NLC, LinkedIn Use Data to Help Six Cities Expand Access to Higher Education and Workforce Development

“Cities will be able to look at the broader landscape of employers, higher education institutions, jobs and local skill sets, and connect these data points to better understand the trends showing how individual residents are connecting to education and gaining meaningful employment.”

Together with the Kresge Foundation, NLC is working to create opportunities in education and employment by partnering with LinkedIn to use data-driven solutions to support local economies. (Getty Images)

As part of the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ Kresge Foundation-funded work, the National League of Cities (NLC) has teamed up with LinkedIn to provide six cities data support in their efforts to increase postsecondary and workforce success in their communities.

The partnership gives the cities — Austin, Texas; Charleston, South Carolina; Corpus Christi, Texas; Houston, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; and Nashville, Tennessee — access to LinkedIn data and resources such as the LinkedIn Workforce Report. These insights include whether hiring in the city is up or down, which skills workers have and employers need most (and the gap between the two), and how many people are moving in and out of cities (and what their skills are).

”Cities will be able to look at the broader landscape of employers, higher education institutions, jobs and local skill sets, and connect these data points to better understand the trends showing how individual residents are connecting to education and gaining meaningful employment. We define skills gaps as the mismatch between the skills workers have and the skills employers need. Skills gaps are local, and specific to individual cities. When cities know which skills are in local demand, they can create workforce development programs that are responsive to the needs of both workers and employers, and ultimately boost employment and productivity,” said Nicole Isaac, LinkedIn’s head of U.S. policy. “We are excited to be able to share these types of insights with our partner cities.”

NLC believes its partnership with LinkedIn and the structure of the city teams participating in the technical assistance cohort will help local stakeholders, including city governments, to come together to find meaningful and sustainable solutions for their communities.

“Over and over again, we stress to our cities the importance of using data to develop and strengthen policy, as well as the need for critical partnerships with local stakeholders,” said National League of Cities CEO and Executive Director Clarence E. Anthony. “Our partnership with LinkedIn in this Kresge-funded work epitomizes this approach. City leaders working with teams that include higher education and Chamber of Commerce partners, as well as NLC and LinkedIn experts, will be able to use local data to craft programs that ensure their residents have equitable access to postsecondary education and workforce success.”

To participate in this NLC technical assistance cohort, city teams are required to include representatives from local institutions of higher education and the local chamber of commerce. In understanding the role of cities as economic engines, mayors and their partners will work together to ensure pathways exist for all citizens to earn both education and employment, with the ultimate goal of building vibrant local economies.

“The partnership with the NLC comes at a great time — really, an ideal time — to connect the dots on what we’re already doing around the city,” said Gilda Ramirez, vice president of small business and education for the United Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce. “We have such a wonderful economic forecast, so we’re setting out our career pathways and preparing our workforce.”

These civic leaders from government, business and higher education know that a college-educated community brings both personal and citywide benefits. On average, an individual who earns a four-year degree contributes $278,000 more over their lifetime to a local economy than a high school graduate, and an associate’s degree earner contributes $81,000 more, according to the Brookings Institution and an analysis of U.S. Census data. NLC is well positioned to create pathways to opportunity, working alongside local government, chambers of commerce and higher education to increase postsecondary and workforce success, and through this partnership with LinkedIn looks to find scalable solutions for cities beyond the six taking part in the technical assistance cohort.

Learn more about NLC’s work in this arena and get the latest updates here.

About the author: Dana D’Orazio is the program manager for postsecondary education at the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

President’s Budget Threatens Cities’ Ability to Act on Environmental & Infrastructure Issues

Cuts in the administration’s budget proposal threaten funds that cities rely on to invest in water management, clean energy and revitalization efforts across the country. Here’s how these cuts could impact your city.

Proposed cuts to regional water restoration programs would cost local governments $427 million in funds to help clean up waterways and natural environments like the Chesapeake Bay. (Getty Images)

This April recess, NLC is encouraging city leaders to engage with their members of Congress while they are at home in their districts for two weeks. Don’t let Congress leave America’s cities behind — join us this week and next as we #FightTheCuts proposed in the administration’s budget.

This post was co-authored by Mayor James Diossa, Peter Friedrichs and Will Downie. It is part of a series on the 2018 federal budget.

