First National College Signing Day Encourages Young People to #ReachHigher

The local Ballou High School marching band performed in full regalia as young people from more than 30 Washington, D.C. high schools flooded George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium to celebrate the District’s first college signing day event on Friday, May 1, 2015. (photo credit: George Washington University)

May 1, the deadline by which colleges traditionally require admitted students to submit a letter of intent, has now been declared National College Signing Day. Along with more than 600 additional Signing Day events, the event at George Washington University was part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher campaign to honor graduating seniors who will continue their education at a 2-year college, 4-year college, community college or a certificate or credential program.

The Reach Higher campaign celebrates seniors across the nation who have decided to attend college. Almost 100 students crossed the stage during the Washington, D.C. event, many with academic scholarships, to proudly announce where they would be attending school in the fall. Accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Washington, D.C. Deputy Mayor Jennifer Niles, and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser greeted the future college freshmen with words of encouragement as they prepare for their new journey. Exceptional event planning by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and the Office of the Deputy Mayor of Education helped create a day to remember.

National League of Cities staff members gather for a photo celebrating first lady Michelle Obama's Reach Higher initiative.

National League of Cities staff members gather for a photo celebrating first lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative.

I was proud to represent the National League of Cities (NLC) on this warm spring day as I and others volunteered at the college singing day event. Over the past two months, NLC has disseminated social media press kits to city government offices persuading them to show their alma mater pride on May 1 and encourage young people in their communities to pursue higher education. Many cities responded with details about the exciting events they were planning and their mayor’s involvement.

Plans have already begun for next year’s event, and NLC will continue to support young people who dream big and dare to #ReachHigher.

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 Sandler@nlc.org.

SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Oral Argument: Proceed, or Wait and See?

Supreme Court facade(Getty Images)

Justice Kennedy has a lot to think about over the next two months when it comes to same-sex marriage.

His first question (third of the argument) raised an issue that was discussed throughout Mary Bonauto’s argument in favor of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage: for millennia (not years, decades, or even centuries), marriage has been between a man and a woman. Then Justice Breyer, ever the pragmatist, asked why states can’t just wait and see whether same-sex is harmful to traditional marriage. And should just nine people be deciding this question anyway?

For those worried that Justice Kennedy’s and Justice Breyer’s initial questions indicate they are skeptical of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, more favorable questions laid ahead. Even in his question to Ms. Bonauto—and later in a question to the Solicitor General –Justice Kennedy pointed out that 10 years was enough time for the Court to go from desegregating schools to declaring bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional. Perhaps more significantly, Justice Kennedy questioned Michigan attorney John Bursch’s argument, against a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, that states don’t believe that marriage “enhances the dignity of both the parties.” Dignity was the theme of Justice Kennedy’s opinion in United States v. Windsor where the Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

As for Justice Breyer, his question to Mr. Bursch provides one answer to Justice Kennedy’s first question, if not his own questions: “But there is one group of people who they won’t open marriage to. So they have no possibility to participate in that fundamental liberty. That is people of the same sex who wish to marry. And so we ask, ‘why?’ And the answer we get is, ‘well, people have always done it.’ You know. You could have answered that one the same way [when] we talk[ed] about racial segregation.”

The Court was hard to read when it came to the second question in the case: assuming states are allowed to keep same-sex marriage bans, will states without a right to same-sex marriage be required to recognize same-sex marriages lawfully preformed in other states. On one hand, states typically recognize marriages performed in other states even if state laws vary on who may marry. On the other hand, if “recognition” becomes the law of the land, just one state allowing same-sex marriages could mean, practically speaking, that all same-sex marriages (performed in the state allowing them) would have to be recognized.

Interestingly, Justice Kennedy asked only one question of the attorneys arguing the recognition question. Might this be the case because he has already decided to vote that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional? We may never know, but we will have a better idea by the end of June when the Court issues an opinion in this case.

Read more coverage of the oral argument in this case on SCOTUSblog: http://www.scotusblog.com/.

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Employers (and Employees) Win SCOTUS Employment Case

(Jung Soo Kang/Getty Images)

It is a rare Supreme Court case where employers and arguably employees both won (and the Court doesn’t “split the baby” and rule partially in favor of each party). In Mach Mining v. EEOC the only clear losing party is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The Supreme Court held unanimously that a court may review whether the EEOC satisfied its statutory obligation to attempt to conciliate employment discrimination claims before filing a lawsuit.

