An Inside Look at Equitable Economic Development in Charlotte

We meet one of NLC’s Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellows, Holly Eskridge of Charlotte, North Carolina, and discuss her experience in the EED program, Charlotte’s equitable economic development priorities, stakeholder engagement and challenges.

Included in the city of Charlotte’s equitable economic development work are interventions that drive both short- and long-term change in order to narrow the economic mobility gap between businesses and job seekers. (Getty Images)

Holly Eskridge serves as the city of Charlotte’s entrepreneurship and small business development manager. In this role, she leads a team that executes policy and programs directly supporting startups, small businesses and high growth entrepreneurial firms.

The participants in NLC’s Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship are tackling unemployment, low income levels, and workforce-related issues in their communities. This week I had the opportunity to speak with one of this year’s fellows, Holly Eskridge, who manages entrepreneurship and small business development for the city of Charlotte.

Carlos Delgado: Hi Holly, thank you so much for the time today. To start off, can you tell us a little about your background?

Holly Eskridge: I currently serve as Charlotte’s entrepreneurship and small business development manager. In this role, I lead a team that executes policy and programs directly supporting startups, small businesses and high growth entrepreneurial firms. I also provide project management support on large-scale city projects in the organization’s smart cities and transportation programs that impact distressed corridors in the city.

CD: And previous to this role? I heard you have some political staff experience? How about your academic background?

HE: Yes, previously I served as an assistant to the mayor of Charlotte and the intergovernmental affairs director in the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina. I hold a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and two masters in community and organizational social work and in public administration from the University of South Carolina. On a personal note, I am a huge football fan and have an annual tradition of attending at least one game per year in a previously unexplored stadium.

CD: That’s great! Let’s talk more about your city’s project – could you tell us why an equitable economic development agenda is a priority for Charlotte?

HE: Charlotte’s population is rapidly growing and is the nation’s seventeenth largest city with a population of over 850,000. Our healthy economy, access to highly-regarded educational opportunities, proximity to the Charlotte Douglas Airport (the 6th busiest airport in the world) and numerous quality of life attributes for all ages make it an attractive destination for newcomers and a place that native Charlotteans feel proud to call home.

In spite of the positive quality of life elements and strong economic trends, Charlotte is a city with residents and struggling small businesses that are not participants in nor beneficiaries of the city’s robust growth. There is a growing economic mobility gap in which various segments of the population are separated along racial lines, by income, family structure, educational level and geography. A 2015 Harvard University Study ranked Charlotte as 50th among 50 American cities in terms of the ability of a person in a lower income level to ascend to higher income levels during the course of his or her lifetime.

This reinforces why equitable economic development is the only responsible way to do our work. It ensures the city of Charlotte and its community partners are actively engaged in being part of the solution to address the mobility challenges many of our residents are facing. This is a critical part of accountability as a public servant.

CD: Thank you, that’s helpful framing. As you pointed out during our visit last year, your team is addressing the economic mobility gap with a set of tactical programs and larger-scale economic development policy reforms focused on small business and entrepreneurship, workforce development, and business incentives. What progress have you made since last June when the EED Fellowship kicked off?

HE: Included in our equitable economic development work are interventions that drive both short- and long-term change that build capacity and connectivity to job and business development opportunities for job seekers, small businesses and entrepreneurs in order to narrow the economic mobility gap between businesses and job seekers. Through the support of your organization’s leadership and collaboration with our community partners, we have seen significant accomplishments since June 2016.

When in comes to small business capacity-building, we started by organizing a small business stakeholder group that included business owners, BAC members, Business Resource Providers and government officials. We also established focus groups and conducted a survey of over 200 small businesses, which is currently under analysis and will be used to strengthen capacity-building efforts. In an effort to make resources and tools more accessible to small businesses, we redesigned the city’s business resource website with an interactive search tool, greater emphasis on storytelling around small business success, and an easy-to-navigate home page based on industry best practices.

On the workforce development front, we launched a new training program for adults with multiple barriers to employment called Partnership for Inclusive Employment and Career Excellence (Project PIECE) in partnership with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont and Urban League of the Central Carolinas. To get Project PIECE off the ground, corporate advisory councils convened and provided advice on curriculum design and we held several community outreach sessions for applicants. We now have approximately 200 community contacts contributing to the project, and have had 46 individuals enroll to-date. Some of our first training opportunities include trainings for careers in broadband and fiber optics, residential and commercial construction, and highway construction.

The city has also focused on increasing the availability of youth talent development programming – for example, we’ve had nearly 1,000 students from 19 high schools complete job readiness training, nearly 500 youth participate in interviewing skills training since July 2016, and received a $50,000 grant commitment from Microsoft for technology training.

And finally, policy considerations around business investment grants and business corridor revitalization have been presented to the City Council Economic Development (ED) Committee. Full city council consideration is pending.

CD: Could you expand a little more on the partnerships you have created with different stakeholders to successfully achieve your EED project outcomes?

HE: At the core of Charlotte’s success is our focus on partnerships and collaborative spirit. We approached our EED work by convening three partner groups with expertise in each element of our project scope (small business, talent development and business incentives and corridor revitalization). Each partnership team has a role in the EED work and collaboration is centered on the four Cs of commitment, compassion, collaboration and communication. Each partner has a role in the implementation of the EED Fellowship work program. These alliances are successful because they rely on the principle that the work involved in maintaining a partnership, and the benefits from the collaboration are spread equally among the organizations involved.

CD: Looks like you are doing a lot of progress and we at NLC, ULI, and PolicyLink feel extremely happy to be contributing to Charlotte’s success and progress. So far you have been the only EED Fellow to experience both peer-to-peer exchange opportunities, i.e. as a visiting EED Fellow to Houston and as an EED Hosting City Fellow during the technical assistance visit to Charlotte few weeks ago. Can you tell us about both experiences and what kind of advice did the group of visiting experts and visiting peer fellows gave to Charlotte?

HE: As a visiting EED Fellow, I was humbled to be engaged with the expert panel that provided recommendations to Houston EED project. NLC did an excellent job ensuring the visiting panel was one that both met their project scope and included professionals from both the public and private sector. The ability to learn from peers with such a wealth of knowledge was not limited to just the City of Houston. I felt like a sponge soaking up the intellect and wisdom of the other visiting fellows and I developed some string professional relationships in the process as well. This experience reinforced the need to prioritize the time to expand my professional networks.