Proposed cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) threaten the funds that cities of all sizes rely on to invest in water management, clean energy and revitalization efforts across the country, with many of the programs directly benefiting the most vulnerable members of society. Here’s how these cuts could impact your city.

Water

While President Donald Trump’s proposal increases funding for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund programs and calls for level funding for WIFIA — a loan and loan guarantee program for large water infrastructure projects — it eliminates the Rural Utilities Services’ Water and Waste Water Loan and Grant Program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program provides critical funds for rural communities across the country to maintain water infrastructure and address their unique water needs. Together, these water infrastructure programs helped small cities like Garber, Oklahoma, (population 842) protect their community’s drinking water by replacing aged water pipes and large cities like Boston (population 645,966) complete a landfill closure and reduce rainwater infiltration.

Regional water restoration programs like the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay Initiative are also slated for elimination — a move that would cost local governments $427 million in funds to help clean up waterways and natural environments. These funds allowed the village of Shorewood, Wisconsin, to reduce contamination at Atwater Beach by investing in improved sewer systems and the city of Port Huron, Michigan, to restore 5,000 square feet of fish habitat and provide recreation areas for residents. Even if funding is slashed, cities will still have to meet the federal requirements for pollution reduction, creating an unfunded mandate.

Land

Although not specifically mentioned in the proposal, two key programs that help local governments establish local parks and greenways and revitalize abandoned properties may face cuts: the Land Conservation Fund and the Brownfields Redevelopment Program. The DOI Land and Water Conservation Fund helped the city of Seattle develop its now famous Gasworks Park. Without the assistance, the city would not have been able to transform an old gasification plant and its surrounding area into one of Seattle’s landmark public spaces. Meanwhile, the city of Central Falls, Rhode Island, was able to use a $200,000 EPA Brownfields grant to restore an abandoned mill building into successful mixed-use retail and business space. Together, these programs grow local economies by creating jobs, increasing property values, and attracting businesses and private capital.

Energy

The DOE Weatherization Assistance Program and the State Energy Program — which together provide over $300 million in assistance to local governments to promote energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, including assistance to low-income residents to help lower their energy bills — are proposed to be eliminated. These programs allowed the city of Philadelphia to invest in innovative weatherization ideas that led to an increase in the total number of weatherized homes in the city, a reduction to the weatherization cost per home, increased energy savings, and new weatherization jobs in Philadelphia.

Air and Climate

The president’s proposed budget also targets programs that help cities reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and meet their climate action goals. The EPA Diesel Emission Reduction Program encourages cities to switch to cleaner-burning diesel vehicles. Last year, the program provided $7.7 million to 90 different cities to provide safer and cleaner school buses through replacement and retrofitting rebates. In addition, the proposed budget would eliminate climate change research and partnership programs totaling $100 million that cities rely on for data and information on climate change impacts on their communities.

Personnel

Out of all the federal agencies, EPA faces the biggest hit overall with a proposal to cut funding by 31 percent and eliminate 3,200 jobs, or 20 percent of its employees. These staff cuts will have a negative effect on EPA’s role as a regulator and will impede the ability of local elected officials to do their jobs. EPA approves a variety of permits and facilities that local governments rely on, like wastewater treatment plants. A “slimmed down” EPA will still have to process permits and projects, but a smaller staff will lead to delays and reduced technical assistance and will hurt local governments’ ability to provide the safe and clean environment they are entrusted to maintain.

Cities across the country will suffer under the White House’s budget plan. The president’s proposal will see cities large and small working with fewer funds and a less responsive regulatory regime, crippling their ability to provide vital services and infrastructure to their citizens. These cuts are bad for every city in the country, and pose a threat to the environment, our economy and our future.

Learn more about NLC’s #FightTheCuts campaign here.

About the authors:

James Diossa is the mayor of Central Falls, Rhode Island.

 

Peter Friedrichs is the director of planning and economic development for the city of Central Falls, Rhode Island.

 

Will Downie is an intern with the National League of Cities’ Federal Advocacy team.

Mayor Sal Panto Testifies for Brownfields Redevelopment Funding

“Turning polluted properties back into productive real estate helps us create jobs in distressed communities while simultaneously improving public health and safety.”

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Easton, Pennsylvania, Mayor Sal Panto describes his community’s brownfields redevelopment successes to the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Committee’s Environment Subcommittee. (Sam Warlick/NLC)

On Tuesday, Mayor Sal Panto of Easton, Pa., testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee’s Environment Subcommittee to advocate for brownfields redevelopment funding. Mayor Panto, Chair of the NLC Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, commended the committee for addressing municipal liability and identified further areas for improvement.

