Tying Business Incentives to an Economic Development Strategy

This is a guest post written by Ellen Harpel. Post originally appeared on the Smart Incentives blog.

Construction-in-SingaporeEconomic development initiatives like this construction project in Singapore are more successful when investment incentives align with the values articulated by the overall development strategy. (Getty Images)

Incentives are not just about winning a deal or completing a transaction with an investor. Smart incentive use is always connected to a larger economic development strategy.

Economic strategy

Any project for which incentives are offered needs to be evaluated in the context of community economic goals and strategies. Many communities have an economic development strategy, though perhaps of varying quality, and making sure that an incentivized project aligns with the broad statements and values within that strategy is an important first step. Unfortunately, a surprising number of communities either do not have strategies in place or do not align their incentive programs to those strategies. Community discussions on incentive use focus on the deal, not the reason for the deal. My work around the country has revealed that the public, elected officials and even economic development board members do not see how incentives are connected to the broader economic development mission, seeing them entirely as necessary evils to enable business recruitment.

Program goals

Policymakers are increasingly ensuring that individual incentive programs have clear goals, although we have seen that guiding legislation can be frustratingly unclear, making both implementation and evaluation difficult. Clearly defining the purpose of an incentive program helps ensure it will be used as intended. Otherwise, it runs the risk of being offered to all comers regardless of their capacity to connect to community goals. Communities also often have specific objectives related to supporting target industries or developing individual sectors of the economy. Economic developers may be urged to support small businesses or firms meeting certain demographic criteria. Economic development organizations often work with regional or national organizations and may need to align efforts with their broader strategies. Sustainable development may be a priority. These are all additional strategic factors that should be considered when assessing the basic project benefits that an incentives investment might generate. Good economic development organizations know their communities well and should be able to relatively easily assess whether a proposed investment aligns with community values on these factors, singly or in combination.

Ellen Harpel bio photoAbout the Author: Ellen Harpel is President of Business Development Advisors (BDA) and Founder of Smart Incentives. She has over 17 years of experience in the economic development field, working with leaders at the local, state and national levels to increase business investment and job growth in their communities. Contact Ellen at eharpel@businessdevelopmentadvisors.com or ellen@smartincentives.org. You can also follow her on Twitter at @SmartIncentives.

Five Ways Cities Can Promote Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs

Providing meals for children through federal Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs is a win-win opportunity for cities. Cities benefit by bringing more federal funds into their neighborhoods, and can improve the health and well-being of low-income children by increasing their access to healthy meals and their participation in fun and safe activities during out-of-school time hours.

It is important for mayors and other city leaders to build strong partnerships with stakeholders, such as statewide anti-hunger groups, schools, food banks and other community organizations, to implement meal programs in ways that maximize quality and participation. These stakeholders can serve as important outreach partners that help city leaders connect with their residents to make sure they are aware of the resources available to them.

Here are five ways that city leaders can promote afterschool and summer meal programs in their communities.

1. Use the bully pulpit to raise awareness of child hunger and promote out-of-school time meal programs. Local elected officials can write op-eds for local newspapers, emphasize the need for afterschool and summer meal programs in public speeches or at events, and promote afterschool and summer meal programs on the city’s website and through newsletters and social media.

Nashville2. Publicize out-of-school time meals through a targeted marketing strategy. An important component of any marketing strategy for out-of-school time meals is a kick-off event. These events can raise awareness about meal programs in a way that brings key stakeholders and families together. Mayors can use kick-off events to frame afterschool and summer meals as a top priority for the city before a large audience of community leaders. Cities can also take advantage of existing national resources such as the National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3HUNGRY) to make meal program site locations and operating hours easily accessible to families. In addition, cities can advertise information about meal sites on utility bills, via robo-calls, or through the city’s 311 information line or the United Way’s 211 information line. Philadelphia3. Sponsor Afterschool or Summer Meal Programs. City agencies such as parks and recreation or departments of housing are well-suited to be sponsors of afterschool and summer meal programs and to host meal sites at local facilities, e.g., recreation centers. Staff from a mayor’s office can also coordinate a working group or task force that focuses on the issue of child hunger and identifies strategies to reduce it, including initiatives to increase participation in out-of-school time meal programs. City staff relationships with key community partners, as well as knowledge of where young people congregate after school and during the summer, are integral to the success of these programs. Houston4. Partner with community organizations that serve afterschool and summer meals. Local nonprofits and other afterschool providers often act as sponsors to provide afterschool and summer meals as well as activities for young people before and/or after meals. Cities can leverage funding for meal programs in partnership with community-based organizations. YEF quotes Boxes-015. Incorporate child nutrition goals into a broader citywide agenda. City leaders can work with staff responsible for broader citywide initiatives such as Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties or other initiatives that focus on children and youth to expand the reach and scope of child nutrition programming. To learn more, check out our new issue brief on afterschool and summer meals. FontanaJamie Nash bio photo About the Author: Jamie Nash is Senior Associate of Benefit Outreach in the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. To learn more about how local government leaders can support out-of-school time meal programs, contact Jamie at nash@nlc.org.