On the hosting side, having visiting EED fellows and experts in Charlotte and gaining their insight in our work was a critical step in taking our community’s work to the next level. The attention the visiting panel paid to the experiences and ideas of our partner teams was genuine and gave tremendous credibility to the Equitable Economic Development initiative. Partners on multiple occasions have commented on the impact actively being part of the experience has had within their own organizations. The talent that was brought to Charlotte for those three days provided our community with thoughtful, realistic recommendations that are grounded in the core values of the city of Charlotte and its partners. The impact of this visit and our engagement in the EED Fellowship will last for many years to come.

CD: Before we conclude this very engaging conversation, I want to ask you one more question. In your opinion, what role is the EED Fellowship playing in your professional development??

HE: The professional development I have experienced as an EED Fellowship has been tremendous. First and foremost, how my team and I do our work has been transformed through the lens of equitable economic development. This intentionality in how we do our work I believe has led to significant accomplishments in our goal of increasing economic opportunity for all Charlotteans as well as strengthen the partnerships we have with community stakeholders. Having the opportunity to reframe how I do my work with the support of the resources and my peers from across the country has made me a more effective, accountable economic development professional.

EED Fellowship visit in Charlotte. From left to right: Carlos Delgado (NLC), Ann Wall (Assistant City Manager, Charlotte), Lewis Brown (PolicyLink), Julie Eislet (Councilmember, Charlotte), Mary Ellen Wiederwohl (Louisville Forward), Martha Brown (Deputy Commissioner, Milwaukee), Jason Perkins-Cohen (Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Employment Development), Matthew Haessly (Real Estate Specialist, Milwaukee), Holly Eskridge (Small Business and Entrepreneurship Manager, Charlotte), Kevin Dick (Economic Development Director, Charlotte), Vi Lyles (Mayor Pro Tem, Charlotte), Kevin Johns (Economic Development Director, Austin), Ed Driggs (Councilmember, Charlotte), Trinh Nguyen (Director, Office of Workforce Development, Boston), and Emily Robbins (NLC). Not pictured: Dana D’Orazio (NLC).

Charlotte is just one of six cities participating in this year’s EED fellowship. Later this month, we’ll share stories and experiences from other fellows.

carlos_delgado_125x150About the author: Carlos Delgado is the Senior Associate for the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use at the National League of Cities.

Cross-sector Collaboration is a Critical Tool for City Leaders

The Intersector Project’s Neil Britto offers a number of resources to help local officials cope with declining budgets, a changing public-private partnership arena, and the inadequacy of a single-sector approach to problem solving.

(Wikimedia Commons)

As in the world of motorsports, collaboration in the public service arena can produce results that are impossible to achieve without the efforts of many individuals working together. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is a guest post by Neil Britto of the Intersector Project.

While cross-sector collaboration isn’t new, city leaders across the country are adopting collaborative approaches in increasing numbers. Why is collaboration in the United States more important now than ever?

Single-sector inadequacy
There seems to be consensus from leaders across sectors and issues that the critical challenges facing our communities today are unsolvable, or at least not easily solvable, by single-sector efforts. Arguably, this has always been the case – but trust in government is at a notable low, and there is increasing recognition that sectors have complementary strengths and ought to find ways to work together.

Declining public budgets
In an era of constrained public-sector budgets, the assets of other sectors need to be deployed to support public well-being. Since the Great Recession, the public sector has lost more 700,000 jobs. Discretionary spending budgets by public-sector managers have been severely cut. At the same time, citizens are demanding more, better and faster services from their government.

The evolving nature of public-private partnerships
A recent report from the Fels Institute suggests that 92 percent of the National Association of State Chief Administrators agreed that government and private organizations should develop new processes to create partnerships that were not simply transactional but relational, relying not only on contracting but shared resources, risks and decision-making processes.

Our Work

At the Intersector Project, we work to advance cross-sector collaboration by creating accessible, credible and practically valuable resources and research that are publicly available in full through our website.

  • We’ve developed one of the country’s leading case study libraries on cross-sector collaboration in the United States. Our 40 cases range in issue area from infrastructure to education, are written with a practitioner audience in mind, and all are freely available online.
  • We’ve also created a Toolkit – a “how-to” guide for practitioners of cross-sector collaboration in every issue area. We recommend practitioners download the Toolkit from our website, distribute to core partners in early planning stages, and use the resource to support shared understanding of key elements for their collaborative process and to create a common language for those elements.
  • Another key resource we’ve created for practitioners is our Resource Library, an online, searchable catalog of hundreds of quality resources related to cross-sector collaboration from research organizations, advisory groups, training organizations, academic centers and journals, and other sources. These resources relate to a wide variety of partnership types (from contractual public-private partnerships to community partnerships) and a broad array of issues such as transportation, education, public health and more.

The Intersector Project has made a unique commitment to connecting research to practice by maintaining active relationships with groups in both arenas and working to produce content that brings them together. For example, we publish a research brief that highlights the latest research relevant to cross-sector collaboration, and an in-depth look at one article per month through our Research to Practice series. We also invite scholars to distill their research for our practitioner audience in our Researcher Insights series.

We work to engage with a wide variety of thinkers and practitioners on this topic as well, from designers of innovative public-private partnership mechanisms at NASA to local government managers pursuing improved service delivery for their constituencies. We teach, facilitate, moderate, and lead events with leading membership organizations like the National League of Cities, the American Society for Public Administration, CEOs for Cities, the Alliance for Innovation, the National Association of Counties, and the International City/County Management Association. We also work with leadership development and fellowship organizations like the Presidio Cross-Sector Leadership Fellows and Coro Leadership programs in New York, and with issue-oriented groups like the National Resources Defense Council to provide resources and expertise to personnel who work across sectors.

Throughout our work, we strive to maintain the key features that distinguish us. While many organizations focus on cross-sector collaboration in a global context, our commentary, research, and thinking focuses particularly on the United States. Our work is sector- and issue-neutral, created for practitioners from all sectors working on a range of issues across the nation. Also, because the models and methods for cross-sector collaboration are proliferating, the Intersector Project’s resources speak to the broad array of collaborative approaches that practitioners in the field are actively using to solve problems.

Our NLC University Seminar

This March, we’ll be hosting a NLC University seminar, “An Introduction to the Intersector Process: Cross-sector Collaboration in the Public Sector,” at the 2017 Congressional City Conference. The seminar is designed to introduce public-sector officials and staff to key management tactics for cross-sector collaboration through an interactive training session.

Each sector – and indeed, each entity within the sectors – has its own language, culture, and work practices, which can prove challenging to align when pursuing shared goals in a consensus-oriented environment. Our three-hour training session includes interactive activities designed to help participants deepen their awareness of these differences, commentary on trends relevant to cross-sector collaboration, and a facilitated discussion to support peer learning. It also includes an introduction to the Intersector Project Toolkit as a planning guide designed to assist practitioners in navigating differences between sectors and overcoming barriers to effective partnership.