As a testament to the impact of brownfield projects in local communities, Mayor Panto described how the City of Easton leveraged grant money to clean up the asbestos-tainted Simon Silk Mill site for mixed-use redevelopment. Currently, the site is reopening with retail and arts offerings for the local community.

“As a local government official, I can attest to the fact that brownfields redevelopment is a powerful economic tool,” said Mayor Panto. “Turning polluted properties back into productive real estate helps us create jobs in distressed communities while simultaneously improving public health and safety.”

Present in significant number across all U.S. states and Congressional districts, brownfields are commonly described as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.” On behalf of NLC, Mayor Panto urged the subcommittee to increase or maintain the current overall authorization level for the EPA Brownfields Program.

He provided several specific suggestions:

  • Increasing the single-site grant cap to $1 million, or $2 million via administrator waiver,
  • Ensuring that the ownership requirement for multi-purpose grants will not complicate existing issues around municipal liability, and
  • Allowing that up to 10% of grants be used for administrative costs to cover rent, utilities and other expenses.

Additionally, Mayor Panto applauded the House for addressing several issues previously raised by NLC, including the issue of voluntary acquisition of property and the grant eligibility for local governments where properties were acquired prior to January, 2002.

In addition to Mayor Panto, the Subcommittee heard from Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, Elizabeth, NJ and representatives of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute. Governor Parris Glendening, president of the Leadership Institute, noted that “historically, the EPA Brownfields program has been a lifeline for communities that are struggling to overcome blight and contamination at abandoned industrial sites.”

For more information on the Congressional hearing, read Mayor Panto’s written testimony and the National League of Cities letter on brownfields. For more information on the EPA’s Brownfields Program, read NLC’s issue brief on modernizing the brownfields redevelopment program.

About the author: Sam Warlick is a Senior Communications Associate at the National League of Cities.

NLC Announces 2017 SolSmart City Challenge

Cities can earn national recognition and prizes by showcasing their support for solar energy.

(SolSmart)

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, the SolSmart program helps cities remove regulatory barriers to solar deployment and implement best practices to harness economic opportunity. (SolSmart)

Solar energy experienced a record-setting year in 2016 as 14,762 megawatts of solar PV became operational across the U.S. For the first time ever, solar energy was the leading source of new electric generating capacity added to the U.S. energy mix, beating out wind and natural gas. Cities played a strong role in making that happen.

From coast to coast, there are examples of cities leading the way by installing solar panels on the rooftops of city halls, fire stations, libraries and old municipal landfills. Cities also realize they can promote solar in other ways, and are making it easier for local homes and businesses to install solar by streamlining their permitting processes or updating zoning codes.

Cities that embrace solar energy recognize the value it brings to the community: local, well-paying jobs. The National Solar Jobs Census 2016 from the Solar Foundation found that 1 out of every 50 new jobs added in the U.S. was in the solar industry. The report documented 260,077 solar workers in 2016 ­– just as many as in the natural gas industry.

The National League of Cities (NLC) supports local solar energy leadership and is a proud partner of SolSmart, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. SolSmart recognizes leading solar communities and empowers additional communities to become solar leaders through customized technical assistance. NLC recently recognized the latest group of SolSmart designated communities at its 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C.

New SolSmart Communities:

  • SolSmart Gold: New York City and Louisville, Kentucky
  • SolSmart Bronze: Maricopa County, Arizona; Moab, Utah; Plano, Texas; Salt Lake City; and Summit County, Utah

SolSmart Communities Achieving a Higher Designation:

  • SolSmart Gold: Denver
  • SolSmart Silver: Charleston County, South Carolina, and Pinecrest, Florida

NLC wants to see more cities become SolSmart designees. To that end, we are launching the 2017 SolSmart City Challenge, a new national competition for cities to showcase their support for solar energy. The SolSmart City Challenge will run from Monday, April 3, until Friday, June 30. Cities can join the challenge by completing a SolSmart scorecard.

The SolSmart City Challenge has two categories (one winner from each).

