The State of America’s Cities

The nation’s mayors are leading our country with a critical focus on the issues that matter to citizens. From sustainability and entrepreneurship to public health, mayors described their policy goals in their State of the City speeches. In our recent analysis of these speeches, we found the following trends.

An excerpt from the 2016 State of the Cities report focusing on economic development.

An excerpt from the 2016 State of the Cities report focusing on economic development.

Mayors continue to be focused on improving their local economies and encouraging entrepreneurship.

“Our unemployment rate is down by more than a third, and we have created more than 20,000 new jobs,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, touting her record leading the city of Baltimore. “We focused on the small entrepreneurs in our neighborhoods who are at the heart of job creation, as well as the larger development projects and established businesses that support hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs.” More and more cities are making it easier for entrepreneurs to apply for the permits and licenses needed to start or grow a business. “We will be expanding our online offerings for business — where now, for the first time ever, business licenses can be acquired through our city’s website, and soon, the entire building permit process will be available in a single, seamless online system,” said Mayor John Tecklenburg of Charleston, South Carolina.

Mayors are seeing improved revenue and are being judicious about how to spend it.

Many cities are returning to pre-Recession levels of fiscal health. Detailing the economic success his city has felt these last few years, Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James said that this year’s budget continues that momentum and “supports our neighborhoods and our young people. We’ll be able to demolish dangerous buildings and invest more in summer youth employment.” In Covina, California, Mayor Peggy Delach talked about the need for fiscal restraint. “We are continuing to identify ways to reduce our costs and make our organization more efficient and more responsive and ensuring that more of our tax dollars are available to be used for community improvements,” she said.

Mayors are cautiously optimistic about the future and are leading in the development of sustainable communities where people want to live.

Last year was a monumental one for green mayors, like Boston’s Marty Walsh and Atlanta’s Kasim Reed, both of whom traveled to Paris to sign the Compact of Mayors on climate change. In their speeches this year, mayors made the case for sustainable development. “Being green makes great social sense,” said Mayor Rusty Bailey of Riverside, California. “Greener living means more local parkland for running, walking, biking, and playing outside. It means better access to healthy food.”

Mayors are concerned about the uptick in the murder rate even though overall crime rates are historically low.

Many mayors reported an uptick in crime within their cities, and this trend, noticeable across the country, was particularly alarming for homicide. “Many of our homicides are the result of domestic violence. In the past two years, we have made significant changes in the way we deal with these situations. We are handling the calls differently. We are handling the investigations differently. We are learning more and more about which cases are likely to escalate,” said Mayor Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City. Research has shown, however, that even though the short-term homicide trend is pointed in the wrong direction, crime overall is still at the lowest point in decades nationally.

Mayors are concerned about the increasing opioid epidemic.

Seventy-eight Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. The fact that this epidemic has grown at such an expansive rate in recent years has led NLC to join with the National Association of Counties (NACo) to form the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic. Policies addressing substance abuse, fueled by an increase in opioid addiction, consumed much of the coverage of health-related topics in this year’s State of the City speeches. “It’s a living and breathing epidemic — like a virus — infecting residents of all walks of life. It’s dashed young people’s dreams of going to college or landing a job. It’s torn families apart. Parents have had to bury their children,” said Binghamton, New York, Mayor Richard David.

Mayors are helping their cities see the value of using technology and data to drive decisions and make their city governments more efficient and effective.

In this year’s speeches, multiple cities committed to becoming smart cities, where classrooms, neighborhoods and businesses leverage data and technology to become better connected and more productive. “We need to focus on new technologies, because the solutions we envision today may be obsolete 10 years from now,” said Mayor Megan Barry of Nashville, Tennessee. Cities are also moving their operations online and into the cloud to increase transparency and efficiency. “Greenwood is the first city in Indiana to use OpenGov, a software platform that is transforming how governments analyze, share and compare financial data,” said Mayor Mark Myers. “It’s a remarkable tool, and I urge all citizens to visit the City’s website and take a look.” In Syracuse, New York, residents can submit and track requests for things like sewer backups, trash removal and pothole filling anytime online using “City Line.”

Read the full report here and check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about economic development.