The session also includes a simulated exercise through which stakeholders will design and negotiate a detailed partnership agreement to create an effective framework within which the partners can work and lay a foundation for sustained collaboration. In the context of a transportation and air quality collaboration comprising 48 organizations, including local, county, and state government, business, environmental interests, community groups, and more, participants will consider key design choices related to decision-making structure, resource allocation, project management and more.

In an era of rising public expectations and declining resources, our NLC University session will equip you with tools and resources to lead effective cross-sector collaborations in your community. We look forward to seeing you in March.

The Intersector Project previously published a CitiesSpeak blog post on Boston’s innovation district.

About the author: The Intersector Project is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower practitioners in the business, government, and nonprofit sectors to collaborate to solve problems that cannot be solved by one sector alone. We present real examples of collaborations in many places and across many issues, and illuminate the tools that make them successful. Visit us at intersector.com, and follow us on Twitter @theintersector.

When It Comes to Innovation, Partnerships Are Key

NLC’s Brooks Rainwater examines federalism in the context of innovation and explains why the Small Business Administration is of critical importance to cities.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters to cities. Part two focused on how affordable housing assistance has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today, while part three examined federalism in the context of the American educational system. Today we’ll look at how local-federal partnerships support innovation and entrepreneurship.

Cities are laboratories for innovation. It’s no secret that it is in cities where local leaders are continuously seeking out innovative solutions for tough problems. We have seen this exhibited particularly well in the small business and startup space. Local leaders are accelerating the unique ideas that make all cities thrive through the development of innovation districts, business incubators and shared working spaces.

The entrepreneurial ecosystems that have sprung up across the country enable cities to leverage existing business and draw in new companies that help foster creativity and technological breakthroughs in our nation’s urban places.

This type of innovation is exhibited in not only the largest metropolitan regions of the country, but also in places like Chattanooga, Tennnessee; Coralville, Iowa; and Kansas City, Missouri. Whether one examines the industry-leading app development in Coralville or the way Chattanooga and Kansas City are leveraging the power of gigabit speed internet as a backbone, these cities show that specialization and nurturing creative home-grown ecosystems works quite well.

In our own recent work on Chattanooga’s innovation district, we found that one of the critical factors for success was clear goals and close coordination between the city, the business community, the university, and the nonprofit sector in order to catalyze success and develop a critical path forward. Utilizing and reimagining the downtown of the city was just one key factor here, with another being the mayoral leadership of Andy Berke tied together with long-standing civic engagement in the community.

The fact that top-selling education apps are coming out of Coralville, Iowa, is not an accident – it took deliberate planning and partnerships. This community is just outside the area referred to as the creative corridor and is thus able to leverage the talent and resources needed to grow. In Kansas City, the Kansas City Startup Village is a great example of an entrepreneurial community that supports the city’s startup ecosystem. With the city’s rollout of Google Fiber tied together with its smart city initiative, there are a number of critical components in place. Thanks to the leadership of Mayor Sly James on these issues and many more, the city is doing the right things to promote entrepreneurialism and grow startup businesses.

This innovation that we observe in cities has a great deal to do with local partnerships. We also need strong partnerships at the state and federal level because they play such an important role in helping innovation and economic development thrive. One key example of this is found in the innovative companies in every corner of the country that are part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, which helps grow amazing companies nationwide.

History of Federal Funding for Small Businesses

The Small Business Administration (SBA) was established in 1953 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as an independent agency with the signing of the Small Business Act. Since then, the agency has been responsible for delivering millions of loans, contracts, counseling sessions and other forms of direct assistance to small businesses. Throughout its history, the SBA has at times been somewhat of a pawn in political chess, with levels of support waxing and waning depending on the administration in power.

Most recently, Linda McMahon, co-founder of World Wrestling Entertainment, was confirmed as the SBA administrator. During her Senate confirmation hearing, Administrator McMahon walked back statements regarding folding the SBA into the Commerce Department, saying her priority in the first few months would be disaster relief programs. With the strong role the SBA plays in supporting entrepreneurialism in cities, the hope is that ongoing partnerships can be maintained and grown in the coming years.

Why the SBA Matters to Cities

The SBA matters to cities for a multitude of reasons. Connecting small businesses with the SBA and SBA-approved lenders is a critical role of many local economic development officials. The SBA has recently been supportive of entrepreneurs in cities by encouraging cities to sign on to Startup in a Day, an effort built in partnership between the SBA and the National League of Cities (NLC) to streamline city permitting and licensing procedures.

The SBA also serves a rebuilding role in cities. It has frequently been called on to revitalize cities struck by riots and unrest, from the Long, Hot Summer of 1967 to Los Angeles in 1992 and Baltimore in 2015. While the amount of support the SBA provides to cities is critical for a number of reasons, at the end of the day the economy of the country is reliant on cities. This is why the federal relationship is so important. The SBA has a loan portfolio of $124 billion, and these dollars are directly related to the nation’s growth. The SBA provides important counseling, educational and technical assistance to cities as well.

A Path Forward for Startups & Innovation in Cities

In thinking about a path forward for startups and growing innovation in cities, it is necessary to reiterate the importance of maintaining and strengthening the federal relationship. If instead of growing this support decisions are made to diminish it, the decreased federal funding available to small businesses will ultimately hurt cities and, therefore, national economic growth.

It is necessary to create a strong plan focused on increasing entrepreneurialism in our country. Statistics show entrepreneurialism is nearing a 40-year low and the pace of IPOs has slowed. However, the nation is in a good position to turn that around – according to a new survey from JPMorgan, the leaders of small- and medium-sized businesses are saying they are more enthusiastic about the U.S. economy in 2017. That survey found that 68 percent of respondents were encouraged about the outlook for local economic conditions, representing an 18-point increase from 2016.

Let’s leverage that potential for growth with startups and others in the entrepreneurial community. Innovation will continue to percolate from the ground up – but in order to truly grow this opportunity, cities need a partner in the White House and in statehouses nationwide to unleash economic dynamism and continue innovating.

To learn more about what NLC is doing in this policy arena – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

About the author: Brooks Rainwater is Senior Executive and Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter @BrooksRainwater.

The Difference Between Serving Startups and Scaleups

City leaders have the power to help local entrepreneurs start, scale, and retain their businesses – but each stage of development calls for different tactics.

(Getty Images)

Local elected officials have the influence required to pull specific city policy levers and build a supportive environment for small businesses and startups. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Penny Lewandowski, a NLC University seminar speaker. The post was originally published here.