  1. SolSmart City MVP: This award will go to the city with the highest verified points total after the initial submission of a SolSmart scorecard.
  2. SolSmart Most Improved: This award will go to the city with the highest verified points improvement between initial submission of a scorecard and resubmission of a SolSmart scorecard. Cities in this category will work with SolSmart technical assistance providers to complete more actions and acquire more points. Resubmissions must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on June 30. Only one resubmission is allowed.

The prizes for the two winners of the SolSmart City Challenge include:

  • Travel reimbursement to attend the 2017 NLC City Summit, November 15-18 in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Presentation opportunity at the City Summit during a workshop on Energy & Climate
  • Presentation opportunity during a future NLC webinar on SolSmart
  • Recognition in NLC communication platforms, including The Weekly, the official newsletter of the National League of Cities, as well as NLC’s official blog, CitiesSpeak, and our social media channels
  • SolSmart City Challenge Winning Certificate

Email Nick Kasza if you’d like to get started on the SolSmart scorecard or learn more about the SolSmart City Challenge. If you have a story or picture to share about solar energy impacting your community, send it to Nick and it may be featured in a future blog post.

Please note: the 2017 SolSmart City Challenge is open to new city submissions only. Cities that submitted a SolSmart scorecard prior to April 3, 2017, are not eligible. Previous submissions, SolSmart Early Adopter Communities, and communities with a SolSmart Advisor are also ineligible for the SolSmart City Challenge.

About the author: Nick Kasza is a Senior Associate with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities. He is part of a team that administers the SolSmart program and helps deliver technical assistance to cities pursuing SolSmart designation.

NLC President Matt Zone Defends Brownfields Redevelopment Funding in Washington

In his testimony, President Zone offered three suggestions on how Congress could increase or maintain funding for the EPA Brownfields Program, increase the overall grant funding to allow communities to cleanup more difficult sites, and resolve the disincentives created by potential liability to facilitate reuse of brownfields properties.

On Tuesday, National League of Cities President and Cleveland Councilmember Matt Zone testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. President Zone called on the House of Representatives to support brownfields redevelopment programs by maintaining their federal funding, and discussed the specific issue of protecting cities from uncertainty around liability concerns.

Describing several brownfields successes in Cleveland, Zone focused on the Trinity Building, a former aluminum products factory site rehabilitated as the City Kennel through a partnership with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He noted that federal/local liability issues nearly derailed the project and raised costs significantly for the city’s land bank.

“Brownfields redevelopment involves a lot of a risk for cities and developers,” said Zone. “Projects like the Trinity Building need public support to compete with newer development sites and overcome the challenges of working with contaminated real estate.”

The EPA defines a brownfield as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.” In his testimony, Zone strongly urged Congress to increase or at least maintain the overall level of funding for the EPA Brownfields Program, increase the overall grant funding to allow communities to cleanup more difficult sites, and resolve the disincentives created by potential liability to facilitate reuse of brownfields properties. He focused on three suggestions:

  • Increasing cleanup grant amounts to $1 million for a single site or, under special circumstances, $2 million per site via waiver
  • Establishing multi-purpose brownfields grants that can be used for the full range of brownfields-funded activities (assessment, cleanup, reuse planning, etc.)
  • Allowing funding for administrative costs for local brownfields programs to cover rent, utilities and other expenses necessary to carry out a brownfields project

The issue of municipal liability for cleanup costs is a concern for local governments, particularly if they were not involved in the contamination of the site. Zone encouraged Congress to allow local governments to be eligible for grant funding for properties that were acquired prior to the 2002 enactment of the EPA’s Brownfields Program and to enhance liability protections for local governments that take ownership of contaminated properties through voluntary acquisition where the local government had no role in causing or contributing to the contamination.

President Zone was joined during the hearing by colleagues from the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, as well as Rialto, California, Mayor Deborah Robertson. John Dailey, commissioner of Leon County, Florida, concurred during his testimony that “there is more need for funding” for the EPA Brownfields Program and that the program had made a significant impact in his community.

National League of Cities' President Matt Zone testifies on Capitol Hill on March 28, 2017.

For more information on the Congressional hearing, watch a video of the hearing, read NLC President Matt Zone’s written testimony, and read the National League of Cities letter on brownfields. For more information on the EPA’s Brownfields Program, read NLC’s issue brief on modernizing the brownfields redevelopment program.

About the author: Sam Warlick is the Senior Communications Associate at the National League of Cities.