About the Author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

In an Improving Job Market, Mayors Struggle to Compete for Top Talent

Each quarter, NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research analyzes local government employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

(Getty Images)

With the unemployment rate hovering below five percent, cities hoping to once again grow their ranks will have difficulty finding talented workers. (Getty Images)

From low oil prices and Brexit to the Fed, there are a lot of reasons to be uncertain about the strength of the economy. But when June’s BLS jobs report was released Friday, fears of a slowing economy were ever so slightly assuaged. Across sectors, the nation added 287,000 jobs in June, marking the largest gain since October.

Local governments extended their hiring spree into 18 consecutive months of growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cities and counties added 7,600 jobs in June. A total of 14,100 non-education local jobs were added in this quarter — albeit a sharp decrease from the previous quarter’s growth, which was revised to 32,400 jobs.

Local governments are still 100,900 jobs off of their pre-Recession employment peak. With the unemployment rate hovering below five percent, cities hoping to once again grow their ranks will have difficulty finding talented workers.

In our recent State of the Cities analysis (to be released this week), we find that mayors are keenly aware of the need to attract and retain talent within their own city halls. While strong employment numbers are certainly good for the local economy, governments are competing with the private sector over a diminishing number of highly skilled workers.

In their state of the city speeches, mayors discussed the difficulties they face and their proposed solutions. Concerned about the work-life balance, Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James wants to “ensure that women can bring their talents to the city.” Through an initiative called Women’s Empowerment, city employees will be eligible for paid parental leave for the first time this year.

In Duluth, Minnesota, the city is extending the ability to take paid time off beyond its unionized employees. “I’ve asked our Human Resource Department […] to develop a plan that ensures every qualified city employee has the ability to take paid safe and sick time,” said Mayor Emily Larson.

Pensions and other employment benefits continued to be a vexing issue for city budgets. “In order to hire and retain the best and brightest employees, we must continue to invest in them,” said Mayor Kenneth Gulley of Bessemer, Alabama. “Working with the city council, we were able to give our retirees a long overdue seven percent Cost of Living Increase. When we look around at some of our sister cities and the financial struggles they are experiencing, we should feel tremendously blessed,” he said.

Mayors noted that a talented and effective workforce is also diverse. “The city of Salt Lake has employees of every gender, race, ethnicity, economic background, and sexual orientation,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski. “We will foster an even more inclusive environment, one that allows for innovation and helps our staff deliver products and services with greater appeal,” she said.

To fill positions, mayors also recognized the need to reach deeper into the community. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city will hire 5,000 new employees over the next year, targeting recruitment in communities with the most need – including ex-offenders. “For thousands of individuals, these are transformative opportunities — a chance for people to redefine themselves through integrity and hard work,” Garcetti said.

On the other side of the justice system, public safety recruitment was a frequently discussed topic among mayors. Through competitive compensation and inclusive hiring practices, “San Diego continues to be one of the safest big cities in the entire United States,” according to Mayor Kevin Faulconer. “We’re continuing our efforts to hire police officers from our community to ensure the force reflects the people it serves,” he said. In Seattle, where the city is hiring as many officers as the budget will allow, Mayor Edward Murray noted that “last year, 30 percent of the department’s hires were people of color.”

While the state of the economy remains uncertain, what is clear is that many cities are adapting talent recruitment and retention strategies that not only bolster competitiveness with the private sector but also ensure that the diversity of their communities is reflected in the workforce.

Read the full State of the Cities 2016 report this Thursday.

About the Author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

July 14 is Summer Learning Day. Here’s How Your City Can Get Involved.

Recognizing the extra burden on families during the summer, and challenges this can pose for maintaining a safe and vibrant city, local leaders are placing increased focus on expanding summer learning opportunities in their cities.

For some, the summer months may conjure up visions of swimming pools, vacations, and cook-outs. However, the reality for many families is a lot less relaxing. Families often struggle to find affordable summer programs and childcare while school is out, meaning that the summer months often come with increased risk of food insecurity, higher crime rates and a loss of academic skills. National Summer Learning Day on July 14 offers city leaders a number of ways to get involved and amplify their impact.

summer learningA recent National League of Cities (NLC) survey on municipal leadership for summer learning found that 46 percent of respondents – which included 320 mayors, elected officials, city offices and program providers from more than 190 cities – ranked summer learning as one of their cities’ important or top priorities. Survey data shows that cities are using summer to address a variety of issues, including literacy and academic achievement, as well as targeting health and wellness through physical activity and summer meals programs. Many cities also reported using the summer months to establish job training and internship programs to assist in workforce development.

