Medicaid: On the Supreme Court’s Docket Again

Medicaid was the show-stopper in the Supreme Court’s last term: the Court unexpectedly held in the Affordable Care Act case that requiring states to participate in the Medicaid expansion was unconstitutionally coercive.

Medicaid apparently was still on the Justices’ minds three months later when the Court, on its first day back in session, decided to hear another Medicaid case, albeit a much lower profile case. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court, which NLC signed onto along with the rest of the Big Seven, SLLC associate member the Government Finance Officers Association, and the City of New York (the third biggest Medicaid spender in the United States).

So, what exactly does this case have to do with cities? Well, while it may not directly impact most cities, cities in general have an interest in the sustainability Medicaid.

Medicaid allows states to collect medical expenses from a Medicaid recipient who recovers from a tortfeasor. But how much can a state collect when a Medicaid recipient agrees to a lump sum settlement from tortfeasor, and it is unclear how much of the settlement is for medical expenses?

A North Carolina statute purports an answer this question by allowing the state to recover the lesser of actual medical expenses or one-third of a Medicaid recipient’s total tort settlement. In Delia v. E.M.A. the state paid $1.9 million on behalf of E.M.A., and her parents settled a medical malpractice claim for $2.8 million. The settlement didn’t allocate between medical expenses and other damages so the state asked for one-third of the settlement, over E.M.A.’s parents’ objections. The question the Supreme Court must answer in Delia v. E.M.A. is whether Medicaid preempts North Carolina’s statute.

The SLLC’s brief argues that Medicaid is a huge expense for states and that Medicaid grants states substantial discretion in how they pursue recovery from tortfeasors. The brief points out North Carolina’s statute encourages parties to allocate settlements and avoids states having to participate in burdensome settlement discussions or post-settlement allocation hearings. The brief also argues that allowing Medicaid recipients to keep two-thirds of their tort settlement is reasonable and fair.

Oral argument will be heard in this case on January 8, 2013. The Supreme Court will issue an opinion in this case by June 30, 2013.

Violence Prevention Efforts in California Cities Continue Strong Despite Challenges

Ten California cities — nine longtime participants in a statewide gang prevention network, plus newly added Long Beach — gathered a few weeks ago to share practices and develop a 2013 policy agenda.  Despite prevailing challenges such as resumed high rates of violent crime, significant turnover among mayors, chiefs of police, city councils, and diminished police forces, and fewer resources than ever, commitment to working together as a network remains strong.

Several cities cited recent signs of progress.  Two cities have embedded leadership for public safety initiatives in mayors’ and city managers‘ offices.  At the ballot box in November, voters approved new or extended tax measures to provide targeted funding for public safety initiatives, in several cities.  Additional cities have raised new supplemental resources from the federal government.  Still others have secured means and partners for rigorous evaluation of their complex, comprehensive, community-wide violence prevention efforts.

With the state having granted dozens of additional cities a share of CalGRIP gang reduction grants, network cities once again named securing the future of this grant source a policy priority.  More broadly, looking at the multiple, sometimes similar grant programs that the newly constituted Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) administers, network cities spotted an opportunity to pursue consolidation of grant programs, or at least to “blend and braid” funds as contemplated in the recently enacted AB526.  And the cities present observed that — despite ongoing “realignment” in the state corrections and probation/parole system, and the formation of the BSCC — they need to work with the Governor and others to formulate an actual statewide violence prevention strategy and policy.

Angels on Ice!

The worlds of city economic development and youth development came together for a brief shining moment last week, at the LA Live! entertainment complex in Los Angeles.  Dense new residential and commercial development in and around the complex brings verve and people well into the evening, many nights each week.

With oversize statues of LA sports heroes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wayne Gretzky looming across  the street at the hockey-strike-darkened Staples Center, dozens of Angelenos took to an ice rink fitted out for the holidays.  “Not quite Rockefeller Center, but fun,” commented a New York native on the scene.

