Financing Postsecondary Success

Most city policy and thought leaders can agree on the importance of increasing postsecondary credentialing rates, in the context of broader economic, workforce, and talent development strategies.  Many cities are knocking on NLC’s door asking, “how to?” Strive’s Collective Impact approach is spreading, and typically embraces postsecondary success goals and indicators.

But, communities are only now learnIng how to finance postsecondary success efforts, and particularly the “backbone” organization that a city needs to convene leaders, collect and analyze data, and support accountability toward agreed goals.

Promising financing approaches, broadly defined, include:

* Seed funding from national, regional, or community foundations to get started, establish infrastructure including staffing. Mayors, intermediary organizations, and community-based organizations could all participate in (coordinated) fundraising.

* In kind support from city planning departments, school district and community college institutional research offices,  and universities for data analysis.

* Federal and other grants to retool: key aspects of college readiness efforts in schools; assessment, remediation, and course sequences in colleges; and career pathways linked to areas of proven job growth.

* Repurposing a portion of the vast philanthropic resources currently devoted to scholarships, to supporting students through to credentials, or to local college success infrastructure.

* Hosting infrastructure (backbone) and leadership by the local Chamber of Commerce or United Way.

* Devoting a slice of mayoral staff time – along with the convening and goal-setting powers of the mayor -to postsecondary success including vital liaison with schools and colleges, as well as coordination with the city’s economic development strategy.

* Tapping significant sources of personal or institutional wealth to endow a “promise” initiative that provides services and supports to students as young as sixth graders, with the promise of college scholarships for those who stay on track.

From Miracle to PACT

Two words notably missing from the Building Peace in Boston mobile workshop of the 2012 NLC Congress of Cities: Miracle, and Ceasefire.

Twenty years ago, Boston and indeed the nation celebrated a community-police collaboration that brought the number of youth homicides to zero for two years running. Some called this the Boston Miracle; some called the supporting strategy CeaseFire. Cities around the country sought to replicate Boston’s approach and results.

Today, on its own initiative and as a participant in the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, Boston is not resting on its aging laurels. For instance, five city agencies and 13 partner community-based organizations have substantially deepened and broadened their violence reduction efforts via People Advancing Communities Together or PACT, with a relentless focus on the 300 young men who are most likely to cause or suffer from firearm violence. The city Public Health Commission serves as the coordinating hub, bringing its persuasive perspective on violence as a public health issue.

Boston’s PACT is not alone in its violent-cohort approach (see also: Philadelphia), nor in its commitment to a truly comprehensive violence reduction strategy blending prevention, intervention, and enforcement. What stands out is the ongoing reinvention, marked by refreshing and redirecting strategies and msking partnerships more inclusive.
(see also: Philadelphia), nor in its commitment to a truly comprehensive violence reduction strategy blending prevention, intervention, and enforcement. What stands out is the ongoing reinvention, marked by refreshing and redirecting strategies and msking partnerships more inclusive.

Building a Healthy Boston


Access to healthy foods, safe routes to bike or walk to work or school, and affordable and accessible health and social services – these are just a few of a comprehensive set of strategies the City of Boston’s Public Health Commission (BPHC) employs to build communities that are conducive to healthy eating and active living.


With strong leadership from Mayor Tom Menino, BPHC partners with city agencies, nonprofits and businesses to promote quality health care and address health disparities. At NLC’s Congress of Cities today, representatives of the agency took NLC members on a tour of Dorchester House – a nonprofit multi-service center that works to create positive change in wellbeing for residents.


As part of an effort to promote workplace wellness citywide, BPHC has provided the center funding to make significant changes to its physical environment and implement a program for employees focused on promoting exercise and healthy eating.


“A Healthy Dorchester House means providing services in an environment that promotes the healthy activity of our staff, and also our patients,” said a Dorchester House staff member.


To learn more about the great initiatives BPHC is coordinating, visit the department’s website.