In the business arena, one size does not always fit all. Businesses come in different sizes, with different needs, cultures, methods of learning, and ways of communicating. And while it can be tempting for city officials to develop programs designed to serve everyone, this easy-way-out approach can be a quick road to failure – particularly with growth businesses that are often ignored simply because they are perceived as more challenging to serve.

Startups and small businesses are hungry – for information, for basic help, and to be around anyone who has taken the path before them and has lessons to share. Their issues are more operational than strategic, and a one-to-many approach works well since many of them are looking for the same thing. Startups are often willing to accept advice – and they love to network, so the more the merrier.

Second-stage businesses, or scaleups – those with 10 to 99 employees and revenues around $1 million to $50 million – face very different issues that are more strategic than operational. They are expanding their teams and markets and are sometimes in the process of diversifying industries. Scaleups are less likely to accept advice because there is a good chance they’ve already cultivated trusted sources of information.

So who do second-stage businesses trust? Their peers. Demonstrate you appreciate their differences by developing peer-to-peer networks such as CEO roundtables and putting them in front of research experts on strategic growth issues around market identification and expansion, competitor intelligence and digital marketing.

And when it comes to networking, growth companies are more selective. You’ll not likely find them at your after-hours social/networking events. Instead, get them together with a successful third-stage company willing to share their experiences – and watch the room light up. If you’re still stumped on how to serve these folks, just ask them what they need. I’ve seen amazingly innovative programs arise from one question: “What kept you up last night?”

Regardless of who you’re serving, remember the importance of speed to market. By the time you’ve finished your third study and sixth focus group, these folks have moved on to greener and speedier pastures, and you’re not likely to get them back. Gather information, get feedback, and get moving. While a one-size-fits-all approach sounds appealing, your companies will thank you for going the extra mile to understand how different they really are.

Copyright © Edward Lowe Foundation. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

penny_lewandowski_125x150About the author: Penny Lewandowski is a senior consultant on external relations at the Edward Lowe Foundation. She is also a National League of Cities University (NLCU) seminar speaker at the 2017 Congressional City Conference. Click here to send Penny comments; click here to subscribe to her blog.

The City of Wichita Leads the Way in Career and Technical Education

Competing in a global economy demands that we continue supporting manufacturing areas by providing skilled workers with certificates and degrees from qualified community and technical colleges.

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A 2013 report by the Brookings Institution reported that the city of Wichita was one of three American cities which had the largest share of STEM jobs not requiring a four-year degree. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Mayor Jeff Longwell. This is the first post in a series about the Mayors’ Education Task Force.

As the mayor of Wichita, Kansas, I have seen the importance of investing in Career and Technical Education (CTE). At NLC’s recent Mayors’ Education Task Force meeting, I emphasized the role of local leaders in developing opportunities for youth and adults to gain meaningful employment in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) disciplines and technical industries. In Wichita, we have experienced the value of CTE as a conduit for rewarding careers in the fields of automotive maintenance and technology, advanced manufacturing, information technology, climate and energy control, and healthcare.

Wichita is known as the “Air Capital” of the world because of our expansive global aviation supply chain. Many of the early aviation pioneers came from, or have roots in, Kansas. This has enabled Wichita to also pioneer new technologies in advanced manufacturing, such as 3-D printing and robotics.

The specialized technical education required for these jobs often can be completed in a one- to two-year program. It is precisely these career technical education programs that are important to creating a successful and available workforce. Competing in a global economy demands that we continue supporting manufacturing areas by providing skilled workers with certificates and degrees from qualified community and technical colleges.

In 2013, the Brookings Institution reported that the cities of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Birmingham, Alabama, and Wichita had the largest share of STEM jobs not requiring a four-year degree. This report also found that half of STEM jobs do not require a four-year degree, although they pay 10 percent more on average than jobs with similar educational requirements. This knowledge has been a strength of our local economy for many decades, and it has helped build our industries and improve our citizens’ lives. Cities across our nation could benefit from increased access to quality credential programs and career pathways.

The state of Kansas recognized this several years ago and created scholarships that encourage people to obtain a variety of two-year technical certificates and degrees that help to grow our economy. The Kansas Department of Education prepares secondary students for this opportunity by using the National Career Cluster Model, grouping similar job skills into 16 fields of studies as Career Clusters. By developing structured career pathways, Kansas secondary students can access further education and employment opportunities right after high school graduation. The career pathways offered are developed in collaboration with business and industry leaders to ensure relevant and trade-worthy skills are embedded into the CTE secondary curriculum.

In Kansas, skilled automotive technicians who have completed a two-year education program can often earn six-figure salaries in the industry within the first few years of their career. Even with this reality, we see many industries and companies struggle to find people with the proper credentials and technical education to fill these jobs.

Here in Wichita, we are proud to have a leading example in our Wichita Area Technical College (WATC). This nationally-recognized technical college recently launched the Wichita Promise, a scholarship program that pays tuition and fees for training and certification for specific high-wage, high-demand jobs. Recently launched in 2016, the program works with local employers and provides personal career coaching and a guaranteed interview upon completion. WATC also works with our local high schools, providing students access to low-cost or free college and technical courses before students even graduate from high school.

In partnership with the new presidential administration and CTE advocates across the nation, I believe that adequate funding and marketing strategies can encourage education leaders, high school counselors, students and parents to explore a career and technical education pathway.

The critical requirement is that state and federal lawmakers support access to these opportunities and promote quality one- to two-year career technical education programs for adults and young people graduating high school. City leaders like myself have an important leadership role to play in guiding the momentum of our communities’ economic growth. With CTE, we can help employers find a ready and skilled workforce in our cities and improve citizens’ access to training and education, preparing them for quality, well-paying careers.

About the author: Mayor Jeff Longwell was elected to office in April 2015 and sits on NLC’s Mayors’ Education Task Force. He is a long-time resident of Wichita, having grown up in a west-side neighborhood and attended West High School and Wichita State University. Mayor Longwell began his community involvement as a member of the Board of Education at the Maize School, where his children attended school.

How Cities Can Support & Finance a Culture of Health

What does it take to ensure cities are healthier places to live, learn, work and play? A strategy that engages the right stakeholders.

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Cities can create a Culture of Health by implementing a comprehensive approach that puts the health and well-being of all residents front and center. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Kevin Barnett, Colby Dailey and Sue Pechilio Polis.

When leaders in local government, community development, and the health care system came together to develop a plan for rehabilitating a historic building – the Swift Factory in North Hartford, Connecticut – they viewed the building as a potential hub for community health.

