to economic success — is within reach when conversations about college happen at an early age. In fact, evidence shows that children with a savings account in their name are three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate, even if they have as little as $500 or less in that account. CSAs, particularly locally-led CSA programs, often include the following components:

  • A savings account,
  • Parent/guardian engagement in helping with deposits,
  • Incentives to save, such as cash matches, and
  • Financial education for children and their parents/guardians.

In addition to our partnership with CFED on the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future, we’re launching a new project to work with cities to help them plan, develop and implement locally-led CSAs. These cities will have the opportunity to connect with each other and with experts in the field to develop their own blueprints for local action in developing or enhancing CSA programs.

As President Bill Clinton eloquently noted in his opening remarks, there are no silver bullets, but there are thousands of actions we can take that, in the aggregate, can improve the lives of children and families. Implementing a CSA program is one such action. President Clinton recognized the need to highlight successful local actions and initiatives at high-profile events such as CGI America, with the hope that other cities will take what they learn and replicate programs in a way that works for them.

And there are many communities interested in replicating CSA programs, according to a recent NLC scan of local financial inclusion efforts. Our latest report, City Financial Inclusion Efforts: A National Overview, highlights the results of our scan and reveals that emerging financial inclusion strategies, such as CSAs are currently under discussion or in development in cities across the country.

There are several cities already actively engaged in this work, some of whom, such as San Francisco and St. Louis, have signed on as partners to the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future.

In 2010, San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros started Kindergarten to College (K2C), the first publicly funded, universal children’s college savings account program in the U.S. K2C provides a college savings account with a $50 deposit for every child entering public kindergarten in the city. In St. Louis, Treasurer Tishaura Jones’ office is launching the St. Louis College Kids program this fall. Based on San Francisco’s model, every public and charter school kindergartner in St. Louis will receive a savings account with an initial $50 deposit from the City of St. Louis Treasurer’s Office to help families save for their children’s education.

About the Author:
Heidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.

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.

Policing Will Change

This is a guest post by Jack Calhoun. The post originally appeared here.

Firefighters work to extinguish street fires in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., August 1965. The historic Watts riots occurred after neighborhood residents watched two white officers scuffling in apprehending a suspected black drunk driver. (image courtesy

Author’s note: After the grim and disheartening days in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York City, and other cities across the nation, there is hope. There are cities that once faced the same climate we are seeing in Baltimore today that are now making strides and developing programs that are saving lives and transforming the relationships between the police and those they police – a move from a volatile combination of resentment and violence to one of authentic collaboration and caring. Watts serves as a shining example.

“It’s not been a change – it’s a transformation. I grew up in Watts. I got jumped into a gang when I was 13 – only way I could get to school safely. Otherwise, I got beat up every day. We hated the cops. Man, nobody talked to the cops. Nobody trusted the cops; if you talked to the cops, you could get hurt. Sold drugs… did time in prison… and now? Well, just let me say it this way: I’ve never seen moms and grandmothers sitting on their front steps waving to cops. They do now, in Watts. I’ve never seen kids running up to cops to get a hug – happens all the time. And guess what? I have a say in helping hiring these cops!”

So spoke Michael Cummings, Executive Director of We Care Outreach Ministries at a breakout session I ran for the Council on Foundations annual meeting in San Francisco on Tuesday, April 28th. Michael, who also co-facilitates the Children’s Institute Project Fatherhood, and who helped organize the Safe Passage Haven program for Jordan High School, plays a key role in the Advancement Project’s remarkable report “Relationship-Based Policing: Achieving Safety in Watts.” Things haven’t changed in the three target housing projects – Jordan Downs, Nickerson Gardens and Imperial Courts – they’ve been transformed. Cummings reports a dramatic drop in homicides – in some areas zero homicide, zero – in this, one of the most violent pieces of real estate in the nation.

“The cops stay with us for five years, and they get two stripes. They don’t get the stripes if they don’t stay. Yes, they arrest. But they are really part of us in the community. They help coach the Watts Bears. They take the kids to the Clippers’ and Dodgers’ games. They’re on the ground. They’ve even helped with providing food in emergencies, and helping kids get jobs.

The Advancement Project’s relationship-based policing, called “the Community Safety Partnership” (CSP), “imagines a new way of operating for the police where their legitimacy in the community is built on procedural justice, authentic relationships with community members, and sustained commitment to improve the health and well-being of the community, not just a focus on crime statistics.” CSP has targeted Watts’ highest crime areas, areas “plagued” by other issues: poor school retention, unemployment, few usable green spaces, limited access to healthy foods, and chronic mistrust. (See Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Program, Community Safety Partnership and Relationship-Based Policing: Achieving Safety in Watts).

LAPD Chief of Police Charlie Beck established CSP in partnership with former Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) CEO Rudy Montreal and the Advancement Project. CSP vision stresses both “safety” and “peace” along with “long-term community development” and “a healthy quality of life.” It would do this through a combination of support programs and “the presence and sustainable relationships between LAPD officers, residents and other community leaders.” Safety and relationships with law enforcement are conjoined with community capacity development.

To ensure sustainability, and to avoid being viewed as just another program or short-term initiative, CSP planners, who intended that CSP be seen not as “an isolated tactic of a few officers, but an established practice endorsed by the highest ranks of LAPD,” carefully screened and selected 35 officers out of 400 applicants. CSP officers received promotions, were rigorously trained with 25 community stakeholders, and, in order to forge lasting relationships in a notoriously mistrusting community, pledged a five-year commitment. Promotions and raises (“incentive structures”) are not solely based on traditional enforcement measures such as an increase in arrests, but on other measures such as diversion of youthful offenders and helping students travel safely to school. “These new cops had to get to know the community,” said Cummings. “We showed them around. We had lunch with community leaders. Took them to schools and had them meet with the principals and teachers. Yeah, they have to help us keep the crime down – but, now that they know us, they’re worried about us, how we’re doing, helping kids have a good future.”

(image courtesy

(image courtesy

The Advancement Project’s 2012 report, “A Call to Action: Los Angeles’ Quest Toward Community Safety,” concludes that CSP has been instrumental in:

  • Reducing violent crime by more than 50% in three Watts housing developments
  • Notable decreases in gang membership and activity
  • Plummeting homicide rates

CSP is seen as the first step in a $1 billion effort to redevelop the housing developments via mixed-income homes, stores and parks, support of construction jobs, and newly-created small businesses.

The overly-militarized “warrior” culture of policing will change. Officers, with the community, will eventually be seen as co-producers of safety. If found guilty, officers in Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, North Charleston and other cities must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Race-biased, culturally insensitive policing must end. But the most good that can emerge from the events claiming headlines daily is not just a change in the ethos of policing in America, but that the public will see and act upon the real issues, now glaringly evident – seethingly evident – in cities across the nation: issues of unemployment, poor schools, families with no fathers, absence of jobs paying livable wages, chronic exposure to violence, the obscene availability of guns, sub-standard housing, and hopelessness.

These should be the lessons we all learn from the grim events in Baltimore – and from the hope in Watts.

Jack CalhounAbout the Author: John A. “Jack” Calhoun is an internationally renowned public speaker and frequent media guest and editorial contributor. He currently serves as Senior Consultant to the National League of Cities and Founder and CEO of Hope Matters. For more than 20 years, Mr. Calhoun was the founding President of the National Crime Prevention Council, prior to which he served under President Carter as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families.

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.