Federal Advocacy in 2017: In a Year of Transition, Cities Seek Certainty and Opportunity

NLC is advocating for what may be cities’ most important federal priority in 2017: promoting a positive narrative around cities to the incoming administration and new lawmakers in Congress.

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The majority of decision-makers inside the Obama Administration understood that the overall success of federal policies requires good local input and leadership. NLC will continue to build a strong relationship between local leaders and the White House during the Trump Administration as well. (Getty Images)

In the nation’s capital, the remarkable success of the Republican Party in the 2016 election surprised many and started a fresh debate over the message voters wanted to deliver to Washington. Outside the Capital Beltway, Americans remain deeply divided in ways that could impact the division of power and authority within the intergovernmental partnership.

For a non-partisan organization like the National League of Cities (NLC), representing 19,000 cities of every size, such divisions are a concern for sure. Fortunately, NLC was not caught off guard by the election outcome because our 2017 Advocacy Agenda began taking shape two years ago, when our bipartisan leadership first started thinking about what a presidential transition would mean for cities.

In 2015, NLC convened a number of highly respected city leaders to form a Presidential Election Task Force with the goal of forging a truly bipartisan campaign platform for cities. The campaign, Cities Lead, was built on a platform of three issues important to every city: public safety, infrastructure, and the economy. City leaders around the nation used the Cities Lead Playbook to engage with the presidential candidates of both parties and to obtain assurances and commitments that areas of broad bipartisan consensus would remain on solid ground — regardless of the party in power.

Thanks to the work of that task force, NLC was able to create engagement opportunities during President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and spotlight city leaders at the Republican National Convention (and Democratic National Convention). On election night, when the Trump campaign declared victory, NLC was there to congratulate him as the president-elect of the United States.

There is a fair amount of uncertainty about the priorities of the next administration and the 115th Session of Congress, but we are certain of at least three areas of common ground between the incoming administration and cities: the need to create greater resources for infrastructure, a desire to help cities and neighborhoods reduce crime and grow opportunity, and a focus on creating and retaining jobs.

It is unfortunate that the president-elect too often relies on mischaracterizations of cities, and there appears to be an urgent need for city leaders to build relationships with stakeholders inside and outside of the new administration. That’s why NLC is taking the lead and focusing on what may be cities’ most important federal priority for 2017: promoting a positive narrative around cities to the Administration and new lawmakers in Congress.

In 2008, then-Candidate Barack Obama said along the campaign trail that “we need to stop seeing our cities as the problem and start seeing them as the solution.” There is little question that, within the recent intergovernmental partnership, local governments were empowered by the greater value placed on cities by the outgoing administration.

Place-based programs prospered across federal agencies and allocated federal funding directly to local governments, including those programs strongly associated with NLC like the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge and the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness. The appointment of multiple former mayors and city officials to lead federal agencies, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Transportation, sent a message about the value of local leaders and ensured a city point of view inside the Obama Administration and at every cabinet meeting.

Of course, there were many actions taken by the Administration which drew criticism from NLC, including President Obama’s repeated proposals to cap tax exempt municipal bonds to achieve a balanced budget, and the $1 billion cut to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program early in his first term that has yet to be reversed.

The fact remains that, as the result of a strong relationship between local leaders and the White House, the majority of decision-makers inside the Obama Administration understood that the overall success of federal policies depends on good local input and leadership.

This, then, is our main advice to the incoming administration: gain local insight.

Alongside our Cities Lead Advocacy Agenda, NLC also remains focused on specific legislative priorities. Our top asks for Congress this year are to protect tax-exempt municipal bonds, to authorize the collection of sales tax on internet purchases, and to allocate funding for infrastructure directly to local governments.

NLC has built a history of progress and success with both Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress, and we are poised to continue that success. Over the previous session of Congress, NLC helped deliver legislative victories for cities: a five-year transportation bill that puts more money in the hands of local governments; a water bill that includes resources for cities with contaminated water, like Flint, Michigan; a public health bill that significantly increases resources to battle the opioid epidemic tearing through communities; and spending bills that have largely maintained level funding for local priorities — just to name a few.

What’s most impressive is that Congress sent all of these measures to the president without tampering with municipal bonds.

New challenges and opportunities await cities, and NLC, in the coming year. Yet, as a non-partisan organization, NLC is the best-placed organization to build a new partnership for cities with the incoming administration, to advance policies where we are aligned, and to express opposition without fear of reprisal.

In turn, we are asking city leaders to help us in our mission by reintroducing their city to members of Congress (and Congressional staff) in their district as well as to the new administration officials in federal agencies overseeing the programs that matter most to their city.

mike_wallace_125x150About the author: Michael Wallace is the Interim Director of Federal Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @MikeWallaceII.

Research, Innovation and Cities: The Year in Review

Throughout 2016, NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research presented and spoke on a wide range of city topics to audiences from San Francisco to Shanghai and everywhere in between – making sure that, wherever possible, city voices are elevated and heard.