City Officials Learn from Boston’s Crime Prevention Efforts at Congress of Cities

Violence not only affects victims and their families.  It affects entire communities.  At NLC’s Congress of Cities in Boston, city officials visited the Holland Community Center – one of 35 neighborhood based centers in the city that provide a safe space for youth and their families to participate in recreational activities and receive services.

Administered by the Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF), these neighborhood service hubs are one of a set of comprehensive strategies the City of Boston coordinates to prevent violence and build more vibrant communities .

“It’s important to have buy in. It starts with city leaders coming together to build partnerships and create change,”  said Roy Martin, director of services for the city’s Partnerships Advancing Community Together (PACT) initiative.

PACT has identified several hundred high-risk individuals in the city and provide this information to law enforcement and social service agencies so that the groups can work together to support the individuals, their family members and neighborhoods.

Through widespread partnership and shared accountability, Boston is having a real impact on violence.

“Thanks for your work. I have a lot of helpful  information to take back to my city,” said one NLC member said to the panelists.

Engaging the Public on Sustainability

A comic displayed during an NLC Leadership Training session this afternoon summed up a major challenge to sustainability efforts in cities across the country. The image depicts a packed presentation room with benefits of action on climate change listed on a presentation screen. Among the list where items such as energy independence, green jobs, livable communities, clean water, and healthy children. In the audience there is a question on the floor that reads: “But what if it’s all a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing!

Perception of value and validity of sustainability is a challenge that most cities will face at some point in pursuing efforts to make their communities more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. Way before identifying funding sources and conducting planning charrettes – communities first must come to agreement about what it is that they want to achieve, how they choose to define sustainability for their community, how to prioritize activities and where to get started.

In today’s session, one of the first at NLC’s annual Congress of Cities in Boston, Mass., leaders and sustainability “veterans” lead an insightful and compelling discussion getting into the nuts and bolts of introducing to communities what has traditionally been a ‘sticky’ subject to say the least. Susanne Rasmussen, Director of Environmental and Transportation Planning for the City of Cambridge, Mass. cautioned attendees to be careful about getting tangled in terminology. Don’t assume that the word “sustainability” means the same thing to all people, says Rasmussen. Be deliberate and inclusive when defining your vision.

Jim Hunt, former sustainability director for the City of Boston and Robert Perkowitz, founder and chairman of EcoAmerica, also focused on the importance of language and terminology. Getting out from under the jargon-filled terminology that typically surrounds sustainability – and even being willing to not use the word if it is too confusing or contentious – is one way to start the conversation. A key element to success, they cited, was to actively connect the goals of sustainability to existing community values. Rather than introducing it as a new topic that may appear to dramatically alter what people value and enjoy about their communities, demonstrate how sustainability in fact helps to achieve a communities’ long-term vision. Also, connecting sustainability strategies – such as energy efficiency or alternative transportation – to practical benefits such as economic savings and job creation is helpful to show that these actions, in order to be truly sustainable, must go beyond environmental considerations.

The conversation will continue throughout the week with workshops on sustainability planning, forming partnerships, and measuring impacts. Stay tuned on for more updates live from the Congress of Cities on how cities can build sustainable communities, promote local economies, and strengthen neighborhoods and families. And follow us on twitter (@leagueofcities and @NLCgreencities), #NLCBos for up to the minute updates!

Gigabits Around the Country – Part 2

This is the second in a two-part blog exploring gigabit connections around the country.  The National League of Cities’ Center for Research and Innovation partnered with Next American City to develop a case study, Gig City, U.S.A.: Bringing Google Fiber to Kansas City, which looks at the developing partnership between Google and the Kansas Cities.  The first blog identified some of the benefits of locally created and managed fiber connections and reviewed Chattanooga, TN, which boasted the country’s first gigabit connection.  This week’s blog looks at other efforts around the country and the hallmarks of a successful municipal fiber network. 

Danville, VA

At a recent economic development conference in Danville, VA, stakeholders from both the public and private sectors came together to look at the challenges and opportunities that exist with municipal wireless networks.