The Court’s decision is favorable to employers, including state and local governments, who benefit from the EEOC’s statutory mandate to try to resolve employment discrimination cases before suing employers. If the EEOC fails to try to conciliate employers may sue the EEOC. Employees benefit from conciliation because it is faster and less demanding that litigation.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires the EEOC to use informal methods of “conference, conciliation, and persuasion” to eliminate an unlawful employment practice before it sues the employer for discrimination. In this case the EEOC found reasonable cause that Mach Mining discriminated against a class of women who applied for mining jobs. Mach Mining claimed that the EEOC failed to conciliate in good faith before suing it. The EEOC responded that its conciliation efforts are not subject to judicial review.

While the Court held that a court may review whether EEOC satisfied its obligation to conciliate, review is narrow. According to the Court, a “strong presumption” favors judicial review of administrative action. This presumption isn’t rebutted in this case because courts routinely enforce other compulsory prerequisite requirements to bringing a Title VII lawsuit, for example, a plaintiff must file a timely charge.

Regarding the scope of the court’s review, the EEOC argued the court should merely review its letters stating that it found reasonable cause of discrimination and that conciliation occurred and failed. Mach Mining argued for what Justice Kagan described as a “deep dive” into the conciliation process. The Court rejected both suggestions as inconsistent with Title VII. Instead, per the statutory requirements, a court should determine “that the EEOC afford[ed] the employer a chance to discuss and rectify a specified discriminatory practice.” Unless an employer provides credible evidence to the contrary, “[a] sworn affidavit from the EEOC stating that it has performed the obligations noted above but that its efforts have failed will usually suffice to show that it has met the conciliation requirement.”

While employers didn’t get everything they asked for in this decision, it is still a win for employers – and for employees who benefit from conciliation instead of litigation.

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

L.A.’s New Sustainable City Plan Might Actually Get Rid of That Smog

This is a guest post by Allison Paisner.

On April 8, 2015, Mayor Eric Garcetti released L.A.’s first-ever Sustainable City pLAn. (Image courtesy inhabitat.com)

In response to the effects of global climate change, experienced locally in the form of unprecedented drought and increasing frequency of extreme weather events, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the city’s first sustainability plan earlier this April, the Sustainable City pLAn. Garcetti’s initiative is preceded by the assignment of Matt Petersen as the city’s first Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO), following the Mayor’s appointment to President Obama’s task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience in 2013.

Second to NYC as the most populous city in the US, with 3.8 million residents, Los Angeles is one of the last big cities to adopt a sustainability plan. Throughout the development process and creation of the pLAn came advice from other US Mayor’s offices, including San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Boston – comparably populous cities with well-developed sustainability or climate action plans of their own.

Already a national leader in solar power, energy storage and water conservation, this initiative will transform LA and establish the city as leader in crosscutting sustainability issue areas over the next 20 years. According to the mayor’s office, Los Angeles aims to develop a more comprehensive climate action and adaptation plan by 2017 and to be the first big city to achieve zero-waste by 2025.

Advertised as more than just an environmental vision, the pLAn also encompasses sustainability pillars of economy and equity for a more holistic approach. Incorporating sustainability into each of the city’s 35 departments and bureaus, one of the administration’s first action steps will be to appoint 18 departmental CSO’s.

Included are achievable targets across 14 topic areas, for each of which the plan provides an introduction, vision, highlights of goal outcomes, as well as a section that boasts LA’s accomplishments as a leader in the field.

Nestled under the environmental section entitled “Carbon & Climate Leadership” are the city’s short- and long-term emission reductions targets. The goal? To reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below the 1990 baseline by at least 45 percent by 2025, 60 percent by 2035, and 80 percent by 2050. With a baseline of 54.1 MMtCO2e, an 80 percent reduction correlates to 10.82 MMtCO2e in 2050.

A comparison of LA’s GHG percentage emissions reductions targets to other leading US cities is included below. The chart also reports the year each city’s initial sustainability or climate action plan was released. It is important to note that percentage reductions are proportionally comparable but correlate to different absolute value baseline GHG emission levels.

Municipally, the city intends to lead by example. This translates into GHG emissions reductions of city operations by 35 percent (2025) and 55 percent (2035) below the 2008 baseline of 772,696 MMtCO2e. As the most significant driver of climate change since the Industrial Revolution, a reduction in GHG emissions will help mitigate the effects of global warming.