Photo by Jason Dixson Photography. www.jasondixson.com

NLC continues to shape the national dialogue on cities, work with city leaders on the ground, and help local officials lead. Pictured here at City Summit 2016 discussing the future of autonomous vehicles in cities: Jon Shieber, senior editor at TechCrunch; Debra Lam, chief innovation & performance officer of Pittsburgh; Justin Holmes, director of corporate communications and public policy at Zipcar; Brooks Rainwater, senior executive and director of Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. (Jason Dixson)

This year has been one of growth and success for NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research (CSAR). Throughout 2016, we released impactful research across a range of focus areas – from the nuts and bolts of governing to future transportation and workforce shifts, innovation districts, and what cities need to know about drones.

We published familiar annual titles including our State of the Cities report, which analyzes the top issues for our nation’s mayors. We released the 31st edition of our City Fiscal Conditions report, which found that cities’ fiscal positions are strengthening as they continue to recover from the great recession. We finished out the year with our City of the Future research focusing on the critical role that automation and other disruptive changes are having on the workforce. At the core of each of these research products, our primary focus is analyzing how major, timely issues will impact cities.

Coinciding with our broad research agenda, CSAR experts have been on the ground in cities across the country working hand in hand with mayors, councilmembers, and city officials to build equitable, sustainable, financially sound communities that are prepared for future opportunities and challenges. And, in response to the growing opioid crisis, CSAR worked across NLC and together with the National Association of Counties (NACo) to convene the City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, which recently published recommendations to help local officials to put an end to the epidemic.

Our Rose Center for Public Leadership continued its leading work on local land use challenges with the 2016 class of Daniel Rose Fellows. Those cities included Denver, Rochester, N.Y., Long Beach, Calif., and Birmingham, Ala. The Rose Center also launched the first-ever Equitable Economic Development Fellowship, selecting six cities to participate in its inaugural year: Boston, Houston, Memphis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Charlotte, N.C. This fellowship builds the capacity of America’s cities to ensure that prosperity is shared across their communities.

CSAR’s Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI) launched new programs in 2016 that support and recognize NLC members’ efforts to preserve a clean environment, promote green jobs, and tackle climate change. The SolSmart program was launched in April to help cities make it easier for their residents and businesses to go solar. SCI also announced Leadership in Community Resilience, which is working with 10 cities from around the country to help local officials, city staff, and community partners share their experiences and advance local resilience efforts.

This year our team also incorporated NLC University into the Center, working to provide more focused programming and expanded capacity for city leaders. One example of this shift can be seen in this year’s City Summit attendance in Pittsburgh, where we had a 60 percent increase over last year. Additionally, with the hiring of new staff, we are looking to expand online learning and enhance the annual Leadership Summit.

NLC continues its work to end veteran homelessness, encouraging local leaders to make a permanent commitment to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring. Through our leadership on the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness, we facilitated on-the-ground engagement and assistance to city officials nationwide. We also continue to work together with the State Municipal Leagues on an annual research project focused on the critical intersections between city and state policy. This year we published Paying for Local Infrastructure in a new Era of Federalism, offering a state-by-state analysis of infrastructure financing tools.

CSAR also hosted a number of large events across the country. In the spring, we held the third annual Big Ideas for Cities event with a range of compelling stories from our nation’s mayors, expertly facilitated by the Atlantic’s James Fallows. In the fall we hosted the Big Ideas for Small Business Summit with economic development officials from 25 cities sharing strategies for building local small business and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Most recently, we hosted the second annual Resilient Cities Summit with the Urban Land Institute and U.S. Green Building Council, which brought together mayors from 15 cities across the country to focus on critical resilience strategies. These annual events allow NLC to elevate the voice of city leaders on issues that matter to communities across America.

Through our work on these important issues, we solidified partnerships with agencies across the federal government and worked with them on key programming, ensuring we are effectively communicating the voice of cities at every level. Some of these included: Small Business Administration for Startup in a Day, the Department of Veterans Affairs on veterans homelessness, the Department of Housing and Urban Development on the Prosperity Playbook, and Department of Energy on Net Zero Energy.

Throughout the year, our team presented and spoke on a wide range of city topics to audiences local, national, and global – from San Francisco to Shanghai and everything in between – making sure that, wherever possible, city voices are elevated and heard. We continue to help shape the national dialogue on cities, work with city leaders on the ground, and help mayors and councilmembers learn and lead – and we look forward to our work in 2017.

Read our 2016 publications:

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.

 

McAllen Targets Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety with Run, Ride & Share Campaign

The city of McAllen’s awareness campaign is a story of local partnerships in action.

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The Run, Ride & Share campaign aims to significantly reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities through community-wide education. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Veronica Whitacre.

After four tragic deaths across South Texas, leaders from the city of McAllen, Texas, partnered with community activists and concerned citizens to address safety on city streets and highways. Created in 2014, our Run, Ride & Share awareness campaign brought together runners, cyclists and motorists to establish a unified regional effort to educate the community on the importance of sharing the road in the Rio Grande Valley. The campaign has now branched out and partnered up with other surrounding cities such as Pharr, Edinburg, Weslaco and Mission.