How Your City Can Boost Economic Mobility and Opportunity

Highlighting practical and accessible steps city leaders can take to help individuals and families meet their basic needs and move up the economic ladder, NLC President Matt Zone challenges every NLC member city to take action and sign a pledge to increase economic mobility and opportunity for their residents in 2017.

NLC President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone announces his Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 21, 2016. (NLC)

This is the third post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Cities can’t wait. That’s true in so many areas where federal or state help is stymied by partisan gridlock or ideological differences. But mayors and other city leaders don’t have the option of doing nothing in the face of local challenges. They have to step up – and taking steps to expand economic mobility and opportunity is a great example of what’s possible.

At NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference this week, NLC President Matt Zone issued a bold challenge to NLC membership: he asked every one of the more than 2,000 city officials and community partners in attendance to commit to one action that will help local residents share in the nation’s prosperity. This challenge builds upon President Zone’s creation of an Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force when he assumed his NLC leadership role in November 2016.

Last fall’s elections offered a striking reminder that millions of financially strained families across America feel they are forgotten, cast aside in an economy that no longer needs their skills or contributions. Growing economic disparities highlight that families need access to well-paying jobs, affordable housing and stable incomes in their pursuit of the American Dream. These challenges are a key concern for city leaders because the financial health of every community depends on economic mobility and opportunity for its residents.

That’s why members of the Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force – from Atlanta Mayor and Task Force Chair Kasim Reed and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to elected leaders from smaller cities such as Mayor Johnny DuPree of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Councilmember Deana Holiday Ingraham of East Point, Georgia – have already pledged to take action in their cities.

President Zone’s action challenge highlights practical and accessible steps city leaders can take in four key areas to help individuals and families meet their basic needs and move up the economic ladder. They include:

Boost Working Families’ Incomes — Promote and Help Residents Claim the Earned Income Tax Credit

City officials can use their “bully pulpit” and other city communication mechanisms to promote the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) widely and inform residents about where they can obtain free tax preparation services. Most communities have a VITA (Voluntary Income Tax Assistance) program in which IRS-certified volunteers provide free tax return preparation for low- and moderate-income families at community organizations or other sites around the city. Some cities offer VITA sites directly in municipal buildings such as city hall or public libraries.

Strengthen Residents’ Financial Capability – Expand Access to Financial Education and Coaching

In many communities, financial education, coaching and counseling services are available through community organizations, credit counseling agencies, local universities, and other entities. Too often, however, city residents do not know where or how to access these services. Cities can play important roles in coordinating the efforts of local providers and using diverse communications and outreach vehicles to promote available offerings, particularly in low-income neighborhoods.

Provide New Options for Families in Debt – Implement Win-Win City Debt Collection Strategies

Cities have a unique – and often missed – opportunity to reach struggling residents by examining payment patterns of residents in debt to the city and considering payment collection strategies that financially empower families rather than impose harsh penalties for nonpayment.

The National League of Cities worked with five cities to implement Local Interventions for Financial Empowerment Through Utility Payments (LIFT-UP), a program that identified residents in debt to the cities’ water utilities and connected them to financial counseling to help them pay back the debt. In Houston, the city’s water department partnered with community organizations to train utility employees to provide financial coaching to residents with missed utility payments and work with them to develop a payment plan. The program resulted in more frequent payments and lower balances.

Expand Job Access and Pathways of Opportunity – Use City Hiring and Contracting Policies to Assist Residents in Distressed Neighborhoods

Cities can increase employment among residents considered “hard to employ” through strategic and equitable hiring and contracting policies. By targeting hiring for municipal jobs to residents from distressed neighborhoods or other high-need populations, cities can meet local employment goals and diversify their workforce. Local “first source” policies and community benefit agreements require companies that contract with city government to hire a certain percentage of city residents who meet established criteria. Community benefit agreements can also require developers to offer training and apprenticeship programs for unemployed residents.

Mayors, city councilmembers and other city officials can pledge here to participate in the action challenge by choosing to take at least one of the action steps listed above and completing a simple online form. Experienced staff from NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families and its Center for City Solutions are available to assist cities in implementing the policy and program changes associated with these actions.

Cities can’t wait – and neither can the struggling families who live in them. Now is the time for city leaders to act to expand economic mobility and opportunity for their residents and, in the process, strengthen the economic vitality of their communities.

Learn more about the Local Action Challenge for Economic Mobility and Opportunity.