Skating action stopped for ten minutes as City of Los Angeles Councilmember Jan Perry joined complex developer AEG in recognizing the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC) and in particular its corpsmember of the year, Ibrahim Francis — on a red carpet rolled out on the ice. Huge LED screens described the many environmental and educational contributions of the LACC, the nation’s largest urban corps which works very closely with the City of Los Angeles and many other partners.

Ibrahim, it turns out, finished high school and earned two college scholarships while working with LACC.  Interviewing for an internship with California State Parks, the agency offered him a job on the spot — no internship needed!  The award and the recognition stand as testimony to Ibrahim’s hard work and to the support LACC and its partners offer to him and several hundred other young people each year.

In the photo: Tamala Lewis and Michael Roth from AEG, Los Angeles City Councilmember Jan Perry and Corpsmember of the Year Ibrahim Francis

Supporting Food Systems, Supporting Communities

“The best way to preserve farmland is to make farmers successful on that land.”

This call to action from participants attending the Supporting Local Food Systems Roundtable at NLC’s Congress of Cities (CoC), speaks to just one of the many factors driving the National League of Cities’ (NLC) commitment to addressing sustainable food issues in America’s cities and towns by providing local government leaders with effective tools and resources.

This past Congress of Cities in Boston was my first, and potentially my only, as NLC staff. I am a National Urban Fellow, Class of 2013, who was chosen to spend my nine-month fellowship working with all three centers of NLC: Federal Relations, Research & Innovation and the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. I come with past experience in endowment consulting and food system work, and hoped that my fellowship experience would allow me time to understand the intersection of food and policy in communities.

I am thankful to be working on the development of a comprehensive suite of resources to assist local activities and decision-making within the area of local foods. The resulting content will be used to build a brand new section of NLC’s Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI) on Sustainable Food Systems. As the centerpiece of NLC’s sustainability efforts, SCI provides a dynamic online platform of resources and peer‐networking opportunities to assist cities in identifying, planning for and implementing holistic, long‐term approaches to community‐wide sustainability. The Sustainable Food System section will be the latest addition to SCI and is scheduled to launch in early 2013.

My hope was to see the intersection of my interests as a fellow and the goals of SCI, come together to answer questions like: What issues are on concerned citizens minds about food that connect with local, state and federal policies? And how can local government play a role to help incentivize, finance and provide partnerships towards sustainable food systems? I started to answer portions of these questions while at CoC 2012.

The call to action that started this piece, made during our Supporting Local Food Systems Roundtable discussion, speaks to how I hope we as staff and the elected officials we serve see our respective constituents. Potentially, that the best way for a local elected official to preserve their cities and towns is to make sure their constituents are successful at home, at work, and in their neighborhoods. Potentially, that the best way for NLC to preserve its local elected official membership, is to equip that membership so that it is successful in its communities. This call to action recognizes that supporting worthwhile efforts, through preservation and maximization of resources can make successful communities.

During the roundtable discussion, I was reminded that food is critical to cities and towns because it connects so many different issues: poverty, economic development, public health, etc. I have found that the more I learn about food, the more it becomes an issue that unearths other issues; that a reality like food insecurity, is a symptom of something larger that city leaders strive to address.  I believe that NLC will make these connections from food to areas like economic development and infrastructure.

City leaders continued to make these connections at the conference during a World Cafe table on financing healthy foods, and a workshop titled “Growing Your Local Food Economy.”  Ideas were shared and roadmaps were offered around the issues of healthy food access, urban agriculture and the difficulty of luring large grocery stores to underserved communities. Also discussed were potential avenues of state funding, novel examples of partnerships and passing of ordinances to support, preserve and maximize efforts.

Every elected official who spoke up in these sessions had something to offer and was looking for something new for their communities. It reassured me that those who are thinking about food issues in their municipalities are striving to understand what other communities have done to help alleviate a difficult situation and how a solution goes beyond food to mean community benefit.

We in the Sustainability program at NLC need these stories!