Another highlight of the plan that will help track the city’s progress is the commitment to develop an annual standardized GHG inventory by 2017. The pLAn website already includes a useful dashboard of sustainability metrics to measure progress to-date.

Extending beyond just the city of Los Angeles, however, is the pLAn’s 2017 short-term goal to recruit and “lead mayors of the United States’ largest cities to sign on to the Mayors’ National Climate Action Agreement (MNCAA).” Announced in September 2014 by Mayors Eric Garcetti, Annise Parker of Houston and Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, the MCNAA focuses on local efforts to reduce GHG emissions. One hopes that the passage of yet another city sustainability plan will encourage other cities to follow suit and broaden the network of local efforts to promote sustainability and combat climate change.

Allison Paisner headshotAbout the Author: Allison Paisner is an intern with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

It’s Public Service Recognition Week. How Will Your City Participate?

This is a guest post by Jason Briefel.

PSRW banner 2015(PSRW.org)

Over the past few years, media and politicians have called into question the effectiveness and even the necessity of local, county, state and federal government programs and the employees who carry them out. What is often lost in these stories is the actual services provided by cities and localities to citizens every day – services that people rely on, and that would not happen without the corps of dedicated local public employees.

While city agencies and services should share stories about the work they do on a regular basis, there is a Congressionally-dedicated week each year that seeks to put focus on the important work government at all levels provides and to put a face to the people who work for government. That week is Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW), which is celebrated the first full week of May each year.

Started in the early 1980s to combat anti-government rhetoric and continuing since then as a time to recognize the services being provided by dedicated workers at the city, county, state and federal levels, PSRW is a time to share these stories broadly.

This year, PSRW will be held May 3-9. The theme of PSRW 2015 is “Government Works.” Government agencies and employees, as well as public officials, are encouraged to share stories of how government works for citizens and the type of work that government employees do on a daily basis. A variety of guides for celebration, toolkits for teachers, social media activities, events and other PSRW initiatives can be found on the PSRW website.

The following is a brief list of initiatives that you are encouraged to join and share with others.

PSRW Thunderclap: Sign up for the PSRW 2015 Thunderclap campaign where a few hundred supporters can spread a message of thanks to millions of social media followers.
Public Service White Board: Join our white board photo campaign on Facebook and Instagram to proclaim “I love public servants because…” or “I’m proud to serve because….”
Faces of Government: Help us share positive stories of how government works by contributing profiles about government employees and their work and accomplishments.
• Like us on Facebook (Public Employees Roundtable), follow us on Twitter (@PERoundtable) and Instagram (PERoundtable) and join the conversation using #PSRW.

PSRW is coordinated by the Public Employees Roundtable (PER), a coalition of government employee and other good government organizations. PER is always in the lookout for stories to share throughout the year about government working for citizens and encourages you to reach out and share those stories with PER. PER also welcomes the feedback from any local government organizations as well on ways to make PSRW stronger each year.

Government services at any level do not work without good people to provide them. PSRW is a time to remember that, learn more about government and say thank you to public employees. Please join us in 2015.

Jason BriefelAbout the Author: Jason Briefel is Director of Government Affairs at Shaw Bransford & Roth, P.C., where he represents the Senior Executives Association (SEA), a founding member of the Public Employees Roundtable (PER), among other clients.

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.

An Earth Day Appreciation of Our Partners

This is a guest post by Martin Suuberg, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. The post originally appeared here.

Iron Horse Park, MAThe Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection works on projects such as this 25-acre solar array on a former waste disposal area known as Shaffer Landfill. (photo credit: MassDEP)

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the first Earth Day celebration – a day that many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement. More than 20 million people participated in that 1970 celebration and those efforts eventually lead to the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts a few years later.

In 1975, the General Court created the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Quality Engineering – the precursor of today’s Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) – and built upon a healthy state, community and citizen partnership that still protects our natural resources and the public health.

Over the last 40 years, the state-municipal-citizen partnership has been a key component of our statewide efforts to ensure clean air and water for our citizens, safe management and recycling of solid and hazardous wastes, timely cleanup of hazardous waste sites and spills and the preservation of wetlands and coastal resources.

Massachusetts and MassDEP are leaders in many environmental protection efforts, but we would not be able to claim that mantle without the help and cooperation of our partners. And I would especially like to highlight the important work of local officials, frequently volunteers, at the local conservation commission, board of health, drinking water board or sewer commission levels.