In support of National Summer Learning Day, city leaders can issue proclamations, publish op-eds, or host a summer learning day event. For more detailed information, including sample op-eds, see the Mayor’s Summer Learning Playbook by NLC and the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA).

summer learning playbookNSLA also has a mapping tool to track Summer Learning Day activities across the country. If your community or program is hosting a Summer Learning Day event put it on the map so that families and the media can find it. A Summer Learning Day event can be a community resource fair, science fair, library or museum visit or even a social media event — anything that celebrates and raises awareness about the importance of learning during the summer months. These events are not limited to July 14 and can take place anytime during the summer!

Not only has the importance of summer learning opportunities seen a groundswell of activity at the local level, but at the federal level as well. This year the White House announced the Summer Opportunity Project, with the goal of elevating the importance of summer by focusing on summer learning opportunities, meal programs and jobs. To learn more, visit the Summer Opportunity Project website and check out the Summer Opportunity Action Kit for concrete ways to tap into the initiative and make this summer the best for cities and towns’ families and children across the country.

Pierson HeadshotAbout the Author: Erika Pierson is an Associate for Expanded Learning at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Erika on Twitter @epaisley

7 Ways City Leaders Can Address Racial Inequities

City leaders must step up to take the lead with their police departments and community members to address racial inequities in their respective cities and towns.


Last year, NLC launched the REAL (Race, Equity And Leadership) initiative to equip its membership with the capacity to respond to racial tensions in their communities, identify the systemic barriers that sustain racial injustice in our nation’s cities, and build more equitable communities. (Jason Dixson Photography)

The events of this week serve as a horrific reminder of how important it is for cities to acknowledge and take meaningful action on racial injustice. In the days following our country’s collective celebration of Independence Day, two black men were killed by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, and white police officers were targeted, wounded, and killed in Dallas, Texas, as they were serving and protecting peaceful protesters.

Racism is killing us.

The National League of Cities (NLC) strengthens the capacity of local elected officials to build racial equity. For example, in response to the tragic events that occurred recently in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas, NLC hosted a webinar to help cities deal with the challenges of race and equity in their communities – and commit to solutions. The webinar shares ideas for city responses, highlights what’s working in several cities, and offers tools and resources from both NLC and the federal government that are available to all cities.

I encourage municipal leaders across the country to engage with their communities on racial equity issues and make smart policy decisions that can reduce racial inequities in policing and restore police–community trust. Do not wait for a tragedy to occur in your city to address these pressing issues.

Last year, NLC launched the REAL (Race, Equity And Leadership) initiative to equip its membership with the capacity to respond to racial tensions in their communities, identify the systemic barriers that sustain racial injustice in our nation’s cities, and build more equitable communities. REAL provides training and resources to prepare city leaders to apply a racial equity lens to policies, initiatives, programs and budgets.

What City Leaders Can Do

City leaders must step up to take the lead with their police departments and community members to address racial inequities in their respective cities and towns. City leaders have a greater capacity to create real, tangible changes in policing than the federal government will ever have. Municipal leaders are in a unique position to be trailblazers in building and strengthening relationships between police and the people they serve.