A Sustainable Food Systems section is scheduled to launch in early 2013 on the SCI website, including tools such as classroom content, case studies, reports and guides, model policies and more. As we continue to develop these resources, we want to hear from you: what resources, tools or topics would be most helpful to assist your efforts in developing a strong, sustainable and healthy food system in your community?

Send feedback, ideas, successful practices or questions to David DeVaughn, NLC National Urban Fellow, at

For more information on the Sustainable Cities Institute visit and follow us on twitter @SustCitiesInst

New Report on Homelessness: The Good, The Bad, and What You Can Do

Last week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released their latest national estimate of the number of homeless across the country. While there are several points of good news, there are also sober realities that must be acknowledged.

The Good News

Broadly speaking, in January of this year 633,783 people were homeless. This is virtually unchanged since last year when 636,017 people were homeless. Given the soft economic climate, keeping homelessness from increasing is notable. Even more notable however is the continued decline among veterans and those defined as being chronically homeless. The decline in these two sub-populations of the homeless is a reflection of the ongoing focus on these categories by the federal government and communities since the unveiling of the Opening Doors plan from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness in 2010.

In the last year, homelessness among veterans declined by 7.2% (4,876 people) and among the chronically homeless there was a 6.8% decline (7,254 people).

Focusing on the national disgrace of homeless veterans should need no explanation.

The focus on the chronic homeless is the result of time-tested and data-driven analysis, which shows the cost savings that result from moving the long-time homeless into housing. When people are stably housed, they are less likely to interact with the police, courts, and emergency responders. The resulting cost-savings to municipalities and states is a compelling fiscal rationale for focusing on eliminating homelessness, particularly during these times of tight budgets.




Total Homeless




Homeless Veterans




Chronically Homeless




The Bad News

When the Opening Doors plan was released in 2010, it set the ambitious goals of ending veteran and chronic homelessness by 2015, and ending homelessness among children, families, and youth by 2020. The Plan presented strategies building upon the lesson that mainstream housing, health, education, and human service programs must be fully engaged and coordinated to prevent and end homelessness.

Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly clear that despite the consistent declines, unless more communities focus on service coordination, we are unlikely to reach the 2015 goal.

What You Can Do

Ultimately, homelessness as we know it will end once individual communities take the necessary steps to end it among neighbors. So what should cities be doing?

While recognizing the solution to homelessness in a community can be apparent, implementing that solution can be another matter. To help cities overcome these challenges the 100,000 Homes Campaign was formed in an effort to place 100,000 of the most vulnerable homeless into housing.

To help with the local implementation of recognized best practices, the Campaign has partnered with the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the VA, and HUD to offer Rapid Results Housing Placement Boot Camps. These boot camps bring together community stakeholders such as HUD and VA staffers, outreach teams, service providers, landlords, and housing authority representatives from participating communities to brainstorm and develop local plans for enacting national best practices that will revamp local systems to quickly find housing for homeless individuals.

What are other things that your city can do?

  • Get to know who the homeless are in your city. Knowing someone’s name and how long they have been homeless not only personalizes that individual, but allows a trusting relationship to be built. Those relationships are central to people getting off and staying off the streets.
  • Prioritize the use of vouchers that turn over for veterans and chronically homeless individuals. When a person that has a voucher moves out of the program, what is done with that voucher can vary widely depending on the administrating agency. Working with voucher providers to have turned over vouchers prioritized for use by veterans and the chronically homeless can have a dramatic impact on the number of people living on the street.
  • Create prioritization based on the vulnerability index. When someone lives on the street, the likelihood of them dying is on par with some forms of cancer. Homelessness can cut a person’s lifespan by an average of 25 years. These are stunning facts. In Boston, Dr. Jim O’Connell with Healthcare for the Homeless developed the vulnerability index which uses eight key health indicators to determine which of a city’s homeless are most at risk for dying on the street. To better save lives and dollars, those with the greatest risk of death should be at the front of the line for housing.
  • Align your city’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness with the federal government’s Opening Doors plan. To guide your city’s overall work, it is important for your city’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness to be aligned with the federal government’s Opening Doors plan. Prioritizing resources and ensuring they are well coordinated and focused on identified populations allows cities to take action in a deliberate manner that can be measured and refined to ensure progress is seen.