Community Solutions partnered with the city, state, Saint Francis Hospital, and others to engage the community in dialogues about their health needs and concerns. Using resident feedback as a guide, they began the process of designing a building that will serve as a neighborhood hub for job creation, food production and health promotion. “We have the opportunity to reinvigorate one of the poorest communities in Connecticut,” said Rick Brush, CEO of Wellville and Director at Community Solutions. “Support from the city and state government was critical to bring together the collective vision, resources and innovative financing needed for success.”

Now more than ever – given tight budgets and fiscal constraints in cities – it’s critical for leaders and stakeholders to work together. Community anchor institutions such as hospitals are often one of the largest employers in communities and are essential partners in community health improvement efforts. Likewise, community development financial institutions (CDFI’s) also play a key role in financing strategies to improve neighborhoods and ensure better access in vulnerable communities to health improving resources, services and supports.

Here are two specific strategies cities can use to engage with these stakeholders:

Engaging Hospitals as Partners

The following strategies can help city leaders expand the depth and breadth of their existing relationships with hospitals to build healthier communities.

  1. Review Hospital Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA’s). Give attention to how hospitals define their geographic communities (required by the IRS) and the degree to which their geographic parameters are inclusive of census tracts where poverty and associated health disparities are concentrated. In their analysis of population health dynamics, do they identify disparities by race and ethnicity only, or do they identify the communities where these populations are concentrated? An excellent public access tool to assist in the identification of these census tracts, hospital locations and other relevant factors is the Vulnerable Populations Footprint (VPF) tool.
  2. Compare CHNAs to Other Assessments. Review other assessments conducted by a variety of organizations (e.g., local public health agencies, United Ways, Community Action Agencies, Federally Qualified Health Centers) to identify opportunities for alignment of priorities and programs.
  3. Review Hospital Implementation Strategies (IS). Determine whether the programs outlined in the IS indicate a focus in communities where disparities are concentrated, or are they framed as “serving the community at large,” with broad dispersion of limited resources at the city, county or other broad geographic parameters. This provides an invaluable entry point for dialogue and analysis into ways in which resources of multiple organizations and entities may be better aligned and focused in order to produce a measurable impact.
  4. Focus on the Social Determinants of Health. Develop a matrix of priorities across organizations to identify potential alignment with city efforts to address various social determinants of health, including land use, affordable housing, food systems, transportation, planning with a focus on links to jobs, and livable wages.
  5. Build a Shared Sense of Ownership for Health. In an environment of increased transparency and public scrutiny, it is important to communicate an ethic of shared ownership for health in the engagement of hospital leaders. Communicate an interest in coming together to solve complex problems and optimally leverage the limited resources of diverse stakeholders including nonprofits, community development financial institutions (CDFI’s), city agencies, etc. Hospital leaders need to understand that the city and other stakeholders will be partners in the allocation of resources, including the development of public policies that offer the potential to scale and sustain positive outcomes.
  6. Build Capital to Support Community and Economic Development Projects. City leaders can set the tone for hospitals to consider investments in community infrastructure through tax incentives, loans, assistance with the permitting process, and informing development to ensure it meets the concerns of residents.

Engaging Community Development Financial Institutions

As city leaders look for ways to spur and leverage resources to ensure improvements in neighborhoods to promote improved health and safety, another key partner are Community Development sector actors, including Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFI’s) that bring investment capital and Community Development Corporations (CDC) that bring deep knowledge of a community needs and assets. The Community Development sector is in the leveraging business and can often help stretch limited resources through innovative financing including tax credits (e.g. new market tax credits), investment products (e.g. Healthy Futures Fund), and low-interest loans. As city leaders and staff consider outreach to local CDFI’s and CDCs, some good initial steps include:

Mayors, city leaders, hospitals and CDFIs can leverage and bolster each other’s efforts. By engaging with one another, identifying common ground, and collaborating across sectors, they can join forces to advance health equity and opportunity, creating communities where all people can live rewarding and healthy lives.

About the authors:

kevin-barnett-headshot_125x150Kevin Barnett, DrPH, MCP is a senior investigator with the Public Health Institute. Kevin has conducted applied research and fieldwork on two distinct but related issues: the charitable obligations of nonprofit hospitals and the diversity of the health professions workforce. Email him at kevinpb@pacbell.net.

colby_dailey-headshot-125x150Colby Dailey is the Managing Director of the Build Healthy Places Network and has worked for over a decade spearheading local, national, and global initiatives while cultivating and guiding cross-sector collaborations for collective measurable impact. Email her at cdailey@buildhealthyplaces.org.

sue_polis_125x150Sue Pechilio Polis is responsible for directing the health and wellness portfolio for the National League of Cities (NLC) as part of the Institute for Youth, Education and Families. Email her at polis@nlc.org.

Cities Can Lead National Effort to Get More Young People Working Again

Here are three specific areas in which cities and their partners can continue to demonstrate effective practices, adopt supportive policies, and determine what’s needed to grow initiatives that benefit more youth.

(Getty Images)

Working constitutes a critically needed developmental experience, puts money in the pockets of youth and their families to spend locally, and builds social capital that pays off over the long term. (Getty Images)

“A country for all, and all working when able.” If more city leaders were to adopt this vision – along with those of us providing support and assistance at the national level – we could continue to build effective local stair-step responses to a nagging national dilemma: nearly six million youth and young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 remain out of school and out of work, and less than 50 percent of youth work each summer.

As we enter into a new era of national politics, it’s wise to recall that the federal government has a critical role in assuring high quality and fairness nationwide in areas such as housing, health care, infrastructure and the environment, under an umbrella characterized by equal justice, equal opportunity, and improved outcomes for lagging groups. And when it comes to scaling what’s effective or signaling what’s important, the federal government has no peer. Yet the intensity of a presidential campaign and transition taking place in a 24-hour news cycle has a distorting effect worth noting that, too often, obliterates individuals’ sense of agency and conveys instead that “it all comes down to what happens in Washington, D.C.”

