Innovation Neighborhoods: An Inclusive Economic Development Parallel to Innovation Districts

When innovation districts and innovation neighborhoods are thoughtfully aligned, cities can expect more inclusiveness, educational opportunity and socioeconomic impact.

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In innovation neighborhoods, small businesses and tech startups mingle to create a unique sense of place and strong community. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by David Sandel.

In the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program report “The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America,” the authors describe an emerging urban model called “innovation districts.”

As described in the report, “these districts, by our definition, are geographic areas where leading-edge anchor institutions and companies cluster and connect with startups, business incubators and accelerators. They are also physically compact, transit-accessible and technically-wired, and offer mixed-use housing, office and retail.” These innovation districts also tend to be “where underutilized areas (particularly older industrial areas) are being re-imagined and remade.”

Because innovation districts generally appeal to people or organizations familiar with a university or institutional setting, they can be somewhat of an exclusive club utilized by persons of a higher educational or socioeconomic status.

Certainty, having institutionally-oriented innovation districts is of great value. They can create high-value jobs, accelerate the development of new companies, and attract public- and private-sector investment. However, given their cultural and socioeconomic dynamic, institutionally-led innovation districts can only capture a specific portion of a city’s innovation market capacity.

What is important for a city to understand about this dynamic?

For a city to maximize its socioeconomic output in the new economy, the city or region has to engage the greatest depth of its innovation market capacity. Implementing new forms of inclusion are central to achieving greater socioeconomic impact.

This leads us to a new vision for innovation neighborhoods.

Innovation neighborhoods function at the center of community life and are therefore organically inclusive in nature. They are neighborhoods that have a unique sense of place and are capable of attracting a diverse creative community that welcomes all comers, regardless of education level or socioeconomic class. Innovation neighborhoods thrive on talent without focusing on how it arrives.

For an innovation neighborhood to thrive, a deep understanding of the neighborhood – and its sense of place, socioeconomic potential, infrastructure and entrepreneurial ecosystem – is essential. When innovation districts and innovation neighborhoods are thoughtfully aligned, cities can expect more inclusiveness, educational opportunity and socioeconomic impact.

Want to learn more? Last year, NLC released a comprehensive report on innovation districts, highlighting the progress made in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and in this blog post, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke tells the story of how his city became a hotbed for entrepreneurship and innovation.

David_Sandel_125x150 About the author: David Sandel is the lead author for the St. Louis chapter in Smart Economy in Smart Cities, the president of Sandel & Associates and the founder of iNeighborhoods.

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.

As Cities Become ‘Smart’, Public Safety Looks to FirstNet for Priority Broadband

“FirstNet is the first effort I know of where cross disciplines – police, fire, EMS, mayors, city councils – have all been united.” -Tom Sorley, Deputy Chief Information Officer, Houston, Texas

(FirstNet)

FirstNet is developing the first nationwide public safety broadband network to provide first responders the advanced communication and collaboration technologies they need to help them do their jobs safely and effectively. (FirstNet)

This is a guest post by Ed Parkinson.

The term “Smart Cities” is a popular topic in today’s urban jurisdictions – but what is a Smart City? A Smart City has technological infrastructure which collects, aggregates and analyzes real-time data which it uses to improve the lives of its residents according to the National League of Cities, report “Trends in Smart City Development”. But beyond that, a Smart City partners with universities and the federal and private sectors in using technology to enhance the quality and performance of urban services. Innovation can improve city services – from finding energy efficiencies and reducing traffic to fighting crime and fostering economic growth.

The Department of Commerce recently recognized the potential of FirstNet to improve public safety services. In their January 2017 green paper, Fostering the Advancement of the Internet of Things, the Department said, “the FirstNet network will be an incubator and proving ground for public safety focused IoT solutions by linking more first responder data sources, such as their gear, emergency vehicles, fingerprint scanners, databases, and more.” Here are just a few innovations some cities are considering to enhance first responders’ ability to protect their communities:

  • Detailed surge maps to analyze patterns and display predictive outcomes for severe weather preparations;
  • Intelligent street lights to detect gunfire and alert authorities;
  • Subway platforms with embedded sensors to monitor and flag overcrowding;
  • Smart grids: embedded sensors for managing water, gas and electric services; and
  • Providing real-time information on traffic conditions to determine the fastest route to an emergency.

Some added benefits of these innovations include:

  • Directing the city’s first responders more precisely and efficiently to improve emergency response;
  • Managing technology and personnel more effectively by providing intelligent insight into areas where they’re needed most;
  • Increasing responders’ situational awareness and maintaining their safety during emergencies to speed up the decision-making process; and
  • Improve interagency communications and collaboration.