Read the report and see your area’s progress toward ending homeless. For more information about having a Rapid Results Housing Placement Boot Camp in your city and the 100,000 Homes Campaign, visit

Elevating the Principles of Net-Zero Buildings to Teach Us About Building Sustainable Communities

A few weeks ago, at the Greenbuild conference in San Francisco, I attended a session that featured NREL’s Research Support Facility (RSF) in Golden, CO. The session’s speakers described the design and construction process of the RSF, a net-zero energy building (NZEB) that today serves as a model for performance-based design.

The possibilities presented about achieving net-zero energy at scale were exciting: How do net-zero design strategies alter the discourse about how we design and build? Does NZEB necessitate a paradigm shift in the way we imagine and deliver buildings?

With my inner architecture geek fired up, I attended our own Congress of Cities Conference the following week. There, I had an opportunity to sit in on the Energy Efficiency workshop as Mayor Henrietta Davis of Cambridge, MA, along with Kurt Roth of Fraunhofer USA, presented the M.L.K School. This net-zero energy project, taken on by Cambridge Public Schools and the City of Cambridge in 2012, is to serve as a pilot project for achieving net-zero, specifically in schools.

“For Cambridge the process of planning and designing a net-zero school has changed the way we think about energy in all our buildings.  It has made us think about what energy we really need to use in our existing city buildings and will surely change some of what we do even in buildings not slated for full scale renovation or rebuilding.”

As Mayor Davis clearly states above, the process of planning for and designing net-zero buildings offers a new perspective on how we interact with and use energy in our communities.

Additionally, through the workshop sessions I realized that the focus on a life-cycle perspective (which the NZEB process elevates) offers principles applicable not only to energy efficiency in buildings, but also to the larger dialogue on taking sustainable communities to scale:

The Power of Integrated Design.  At the San Francisco Greenbuild session, speakers described the need to effectively integrate and coordinate the various building components and processes in order to achieve maximum energy efficiencies.  With NREL’s RSF, they spoke about the high level of coordination that took place between the various ‘designers’—the architect, engineer, contractor and operations/maintenance company—in order to ensure that energy efficiency was a prioritized goal (on par with scheduling and cost savings) throughout the process. Through open lines of communication, each ‘designer’ in the process ensured that their building component was as energy efficient as possible with relation to the various other components working in parallel.

Sustainable communities emerge from the thoughtful design and integration of the various components of a place.  While many of us are aware of this, do our planning practices actually encourage dialogue between the various ‘designers’ of the city—the architects, the transportation planners, the youth and the civic and faith-based organizers? Often, city planning is happenstance, pieces of communities clashing and colliding into places; and while there is beauty in the intersections that emerge, sustainable cities necessitate greater coordination and communication between these traditionally unlikely partners.  Create spaces that encourage open communication- the first step is to have everyone working together.

The Plug Load Problem.  In both sessions, the speakers used the example of plug loads—essentially the energy consumed by what you and I plug into a socket rather than the energy it takes to heat or light a room– to describe how much end users impact the overall building energy use.   To be able to achieve a NZEB, they emphasized 1) incorporating this variable into early energy modeling for the building and 2) creating an education process whereby end users (if known) understand the NZEB principles and the effects of their actions on overall building energy use.

Now this sounds quite simple, but how often do we forget that different communities are created for and occupied by different types of users?  While we may not ‘model’ a community like we do a building, we certainly envision outcomes early on.  So, in the design/visioning/ goal-setting process, the first step is identifying who the end users are (think: age, demographics, socioeconomic status) and how they already occupy spaces.  The second step is creating an educational component to the process so that “the users” understand the effects of their individual actions and are better equipped to make day-to-day decisions. Focus on the end user from the beginning—the key lies in the operation not just the planning.