  1. Build trust. Actively build trust between police and communities of color in your city.  (See Project Peace in Tacoma, Washington as one example.)
  2. Get the facts about racial disparities in your city. Numbers get attention. Do you know how many arrests, fines, tickets, violent encounters, and citizen complaints are issued to or by each racial group in your community? Getting real data on police-community interactions disaggregated by race is an important first step to developing solutions that will work for your community. See this upcoming webinar from our partners at the Government Alliance on Race and Equity.
  3. Listen. A frustration I hear from communities of color is that their voices are silenced, and that leaders often try to make policy solutions without engaging in meaningful dialogue around the issue. Now more than ever, this is important because folks have a lot to say and great ideas for addressing these complex issues in their communities. See examples of community dialogues on race in New Orleans and Charlottesville, Virginia.
  4. Lead. Be a vocal proponent in your community for racial equity policies, programs, and practices. Here is a resource guide for government officials and lessons learned from community leaders.
  5. Change. Consider policy reforms that could work in your city. Apply a racial equity lens to your broader policies, initiatives, programs and budgets. Here is a toolkit to help you get there.
  6. Provide Training. Training can and should be implemented in every department to understand and recognize explicit and implicit bias and de-escalate crisis moments. Click here for an NLC guide to police training programs. Register to attend the leadership training on racial equity at NLC’s City Summit in Pittsburgh this November.
  7. Prioritize Accountability. Reframe how police departments are held accountable. Departments across the country can track quality of interactions and other outcomes in addition to numbers of arrests and tickets, particularly in communities of color. For example, the Gainesville, Florida, Chief of Police instituted an additional level of supervisor review when officers chose to arrest a youth who was in fact eligible for an alternative statewide civil citation program – and this resulted in an immediate increase in the number of citations issued to non-white youth in lieu of arrest. Similarly, how and when police use their weapons is something for which city leaders can hold police departments accountable on a consistent basis – not just when the media brings attention to a particular incident.

I commend Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden for his leadership during this difficult time. Mayor Holden has promised the citizens of Baton Rouge excellence, integrity, and transparency in the investigation into the shooting death of Alton Sterling. He has also welcomed the support of state and federal law enforcement to ensure his citizens get answers and accountability. Mayor Holden acknowledged the deep pain felt in his community and the need for healing. “We have a wound right now. But we’ll be healing and making this city and parish whole again,” he said. (View his press conference in its entirety here.)

I could not agree more with Mayor Holden that our communities must heal from trauma caused by institutional and structural racism in our country. I see wounds like this in communities divided by race and hurt by racism all over the country. The REAL initiative is just beginning its work on racial healing with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Enterprise. We look forward to working towards the goal to “bridge deeply embedded divides and generate the will, capacities and resources required for achieving greater equity across the nation.”

About the Author: Leon T. Andrews, Jr., is the Director of the Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative at the National League of Cities.

How These Two Cities Merged Fire Departments to Manage Growth AND Cut Costs

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, two mayors from Nebraska explain how a new inter-municipal fire department offers a quality of professional service that neither city could provide alone.

Have a similar big idea to share? We are currently accepting speaker submissions for the 2016 Big Ideas for Small Cities event to be held at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 16-19, 2016.

Mayor David Black of Papillion and Mayor Douglas Kindig of La Vista co-present on how these growing communities merged fire departments in an effort to address their shared needs through inter-municipal collaboration.

What were the goals of the project?

La Vista, Nebraska, a growing suburb of Omaha, just reached 18,000 in population and decided it needed to replace its volunteer fire and EMS services with a professional department to accommodate increasing needs. The larger neighboring community of Papillion has maintained a professional fire department since the nineties, but in recent years also has acknowledged the need for its own expansion. Rather than maintaining two separate departments, the two cities proposed merging as a means to cut costs. Both the La Vista and Papillion city councils agreed to form one stronger department that would cover both cities, cut costs all around, and accommodate the needs of these growing Omaha suburbs.

How was the project executed?

Officials from La Vista, Papillion, and the Rural Papillion Fire Protection District approved the formal merger in the fall of 2013. On April 1st, 2014 the La Vista Volunteer Fire Department terminated its services and the newly enlarged Papillion Fire Department began protecting La Vista. With the help of a $2 million federal grant, Papillion hired 12 new fire fighters, 4 of whom served as volunteers in La Vista.  Months before the transition, Papillion fire fighters began conducting test missions throughout La Vista to acquaint themselves with the new territory.

The 2014-15 budget breakdown for the new merged district will involve the Rural Papillion Fire District financing the biggest portion at $2.7 million, while La Vista will pay about $1.6 million, and Papillion $1.7 million. The cities plan to sell equipment made redundant by the merger, and will use the revenue to further cut costs and purchase updated equipment. Papillion estimates that the average $100,000 home will pay $6 less a year in taxes slated for fire prevention.

