For NLC’s Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship Program, June 5-8 were very special dates. After a year providing extensive technical assistance to the inaugural cohort cities of Boston, Charlotte, Houston, Memphis, Milwaukee and Minneapolis, the EED Program team introduced the new cohort: Austin, Baltimore, Louisville, Nashville, Phoenix and Sacramento.
The EED Fellowship provides one year of technical assistance to an annual class of six U.S. cities to help them pursue more equitable and inclusive economic outcomes. Economic mobility, income inequality and racial inequity are critical concerns for mayors across the country.
This problem must be matched with strategies that address inequality not only as a deeply concerning social problem but an economic one as well. The EED Fellowship encourages cities to leverage their local economic development strategies to create more equitable access to opportunities within all of their communities.
The mayor of each fellowship city serves as an honorary fellow whose direct involvement includes selecting the city’s fellowship team and project, hosting their city’s Peer Exchange Panel, and traveling to participate in special events. Each fellowship city team selects a specific challenge around equity in economic development for which they will receive technical assistance from guest experts assembled by the project team and their peers from the other five fellowship cities.
The selected equity challenge includes issues about which the mayor: 1) frequently discusses with her or his advisors, 2) wants to learn more about and compare best practices from other cities, 3) is willing to take a year to study.
Throughout the year, the EED Fellowship will also offer technical assistance via webinars on different topics identified by the six cities. Some of the topics covered with the 2016-2017 cohort included inclusive strategies for small business development and entrepreneurship support, best practices in collecting data for equitable economic development, institutionalizing equity in economic development programs and policies, and presenting a framework to incorporate an equity lens in economic development incentive packages.
The EED Fellowship team is excited to be working with the new cohort advancing an equitable and inclusive approach to economic development. The cities are:
Austin: Small business and entrepreneurship support in communities of color
The city of Austin is facing explosive population and economic growth which has created pressure on city services, housing supply, infrastructure, mobility/transportation and affordability. The city is committed not to lose what Keeps Austin Weird by focusing on cultivating, retaining and growing local small businesses and entrepreneurs in traditional communities of color.
Austin has relied on traditional economic development incentives and tools to attract new businesses and create new jobs, but the local small businesses have not fully benefited from this growth. Two potential areas of opportunity that could help Austin achieve its goals for this fellowship are: 1) taking a closer look at economic incentive reform and 2) permitting reform, along with a robust community engagement strategy.
Baltimore: Commercial districts in a redeveloping neighborhood
Most of Baltimore’s growth and development is centralized to the Central Business District and its surrounding neighborhoods. While the downtown continues to grow, both in population, businesses, and investments, West Baltimore continues to see decline in population, infrastructure, and assets.
Through the EED Fellowship, Baltimore will explore opportunities to revitalize the Pimlico Business District in the Central Park Heights and Pimlico Good Neighbors neighborhoods by identifying existing resources that can be directed toward existing businesses, developing resources that fill the gap for existing businesses, and attracting new businesses to the business district through equitable economic development strategies. Both neighborhoods show over 40 percent of the community make less than $25,000 annually, a majority of its children living below poverty, and an unemployment rate of nearly 18 percent.
Louisville: Entrepreneurship support in historically disinvested neighborhoods
Between 2014 and 2015, Louisville’s unemployment rate decreased from 6.5 to 5.7 percent, but African-American unemployment rates decreased only from 12.2 percent in 2014 to 11.9 percent in 2015. Similarly, while the number of people 16 and over living in poverty decreased by just over 10,000 between 2014 and 2015, nearly all of this reduction took place among Whites, Hispanics and multi-racial individuals.
African-Americans saw no decrease in poverty over this time frame. These statistics are felt most in the nine western neighborhoods of Louisville. These once-thriving areas are now some of the most distressed in the community as a result of structural and institutional racist polices that include the then-legal, discriminatory practice of redlining, which severely limited the availability of loans for residential and commercial purposes, and the eventual demolition of “blighted” buildings in the name of urban renewal.
To promote equity and resilience in these neighborhoods, Louisville must focus not just on housing and community development, but on entrepreneurship and local business development. Through the EED fellowship, Louisville will focus to build a culture of entrepreneurship in these neighborhoods, not just in retail and service sectors, but in professional services and technology; that can give individuals access to goods, services, and high-quality job opportunities that lead to economic stability and community vibrancy.
Nashville: Supporting Urban Manufacturing in Nashville’s Promise Zone
Nashville is a vibrant city at a critical moment. As a city with such rapid population growth, a diversified and booming economy, strong and changing neighborhoods, and significant international attention, Nashville faces the challenge of sustaining and expanding economic growth while also ensuring that all residents can benefit from that prosperity.
While the city has experienced increased development, significant job growth, and low unemployment across the city-county, Nashville has also seen increased poverty and inequality, especially in specific neighborhoods and for communities of color. In 2016, Nashville was named a HUD-designated “Promise Zone,” allowing the city to access preference points to leverage federal funding across a number of federal agencies to eliminate poverty in the targeted geographic area of the Zone, which encompasses many of the City’s high-poverty neighborhoods.
Through its participation in the EED Fellowship, Nashville is interested to develop a people-centered strategy for retention and growth of urban manufacturing jobs in the Promise Zone.
Phoenix: Equitable transit oriented development
The city of Phoenix is implementing a 35-year citywide street and transit improvement plan which will triple the number of light rail miles in Phoenix by adding 42 miles of high capacity corridors across the city. Phoenix has identified several opportunities and challenges related to cultural, physical, and social preservation of the community that surrounds the South Central light rail extension.
The South Central community has a long-standing and strong sense of identity and place throughout the corridor that is embodied in the established neighborhoods and evidenced by families who have lived there for generations. The city is focusing on increasing community ownership in the corridor through an inclusive business resource system and on developing a place-based workforce development program along the corridor.
Sacramento: Integrated, place-based community revitalization and economic development
Recent economic trends suggest that the city of Sacramento is experiencing resurgence, yet the growth and opportunities vary across the city’s neighborhoods. The city of Sacramento is endeavoring to design a model for neighborhood-based economic and community development that recognizes the varying levels of needs and capacity within each neighborhood.
The goal during the EED Fellowship is to utilize the place-based concept to build better communication, relationships, and trust between the city and its residents; increase the effectiveness and efficiency of city services; and improve economic opportunity.
While the model will be applied to numerous neighborhoods across the city, the EED Fellowship Project will focus on just three commercial corridors: Franklin Boulevard, Stockton Boulevard and Del Paso Boulevard/Marysville Boulevard. These corridors were major transportation arteries linking Sacramento to the cities of Franklin and Stockton to the south, and Marysville to the north.
About the author: Carlos Delgado is the Senior Associate for the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use at the National League of Cities.