The success of the campaign is a direct result of the partnerships built throughout the movement. As part of the campaign, we initiated Operation Clean Sweep to get local cities working together to clean the shoulders of the roads and highways for bike safety. This operation had the added benefit of bringing together city workers to communicate as a region. The broader campaign also educates youth in our local schools through their physical education classes, and Run, Ride & Share committee members host bike rodeos as well as bike safety and bike education classes for children at special events as well as the McAllen Boys and Girls Club. The city of McAllen and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley have also worked together to implement dedicated bike lanes.

Other byproducts of the Run, Ride & Share campaign that have resulted from partnerships are emergency call boxes on our hiking and bike trails, promotional materials such as lighted arm bands and bumper stickers, and educational brochures. The campaign also leads an annual event hosted in cities worldwide called the “Ride of Silence,” which brings together residents, local shops, cycling teams and city staff to honor those who have been killed or injured while bicycling and inform motorists, police and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to use public roadways.

The campaign has received attention in local newspapers and on social media, and awareness of the campaign has increased to such an extent that, once a copyright has been approved for the Run, Ride & Share logo, the Texas Department of Public Safety has offered to guide and assist the project as well as design and print additional educational materials.

As a driver, cyclist, runner and pedestrian, I believe there’s always more to do to make our streets safe – and everyone has to do their part. We believe city-wide educational campaigns like this can significantly reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, and we will continue to build relationships with other cities to get the Run, Ride & Share campaign implemented in as many communities as possible. Please join us.

About the author: Veronica Whitacre is a City Commissioner for the City of McAllen, Texas. McAllen is the first city to achieve All-Star Status in first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Cities, Towns, and Counties initiative.

4 Reasons Why e-Fairness is Good for City Economies

The online sales tax loophole isn’t just an unfair disadvantage for local businesses – it also prevents cities from collecting the taxes already owed to them on remote online purchases.

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While events such as Small Business Saturday help promote brick-and-mortar sales, more needs to be done. Now is the time for Congress to close the online sales tax loophole. (Getty Images)

As we enter the season of gift-giving, local officials should be aware of an issue that costs their cities billions of dollars every year: the online sales tax loophole. Each year, an estimated $23 billion in owed sales tax goes uncollected from online transactions – funds that cities could use on public safety, fixing sidewalks, building libraries, and many more services for their residents.

Despite their necessity to our cities, local brick-and-mortar retailers compete at a five to 10 percent disadvantage to online sellers by collecting legally-required sales tax at the time of purchase – something online retailers are not required to do. In a year in which more people participated in Cyber Monday than Black Friday, this trend is especially frightening – not only for local retailers, but also for local governments. While events such as Small Business Saturday help promote brick-and-mortar sales, more needs to be done. Now is the time for Congress to close the online sales tax loophole.

Current legislation such as the Remote Transactions Parity Act (H.R. 2775) and the Marketplace Fairness Act (S. 698) are good for local retailers and help to create a level playing field. By allowing local governments to collect sales tax on internet purchases, cities will be better able to close budget gaps and use the funds to provide critical services to residents – at no additional cost to the federal government. NLC continues to advocate for these bills, and will fight for similar legislation in the next Congress. Here are four reasons why:

  1. Opinion polls consistently show that local government is the most trusted level of government. E-Fairness legislation gives cities and towns the ability to better serve their residents and businesses without impacting the federal deficit.
  2. Cities are where America comes together to live and work; they are the primary drivers of economic development and growth. Main street retailers shouldn’t be subjected to a legislative loophole that can cause the loss of revenue and jobs, and cities shouldn’t be at a financial disadvantage when it comes to collecting the taxes owed to them.
  3. A century ago, just 14 percent of Americans lived in cities; today, 80 percent do. Cities manage the physical and civic infrastructure on which America depends. Local governments own and operate 78 percent of the nation’s road miles, 43 percent of the nation’s federal-aid highway miles, and 50 percent of the nation’s bridge inventory. Additional financial resources would allow cities to build new infrastructure and improve existing infrastructure.
  4. The decision to levy a sales tax should be decided at local level, with no interference from the federal government. Cities need a partnership with the federal government – not a mandate that preempts their ability to collect taxes and creates an undue financial burden.

Our goal in advocating for e-Fairness legislation is simple: give cities the tools they need to thrive in the economy of the future and empower city leaders with the autonomy they need to run local government more efficiently.

About the author: Brett Bolton is the Principal Associate for Federal Advocacy (Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Affairs) at NLC.

The Midwest is No Longer the Rust Belt – It’s the “Production Belt”

Mayors Bill Peduto and Virg Bernero explain why now is the time to invest in America’s infrastructure and make a national commitment to advanced manufacturing.

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For every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to our economy – the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Mayor Bill Peduto and Mayor Virg Bernero.

Advanced manufacturing is the engine powering our nation’s economy and driving today’s innovation, which is why it is time for a national blueprint for manufacturing. We implore President-elect Trump and the 115th Congress to make a Marshall Plan-style commitment to advanced manufacturing, starting with rebuilding the infrastructure that makes American manufacturing possible.

As mayors and as co-chairs of the National League of Cities’ new Manufacturing Initiative, we recognize that this must be a bipartisan mission, as the success of our manufacturing sector will benefit communities from Connecticut to California.