What are the results to date?

The new unified fire service has a professional staff of 51 career firefighters working to provide emergency services to the cities of Papillion and La Vista. Papillion’s city council is in charge of the new four station department. In total, 57 paid employees work across three shifts to protect 60,000 people living within the newly created 68 square mile special district. The department is also able to guarantee Advanced Life Support at all times. Local residents have grown accustomed to seeing trucks marked “Papillion” and “La Vista” freely cross between the two communities. City officials confirm the new inter-municipal department offers a quality of professional service that neither city could provide alone.

Presented at the 2015 NLC Congress of Cities
Contact: Brooks Rainwater – Director, City Solutions and Applied Research, National League of Cities

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

Making Progress at the DC ReEngagement Center

The DC ReEngagement Center (REC) was able to match 200 of those disengaged young adults with appropriate education programs, with a “stick rate”  (the percentage of people who remain in their education program for the academic year) of 74 percent.

Close-up of boy (12-13) doing homework at desk

Disengaged young adults place an inordinate burden on cities, which must often dedicate more resources in public assistance and social safety net programs in order to support this disconnected population. (Getty Images)

Washington, D.C.’s 2014 launch of a full-scale reengagement center designed to bring dropouts back to school is featured in the YEF Institute’s recently published book on strategies cities across the country have used to help disengaged young adults complete their education. I sat down with the DC ReEngagement Center’s Deputy Director Isaac Hammond-Paul 18-months into the center’s operations to discuss how it has been able to successfully engage 74 percent of its clientele in education programs.

In 2014, the District’s high school graduation rate stood 20 percentage points below the national average, leading to a considerably higher than average number of disengaged young adults, defined as unemployed individuals ages 16 to 24 who have not completed high school.

The DC ReEngagement Center (REC) modeled itself on similar programs in Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago, and is just one example of several dozen efforts nationwide by cities to reconnect disengaged youth to the education system.

During its first year of operation, the REC, run by the Office of State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) in conjunction with the Department of Employment Services (DOES) and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME), held initial intake sessions with roughly 600 dropouts, according to Hammond-Paul. The center was able to match 200 of those disengaged young adults with appropriate education programs, with a “stick rate”, the percentage of people who remain in their education program for the academic year, of 74 percent.

Hammond-Paul detailed the REC’s five-part process for connecting the District’s disengaged young adults with education programs that best fit their individual circumstances, which includes: Outreach, Assessment, Referral, Reenrollment, and Ongoing-Support. The program runs as follows.

The center uses a variety of methods to conduct Outreach to disengaged young adults. Every week the REC receives a list of recent dropouts from the city’s education department, who center staff then contact immediately over the phone or in person. Additionally, the center has set up a referral network made up of criminal justice, employment and health organizations that work with young adults who have not completed high school. The center has also had success with peer-to-peer referrals by asking current clients whether they have friends or family who would be interested in the REC’s services.

Young adults interested in the center’s programs are then invited into the center to begin the Assessment process, where have a one-on-one intake meeting with a reengagement specialist. During the meeting, the specialist and the client discuss the specific barriers that stand between the young person and his or her return to the education system, as well as what services are available to help the client overcome those barriers. Barriers typically include employment issues, unstable housing, child care, and lack of adequate transportation.

Soon after the initial meeting, the specialist invites the client back to the center to complete the comprehensive intake process to gauge the client’s academic ability, review old transcripts, and get a fuller sense for how the specialist can best support the individual.

Following the assessment, the client moves on to the Referral stage where the specialist helps identify the best educational option for a particular client. The range of services offered by education programs varies, so the specialist works with the client to determine which would be the best fit.

Once the pair decide on a best-fit option, the reengagement specialist initiates the Reenrollment process. The specialist arranges a site-visit and helps the client collect the necessary transcripts and documents required for enrollment.

After the client reenrolls into a program, the dropout specialist provides Ongoing-Support via monthly check-in meetings to ensure that the client is on track to successfully graduate from the program. If an issue does arise, the specialist works with the client to eliminate any barriers.

