5 Ways to Expand Equitable Economic Development in Your City

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This post is the second in a series about NLC’s task force report “Keeping the American Dream Alive: Expanding Economic Mobility and Opportunity in America’s Cities.”

For cities, remaining competitive in today’s changing economic and demographic environment can seem like a formidable task. Many city leaders are grappling with maintaining a focus on equity and economic inclusion, particularly in communities of color where far too many residents struggle to gain economic ground.

City-led economic development strategies continue to be powerful tools in reducing economic inequality for many individuals but there is no one-size fits all approach. These types of investments must be deployed equitably to ensure sustainable growth for all residents.

Reviving High-Need Communities Through Equitable Economic Development

Local elected officials are well-positioned to drive local economic development to become more inclusive. The National League of Cities’ (NLC) report “Keeping the American Dream Alive: Expanding Economic Mobility and Opportunity in America’s Cities” highlights several examples of how cities are deploying equitable economic development strategies to ensure prosperity for all residents, including:

Identify large-scale development projects coming into the city and ensure they will provide sufficient training and employment opportunities for all residents.

City leaders can play a critical role in bridging residents, developers and local workforce development agencies to design effective training strategies and address employment barriers for residents. This type of broad-based, inclusive strategy will ensure these projects generate employment and training opportunities for residents in traditionally underserved communities, especially for people of color and immigrants.

The City of Atlanta created the Western Future Fund (WFF) in partnership with the Arthur M. Blank Foundation in 2014 to serve as a catalyst for corporate and philanthropic support for improving the health, education and welfare of residents in the historic Westside of Atlanta during the construction of the new football and soccer stadium. The WFF addresses equity and social justice issues associated with development projects through job training for residents in construction, culinary arts, education, office operation and information technology, while also attracting new investments and jobs.

Require that all large-scale development projects include Community Benefit Agreements for residents in distressed and high need communities.

Community benefit agreements (CBAs) are an important tool to help city leaders hold developers and contractors accountable for delivering promised benefits and opportunities to residents in high-need communities. CBA stipulations can include binding commitments for hiring and training city residents as well as wage and training standards.

Since 2013, the City of Cleveland, Ohio, has used Community Benefit Agreements to set goals for hiring local and minority skilled workers for future construction projects throughout the region and support training programs that feed the pipeline to the industry’s workforce. Contractors are encouraged to aim for a workforce comprised of 20 percent Cleveland residents.

Help entrepreneurs in low-income neighborhoods grow their businesses.

Cities can help residents in low-income neighborhoods access traditional capital and business services by helping them navigate through the technical aspects of launching or growing their businesses. To address inequity in business ownership within a city, strategies can include directing entrepreneurship assistance outreach efforts to distressed areas in the city and leveraging city funds to support small business loan programs that provide below-market rate capital to small businesses.

The City of Rochester, New York, targets early stage entrepreneurs in low-income and underserved areas through a microloan program, Kiva, and also offers a revolving loan fund program targeted to manufacturers seeking to hire local city workers.

Support worker-cooperatives and other employee-owned businesses.

Cities can take steps to encourage the growth of worker cooperatives and other forms of employee-owned businesses. These enterprises have multiple benefits for cities by helping residents build assets through ownership, generating business growth and new jobs, and encouraging private businesses to align hiring and wage policies with city requirements.

The City of Boston launched an initiative in 2016 to support and grow worker cooperatives in the city by offering them on-site consulting and business-related workshops. The city also made loan applications more accessible to cooperatives, including loans through a fund designated for low-income and minority entrepreneurs.

Utilize asset mapping tools to assess the location of opportunities and support services in the city and identify areas of high need.

An asset mapping process can help a city better understand its resources and gaps by plotting the locations of community resources, such as areas of growth, workforce development services, supportive services for workers and vocational training. Through this process, city leaders can better understand geographic gaps between community assets and areas of high unemployment.

Please refer to the full Task Force report entitled, “Keeping the American Dream Alive: Expanding Economic Mobility and Opportunity in America’s Cities,” to learn more about how cities can implement these strategies.

Next week’s blog in this series will focus on housing affordability.

Courtney_Coffin2_readyAbout the authors: Courtney Coffin is the senior associate for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Contact Courtney at coffin@nlc.org.



Denise BelserDenise Belser is the manager for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Contact Denise at belser@nlc.org.


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