As urban planners and policymakers think about their cities becoming digitized and interconnected, a challenge will be ensuring investments are made to withstand the growth in Internet traffic. Increasingly, these technologies will depend on wireless broadband networks so cities can communicate securely, rapidly and with priority to their responders on the street.

Signed into law on February 22, 2012, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act created the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet). The law gives FirstNet the mission to build, operate and maintain the first high-speed, nationwide wireless broadband network with priority dedicated to public safety. FirstNet will provide a single interoperable platform for emergency and daily public safety communications.

As FirstNet progresses in its mission to deploy a nationwide public safety broadband network, there will be many opportunities for policy makers and city officials to get involved and to make FirstNet a part of every Smart City.

The Smart City concept has grown to include at least 70 cities throughout the nation. The initiative includes federal grants in areas such as public safety, transportation, and disaster response. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) authorized $35 million in new grants last fall and over $10 million in proposed investments to build a research infrastructure for Smart Cities.  The National Science Foundation (NSF) also announced over $35 million in Smart Cities grants. FirstNet is ideal for bringing together the technology of Smart Cities to advance public safety.

Tom Sorley, deputy chief information officer for Houston, Texas, said FirstNet is “the first effort I know of where cross disciplines – police, fire, EMS, mayors, city councils – have all been united. Everybody’s come together and said, ‘We have to have this.’”

FirstNet is necessary to allow first responders to use the digital tools available to them on a reliable network, Sorley said. “This reduces risk. It makes the first responders and the citizens they serve safer. Data, more and more, is becoming that critical lynchpin in the service provision for public safety.”

Reid Vaughn, fire chief in Cuba, Alabama, agrees. “It’s often a challenge to get broadband services,” he said. “FirstNet will for the first time give us a mission critical, proprietary system. This will be a significant improvement for our rural communities. When everything is going wrong, this system is designed to keep going.”

Another key element to the efficiency of Smart Cities is the Internet of Things, which will extend Internet connectivity to items we use every day, such as light, electric switches and vehicles. Many in the public safety sector are looking forward to the ‘Internet of Lifesaving Things’ that will extend connectivity to responder gear such as body cameras and vehicles.

Key to making this all come together is collaboration between public safety agencies at the federal, state and local level, as well as public-private partnerships. Advances such as open data initiatives and the collaboration of research and technology to tackle key challenges – from fighting crime to providing shelter during a disaster – are most effective when working together.  Smart mobile technology, constantly driven forward by the marketplace, holds great promise for public safety as first responders strive to make communities safer. The National League of Cities, in its extensive work to share best practices used by Smart Cities, is a leader in this work.

First responders across the country will benefit from using next generation tools with prioritized, wireless broadband.  As cities continue to think about getting “smarter,” FirstNet hopes to work with them to be part of the solution.

To learn more and get involved, please visit FirstNet.gov and reach out to your FirstNet State Point of Contact (SPOC). You can also help by writing to your professional associations and ask them to pass a resolution in support of FirstNet, Following FirstNet on social media, and by writing a guest blog for FirstNet by contacting us at socialmedia@firstnet.gov.

ed_parkinson_125x150About the author: Ed Parkinson is the Director of Government Affairs at FirstNet.

Kitchen and Farm Incubators Support Access to Local Food Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why are food incubators important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(photos courtesy of Union Kitchen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayors Continue to Forge a Path Towards Greater Urban Resilience

Cities across the country are thinking of new ways to use resources and community assets to strengthen their response to numerous challenges presented by the on-going impacts of climate change and sea-level rise.

Last week, Shafaq Choudry was in West Palm Beach, Fl. representing the National League of Cities at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address where more than 800 community and business leaders gathered to hear city achievements in sustainability and a pathway forward on climate resilience. West Palm Beach is one of the ten cities participating in NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience program, which launched in 2016. (Getty Images)

Last week, Shafaq Choudry was in West Palm Beach, Florida, representing NLC at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address, where more than 800 community and business leaders gathered to hear city achievements in sustainability and a pathway forward on climate resilience. West Palm Beach is one of the ten cities participating in NLC’s Leadership in Community Resilience program, which launched in 2016. (Getty Images)

2017 will be a year where local government leads the charge on urban resilience – and National League of Cities will be there to help. Through our Leadership in Community Resilience program, NLC provides assistance to 10 cities across the country that lack the financial and institutional resources, city-wide and cross-departmental collaboration, and internal capacity to implement their resilience goals. Designed to bolster city-led resilience initiatives and disaster preparedness, the program elevates local governments’ commitment towards a resilient urban future, no matter what is happening at the federal level.

These efforts were on full display in West Palm Beach last week at Mayor Jeri Muoio’s State of the City Address. Mayor Muoio focused on last year’s success as well as future plans to a vibrant crowd of 800 business and community leaders, elected officials, and residents. She highlighted how the city’s commitment to resilience and sustainability was rewarded with a 4-STAR rating – the only city to receive this certification in Florida. The city’s focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, equitable development, data collection, mobility, and increasing economic opportunities has successfully attracted partnerships with the National League of Cities, Knight Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities, Van Allen Institute and Gehl Design Studios.