Meet the Freshman: Rep. Brenda Lawrence

This is the first in series of closer looks at new members of Congress coming from city government office.

Brenda Lawrence bio photo

Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence

Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.-14) is no stranger to city concerns. A lifetime resident of the Detroit area, Rep. Lawrence spent 17 years prior to her election to Congress in city government, first as a city council member and then mayor of Southfield, a suburb of Detroit with over 72,000 residents.

Rep. Lawrence’s work in Southfield positioned her to be a champion for city residents. During her time as mayor, she led her city in partnership with NLC on a number of initiatives, including Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties, the Cities United violence prevention initiative, and the Mayors’ Action Challenge for Children and Families. She has most recently served NLC as a member of the NLC University Board of Advisors. Rep. Lawrence has also previously worked with Mayors Against Illegal Guns as part of an effort to curb gun violence. She has the distinction of becoming the first female and first African-American mayor of Southfield, and the first African-American female Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee in Michigan.

“I’ve been fortunate to have served as a mayor who has provided perspective to Congress like in the aftermath of the home mortgage foreclosure crisis,” said Representative Lawrence about her time spent in city government. “[I] have lobbied for and administered federal block grant dollars that are used to enhance and improve services at home. So while I’m a freshman member, I’m certainly not new to the federal government process. Equally important, I truly understand the needs of our nation’s cities.”

Representative Lawrence was appointed to serve as a “Senior Whip” for the House Democratic Caucus by Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland. She will serve on the influential House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has oversight responsibility for federal agency activity and regulations.

Learn more about Rep. Lawrence and the other freshman members of Congress using NLC’s interactive map tool.

Panettieri photoAbout the author: Angelina Panettieri is the Senior Associate for Grassroots Advocacy at the National League of Cities. She helps empower city leaders to engage directly with Congress on the issues most important to them.

Collaborative Government is Here to Stay

This is a guest post by Alan Mond.

collaborative government blog post photoHeavy equipment like the bulldozers pictured above could be shared more often between public agencies in the future. (Alex Banner)

Whether you know it or not, you are already affected by the sharing economy. In fact, you are likely a part of it. Car rentals, taxi rides, hotel accommodations and even the food we eat are all products of the sharing economy. Sharing economy companies like Uber, Airbnb and ZipCar have quickly become household names.

I believe that government is the next sector that is ready to play a role in the sharing economy.

Government is naturally collaborative. Cities, counties and towns don’t necessarily compete with each other – they just happen to be in different geographic jurisdictions, and they already share the very important goal of delivering valuable services to taxpaying citizens in the most efficient manner. The idea of government sharing resources existed long before the sharing economy ever became part of our cultural landscape. In the case of mutual aid agreements (contracts signed between municipalities for emergency situations), most units of governments join forces to support each other. The term collaborative government is a new way of referring to this growing trend we are seeing at the local, state and even federal levels.

Providers in the sharing economy are solving problems that typically aren’t addressed by the prevalent economic framework. For example, heavy duty equipment used by pubic works departments, such as excavators and street sweepers, is expensive to buy and costly to maintain. Geographic regions are composed of large and small municipalities with fleet utilization discrepancies. Large municipalities often have more equipment than they need. Smaller communities lack heavy-duty equipment and often resort to renting from expensive commercial rental shops or contractors.

The logical solution to these problems would be for a large city to loan equipment to a smaller city in order to reduce equipment expenses for both parties. In my work, I often ask city managers why this doesn’t happen more often, and I usually receive an all-too-common answer: liability. Liability seems to be the main reason city staff often avoid the otherwise sound practice of sharing resources. When I dug deeper, I discovered that “liability” was really a blanket term for two specific concerns: property damage to the machines involved, and liability in the case of operator injury. Because underutilized equipment is such an enormous problem, my business partners and I decided to attack the liability issue in order to remove the primary barrier to sharing.

In my recent blog post, “Five Tips to Write a Shared Services Agreement,” I outlined some of the general tips to writing a shared services agreement. After working with over twenty-five different local government attorneys, my company was able to create a workable intergovernmental agreement. On the property damage side of things, we established simple rules of the game. For example, we decided that, if a piece of equipment was incidentally damaged, the renter or borrower was responsible. Regarding the liability issue, we solved the problem by requiring that all participating agencies show proof of insurance covering liability, property of others, and workers’ compensation.