In fact, in policy areas essential to getting more young people working, cities and their partners can continue to demonstrate effective practices, adopt supportive policies, and determine what’s needed to grow initiatives to benefit still more youth – with more long-term impact. For instance, three areas to consider:

  • Reengagement of Out-of-School Youth: Over the past several years, mayors and other city leaders across the country have jumped at the opportunity to institute structured approaches to help young people finish school so they can reach the baseline qualification needed just to enter the labor market. Those same leaders also witness the persistently high cost of school dropout and pushout along dimensions ranging from public budgets to neighborhood efficacy. With too many young people still not finishing high school, and concentration of that effect in people of color and low-income communities, cities and towns have plenty of reasons to advocate for and support comprehensive reengagement initiatives. Even as the past year has seen an uptick in federal attention to reengagement, local energy and funds will continue to drive the spread of reengagement beyond its presence in some 20 cities and two states.
  • Summer Youth Employment: Mayors and the cities they lead stand at the vanguard of efforts to reduce the catastrophic recent trend of declining work experience for youth and young adults. Working constitutes a critically needed developmental experience, puts money in the pockets of youth and their families to spend locally, and builds social capital that pays off over the long term. Efforts to grow high-quality local youth hiring initiatives with the all-in participation of city governments and private sector employers might smartly leverage some federal funds, but ultimately will not depend on federal sources. Showing the benefits of bringing a new focus to summer jobs programs, to ensure that young people who need jobs the most get jobs – alternative school students, for example – must begin at the local level.
  • Juvenile Justice Reform and Jail Reduction: Cities have begun to join county and state partners in efforts to hold youth and young adults accountable in developmentally appropriate ways. In keeping with the goal of getting young people to work, reducing justice system involvement and attendant long-tail records removes a potentially significant barrier to employment. For those who do develop records, Ban the Box and similar strategies playing out mainly at the local level hold promise as tools for effective reintegration.

Meanwhile, as elements of city government, police departments have a particularly prominent role in shifting what happens at the first moments of contact between an officer and a young person, in most cases away from an emphasis on arrest and toward increased supports or formal diversion and restorative justice. Federal support could promote continued peer learning and sharing about police training, diversion, and related practices, yet has not proven essential in instituting reforms to date. Building out a robust continuum of supports and services for youth – with the major exception of mental and behavioral health services supported by Medicaid – remains a largely local and locally-funded task, alongside training and support for police officers.

Demonstrated local success in these three areas (and others) will “trickle up” to the state and federal levels.  The portion of the youth development field focused on older youth has at least six million reasons to continue generating such concrete successes.

Andrew Moore About the author: Andrew Moore is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Kitchen and Farm Incubators Support Access to Local Food Systems

NLC’s newest municipal action guide provides an overview of food incubator programs as well as guidance on how local governments can support these emerging strategies to promote local entrepreneurship and strengthen local food systems.

(photo: A Muse Photography, courtesy of Union Kitchen)

Union Kitchen, a food incubator in Washington, D.C., provides food businesses with a professionally maintained commercial kitchen space as well as services to help grow and accelerate their business. (photo: A Muse Photography, courtesy of Union Kitchen)

As the American Heart Association kicks off national American Heart Month, we are reminded about the importance of accessing healthy and affordable food. Whether it’s from a local grocer, food truck, or farmer’s market, the freshest and most nutritious meals are most often sourced, prepared, and served locally. In addition to the obvious health benefits, there are also economic gains when cities support access to local food systems and local food entrepreneurs. That is why so many communities are supporting food-based businesses, particularly through the creation of food business incubator programs.

For years, co-working spaces and incubator programs have accelerated the growth of technology-based startups. Now, this concept of providing entrepreneurs with shared working space, mentorship, and education is increasingly being translated into food-based business incubators. The type of assistance provided to food entrepreneurs includes access to a shared workspace, education programs on how to run a business, and mentors who can deliver industry-specific guidance.

Kitchen incubators and farm incubators are two programs for food-based entrepreneurs. These food-centric programs support individuals in their efforts to launch or grow a business in the food industry, which could include opening a restaurant, food truck, or catering service, as well as selling products at grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and online.

A new action guide from the National League of Cities, “Food-Based Business Incubator Programs,” provides an overview of kitchen and farm incubator programs, as well as guidance on how local governments can support these emerging strategies to promote local entrepreneurship and strengthen local food systems.

Below is a Q&A with several of the practitioners and experts who helped inform the guidebook. Read on to learn more about why food-based incubators are so important for their communities.

Why are food incubators important?

Cullen Gilchrist, CEO of Union Kitchen: Food incubators allow startup businesses to gain access to the resources, tools, and connections necessary to launch a successful business. At Union Kitchen, we build successful food businesses. We provide the professionally maintained commercial kitchen space that all food businesses need, but we differentiate ourselves by offering the services that businesses need to grow and accelerate their business. Our distribution company and retail outlets reduce the risk of failure for these businesses and supports them in establishing a strong baseline of success. We define our success by the revenues and profits we create, the businesses we grow, the jobs we create, the economic impact we have, and the employment training we deliver.

Chris Hiryak, Director of Little Rock Urban Farming: Food incubators are where the next generation of agriculturally informed citizens will be inspired, educated and instilled with the principles and values necessary to meet the challenge of creating a just and equitable food system in the 21st century.

New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS): Food incubators provide food entrepreneurs with critical resources for building their businesses. Securing a private space to produce food commercially is a major financial and logistical barrier for start-ups. Financing the renovation of a production space with specific capabilities is even more costly and more of a risk. Incubators help food entrepreneurs avoid these hurdles by providing access to a licensed and regulated commercial kitchen space. This allows these small businesses to scale up to larger orders, receive assistance from qualified incubator staff, and network with other entrepreneurs utilizing the space.

What was the biggest challenge in launching the program/incubator?

Cullen Gilchrist, CEO of Union Kitchen: The greatest challenge has been to create an effective local food system that promotes supply and demand for local products, but that also delivers on the logistics necessary to be a successful operator in the food industry. We are creating the demand and supply for local products through our Grocery stores, and we need our distribution company’s operations to be strong enough to support this demand.

Chris Hiryak, Director of Little Rock Urban Farming: The biggest challenge in starting our urban farm project was learning to manage a small business.

New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS): Through community outreach, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) identified a trend of residents having food business backgrounds and interest in jumpstarting food-related businesses. At the same time, NYCHA recognized it would need support in gaining the necessary business education, funding, and accessing a regulated commercial kitchen space. SBS was able to address these challenges by creating the NYCHA Food Business Pathways program, in partnership with other key supporters. NYCHA resident participants in Food Business Pathways receive 8 weeks of training on business practices and food industry specific topics. The program teaches participants about kitchen incubators, provides assistance to participants on applying for space in incubators, and offers grants that allow graduates to rent space at the incubators for no cost. Grant funding also covers the cost of required licenses and permits for the training graduates.

(photos courtesy of Union Kitchen)

(left) Chris Hiryak of Little Rock Urban Farming. (center and right) Union Kitchen in Washington, D.C.

How did your local government support or assist the creation of your program/incubator?

Cullen Gilchrist, CEO of Union Kitchen: The local D.C. government has been essential in supporting us through the permitting and licensing process. They have played an integral role in training D.C. residents to work for us and our Member businesses through subsidized training programs and initiatives.