We also endeavor to dispel several myths about manufacturing. First and foremost: the Midwest is no longer the “Rust Belt” of shuttered factories, but rather the “Production Belt” of advanced manufacturing that accounts for 10 percent of our workforce. In 2015, the manufacturing sector contributed $2.17 trillion to the U.S. economy, representing a growth of nearly one half-trillion dollars since 2009.

Another myth is that manufacturing is a relic, that we’ve become a “service” economy. The truth is, the manufacturing sector is more advanced and growing stronger than it has in decades, and it’s re-invigorating technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

America is home to the world’s most productive workers, with manufacturers accounting for 75 percent of our nation’s R&D and 90 percent of our patents. The “magic of manufacturing” is the spinoff activity that supports transportation, supply chains and more. For every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to our economy – the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector. And, despite the myth that manufacturing jobs don’t pay well, the truth is that the compensation of the typical U.S. manufacturing worker is $81,289 annually, including pay and benefits.

Today’s manufacturing is a wholesale improvement over our grandparents’ dirty, monotonous production jobs. Today’s jobs offer a creative opportunity to innovate, using state-of-the-art equipment in diverse fields like aerospace, semi-conduction, robotics, biotechnology and engineering. Many manufacturers even offer a “learn and earn” model of apprenticeship training that pays workers to learn their trade. Yet these advanced jobs require a talent pipeline to connect them with skilled workers. Experts project that the U.S. will have over two million jobs go unfilled due to the skills gap.

The fact is, American manufacturing is also a matter of national security. Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General John Adams wrote a report detailing the ways domestic manufacturing keeps us safe. A strong domestic manufacturing base supports the Arsenal of Democracy.

Advanced manufacturing can also pave the way for a “green” industrial revolution that reduces our carbon footprint – not only by producing alternative energy products like solar panels, wind turbines and fuel cells, but also by standardizing sustainable production methods for everyday commodities.

There are several national policies that can help shape a national blueprint, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s efforts to codify the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership – which has already invested $23 million to support 49 IMCP projects across 26 states. These projects will create or save more than 1,080 jobs, and generate nearly $855 million in private investment. We also support resurrecting the COMPETE Act (S. 2715) to incentivize more research and development, because R&D tax credits are really job credits. Another important win would be establishing a National Infrastructure Bank so we could fund economically-viable infrastructure projects nationwide and incentivize private investment.

The only way to reverse the overly-fragmented model of manufacturing is to establish “production ecosystems” that connect Main Street manufacturers, universities, and inventors into local networks. By strengthening these collaborations with coordinated local, state and federal policies, we can create a lasting national blueprint for advanced manufacturing.

In the international marketplace, we have an unprecedented opportunity to produce the most competitive brand of manufactured goods – those marked proudly as “Made in America.” Let’s get to work to make it happen.

About the authors: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mayor Bill Peduto and Lansing, Michigan, Mayor Virg Bernero are co-chairs of the National League of Cities Manufacturing Initiative.

A Crash Course in Urban Development

The Urban Land Institute has recently developed a day-long training geared specifically towards elected officials to help them better understand the nuts and bolts of municipal real estate projects and how they’re financed.

How can city leaders know if they are getting the wool pulled over their eyes or if they are negotiating a mutually beneficial deal that will leverage private dollars towards a community renaissance? (Getty Images)

How can city leaders know if they are getting the wool pulled over their eyes or if they are negotiating a mutually beneficial deal that will leverage private dollars towards a community renaissance? (Getty Images)

Community activists sometimes decry market-based urban development projects (and their managers) using words like monstrosity, Satan, and scumbucket. But any public official will tell you that it is impossible for a city to accomplish its development or redevelopment goals without private sector investment in the community.

To that end, the nonprofit Urban Land Institute (ULI), an NLC partner, has recently developed a day-long training geared specifically towards elected officials to help them better understand the nuts and bolts of municipal real estate projects. The training is called UrbanPlan, and it will be offered next month at the 2016 NLC City Summit in Pittsburgh.

UrbanPlan is a realistic, engaging, and demanding curriculum in which elected officials learn about the fundamental forces that affect development in the United States. Participating officials will experience the challenges, private and public sector roles, trade-offs, and fundamental economics of complex urban development projects.

The workshop was originally designed for university-level economics courses, and is now taught at colleges and high schools across the country. In 2015, ULI redesigned the curriculum specifically for city officials. The Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use (an NLC program in partnership with ULI) acted as an adviser in the curriculum overhaul. The revamped workshop is offered in a single day as one of NLC University’s pre-conference seminars in Pittsburgh.

Participants in the seminar will develop proposals for a hypothetical urban neighborhood. Each attendee will take on a real-life role, such as site planner, financial analyst, or marketing director.

During the process, team members will learn firsthand the intricacies of urban renewal projects – and because profit is often a primary goal, the seminar will also include some down-to-earth lessons in financial reality. Accordingly, the proposed developments created in the seminar will need to address diverse issues such as affordable housing, transit needs, open-space beautification, historical preservation, and the district’s retail requirements. Once a project plan is hammered out, the teams will construct a preliminary model of their design – using Legos – and then go before a “city council” of volunteer land-use professionals to pitch their project. After a detailed analysis, participants will tweak their product for a final presentation.