To learn more about the efforts of the Washington, D.C. center and other dropout reengagement centers, see the new book “Reengagement: Bringing Students Back to America’s Schools” available from Rowman & Littlefield publishing house. One young man’s reengagement experience with the DC REC is detailed in the National Journal piece “Waiting for Daniel.”

niels headshotAbout the Author: Niels Smith is a Heinz Fellow at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. He is currently completing his degree in Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College. Contact Niels at

Four Takeaways from NLC’s Leadership Meeting in Kansas City

More than 200 local leaders convened this week in Kansas City to work on key initiatives and discuss policies that can benefit your city.

Kansas City, Missouri, recently hosted NLC's 2016 Summer Board and Leadership Meeting. Among other highlights, we got to explore the city on a streetcar tour.

Kansas City, Missouri, recently hosted NLC’s 2016 Summer Board and Leadership Meeting. Among other highlights, we got to explore the city on a streetcar tour.

More than 200 local leaders convened this week in Kansas City for the National League of Cities Summer Board and Leadership Meeting and Policy Forum. This annual convening serves as a business meeting for NLC’s Board of Directors and a platform for our members on the seven Policy and Advocacy Steering Committees to discuss federal action priorities and policy positions. The summer leadership meeting also includes a number of mobile workshops, and guest speakers. Here are the highlights:

1. The New Logo and Slogan Were a Hit

Bold and modern, the new logo embraces our role as the voice of cities in Washington; our slogan, Cities Strong Together, emphasizes our connection with the 19,000 cities and towns we represent. Up next: over the long 4th of July weekend, NLC will be relocating to our new offices just down the street from Capitol Hill.

With updated meeting and conference centers, as well as convenient access to Congress, we’ll be able to communicate in and outside of the Beltway better than ever before. These major accomplishments couldn’t have happened without the input of our leadership—this week in Kansas City, we proudly celebrated the major accomplishments NLC has achieved with their guidance and vision.

2. The Board Passed a Resolution on Gun Violence

In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history – claiming the lives of 49 victims at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida – NLC’s Board of Directors voted to call on Congress and the administration to take action to reduce gun violence.

The board’s action comes at a time of unprecedented gun violence in the U.S. Since January 2016, there have been 196 mass shootings involving four or more victims, killing 299 people and wounding 721. Looking at gun-related incidents as a whole, in the first six months of 2016 there have been more than 24,921 incidents, claiming the lives of 6,386, and wounding 13,176, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

3. Kansas City Was a Great Host


Not only did they put up our name in lights, but the city gave us a streetcar tour, shared innovative ideas from their partnership with Cisco and Smart City Media, and treated us to a Kansas City Royals baseball game. Representatives from the Kansas City business community, federal agencies and Kansas City Mayor Sly James participated as guest speakers in the meetings.

4. The Board Discussed Key Initiatives and Considered Policy Positions


The board approved NLC’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget and heard updates on several strategic initiatives, including the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic and the 2016 Presidential Election Task Force.

Federal Advocacy Committee members focused their time in Kansas City on the National Municipal Policy, the status of NLC’s 2016 federal action agenda, and inventive local practices. For a full look at the committee’s activity while in Kansas City, click here.

About the Author: Meridith St. Jean is the Associate for Marketing, Communications & Technology at the National League of Cities.

How Technology Infrastructure Changed Our Small City

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new video focused on cities, community issues or local government. In this week’s edition, Mooresville, North Carolina, Commissioner Lisa Qualls shares big ideas about how broadband technology changed her town. Have a similar big idea to share? We are currently accepting speaker submissions for the 2016 Big Ideas for Small Cities event to be held at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, November 16-19, 2016.

Mooresville Commissioner Lisa Qualls speaks about the role technology has played in placing her small town in North Carolina at the forefront of technological innovation.

What are the project goals?

The City of Mooresville made the decision to establish high speed Internet as a basic utility to which all citizens have access. Through a robust technology infrastructure, the city will better equip its students, citizens, and businesses with the tools necessary compete in a global market. Schools will have access to the fastest Internet speeds available and each student in the district will receive a school issued laptop or tablet. Additionally, the strong data network provides low-cost Internet to citizens and businesses, fostering economic development, supporting municipal planning, and even enhancing disaster relief.