Join NLC on the following dates for a webinar series designed to help cities kick-start their efforts to fulfill the economic mobility and opportunity pledge:

  • Friday, March 24 at 2:00 p.m. EST:  Boost Working Families’ Incomes – Promote and Help Residents Claim the Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Thursday, March 30 at 2:00 p.m. EST: Strengthen Residents’ Financial Capability – Expand Access to Financial Education and Coaching
  • Thursday, April 6 at 2:00 p.m. EST: Provide New Options for Families in Debt – Implement Win-Win City Debt Collection Strategies
  • Thursday, April 13 at 2:00 p.m. EST: Expand Job Access and Pathways of Opportunity – Use City Hiring and Contracting Policies to Assist Residents in Distressed Neighborhoods

Registration information for this webinar series will be available early next week.

About the author: Clifford Johnson is the Executive Director of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

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.

Cities Should Be the Focus of Federalism

Cities accelerate the spread of ideas and drive our national economy – but they are constrained in their ability to realize their full potential for their residents and for the nation.

(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. Part four focused on how local-federal partnerships support innovation and entrepreneurship, and today’s installment calls for more city-focused federalism.

Why should federalism focus on cities?

In 1932, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandéis famously wrote, “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” This adage can be applied equally well to cities, which offer many advantages over federal and state governments.

Because of their limited geographies dense with human potential, cities accelerate the spread of ideas. They have become the drivers of our national economy. We can attribute this success to cities’ comparatively minimal bureaucracy, which allows them to respond quickly to changing technology and, in many instances, to act more pragmatically.

At the same time cities are innovating, they are providing a breadth of essential services to residents. Historian Kenneth Jackson once wrote, “Local governments in the United States have more responsibilities than municipal jurisdictions in other nations, and thus, they must themselves provide and pay for schools, policemen, fire protection, road repairs, sanitation and social services.”

Despite their role in our country, cities are faced with a lack of constitutional power. The federal government, over the last one hundred years, has embraced policies that have been notably anti-urban, including car subsidies, mortgage subsidies, substandard public housing, residential segregation and suburban land use laws. Coupled with the stifling attitude most state governments have towards localities, cities are constrained in their ability to realize their full potential for their residents and for the nation. This is why we need city-focused federalism.

What does city-focused federalism look like?

More resources. In today’s fiscal federalism – a carrot-and-stick approach to governing – money is everything. While cities generate most of their revenues from their own sources, intergovernmental aid is essential for jump-starting innovative projects and supporting necessary programs. Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley once said, “Why should a city be mandated to do something by the federal government or state government without [being given] the money to do it?” City-focused federalism recognizes that cities need reliable funding from federal and state partners and not unfunded mandates.

Local decision-making. Cities should not have to wait on Congress to act in order to maintain highways, build transit systems, or spur new housing. Cities know which projects are critical, and will be responsible for maintaining them for years to come. City-focused federalism puts local governments in a position to set priorities and lead implementation. Federal funding formulas should reflect city priorities, or at least allow for flexibility at the local level. Passing more funding through to cities with fewer stipulations from the federal government will help catalyze this process.

Less preemption. Many state legislatures, which disproportionately represent non-urban constituents, have increased preemption of local authority on a number of issues. For example, local control over fiscal mechanisms is fundamentally important. Cities that have access to multiple revenue streams (sales, property and income) can tailor them to their local economies and preferences. However, the vast majority only have access to one or two streams of revenue. Reversing preemption and taxing limitations will only spur more innovation in cities. Moreover, granting home rule to more local governments will further enshrine the place of cities in the federal system.

A seat at the table. A strong federalist system relies on cooperation, not conflict, among the levels of government. The Obama administration set a positive precedent by placing former mayors in positions of influence and including local governments in important discussions, increasing the chances of local innovations becoming national policies. In the new administration, the voice of local governments deserves to be heard and respected. Furthermore, the creation of a national urban policy – something our country has long lacked – would go leaps and bounds towards affirming the importance of cities in America.

How do we achieve these goals?

Real change may not come without substantial shifts in politics and policy. More rights and protections for cities may need to come from a change not only in attitudes but in legislation. This is a daunting task. But the changes that city leaders create at the local level are often mirrored at the state and federal level – and by making their voices heard in statehouses and on Capitol Hill, local leaders can help change the nature of federalism in America.

To learn more about NLC’s efforts to promote more city-focused federalism – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research 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.