Local governments really are on the front lines when it comes to environmental protection and the safety of the public health. Local residents may not even think of their municipal officials or the kind of work that they do as important for the environment, but it is quietly happening every day.

For instance, municipalities are often responsible for the public water supply, providing clean and safe drinking water to citizens and operating drinking water treatment facilities. This involves compliance with state and federal safe drinking water standards. There are currently 1,725 public water systems statewide, with 313 water systems providing water to residences and businesses in cities and towns, and another 159 systems that supply well water to individual schools, town buildings and businesses.

Communities often operate sewer systems and wastewater treatment facilities, making sure that wastewater discharges operate in compliance with our laws.

Conservation commissions are responsible for implementing the Wetlands Protection Act. Commissioners make decisions based on consistency with the Act and our wetlands protection regulations, ensuring that development does not come at the expense of our precious natural resources.

Local officials also partner with MassDEP and the Commonwealth to provide comprehensive recycling programs, clean up and redevelop Brownfields and contaminated land, oversee septic systems, handle nuisance issues, such as noise, odor and dust, dredge municipal harbors and navigational channels, build and repair sewer and drinking water facilities through low-interest loan programs, help reduce energy use in public facilities, and provide expertise in addressing emergency situations during toxic spills or environmental disasters.

The partnership list is long and extensive and these programs and others like them are critical to maintaining a clean environment and the high quality of life expected by every resident in the Commonwealth. I want to thank local officials for their important work in making our shared mission a reality.

I look forward to building on our many years of collaboration, strengthening those community partnerships and promoting increased understanding about how we can work together to ensure continued protection of the environment and the public health.

Martin Suuberg, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental ProtectionAbout the Author: Martin Suuberg was appointed Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) in January by Governor Charlie Baker. Mr. Suuberg has almost 30 years of experience working in environmental and natural resources agencies at the state and federal level, including the federal Department of the Interior, MassDEP, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, and the former Department of Environmental Management. Follow MassDEP on Twitter at @twitter.com/MassDEP.

Why Startups Believe They Can Solve Cities’ Greatest Challenges

Smart City Startups 2015 participants gather at the Miami Light Project in Wynwood, Miami, Fla. (Photo: Tim Mudd)

Flying cars wiz across the dense, underworld-like landscape as an ominous, synthesized musical score accompanies the action. That’s Los Angeles in the year 2019, as portrayed in the 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner.

“Any future without the Internet and smartphones is bound to get a few things wrong,” said Shaun Abrahamson, Co-Founder, Urban.US, during the opening talk of Smart City Startups 2015. “But what Blade Runner gets right are the big challenges facing cities today – challenges like climate change, poverty and homelessness.”

The film’s cautionary tale of the implications of technology on society and the environment, served as a useful frame for a conference focused on urban challenges and solutions.

Blade Runner introduced a future world where high-tech places stand in contrast to the decayed. Thirty-three years after the film’s future predictions, today’s cities are indeed grappling with the remnants of past thinking as economic currents speed faster forward in the information age.

Across the globe – we see infrastructure, regulations, service delivery processes and jurisdictional boundaries with roots in a former time, inhibiting the implementation of promising technologies and practices to improve sustainability and resilience, mobility and governance.

Startups, investors, foundations and cities gathered for the Smart City Startups conference in a neighborhood that embodies the crossroad of past and future in Miami. Once the warehouse and manufacturing district, Wynwood’s shuttered factories and neglected warehouses now house graffiti-coated art galleries, restaurants, cafes and creative businesses.

DSC_0019A street corner in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, Fla. (Photo: Tim Mudd)

For those whose lives and businesses are invested in the success of urban environments, the tension between the old and the new – and its most intractable outgrowths – cannot go unaddressed. There is simply too much at stake.

Can Startups Transform Cities?

As a dedicated partner in the improvement of cities, NLC was a participating sponsor of Smart City Startups 2015. Over the course of the two-day conference, attendees shared their perspectives and expertise on how to transform cities into more efficient, equitable and responsive communities.

Over 100 startups, influential investors, entrepreneurs, thought leaders and policymakers came together to discuss how emerging technologies can solve issues in areas such as energy consumption, mobility, sustainable building, and governance and public safety.

Companies offering platforms to make government “smarter” introduced services like SmartProcure, which allows users to find out what other government agencies paid for contracts by connecting thousands of local, state and federal agencies. MuniRent displayed a platform that makes it easy for public agencies to share heavy-duty equipment internally and with other agencies. NextRequest, a public records management platform, offers cities the ability to coordinate between multiple staff members across departments to quickly fulfill requests.