Danville, VA once had the highest unemployment in the state.  Their low-skilled, poorly educated population created a digital divide that made it difficult to attract the types of industry that would sustain development in the region.  But today the city is able to attract and retain business to create jobs and improve the quality of life for their citizens.  This is not an insignificant feat for an isolated, industrial community an hour and a half away from any major metro area.

While general communications access (telephone, cable TV and internet) was adequate for the home consumer, it was not optimized for businesses.  Building a network that would help expand business opportunities was one of the key features of Danville’s approach to local economic development.  The best service would be a “fiber to the premise” model but this was costly and would require a critical mass of demand to be able to provide it affordably.  Additionally, this was a prime opportunity to be able to wire public anchor institutions such as schools, so figuring out how to do that successfully was also important.  Finally, understanding what role the city should have in this (to be an infrastructure or service provider) would be key to their success.  Some of the other hallmarks of their approach:

–       Learn from others: the benefit of local governments is that there is no proprietary interest on solutions.

–       Understand what they were working with: they had adequate telephone, cable tv and internet access but there was nothing readily available for robust business use.

–       Do the research: findings from a community study showed that they needed a shift from their manufacturing economy to something more forward and progressive;  this is what spurred the need for more robust broadband capabilities.

–       Understand the differences: Danville knew which different types of connectivity would be most appropriate for home and business uses.

These strategies helped create a system for Danville that relied solely on local funds (no federal or state grants) and kept the city debt free.  The result—nDanville—is an open access multiservice network, operated by private firms that allows the city to provide direct service to schools and other city buildings.  It is financially self-sufficient and has not created an unwanted burden on tax or utility payers.

Keys to the Success of Municipal Wireless Networks 

Danville, and Chattanooga, both worked to ensure that their fiber optic networks had staying power.  Much thought, planning, and stakeholder input went into the creation of a solid business plan which was the first step into determining if this was truly a viable option.  Click here for a business plan from Kirkland, Washington’s municipal broadband network.

Secondly, access isn’t enough to attract business; there are other components such as a strong workforce and an infrastructure to support that workforce.  Community involvement was a key part as well.  When Bristol, VA created their network with the Bristol Virginia Utilities Authority, they city made it a point to speak to community groups about the need for broadband access and how it would impact community development.  Chattanooga followed a similar process of engagement buy educating the community on what a fiber network could do for them and charging community leaders to help raise awareness about the network.

Municipal networks are not a one size fits all tool to increase local economic development and address other challenges cities face.  It involves substantial planning with input from key stakeholders, a business plan that can prove its sustainability, an engaged community that can harness the power of the network and a business community that will use the network to drive development.  While strategies to develop these components will vary from city to city, local leaders are in a position to take advantage of what has and has not worked and use those  lessons to create their own designs for increasing and enhancing access in their communities.

Embracing the Immigrant Engine

The National League of Cities’ Center for Research and Innovation has joined with Next American City to explore how cities are developing innovative models for tackling complex urban issues and strengthening their local economies.  NLC is featuring a series of case studies, and this post highlights the third and final of the series, The Rise of the New Baltimoreans.

Baltimore, along with many other cities across the country, is welcoming immigrants, and their vast economic contributions, with open arms. These local efforts for the most part are flying under the radar and happening in spite of more newsworthy (but perhaps less common) restrictive state and local immigration policies and rancorous national debate.

Economic Impact
When it comes to immigrants and the economy, the numbers speak for themselves.  According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, immigrants are responsible for nearly one in three new U.S. businesses and are increasingly likely to start a business, just as the rate of new business generation among native-born Americans is on the decline.

And these are businesses that are job and revenue generators for the economy. Immigrant-owned businesses are more likely to hire employees than are non-immigrant-owned firms and more likely to export their goods and services, finds the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“From local neighborhood shops to America’s largest companies, immigrant business owners contribute more than $775 billion dollars in revenue to our annual Gross Domestic Product and employ one out of every ten American workers at privately-owned companies across the country,” notes Partnership for a New American Economy.