ULI, NLC University, and the Rose Center recently held a pilot session of this seminar. Two of the participants described their experience:

“Land use decisions are among the most difficult that elected officials face. The Urban Plan Workshop illustrates that a development project can be a financial success for the developer and locality as well as meet the community’s goals for sustainability, inclusion and aesthetics. The Urban Plan Workshop is fast paced and hands-on, and elected officials will gain and retain insight into their role in finding the balance between the needs of the developer, locality and community.”

– Sandy Spang, councilmember, Toledo, Ohio

“Elected officials often hold biases, even if unintentional. But today, achieving great projects requires creativity and compromise. UrbanPlan lets you participate in that process. As someone that both serves on an elected body and has gone through the UrbanPlan workshop, I would encourage my peers to do the same.”

—Michael Wojcik, councilmember, Rochester, Minnesota

We are pleased to offer a special discounted registration rate to CitiesSpeak readers for the upcoming UrbanPlan seminar in Pittsburgh. Register here using the discount code NLCUL13 and save $100 off the registration price.

About the author: Jess Zimbabwe is Executive Director of the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use, a program of the National League of Cities, in partnership with the Urban Land Institute. She’s an architect, city planner and politics junkie. Follow Jess on twitter at @jzimbabwe and @theRoseCenter.

A Smarter Way to Make Smart Cities

Though it may seem counterintuitive, small interventions powered by small companies can have almost as large of an impact on cities as expensive, big business projects for only a fraction of the price.

Songdo, South Korea has been billed as the world’s first “smart city.” (Image: Gale International)

This is a guest post by Isabel Munson.

Today, when we hear the term “smart city”, massive interventions powered by some of the world’s largest companies come to mind. Take the $35 billion+ city of Songdo, South Korea, which was built from the ground-up with the help of Cisco. The planned city boasts 16 miles of bike paths, 40 percent of its area dedicated to outdoor spaces, and a designation as the biggest project outside the U.S. to be included in the LEED Neighborhood Development Pilot Plan (and first LEED Accredited district in South Korea). Most impressive of all is the city’s pneumatic waste disposal system, which funnels garbage from every kitchen in the city directly to a central waste processing center. Only seven employees handle waste for the whole city, and there are no garbage trucks or cans on the street.

But how can you make a smart city if you don’t have several billion dollars or the ability to build a development from the ground up? Aren’t expensive projects by big companies the only way to make your city smart? Though it may seem counterintuitive, small interventions powered by small companies can have almost as large of an impact with a fraction of the price. The creation of small smart cities companies may seem unrelated to any municipality’s actions, but cities can do a lot to encourage and empower these innovations.

For example, the mayor’s office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston focuses on incorporating futuristic design and technology into the city’s development. Its willingness to invest resources and take chances on new technology has helped small companies succeed while ensuring that Boston remains innovative. I work for one of those small companies, Soofa, a MIT Media Lab spinoff founded in 2014. With the support of New Urban Mechanics, Soofa was able to pilot 10 pieces of smart urban furniture — solar-powered charging benches — just a few months after creating the first prototype.

Soofa CEO Sandra Richter with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the first Soofa protoype. (Mashable)

Soofa CEO Sandra Richter with Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the first Soofa protoype. (Mashable)

The feedback gained from this pilot phase allowed Soofa to make major bench improvements and complete their first production run this spring, with benches being installed in eight U.S. states and three countries.

The new Soofa Bench, with changes made based on results of the Boston pilot program. (Soofa)

The new Soofa Bench, with changes made based on results of the Boston pilot program. (Soofa)

Across the river, Cambridge was also willing to take a risk on a new startup by being an early adopter of Soofa Benches and a R&D partner. The Soofa Bench features a sensor brain that detects the environment around it — from noise and nitrogen levels to humidity and temperature. Cambridge realized that this wealth of data gained from urban environments can be harnessed for more effective city planning, evaluating the efficacy of various programs and developments, and most importantly, helping citizens enjoy their urban spaces! As such, Cambridge was willing to be Soofa’s R&D partner as they develop the most comprehensive sensor brain and data platform possible. This R&D project was recently the feature of a Governing Magazine article which discusses in greater detail Soofa’s data collection capabilities.

So, why are small interventions better? When entrepreneurs envision ways to improve the city, they dream big, but are constrained by cost and practicality. The resulting products have big potential with a much smaller price tag. Installing a bench is much easier than retrofitting aged infrastructure with sensors, and more cost effective. A solar-powered bench can seem like an unnecessary expenditure, especially to smaller cities, but this investment enables cities to be more efficient and enjoyable in the future.

Creating a space where local entrepreneurs can have their city-improving ideas heard and potentially supported by city governments is critical to the creation of smart cities. Even if no investments are made, gaining the input of stakeholders from professors to designers and engineers is invaluable to future city planning. Chicago’s Array of Things project is another great example of a city using their valuable local academic and technological resources to create a low-cost, high-impact smart cities intervention.