The Passive Design Potential.  A critical component of designing a NZEB is incorporating passive design strategies—strategies that maximize the energy provided by natural systems as much as possible. Rather than defaulting to purchased energy, passive design creates a process whereby ambient sources of energy such as daylighting and natural ventilation are maximized. Both sets of speakers demonstrated that understanding the site and its “passive assets” was critical to minimizing the number of energy- consuming products that would make NZEB goals more difficult to achieve.

In the case of moving towards sustainable cities, how quickly do we assume that the ‘right’ answer in one place is the ‘right’ answer in another?  The fact is that each city has its own geographies, typologies, assets, and so forth. The strength of encouraging passive design strategies in net-zero building is that the excess addition of systems and components takes a second seat to the inherent assets of the site.

In the creation and implementation of a sustainability vision for a city, identifying those assets and qualities that already progress a city’s sustainability goals are not only low-hanging fruit, but often more successful in the long-term than imposing programs or policies that may not fit.  Build more with less-every community has untapped assets waiting to be utilized.

As NZEBs are still relatively recent in the sustainability conversation, I’m excited to see how building and energy rating systems develop and what lessons we continue to extract from the whole process!

Stay tuned and share your thoughts with us –comment below or email us at

Opportunities and Impact for Small-Town Sustainability

Of the many misconceptions that sustainability as a field encounters, the notion that it is an approach exclusive to large, well-resourced cities is as pervasive as it is untrue.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a roundtable discussion on strategies to connect and support sustainability efforts in cities and towns across the state of Iowa. In attendance were city sustainability professionals, university representatives, local non-profits and state agencies. As each representative presented an overview of the sustainability efforts happening throughout their communities or programs I was blown away.

On display in this meeting were examples of cities and towns throughout the state conducting community weatherization trainings, investing in permeable pavements, creating loan loss reserve funds, installing solar, pursuing net-zero buildings, creating sustainability indicators, conducting comprehensive assessments, identifying ways to reduce energy use in water treatment facilities, and the list goes on. While any of these initiatives would in their own right represent a compelling example of sustainability leadership within local government, perhaps the most impressive feature of these efforts is that a majority of examples given were occurring in communities with populations between 1,500 – 9,000. Of the few ‘large’ cities cited, their populations didn’t exceed 70,000.

How is this possible?

One prevailing theme of the discussion was partnerships, particularly with universities (see this blog post outlining the value and opportunities of city-university partnerships around sustainability goals). At NLC’s recent Congress of Cities in Boston, several workshops within the “Building Sustainable Communities” theme further emphasized the importance of partnerships, the need to identify and engage a wide range of stakeholders and the recognition that achieving sustainability may depend more on a long-term process than individual short-term projects.

The relationships and partnerships on display at last week’s roundtable, and the level of impact as a result of coordinated efforts, were not only inspirational, but instructive. Whereas large cities notoriously receive the accolades and traditionally have access to a wider range of funding options, I’ve learned that smaller cities have their own set of advantages including flexibility, personal connections and creativity.

Here are a few reflections I gathered last week on small-town advantages in pursuing sustainability:

  • Smaller communities tend to have more direct, personal relationships and lines of communication with community members, local businesses, and other stakeholders. These relationships may help to facilitate increased public engagement in decision-making and provide opportunities for partners to have a direct role in implementing projects. Smaller communities may also have greater success in bringing together diverse perspectives as witnessed in Fairfield, Iowa (population 9,000). Fairfield’s expansive sustainability accomplishments have largely been the result of agreement among the agricultural community and growing arts and culture interests, combined with strong political leadership.
  • Outreach, education, awareness and community support are essential to community-wide sustainability programs. Smaller towns may have an increased ability to reach community members. Whereas larger communities may need to invest significant resources into education and outreach campaigns, smaller communities can, as one community put it, “be everywhere,” displaying at local grocery stores, libraries, sporting events, farmers markets, community meetings, etc. Smaller population sizes may also help to facilitate social norming of highly visible sustainability actions such as bringing reusable bags to the store or bicycling rather than driving short distances.
  • Goals and overarching principles of sustainability typically have a lot in common with existing community values that may be more pronounced or seen as defining characteristics of smaller communities. For example: supporting local production of goods and services, efficient and responsible use of resources (financial, natural, human), creating sense of place and community, increased quality of life and public safety. By identifying how sustainability initiatives support and strengthen existing goals, communities can use these actions to create a framework towards a longer-term community vision.
  • Sustainability initiatives rarely come in a one-size-fits-all package. Each community therefore has an opportunity to evaluate how and in what ways they want to pursue sustainability goals. Smaller communities can utilize their sustainability efforts to highlight unique community assets or create a distinctive sense of place that may in turn attract or promote growth.
  • Finally, smaller communities may be able to more easily identify and isolate specific barriers or obstacles and target resources towards overcoming these challenges. Again this is where partners can be critical. For example the Iowa Energy Bank, operating through the State Department of Administrative Services, not only addresses monetary barriers by providing financing to community energy saving projects, but also seeks to help clients overcome barriers of time and expertise.

