Inequality, Instagram and Incubators: This Month in Economic Development

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Our monthly roundup of the latest news in economic development filtered through a city-focused lens. Reading something interesting? Share it with @robbins617.

San-Diego-InstaCould Instagram walk-around tours help cities attract visitors and showcase local landmarks? (Photo Credit: David Maloney)

Shining a new light on income inequality.
The issue of inequity is getting prime-time coverage from the White House, think tanks and mayoral state of the city addresses. A root of the problem, as a  new CityLab analysis suggests, is that the “rising tide raises all boats” approach needs to be swapped out for one that focuses on expanding advancement opportunities for low-wage earners. City leaders are taking note. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is proposing to raise the minimum wage to $15 for city workers and contractors. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced a “shared prosperity agenda” that includes affordable housing measures and universal after-school and summer programs. Huron, South Dakota is increasing city spending on English classes for new residents as a local workforce development initiative. Cincinnati just created a new city department for economic inclusion.

Forget all your troubles, forget all your cares. Things will be great when you’re developing downtown.
Cities are continuing to invest in revitalizing their downtown districts to attract retailers, visitors and residents. In places like Monroe, La., Derby, Conn., Modesto, Calif. and Osage, Iowa, city officials are making plans to enhance their downtowns with projects including expanding parking access, updating building facades and developing pedestrian walkways. Bismarck, N.D., will soon have a new downtown apartment and retail complex designed to attract young professionals. Last year, NLC’s City Fiscal Conditions study found that 62 percent of cities increased spending on capital projects and infrastructure. That number may continue to grow this year.

Old debate, new players. Are major sporting events a good development strategy?
It’s an age-old question. Is hosting a major sporting event a good economic development strategy? This debate has been playing out in Glendale, Ariz. and Boston, Mass. in recent weeks. Leading up to the Super Bowl, Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers tried unsuccessfully to get reimbursed the $2.1 million his city spent on security during game week. Meanwhile the city of Boston won the U.S. bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, but not everyone is wicked excited about Bostonians handing out the gold medals. A new nonprofit, No Boston Olympics, formed to protest the bid and says it plans to push for a ballot initiative or state legislation that could prevent the Games from coming to Boston. No Boston Olympics argues the city could be left in debt or forced to use taxpayer dollars to support the Games.

Coworking spaces are popping up in new cities.
Affordable, shared workspaces for entrepreneurs (a topic we’ve talked about here also) are launching in new places. DeskHub in Scottsdale, Ariz., recently opened its doors to the community and is the largest coworking space in the Phoenix metro area. Artists, crafters and makers in the nation’s capital can now rent space at the Brewmasters Studio in downtown D.C. to let their creative juices flow in the company of fellow artists. Plans are also officially underway to build an innovation district in Chattanooga.

The Great GASB.
The Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) proposed a new set of rules requiring state and local governments to disclose details about tax abatements. Over 300 organizations weighed in during the recent comment period, with a decision expected from GASB this summer. While greater transparency and accountability in the use of incentives gets a big thumbs up, concerns abound regarding the administrative burden the rules would impose, and the lack of context in which abatements would be disclosed.  Stay tuned…

Idea of the month: Downtown Instagram walking tours.
Speaking of downtowns, a local photographer in Bluefield, W.V., developed an Instagram walk-around tour of his city, attracting shutterbugs from the area to snap photos of downtown buildings and landmarks. This could be a unique new approach for attracting visitors and showcasing a city’s unique architecture, parks or art.

What we’re reading.
Governing’s new series on gentrification. On a related note, can Starbucks predict where gentrification will happen next? Also, policy ideas from the Kauffman Foundation for how federal, state and local government should support immigrant entrepreneurs.

For a laugh.  
It’s state of the city season. Are you ready? Cupertino’s Mayor Rod Sinks just raised expectations to new heights by jumping out of an airplane with his council colleagues as part of his speech.

Check back here on our blog Friday, Feb. 6, for NLC’s take on what the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers mean for local government workforces.

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About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate, Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

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