This was a great victory. Risk managers, city attorneys, city managers and even finance directors were happy with the resulting agreement. However, not all Public Works Directors were convinced. Some of the common questions asked were: “What if I need my excavator exactly when a neighboring community had borrowed it?” and “What if I have a water main break and someone is using my Vactor truck?”.

As I mentioned before, collaborative government is not a new concept, and we were able to address all of these questions. We asked for advice from public works directors who were already sharing resources. Some of these folks had been sharing equipment within the states of Oregon and Minnesota, for example; some had been sharing for more than 20 years on a smaller scale. They told us the answers were simple.

Developing trust and relationships as a first step was highly recommended. Equally as important was the idea that owners should have the right to retrieve their equipment at any time should emergencies arise. This made a lot of sense – if the city that rented the equipment knew that it might be needed in an emergency, then they would understandably return the machine. Most of the equipment that is made available by companies such as ours typically comes with an operator, so the equipment often returns to the owner’s yard at the end of the day.

In my experience, many barriers to operating as part of the sharing economy can be removed through the development and establishment of best practices, enabling federal, state and local governments and their agencies to collaborate and share resources more effectively.

Alan Mond bio photo croppedAbout the Author: Alan Mond is the CEO of MuniRent, a web-based platform that makes it easy for local governments to lease heavy duty equipment to other local governments. He will be hosting a webinar, “The Path to Efficient Government Fleets”, on January 29 at 10am. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter at @mondalan.

Local Governments Win Cell Tower Supreme Court Case – For the Most Part

cell towerThe City of Roswell lost its case before the Supreme Court regarding cell phone tower approval on what some might describe as a mere technicality – but overall, local governments won. (Getty Images)

In T-Mobile South v. City of Roswell, the Supreme Court held 6-3 that the Telecommunications Act (TCA) requires local governments to provide reasons when denying an application to build a cell phone tower. The reasons do not have to be stated in the denial letter but must be articulated “with sufficient clarity in some other written record issued essentially contemporaneously with the denial,” which can include the council meeting minutes.

The Court agreed with the position in the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC)’s amicus brief that the reasons for a local government’s decision need not be in the same letter or document that denies the application, and that council meeting minutes can be a sufficient source for the reasons for the denial. The Court disagreed, however, with the SLLC’s argument that the council minutes need not be issued contemporaneously with the document denying the wireless provider’s application.

T-Mobile applied to construct a 108-foot cell tower in a residential zoning area. Two days after a council hearing on the application, where city councilmembers voted to deny the application and stated various reasons for why they were going to vote against it, Roswell sent T-Mobile a brief letter stating that the application was denied and that T-Mobile could obtain hearing minutes from the city clerk. Twenty-six days later the minutes were approved and published.

The TCA requires that a state or local government’s decision denying a cell tower construction permit be “in writing and supported by substantial evidence contained in a written record.”

The majority of the Court, in an opinion written by Justice Sotomayor, held that local governments have to provide reasons for why they are denying a cell tower application so that courts can determine whether the denial was supported by substantial evidence. The Court rejected, however, T-Mobile’s argument that the reasons must be set forth in a formal written decision denying the application instead of council meeting minutes because nothing in the TCA “imposes any requirement that the reasons be given in any particular form.” But the Court also held that, because wireless providers have only 30 days after an adverse decision to seek judicial review, the council meeting minutes setting forth the reasons have to be issued “essentially contemporaneous[ly]”with the denial.

The Court’s ruling that written minutes can meet the TCA’s “in writing” requirement is favorable to local governments, many of which routinely compile meeting minutes regardless of whether a cell tower application is being considered. But the Court’s requirement that a local government issue a denial letter and minutes at more or less the same time will be new to many local governments, and, as Chief Justice Roberts points out in his dissenting opinion, “could be a trap for the unwary hamlet or two.”

Following this decision, local governments should not issue any written denial of a wireless siting application until they (1) set forth the reasons for the denial in that written decision, or (2) make available to the wireless provider the final council meeting minutes or transcript of the meeting at which the action was taken.

The Roberts’ Court has been frequently characterized as “pro-business.” Justice Roberts’ dissent belies that viewpoint.  His opinion repeatedly refers to T-Mobile’s savvy and culminates in this sarcastic assessment of how T-Mobile likely suffered no harm by receiving the minutes after the denial: “T-Mobile somehow managed to make the tough call to seek review of the denial of an application it had spent months and many thousands of dollars to obtain, based on a hearing it had attended.”

Tim LayJessica Bell, and Katharine Mapes of Spiegel & McDiarmid in Washington, D.C., wrote the SLLC’s brief which was joined by the National League of Cities, the United States Conference of Mayors,  the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association.

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.