Mayor Muoio’s sentiments are reflected in cities throughout the country where city officials are working to protect their communities from the recurring impact of climate change on infrastructure, housing, and businesses. The devastating impact of floods, hurricanes, droughts and other extreme weather consistently top news headlines and unlike national politics, weather holds no party affiliation. Building upward from a foundation set over the past eight years, city leaders are pushing disaster resilience initiatives into implementation.

Under former President Obama’s administration, the federal government restored the public’s good faith in disaster response from 33 percent after Hurricane Katrina to 75 percent after Sandy, according to Gallup. Over the course of eight years, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate dealt with 910 disaster declarations, more than any FEMA director in history. FEMA released an action plan in 2013, Crisis Response and Disaster Resilience 2030: Forging Strategic Action in an Age of Uncertainty, to address the gaps in emergency management and opportunities for capacity building. Hurricane Sandy triggered the federal government to shift their approach to disasters from a band-aid response to a holistic resilience planning.

Within three short years, shifts in disaster management and response from a federal to local level has empowered cities to think holistically and act strategically about urban resilience through programs such as the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) and Rebuild by Design. Formerly a partnership with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Rockefeller Foundation partnered with the San Francisco Planning Department in light of a new Trump era, to launch Resilient by Design. Rockefeller Foundation awarded $4.6 million to the Bay Area to combat climate change and sea-level rise with a focus on providing multiple benefits to vulnerable populations.

Many cities outside the 100RC, Rebuild by Design, and Resilient by Design network are thinking of new and creative ways to use resources and community assets to strengthen their response to economic, environmental and social challenges presented by the on-going impacts of climate change and sea-level rise.

Although the cost of climate change is evident in global and financial centers worldwide, NLC has seized the opportunity to capture a compelling story of urban resilience efforts in small to mid-sized cities across the country through the Leadership in Community Resilience program. We are proud to support efforts like Mayor Muoio’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and look forward to working with West Palm Beach and the other nine cities in our program throughout the year.

shafaq_choudry_125x150About the author: Shafaq Choudry is a Senior Associate with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities.

NLC Has a New Website. Here Are Five Reasons to Be Happy About the Change.

Our new site simplifies the process of getting our content online, so our staff can focus on cities. It also enables you to sort through a wealth of information quickly and easily, so you can find the stories and data that matter to you.

In the past year, we've gone through an internal reorganization, a rebranding, and a move to a new modern office so that we could better serve cities across the nation. With our new website, we can streamline getting content to our members. (NLC)

In the past year, we’ve gone through an internal reorganization, a rebranding, and a move to a new modern office so that we could better serve cities across the nation. With our new website, we can streamline getting content to our members – and we’ve made that content easily accessible on a wide variety of devices. (NLC)

Many times I’ve found myself struggling to navigate a website after someone redesigned it. More than once I’ve wondered why it was changed in the first place. Change isn’t always easy.

Because I was a strong advocate for changes to the National League of Cities (NLC) website, I’d like to share five reasons why we launched a new site today.

1.      It works on your phone

NLC’s previous site did not resize to be readable on a phone, but we know from our website statistics that more and more of our visitors are coming to the site using mobile devices. The new site is mobile-friendly throughout.

2.      It helps you find information by topic

Our new site includes a “Topics” menu. If you’re interested in public safety, for example, the economic development topic page will pull together all of the content that relates to economic development, whether it’s an event, article, case study or report. You don’t have to know which program area at NLC published the content. If it’s related to economic development, you’ll find it in that topic area.

3.      The menus are easier to understand

Sometimes it’s just better to be direct. To find an event on the old site, you had to click on “Build Skills and Networks.” To find an event new site, you click on “Events.” I think it’s pretty clear why we made that move.

4.      It’s more efficient to publish

Our new site simplifies the process of getting our content online, so our staff can focus on cities, not website software.

5.      And yes, it looks better

In just over a year, we’ve gone through an internal reorganization, a rebranding, and a move to a new, modern office. We have a great team of more than 100 staff working every day on behalf of the nation’s cities of all sizes. The new website better reflects the energy and passion shared by NLC members, our dynamic executive director, Clarence Anthony, and our staff.

The work continues….

We are continuing to add content and features – and yes, as with any major website conversion, we’re still ironing out a few glitches here and there. That said, I want to thank the NLC staff and our project lead, Diana Rubin, for a Herculean effort to make the new site a reality. I hope you find it a change for the better.

brian_derr_125wAbout the author: Brian Derr is the Director of Marketing, Digital Engagement and Communications at the National League of Cities.