A rendering of the Chicago Array of Things sensor boxes’ functionality. (Chicago Array of Things project)

A rendering of the Chicago Array of Things sensor boxes’ functionality. (Chicago Array of Things project)

Edward Krafcik, Director of Partnerships and Business Development at Soofa, participates in the Innovation Central expo pavilion at NLC's 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville. (photo: Paul Konz)

Edward Krafcik, Director of Partnerships and Business Development at Soofa. Soofa was recently invited to participate in the Innovation Central expo pavilion at NLC’s 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville. (photo: Paul Konz)

Chicago still took input from smart-cities giants like Cisco, but made a conscious choice to loop in local talent for the research and design behind the project. Though here we encourage cities to support small companies creating smart cities interventions, we must give big companies credit where credit is due. Without their push to encourage smart cities projects, smaller companies would never be able to sell their products or get funding — because no one would know what a smart city is! The research, awareness and funding from major companies in the smart cities space has been invaluable. That said, any city can be cost-effectively made into a smart city through small interventions powered by small businesses.

So, how do you future-proof your city? Prioritize the creation of civic innovation offices similar to New Urban Mechanics to support local talent and small businesses. Small, agile interventions end up having a big impact.

About the Author: Isabel Munson is the Data Strategy Lead at Soofa, an Internet-of-Things company dedicated to creating social, sustainable and smart cities. Her other musings on smart cities, #Soofatalk, may be found at www.soofa.co or @mysoofa.

Four Ways City Leaders Can Boost Entrepreneurship and Propel Economic Growth

This is a guest post by Josh Russell and Jason Wiens. This post is the fourth installment in a series focused on NLC’s 2015 Cities and Unequal Recovery report, which highlights the findings of our 2015 Local Economic Conditions survey.

Startup density varies from city to city across the United States. (Kauffman Index of Startup Activity)

City leaders across America understand that entrepreneurship is key to the success of their economies. That is the message from the 2015 Local Economic Conditions Survey conducted by the National League of Cities.

In that survey, 47 percent of cities said the “number of new business starts” was a positive driver of local economic conditions. New business creation was viewed by more city leaders as source of local economic improvement than any other factor.

These perceptions of chief elected officials are in line with decades of data that show new and young businesses are the primary source of net new job creation. When it comes to job creation, age matters more than size.

But how do these perceptions reflect the reality of entrepreneurial growth in these cities? Is entrepreneurship flourishing in cities where leaders viewed it to be an important contributor to economic growth?

To answer these questions, we looked at a sample of cities linked to their metropolitan statistical areas from 2002 to 2012. Here is what we found:

  • Over the last decade, average startup rates are consistent among cities regardless of their views on new business creation.
  • Startup rates converged in 2012 to 6.9 percent for cities that believed startup rates were an impactful economic factor and to 6.8 percent for cities that did not.

While there is little difference between startup rates in cities that viewed new business creation as an impactful economic factor, the real story is found when we look at employment in startup firms.

The percent of employment in startups has diverged among cities that believe startups are and are not an important economic factor. In those cities that viewed startups’ impact positively, new businesses were adding more jobs than in cities where leaders did not view them to have a positive impact. In 2012, on average, firms in cities that viewed new businesses as having a positive impact started with 15 percent more employees.

2011 marked the first year of an increase in new business creation since the start of the Great Recession. To further boost entrepreneurship and propel economic growth, local leaders have a menu of tools available to them.

  1. Build connections. While capital constraints represent one of the primary challenges to entrepreneurs, research has shown that public venture funds and local incubation centers result in little to no benefit to entrepreneurs. Instead, cities should focus on fostering local connections among entrepreneurs and businesses. These local connections, as opposed to national or global contacts, are vital to an entrepreneur’s success. Focus should be put on events that cause entrepreneurs to think and act together, building a robust local ecosystem. Examples of early-stage entrepreneurship programs that can be implemented in cities include Startup Weekend and 1 Million Cups.
  2. Welcome Immigrants. Immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to become entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurial gains are not limited to low-skill sectors, but include high-skill and high-tech sectors as well. Immigrants and children of immigrants represented 52 percent of key founders of high tech firms in Silicon Valley and over 40 percent of Fortune 500 founders. While legal barriers to immigrant entrepreneurship result in missed opportunities for U.S. economic growth, cities can capture the benefits by welcoming immigrants and supporting their entrepreneurial ambitions.
  3. Support Women. Women face many unique challenges to starting a business and are half as likely to start businesses as their male counterparts. Among the top challenges are financial capital, mentorship, and work-life balance. Women are one-third as likely to access equity financing through angel investments or venture capitalists as men and begin companies with nearly half as much capital. Mentorship plays an important role in developing successful entrepreneurs, yet nearly half of female entrepreneurs say a lack of available mentors is a major challenge facing their businesses. Parenting balanced with work also results in lower rates of entrepreneurship among women. Women with STEM Ph.Ds are significantly less likely to engage in entrepreneurship if they have a child under two, while there is no statistical difference in entrepreneurial rates of comparable men. Local policies that support women in entrepreneurship can create positive economic growth in cities.
  4. Develop Human Capital. Higher levels of education are associated with increased entrepreneurial activity. While a high ratio of college graduates means more entrepreneurial firms, a substantial high school completion rate can further increase a city’s startup activity. Developing a strong school pipeline can help promote human capital and develop a strong, local entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Stated simply, these policies are all about investing in people.