This Year, Cities Have Got You Covered

This blog post was co-written by Carla Plaza, consultant to NLC’s Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families initiative.

Children Receive Emergency Care At Pediatric HospitalEight cities are taking bold new steps to increase Medicaid and CHIP enrollment this year. (Getty Images)

Yes, it’s that time of year again. I’m not talking about the NFL playoffs or flu season, though. It’s the Affordable Care Act’s open enrollment period (November 15, 2014 to February 15, 2015). Enrollment in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), however, is available year round for eligible families and children.

The eight cities participating in NLC’s Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families (CEHACF) initiative are leveraging the renewed focus on health insurance to get more families and children in their communities enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP.

One of the lessons learned from the CEHACF cities so far is that strong messages are effective when they come from trusted community voices. Mayor Randy Walker of Garden City, Mich., and Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh have used the bully pulpit to encourage their residents to get health coverage, and are featured prominently in PSAs about Medicaid and CHIP.

Healthy Together is committed to enrolling all Pittsburgh children and youth in quality, no- to low-cost healthcare programs, like Medicaid and CHIP.

One of the main Cover Jacksonville campaign strategies has been to develop a streamlined, single point of access referral system for community residents. Working in partnership with the United Way of Northeast Florida, the campaign team trained 211 call staff to incorporate questions about health insurance enrollment into their conversations with callers. 211 operators can now make appointments for callers with an enrollment assistor at a convenient location.

Dallas is finalizing the process of becoming a Community Partner with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. As a Community Partner, staff at city agencies that work in community centers as well as child care and homelessness services can become trained enrollment assistors. Clients visiting any of these city agencies will then be screened for and enrolled in all of the benefits for which they are eligible through the YourTexasBenefits program – including Medicaid and CHIP.

The New Bedford, Mass. campaign team is working closely with school nurses to educate students and their families about the importance of health care coverage and access. This partnership is also generating awareness about their school-based campaign and enrollment events.

Together with local health care providers, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and Dr. Brenda Weis, Director of the New Bedford Health Department, participate in promotional video for the city of New Bedford’s new health initiative.

Recognizing the importance of the tourism industry in their city, Savannah, Ga.’s campaign team is targeting the hotel and hospitality industry to get their employees and employees’ families enrolled. The team is working with local businesses to ensure that families and children get the coverage they need.

Finally, Providence, R.I. is targeting older youth and recruiting them to become health ambassadors who would spread the word about the importance of coverage to their families and friends. In Hattiesburg, Miss., campaign staff are working with their faith-based community to help spread the message of the importance of health coverage. The team trained some church members to be enrollment assistors, which allowed for onsite enrollment assistance following church services.

What is your city doing to help enroll children and families in Medicaid and CHIP? Share your story with us!

Dawn Schluckebeir_headshot

About the Author: Dawn Schluckebier is a Senior Associate for Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Dawn on Twitter at @TheSchluck. Email Dawn at schluckebier@nlc.org to share your city’s story or get more information on the CEHACF cities’ campaigns.

Next Monday, Be a Part of the Movement with the #CitiesServe Hashtag

This is a guest post by Mari Andrew.

Candlelight Vigil Marks 44th Anniversary Of Martin Luther King Jr.'s AssassinationThe Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C. (Getty Images)

On January 19, cities across the nation will celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by promoting service and civic engagement. Dr. King’s courageous and tireless work toward his vision of equality inspired legislators to transform the King Holiday into a day of volunteer service – a day when people from diverse backgrounds could join forces to make their communities better places to live.

The Corporation for National & Community Service conservatively estimated that, on last year’s Day of Service, 360,000 people received emergency food provisions, 38,000 veterans and military members received assistance, and 58,000 youth received tutoring. Citizens in all 50 states participated in projects that refurbished schools, supported job-seekers, and collected clothing. This year, the projects are numerous and quickly growing.

In West Hollywood, California, volunteers of all ages will beautify their local elementary school by painting a mural. Residents of Beverly, Massachusetts have made a commitment to read with preschool children during the entire week. A Philadelphia charter school will be taking donations for their women’s shelter, a community in Fort Lauderdale will revitalize the home of an elderly woman, a nature-loving group in San Jose will make improvements to park trails, and residents of the Twin Cities will work together to sort donations that support services for people with disabilities.

Ready to join the movement? The National League of Cities wants to know what your city has planned for this year’s MLK Day of Service. We invite you to share your volunteer plans for the holiday on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #CitiesServe. We’ll be posting pictures and updates from your community’s projects next week, and we look forward to seeing cities in action!

Mari Andrew bio photoAbout the author: Mari Andrew is the Senior Associate of Marketing at the National League of Cities. She works hard to help city leaders build better communities, and believes the world would be a better place if people wore more colorful clothing.