High-skilled immigrants now outnumber low-skilled immigrants, according to the Brookings Institute, and represent a large share of business owners and labor force in sectors that are expected to grow over the next decade, from hospitality to informational technology to health care.

For local communities, policies to attract immigrants can translate to growth and revitalization that is not only inclusive, but creates a sense of place and distinctiveness, brings new wealth and opportunities, and reinvigorates the local talent pool.

Baltimore’s Story
New Baltimore mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, started her tenure in 2011, and from day one committed to turning the tide on the city’s population loss and declining economic base.  “A shrinking city is a place unable to meet even the most basic needs of its people — basic rights that everyone should expect,” she said in her inaugural address. “A shrinking city simply cannot stand.”

The mayor’s vision of adding 10,000 families over the next 10 years rests in part on attracting immigrants, who will, both with their numbers and high rates of entrepreneurship, strengthen the city’s economy.  Over the past year, the city, along with a host of multisectoral partners, have offered home-buyer programs, language and legal requirements training, grants and other tools to help boost entrepreneurship and small businesses, and police sensitivity training.

And, as the case study details, although there are skeptics, these efforts appear to be making an economic impact:

“You could roll a bowling ball down the sidewalk five years ago,” says Chris Ryer, president of the Southeast Community Development Corporation, which focuses on the Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood. “Now it’s busy.” As the existing population aged out, young families have moved in. “There’s a lot of strollers on the streets,” says Ryer.

“While many of Highlandtown’s new residents are Latino, the freshly vibrant area has attracted immigrant entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds. The neighborhood’s 10-block commercial strip, says Ryer, houses not only a Latino-owned photography studio but an Israeli-owned grocery and a Peruvian chicken joint. Ryer cites statistics on how immigrants open small businesses at higher rates than their native-born neighbors. “We’re seeing the fruits of that in Highlandtown,” he says.”

Not Alone
The lasting impact of Rawlings-Blake’s efforts remain to be seen, but Baltimore isn’t the only city investing in immigrant-based policies and programs.

  • Boston:  The mayor established the Office of New Bostonians to reach out to the city’s immigrant population, in part by identifying official and unofficial liaisons to local communities. Another key to the effort is celebrating the contributions to Boston’s status as a world class city made by immigrants.
  • Detroit: City and business leaders created Global Detroit to revitalize the economy of Southeast Michigan. Since 2010 it is has raised more than $4 million of philanthropic investments for targeted initiatives to attract immigrants, foreign trade and investment.
  • Dayton: Welcome Dayton hopes to make that southwest Ohio city of 140,000 more receptive to new arrivals and help them along toward citizenship; among the initiative’s goals is to develop an international marketplace for immigrant entrepreneurs in an underinvested corner of the city that has demonstrated growth from recent immigrants.

As these examples suggest, cities looking to new arrivals to help support economic development also have a responsibility to help fully integrate immigrant residents into the mainstream community.

Learn more about how cities can support immigrant integration.

What’s Next
Although cities are making headway in welcoming immigrants, the need for a partnership among governmental partners is critical. The results of a weak partnership in this arena have been made poignantly clear as of late: immigrant entrepreneurship, particularly in high-skilled fields, has plateaued, according to the Kauffman Foundation.

This is due in no small part to the restrictive nature of national immigration laws that are intended to boost U.S. competiveness. For example, laws that force foreign students educated in the U.S. to return home, instead of encouraging them to use their skills and start businesses here.

Or H-1B visas, those that allow employers to hire foreign workers in specialty occupations for a temporary period of time.  They help build a high-skilled workforce, particularly in the STEM fields, but are in limited supply and not evenly geographically distributed, and the allocation of visa fees to local workforce grant programs are misaligned.

But NLC’s Leslie Wollack remains hopeful. “After languishing on Capitol Hill for several years, the results of the presidential election and the large turnout of Latino voters have helped renew the push for the passage of comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Members of Congress and the Administration are voicing optimism that an agreement could be reached as soon as early next year.”

As for their part, cities across the country are embracing the realities and practicalities of immigration as a strong path toward revitalization and growth.