As entrepreneurship rates grow, entrepreneurs are reviving local economies across the nation. The role of city leaders in this arena is to create conditions that allow more entrepreneurs to start businesses and nurture that environment so that those businesses can grow. Cities that invest in people should see entrepreneurial benefits.

About the Authors:

Josh Russell is a research assistant at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

 

 

Jason Wiens is Policy Director at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Three Ways Your City Can Prosper by Embracing Equity

This is a guest post by Sarah Treuhaft. This post is the third installment in a series focused on NLC’s 2015 Cities and Unequal Recovery report, which highlights the findings of our 2015 Local Economic Conditions survey.

Participants in the SySTEMic Solutions program in Fairfax County make a presentation on robotics. As part of an overall strategic plan for economic growth, cities can create programs like this one, in partnership with universities and area businesses, to funnel students into STEM-related professions. (photo: Northern Virginia Community College)

NLC’s 2015 survey of local economic conditions paints a clear picture of unequal growth in America’s cities, underscoring the need for bold, focused strategies to firmly link low-income communities and communities of color with regional (and global) economic opportunities.

Two years ago, New York City mayor Bill DeBlasio captivated voters with his “tale of two cities” narrative summarizing the dynamics of rising inequality in America’s largest metropolis. NLC’s 2015 survey of chief elected officials reveals how uneven growth is not isolated to high-tech boomtowns, but widespread among the nation’s cities.

The survey illustrates the challenge of poverty amidst plenty: While 92 percent of city mayors said economic conditions improved in the past year, 50 percent reported an increase in demand for survival services like food and shelter, 36 percent saw an increase in homelessness, and 24 percent reported a decrease in housing affordability.

Urban economies are coming back, but the rising economic tide is not translating into good jobs, rising wages, and ownership opportunities for low-income residents and communities of color. Our analyses of the Bay Area and Fairfax County, Va., revealed the persistence of racial inequities in these booming economies. A new report on New Orleans finds that although the region has “staged an unlikely economic comeback,” 41 percent of families are struggling to get by on less than a living wage — up from 35 percent in 2006 — and those families are disproportionately made up of women and people of color. And Alan Mallach’s research on older industrial cities shows how growth is isolated to a few high-density, walkable neighborhoods while income, wealth, and home values are stagnant or declining everywhere else, with African American communities losing the most ground.

Unequal growth is socially and economically unsustainable. Research shows that more equitable regions experience stronger and longer-lasting growth. Demographic changes are also magnifying the costs of racial economic exclusion and upping the value proposition of inclusion. As Baby Boomers retire, their jobs will need to be filled by a much more diverse generation.

Small business owners Al and Marie Pronko benefitted from a $10,000 cash award as part of Detroit's NEIdeas program, which helps local businesses as part of a larger strategy to spur economic growth in the city. (photo: NEIdeasDetroit.org)

Small business owners Al and Marie Pronko benefitted from a $10,000 cash award as part of Detroit’s NEIdeas program, which helps local businesses as part of a larger strategy to spur economic growth in the city. (photo: NEIdeasDetroit.org)

In the face of these trends, cities should embrace equity as their path to prosperity and take steps to foster inclusive growth: growing new jobs and new businesses while ensuring that low-income people and people of color fully participate in generating that growth and fully share in its benefits. Here are three ways forward:

Bake racial economic inclusion into growth strategies.

Getting to equitable growth requires an intentional and strategic focus on removing barriers and building pathways for struggling workers and entrepreneurs to connect to jobs and business opportunities. Many cities are tackling this challenge and implementing new approaches to fuse growth and opportunity. Portland’s economic development agency just launched an Inclusive Startup Fund to provide capital, mentoring, and business advising to startups founded by underrepresented groups. Recognizing the importance of neighborhood businesses to Detroit’s renaissance, the New Economy Initiative held NEIdeas contests in 2014 and 2015 to provide financial and technical support to help neighborhood businesses grow. And in Pittsburgh, Urban Innovation 21 is connecting the city’s low-income African American communities with its knowledge-economy revival by placing youth in internships at area tech companies, supporting local entrepreneurs, and running a new Citizen Science Lab that offers hands-on life sciences trainings.

Implement a homegrown talent development plan.

City leaders recognize that workforce preparedness is central to their economic success, but often focus on attracting young, mobile, college grads from other states. To shift to equitable growth, cities need to cultivate their homegrown talent. Universal pre-K is a winning strategy and San Antonio’s groundbreaking program is already showing results for low-income, predominantly-Latino four-year olds. “Cradle-to-career” partnerships like Promise Neighborhoods are working to ensure children in low-income neighborhoods have the educational, health, and community supports they need to succeed. NLC’s survey reveals there is a great deal of room for cities to adopt targeted and sectoral workforce development strategies. One promising effort is New Orleans’s Economic Opportunity Strategy, which aims to recruit, train, and connect many of the city’s 35,000 jobless black men with jobs coming online at its major anchor institutions. Cities can also unleash talent by knocking down hurdles to employment. Passing “ban the box” policies that remove questions about prior convictions from job applications and creating municipal ID cards that help immigrants access financial and other services are key strategies.