I’m grateful for the invitation to attend this roundtable discussion and inspired to learn more about the sustainability successes of small cities and towns.

Does your small town have a success story you’d like to share with others? Or ideas on how small towns may maximize their assets to achieve sustainability goals? Email us at or send a tweet to @SustCitiesInst.

The Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff

“I’d rather be wanted for murder than not wanted at all,” a juvenile murderer said to me when I served as Commissioner of Youth Services in Massachusetts.  This frightening statement throws into sharp relief the fundamental need shared by all of us, namely that we must be seen as important in someone’s eyes, claimed, “beloved.”

Kids disconnected from a relationship with a caring adult – from family, school and a promising future – will be both deeply troubled and oftentimes a source of trouble.  Many “disconnected” kids are desperate – sometimes dying for a relationship.  If a positive adult doesn’t show up, someone else will, including the local gang honcho – someone who will be there 24/7 without fail, who will make an iron pledge to stand with a lonely, angry kid no matter what.  The perception that relationships are the “soft stuff” of crime prevention effectively cedes the playing field to negative role models who know better.

Relationships the soft stuff?  Let’s be honest: anyone who has raised, taught, or worked with teens knows this is the brutally hard stuff that challenges the core of who we are.  And the “soft stuff” is even harder with deeply-wounded youth who ache for relationships, but who will often keep you at arm’s length, fearing that you, as everyone else in their lives, will, when you get close, see them as garbage and reject them.

Simplistic?  Fatuous?  Try it.  Try going into the heart of darkness, try connecting to a tough kid.  My true heroes are the connectors, the confidence builders: parents who parent, mentors who mentor, teachers who don’t give up, streetworkers trying to forge relationships with kids on the corner at midnight, beat cops who attend a football game to let a tough kid know that someone is watching, caring.  In a broken, atomized world, these are the people who say, “I love you.  I will not leave you.”

Yes, we need the best, most proven programs, programs I’ve spent my life helping to design and often run: parental support, early childhood education, mentoring, afterschool programs, community development, restitution, and more. But our often-laudable program work sometimes walks right by or dismisses the most fundamental of human needs in its emphasis on skill-building.  The relational may well precede the transmission of cognitive skills.  If I’ve got an education, some marketable skills, I might have a chance, but that chance will be greatly enhanced if I’ve got someone in my corner, or if I am responsible for someone.

Backed by research, the “soft stuff” is beginning to seep into policy and practice.  The City of Minneapolis, one of ten cities in the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, an initiative similar to NLC’s 13 California City Gang Prevention Network, rests its comprehensive violence prevention efforts on four foundational goals, the first of which is relational, namely, “Connect every youth with a trusted adult.”

The mission of Community Renewal International (CRI), a nonprofit organization in Shreveport, LA, pledges to “bring together caring partners to restore the foundation of safe and caring communities, making our world a home where every single child is safe and loved.” As part of its mission, CRI builds “Friendship Houses” in the highest crime areas of the city.  Staffed by couples who live in the Houses, the approach is structured around a system of intentional, caring relationships that undergird programs addressing important needs, such as education, safety and work.  The Shreveport Police Department reports dramatic reductions in crime, 20 percent and more, in target areas.