Chris Hiryak, Director of Little Rock Urban Farming: Mayor Mark Stodola of Little Rock appointed me to the Little Rock Sustainability Commission, where as the Chairman of the Urban Agriculture committee, I have been able to make recommendations to the City of Little Rock Board of Directors related to urban agriculture policy. This has allowed us to have an ongoing dialogue with city staff and officials to ensure that all urban agriculture projects in Little Rock are supported.

New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS): The Department of Small Business Services (SBS) works to help small businesses, launch, grow and thrive in New York City through various services and initiatives. SBS’ Food Business Pathways program works directly with NYCHA to meet the recognized needs of residents. This collaboration grew to include several other entities; Citi Community Development provided funding for the program, the New York City Economic Development Corporation provided funding and connections to NYC kitchen incubators, and Hot Bread Kitchen provided technical assistance and access to their commercial kitchen incubator.

What are one or two success stories of businesses created in your incubator program?

Cullen Gilchrist, CEO of Union Kitchen: Over the past four years, current and alumni Union Kitchen Members have collectively opened and operated nearly 70 storefronts in the D.C. region and have developed over 400 unique products. Approximately one third of our current Member businesses are distributing their products with Union Kitchen to nearly 200 retail locations in the region, including 25 Whole Foods Stores. We have seen our Members grow their businesses rapidly and successfully and are proud to support their ongoing success as distribution and retail partners. One of Union Kitchen’s first Members, TaKorean now has three storefronts and a fourth one on the way in 2017. What started as a food truck peddling unique Korean-inspired tacos has become one of D.C.’s most popular fast casual concepts.

New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS): Joann Poe, owner of Joann’s Elegant Cakes, participated in the Food Business Pathways program and won a grant that provided her with free use of the kitchen incubator, Hot Bread Kitchen, in Harlem. Use of the food incubator led to Joan building up the capacity of her business which ultimately catalyzed growth and allowed her to contract with clients such as the City of New York, Citibank, and Kate Spade.

About the Author: Emily Robbins is Principal Associate for Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter @robbins617.

How Six Cities Are Pursuing Equity and Innovation in Economic Development

The participants in NLC’s Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship are tackling unemployment, low income levels, and workforce-related issues in their communities – but each city is employing different tactics.

This week, NLC staff is heading to Houston, one of six cities in our inaugural class of EED Fellowship participants. Our plan is to further provide technical assistance to help the city pursue economic development goals. (Getty Images)

This week, NLC staff is heading to Houston, one of six cities in our inaugural class of EED Fellowship participants. Our plan is to further provide technical assistance to help the city pursue economic development goals. (Getty Images)

The need for equitable economic development programs is dire. The National League of Cities‘ (NLC) new president, Matt Zone, councilmember from Cleveland, Ohio, launched a new NLC Task Force on Economic Mobility and Opportunity at City Summit in Pittsburgh towards the end of last year. According to the Brookings Institute, states and localities spend $50 to $80 billion on tax breaks and incentives each year in the name of economic development, despite a mountain of evidence showing that tax incentives produce mostly marginal returns. These traditional approaches to economic development by local governments have not benefited all populations – and, in many cases, the policies and programs have particularly neglected or even shortchanged people of color, immigrants, and low income communities. Cities need to be intentional about targeting their economic development programs, funding and policies at the specific populations and neighborhoods that are increasingly distant from the growth sectors of their regional and city economies.

To that end, the National League of Cities (NLC), together with PolicyLink and the Urban Land Institute (ULI), launched the Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship last year with the generous support of the Surdna and Open Societies Foundations. Specifically, the EED Fellowship provides one year of technical assistance to a class of six cities to help them pursue more equitable and inclusive economic development policies and programs in traditionally underserved communities – those that have the highest levels of unemployment, lowest levels of income and educational attainment, and represent the highest needs for job- and workforce-related programs in the city. Through leadership development, technical assistance, peer learning and sharing best practices, the fellowship provides city leaders with insights and tools to make equity, transparency, sustainability, innovation, and community engagement driving forces for how they conduct economic development and bring an intentional focus on communities that have been historically disconnected from economic growth and prosperity.

The EED Fellowship kicked off in June 2016 with a two-day retreat, during which the EED Fellows presented the group with one specific project in their economic development agenda on which they would focus during the course of the fellowship. Later in the fall, EED program staff conducted scoping visits to each of the cities, during which they introduced the fellowship and its goals to senior city officials, departments and agencies, met with community or government stakeholders, and advised the EED city fellows to finalize the scope of fellowship project. Two EED fellows from each city then met for a second convening at which they presented a project update to their EED fellowship peers. The mid-year retreat also included sessions with leading experts on economic development issues.

Throughout the year, the EED Fellowship also offers technical assistance via webinars on different topics identified by the six cities. Some of the topics covered include: 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 package.

The inaugural EED Fellowship class consists of three fellows from the cities of Boston, Charlotte, Houston, Memphis, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. Below is a quick summary of each city project, as well as a list of the three EED Fellows from each city:

Boston

The city of Boston is interested in exploring the intentional support of worker co-operatives in the private sector by developing and expanding access to capital and technical assistance for existing worker co-ops and ensuring that new firms focus on promising growth sectors.

  • Joyce Linehan, Chief of Policy, Office of Mayor Martin J. Walsh
  • Trinh Nguyen, Director, Office of Workforce Development
  • John Smith, Policy Analyst, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development

Charlotte

The city of Charlotte is seeking address its economic mobility gap – and encourage investment and involvement of the private sector in addressing the problem – with a set of tactical programs and larger-scale economic development policy reforms. Charlotte hopes these initiatives will allow it to learn about innovative evaluation practices, identify model programs and best practices that address these challenges, better evaluate small-business capacity and connectivity, and measure whether these initiatives are helping to close the gap.

  • Ann Wall, Assistant City Manager
  • Kevin Dick, Economic Development Director, Neighborhood & Business Services, Economic Development Division
  • Holly Eskridge, Entrepreneurship and Small Business Manager, Neighborhood & Business Services, Economic Development Division

Houston

The city of Houston is seeking to focus its economic development activities in the traditionally underserved communities located generally east of downtown, which have the highest levels of unemployment, lowest levels of income and educational attainment, and represent the highest needs for job- and workforce- related programs in the city.

  • Andrew Icken, Chief Development Officer
  • Gwendolyn Tillotson, Deputy Director, Economic Development Department
  • Carnell Emanuel, Staff Analyst, Economic Development Department

Memphis:

The city of Memphis is seeking to address a vacancy problem in commercial buildings that also facilitates the growth of neighborhood-scale businesses. While Memphis has experienced considerable economic growth in the last decade, very little has been occurring in its low-income neighborhoods.