Leverage public spending, investment, and planning as a force for inclusive growth.

While cities do not control all of the policy levers needed to move toward equitable growth, they can leverage their land use planning and zoning powers, procurement, and infrastructure investments to connect unemployed and underemployed residents to good jobs and transform disinvested neighborhoods into resilient “communities of opportunity.” The upturn in market activity presents cities with opportunities to implement classic equitable development tools — local hiring, community benefits agreements, permanently affordable housing, living wages, etc. — to ensure long-term residents benefit from publicly-subsidized development and can stay in their neighborhoods as they improve. Cities must also innovate new tools — like San Francisco’s new Retail Workers Bill of Rights — to turn low-wage jobs into jobs that support strong families and strong communities.

Now is the time for cities to lead on inclusive growth. Please join us at the 2015 Equity Summit October 27-29 in Los Angeles to explore these and other strategies for building “All-In Cities,” and sign up for our newsletter for regular stories about what works for equitable growth.

About the Author: Sarah Treuhaft is Director of Equitable Growth Initiatives at PolicyLink. She leads the organization’s work to advance racial and economic inclusion as an economic imperative and coordinates the development of the National Equity Atlas. You can connect with Sarah on Twitter @streuhaft.

How LinkedIn Can Help Your City Match Jobs with Trained Workers

This is a guest post by Nicole Isaac. This post is the second installment in a series focused on NLC’s 2015 Cities and Unequal Recovery report, which highlights the findings of our 2015 Local Economic Conditions survey.

Skilled workers, like this engineer maintaining the gas turbine of a power plant generator, are in high demand - but cities need more effective ways of connecting with them. (Getty Images)

Skilled workers, like this engineer maintaining the gas turbine of a power plant generator, are in high demand – but cities need more effective ways of connecting with them. (Getty Images)

While some contend that the United States economy may be impacted by a skills gap, at minimum, researchers have found that there is a skills mismatch between the available jobs and the majority of the trained workforce to fill these jobs.

According to a recent McKinsey Global Institute report, in countries around the world, 30 to 45 percent of the working-age population is unemployed, inactive in the workforce, or working only part-time. In the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, India, Brazil and China, this equates to 850 million people. In the United States alone, there are approximately 20 million people who are unemployed, underemployed, or marginally attached to the workforce, yet there are 5.4 million available jobs just waiting to be filled by people with the right skills.

We’re seeing these skills mismatch trends across American cities today. For example, the National League of Cities’ Cities and Unequal Recovery report suggests that the “skills gap” is the most common concern facing local economies, with 21 percent of cities reporting an increase in the gap over the past year, and exacerbated by the lack of coordination across leading partners for the respective components of workforce development.

This is a real challenge – and, given the number of available jobs and a recovering economy, a significant opportunity for cities across the country. As the report notes, “cities are rising to the challenge and embracing the opportunity by creating collaborative, systemic workforce development approaches to not only improve the local talent pipeline, but also to open communications with employers about assessing needs and improving hiring practices.”

Working with local, state, and international levels to address the challenges around skills, both in supply and demand, is strongly aligned with LinkedIn’s vision to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. We work towards this objective each and every day through partnerships with cities to address workforce issues with LinkedIn’s technology and insights from our Economic Graph. We know firsthand that online connectivity allows for faster, better job matching; smarter labor and educational policy making; more efficient hiring and skills assessments at companies; and overall economic improvement in developed and emerging countries.

That is why, in February, we worked on New York City’s Tech Talent Pipeline program, a $10 million initiative meant to train New Yorkers for high-tech jobs. Together, we analyzed aggregate LinkedIn data from more than three million LinkedIn members in the New York City region and 150,000 NYC-based businesses to provide Tech Talent Pipeline with insights on the current state of the city’s tech industry. Using the data, the city can determine how to strategically invest their resources to create the greatest economic impact.

In June, we announced a partnership with the Markle Foundation called Rework America Connected. This partnership will provide an online destination that connects every sector of the labor force within Colorado and Phoenix, leveraging the job seeking and skills matching capabilities of LinkedIn. Through greater transparency among employers, educators, and job seekers, we’re aiming to create greater economic opportunity for the middle-skilled workers of Colorado and Phoenix.

We’ve been working with the National League of Cities and local governments and other stakeholders to identify and support workforce strategies for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Specifically, three of the cities recognized by the NLC – Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, and Nashville – were recently highlighted as part of the TechHire initiative for their focus on training workers for today’s in-demand tech jobs. LinkedIn is partnering with Philadelphia employers, city officials and non- profits to assist with skills alignment in the city. In Nashville, we are working with the Nashville Technology Council to better prepare their curriculum with business needs. Finally, in Salt Lake City, we have been working with the local economic development teams on providing individuals with access in-demand jobs.

Our overall goal in working with cities is to provide individuals with greater economic opportunity, and we’re planning to take the lessons learned from these current initiatives and apply them more broadly in other cities and regions. These public private partnership models are one mechanism by which cities can utilize innovative approaches to age-old problems– through creating more efficient data-sharing models and leveraging the resources of private sector partners to impact communities now.

About the Author: Nicole Isaac is the Head of Economic Graph Policy Partnerships at LinkedIn.