DSC_0026Participants write down topics for unconference sessions at Smart City Startups 2015 (Photo: Tim Mudd)

In the area of transport and mobility, “rideables” such as Future Motion’s Onewheel demonstrated how citizens might get around cities in the future via an easily storable one wheel skateboard. TransitMix promises better transit planning by allowing planners to sketch routes rapidly and see live cost calculations. And SkyCatch drones can provide a fully automated way to acquire high resolution aerial data on a regular basis, speeding up construction projects without putting human lives in danger.

No doubt that these ideas are fascinating and creative, but many participants wondered if the speed of startup solutions outpaces government’s willingness or capacity to acquire them. Cities across the country have proven that it isn’t a matter of willingness – municipal administrations in Boston, Louisville, Chicago, among others have institutionalized cutting edge practices, embedding innovation in their operations. But what both big and small cities need is more than new and cool. They need a real-world understanding of the practical application of these products and their value to communities.

Bridging the Divide

Creativity can solve the needs of cities. Startups around the country are hard at work to find solutions in an environment of rising costs of services, urgent infrastructure needs, employee obligations and state and federal funding cuts.

Moving toward a place where start-up ambitions match local policy decisions requires more forums like Smart City Startups, which generate the dialogue between entrepreneurs and cities that will bring creative ideas to life.

Through our work to help city leaders build better communities, NLC is dedicated to fostering creativity and connecting promising solutions with the communities that need them. If you’re a startup with a solution or a city in need of one – reach out to us.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 8.58.14 AMAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Senior Associate for Strategic Communications at the National League of Cities. Contact Tim at mudd@nlc.org.

City Investments in Financial Capability are Paying Off

This post was co-written by Alysha Davis.

President Obama issued a proclamation declaring April 2015 to be National Financial Capability Month. It’s described as a to time to “renew our efforts to support the informed financial decisions that will open doors into the middle class and help ensure economic security for all.”

Financial capability 2A couple receives financial counseling and foreclosure prevention assistance in Los Angeles. (David McNew/Getty Images)

In his proclamation, the president calls upon “all Americans to observe this month with programs and activities to improve their understanding of financial principles and practices.”

As April comes to a close, we wanted to highlight some of the innovative ways that cities are stepping up and delivering financial capability opportunities to their residents at the local level. The National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) is supporting these efforts in a number of ways.

Mayors and city council members recognize the importance of helping residents become more financially secure and gain access to financial services, not just to enhance the economic stability of families but also to boost local economic development. More and more cities, often in partnership with community-based organizations and financial institutions, are offering financial education and counseling, homeownership assistance, expanded access to safe and affordable financial services and debt reduction strategies, to call out just a few of the activities taking place at the local level.

To learn more about these and other financial inclusion programs, stay tuned for a forthcoming report from the YEF Institute on how municipal leaders from across the country are stepping up to address the financial struggles of their residents. The report will document the findings of NLC’s City Scan of Local Financial Inclusion Efforts, which included a survey of 118 city leaders, follow-up telephone interviews and a roundtable with city officials and community partners focused on municipal financial inclusion efforts.

The NLC YEF Institute has a history of assisting city leaders to implement programs to build residents’ economic stability. Over the last two years, we have been working with five cities (Savannah, Ga.; Newark, N.J.; Louisville, Ky.; St. Petersburg, Fla. and Houston) to implement the Local Interventions for Financial Empowerment Through Utility Payments (LIFT-UP) program, an innovative pilot project to help low-income families pay their utility bills and achieve financial stability.

As part of LIFT-UP, we are providing technical assistance to help cities connect families who are in debt to city-owned utilities and with options such as a restructured payment plan, payment incentives and a variety of financial empowerment services, including financial counseling.

We also recently launched a project to identify best practices for local leaders to incorporate financial capability strategies into municipal youth employment programs. The aim is to improve the ability of young people (ages 14 – 24) to effectively manage their finances – from saving to building credit and keeping debt manageable. We are looking at the roles that city leaders, banks, credit unions and other partners can and do play in ensuring that young jobseekers have access to financial knowledge and services.

As part of this project, we will be providing guidance to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Department of Labor on their new technical assistance opportunity to help cities include financial capability in their youth employment programs.

About the Authors:
Heidi-HeadshotHeidi 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.

Alysha Davis
Alysha Davis is the Associate for Research and Communications in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, 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.