  • Doug McGowen, Chief Operating Officer
  • Paul Young, Director, Division of Housing and Community Development,
  • Joann Massey, Director, Office of Business Diversity and Compliance

Milwaukee:

The city of Milwaukee is seeking to create a framework that matches responsible development entities that own, renovate and manage their portfolio of foreclosed small mixed-use buildings with entrepreneurs who want to open a business in a commercial space and possibly occupy residential units in that space. The city currently owns, manages and markets a large portfolio of foreclosed properties, mostly located in distressed low-income neighborhoods.

  • Martha Brown, Deputy Commissioner, Department of City Development
  • Ken Little, Commercial Corridor Manager, Department of City Development
  • Matt Haessly, Real Estate Specialist, Department of City Development

Minneapolis:

The city of Minneapolis is seeking to pilot a capital access project for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged businesses located in north Minneapolis, where disparities are worse than the Minnesota state average. The city’s Access to Capital is a formalized program that helps provide qualified Minneapolis businesses owned by people of color with access to financial and knowledge capital at a level they have not previously had, and would not likely have but for the program. The Access to Capital program will bring together potential investors, funders and lenders to offer deal packages that provide documentation and use systems already in place to fund qualified businesses that participate in the program.

  • Craig Taylor, Director, Community Planning and Economic Development
  • David Frank, Economic Development Director
  • Jim Terrell, Senior Project Coordinator, Community Planning & Economic Development

This spring, the EED program staff is planning our next round of scoping visits to each of the cities above. These scoping visits are intended to further assist each of the six cities with their program and provide them with access to subject matter experts recruited from our networks. The visiting technical team will include subject matter experts and practitioners, EED fellows from other cities, and program staff from NLC, ULI, and Policylink. We look forward to finishing our work with our current class and announcing our next class this spring – stay tuned!

carlos_delgado_125x150About the author: Carlos Delgado is the Senior Associate for the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use at the National League of Cities.

An Inside Look at How Cities Win Investment Projects

When a company chooses a location for a major relocation or expansion, the details behind the decision aren’t often divulged in the media. This new podcast gives listeners an inside look at the site selection process, and the stories behind how the location was selected and what it took to close the deal.

Downtown Reno, Nevada, where one of the podcast guests chose to locate their startup due in large part to the city's warmth and welcoming small business environment. (Getty Images)

Downtown Reno, Nevada, where one of the companies profiled in the podcast chose to locate their startup due in large part to the city’s welcoming small business environment. (DenisTangneyJr/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Andy Levine and Patience Fairbrother.

In September 2016, Alorica, a California-based customer engagement company worth $2 billion with 92,000 employees across the country, announced plans to establish an 830-employee customer engagement center in Owensboro, Kentucky, marking the largest economic development project in the city’s history.

If you saw the announcement in the media, you probably read about the projected job numbers and heard glowing quotes from company and community officials. What the press release didn’t tell you, however, is that the project almost didn’t happen. In fact, the facility that the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corporation (GO-EDC) originally intended for Alorica was exactly the opposite of what the company was looking for. It was, as Greg Bush, Divisional Vice President at Alorica, put it, “the same old thing.”

Closing the Deal

The story behind Owensboro’s successful but bumpy road to winning the investment was featured on an episode of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions,” a new podcast from Development Counsellors International (DCI) that gives listeners an inside look at how cities compete for corporate relocation and expansion projects. Every two weeks, the podcast features a recent corporate location decision and interviews with company executives, site selection consultants, and economic developers that reveal how the location was selected and what it took to close the deal.

 Greg Bush, Divisional Vice President at Alorica addresses a crowd in Owensboro, Ky., where the company announced plans to locate a massive customer engagement center. (photo: 44News)


Greg Bush, Divisional Vice President at Alorica, addresses a crowd in Owensboro, Kentucky, where the company announced plans to locate a massive customer engagement center. (photo: 44News)

The saving grace for the City of Owensboro, as the podcast revealed, was that the company’s project team fell in love with the city’s vibrant downtown, which Owensboro has spent more than $120 million to redevelop over the last seven years.

Greg Bush and consultant Jeff Pappas, Principal at E. Smith Realty, another key player in the project team, arrived in town the night before the site visit and instantly saw a place for Alorica downtown. The next day, they told Madison Silvert, President and CEO of GO-EDC, that they had to be downtown, or there was no deal.

Silvert, a bow-tie wearing lawyer turned economic developer, sprung into action to make the deal happen for the city. He called the owner of an old BB&T building downtown – a facility that he thought just might work for their significant size requirements – and set up a meeting for that day.

Lessons Learned

As Alorica tells it, Owensboro’s ability to switch gears and move very quickly to Plan B was what sealed the deal for the company.

This kind of detail – the kind that you don’t read about in a press release – is what makes “The Project” podcast unique. Seldom do city, state and economic development officials have the opportunity to hear directly from companies in a candid manner about the obstacles, pitfalls and turning points behind these complicated decisions – not to mention the “lessons learned” from their peers in the competition for jobs and investment.

In one episode which profiles Dana Incorporated’s decision to locate a $70 million manufacturing plant in Toledo, Ohio, the company reveals that, if the community hadn’t had the foresight to build a 100,000-square-foot spec building, the deal would have gone somewhere else.

In another, a women-run startup reveals that they chose Reno, Nevada, over locating in Silicon Valley because the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN) went above and beyond to roll out the red carpet for the company during their visit. A key turning point for the project was a casual dinner where local business leaders joined the startup owners to talk frankly about the local business climate and their experiences operating there.

The Human Side of Corporate Location Decisions

An added bonus of hearing these stories directly from the key players involved is that it paints a more human picture of these seemingly inhuman, data-driven decisions. How does the project team celebrate when a major deal goes through? Madison Silvert says his first instinct was to go to church when he found out Owensboro had won the Alorica project.

In another episode, which features iCIMS’s decision to locate in a former research laboratory in New Jersey, the central characters make a deal to purchase a 30-year-old bottle of Macallan, which they joke will become a 31-year-old bottle if negotiations go on for much longer.

Ultimately, whether it’s over a bible or a glass of scotch, the characters featured on “The Project” have a happy ending and a wealth of insight for anyone dedicated to creating jobs and investment in their community.

andy_levine_and_patience_fairbrother_200x150About the authors: Andy Levine is the President and Chief Creative Officer of DCI and creator of “The Project” podcast. Follow Andy on Twitter at @DCI_Andy. Patience Fairbrother is a Senior Account Executive at DCI and producer of “The Project” podcast. Follow Patience on Twitter at @Patience_Fair.