In a special mentoring program targeting at-risk youth, Big Brothers Big Sisters in Philadelphia reports significant gains in confidence, higher aspirations, more avoidance of risky behaviors and increased educational success.

Between 1995 and 1998, Linda A. Teplin, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, interviewed 1,800 Chicago youth serving time in detention.  At some point, more than 80 percent had belonged to a gang, and 70 percent of the men had used a firearm. On November 4, The New York Times reported on Teplin’s results after roughly 15 years of tracking.  Many have been shot, many have been killed, but those who “made it” did so for surprising reasons.  Personal transformations “often have little to do with the promises of politicians or the cyclical crackdowns by law enforcement.  Instead they are often prompted by less tangible forces: the support of a parent, the insistence of a girlfriend, the encouragement of a priest or pastor, the mobilization of a community, the birth of a child.”

We must aggressively continue our comprehensive work that blends prevention (family support, early childhood education), intervention (education, job training), enforcement and reentry (work with offenders returning from prison).  But throughout, relationship-building must be an essential part of our portfolio.  My good friend Dr. Peter Ellis, Director of Community Crime Prevention Associates, said it best in his letter to me last month: “Our 22 years of experience in working with high-risk youth indicates that relationships formed are a key indicator of success in turning these youth around…It all starts with a relationship and love.”

The Latest in Economic Development

This week’s blog discusses an innovative, localized way to fund local development projects, two regions focused on mutually beneficial cooperation, an NPR story on insourcing, and the startup culture between the coasts. Comment below or send to

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

“Why couldn’t people in the community invest in real estate right next door?” This piece in the Atlantic Cities about a pair of DC real estate investors explains that the answer is actually very complicated. After purchasing a property on H St. in the District, the pair (who are also brothers) invited local residents to “invest online in… shares as small as $100, in a public offering qualified by the Securities and Exchange Commission.” But the process was complicated by SEC regulations intended to protect unaccredited investors; so complicated that the brothers went through six law firms before they found out their plan was viable. In essence, the H St. deal used a model similar to crowdfunding, which removed the need for a Wall Street middleman. This democratized the development, which, in the future, may allow for the feasibility of unique projects usually passed over by big developers. Read the whole article. It’s a very good read.

Two groups in the Midwest and Rust Belt are banding together to promote their regions. In the Midwest, Kansas City, Omaha, Des Moines, and St. Louis are trying to promote mutual interests to create a “mini-mega-region” that can compete with larger metro areas. They are focusing on “four key areas: transportation, water, life sciences, and connecting their entrepreneurial communities.” In the Rust Belt, Pittsburgh entrepreneur Kit Mueller started hoping to link innovators within the industrial heart of America to “raise awareness of the possibilities to the nation’s coasts and around the globe.” For more on regional cooperation and economic development, check out my recent publication and corresponding blog post.

NPR recently did a piece on GE’s Alliance Park in Louisville, Ky. which explores how companies are experiencing the economic benefits of insourcing. GE found value in locating the different parts of the production chain – previously spread across different countries – to one place: “with workers in different departments physically sharing the same space… cross-interest conversations can happen more easily.” This translated to more efficient production processes without the need to cut the workforce. NPR also highlights a San Francisco hoodie company owned by Bayard Winthrop who has been more than pleased with producing his products here in the US.

It’s not a requirement that great startups be located on the coasts. Small interior cities are producing their fair share as well. In Grand Rapids, MI, Rick DeVos started a venture fund that provides small amounts of seed capital and has a Shark Tank-like system of choosing startups for additional financing. Additionally, investor Ray Moncrief “helps oversee four funds totaling $160 million… in and near Appalachia.” These funds highlight a continued focus on fostering local entrepreneurship instead of trying to land big firms. Because even though it is inevitable that some startups will flame out, “that often creates a virtuous cycle that benefits the local economy.”