How was the project executed?

In 2007, the City of Mooresville bought a local cable company after it went up for sale.  Mooresville and its neighboring communities filed to jointly buy the company for $64 million. After a lengthy process, the coalition of cities gained control of the company and its fiber optic network. That same year, the Mooresville School District began its “21st Century Digital Conversion.”

Having secured access to a high speed telecommunications network, Mooresville sought advice and help from industry experts like Apple and Discovery education. In keeping with the education goals outlined above, Mac Book computers and iPads have been leased annually from Apple on three or four year contracts. The funding for this equipment and software updates comes through city and school district budgets and is partially offset by reductions in costs for textbooks. Additionally, the district has received grants to support equipment costs or for various upgrades from sources including Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Despite state education funding cuts, the Mooresville School District is able to maintain over 5,000 laptops and tablets and support a large IT staff. Although the school district has grown in the population served, the use of one-to-one technology has been an essential factor in managing increasing class sizes – in some cases increases of 50 percent. The city also has partnered with local Internet service provider My Connection to offer broadband service at home for as little as $9.99 a month and to offer the service free to families with children eligible for free or reduced cost meals.

What are the results from this initiative?

Since beginning this venture, the city has received acclaim for its actions, including from President Obama who visited the local middle school in 2013. Students from kindergarten to grade 12 each have their own computer and every classroom has wireless Internet access. Graduation rates have risen and the city has seen a dramatic reduction in the performance gap between black and white students and between wealthy and poor students.

In other areas, Mooresville also used its enhanced GIS technology to help Niagara Bottling Company find a new home in existing facilities just outside of Mooresville. All city parks and municipal buildings offer public access Wi-Fi to 100mbps while sports venues webhost live footage of youth sports so that out of town parents can watch their children play.

Presented at the NLC Congress of Cities 2015
NLC Contact: Brooks Rainwater
Director, City Solutions and Applied Research

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

Five Things Cities Can Do to Make the Sharing Economy Work for Everyone

As the source of pilot programs and experimentation, cities are well positioned to leverage new technology and innovative business models to ensure that the sharing economy is truly inclusive.

(Getty Images)

Through Mayor Park Won-soon’s Sharing City initiative, the city of Seoul, Korea, has helped incubate startups and introduce citizens to proven and trusted sharing services. A conference around the initiative has further branded Seoul as an innovative locale and a model of how the sharing economy can thrive. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Serena Lei. The post originally appeared here.

The sharing economy holds promise for poor and disadvantaged communities — offering jobs with flexible hours, opportunities to earn extra cash, and access to bikes and cars without having to own them. But according to Solomon Greene and John McGinty of the Urban Institute, it has not yet lived up to that potential.

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 41 percent of Americans with an annual household income of $100,000 or more have used four or more sharing-economy or on-demand services, while only 13 percent of households earning less than $30,000 a year have done the same.

Low-income communities are much less likely to use car- and bike-sharing programs. Sharing-economy workers operate, for the most part, without labor protections or employee benefits. The social aspect of sharing platforms may inadvertently enable racial discrimination. And home-sharing services can drive up housing costs, making it harder for low-income residents to find affordable places to live.

Cities can help tip the scales. “Many regulations that affect the sharing economy are determined locally,” McGinty said. “Cities are the source of pilots and experimentation. They are well positioned to leverage new technology and innovative business models to ensure that the sharing economy works for all residents.”

But many local leaders have instead been doubling down on outdated regulations and penalties, Greene and McGinty argue in “What if Cities Could Create a Truly Inclusive Local Sharing Economy?” Here are five things they recommend cities do to make the sharing economy work for everyone:

  1. Convene a roundtable to map out the local sharing-economy landscape and identify gaps and barriers to participation. Working together, city leaders, community groups, businesses, researchers, and sharing-economy firms could use this information to create a roadmap forward. For example, cities with high unemployment could focus on using sharing platforms to provide work supports and create paths to quality jobs. Highly segregated cities could use sharing services to support small businesses in economically distressed areas.
  1. Protect sharing-economy workers, who don’t get the same protections as full-time employees. Sharing-economy jobs offer greater flexibility and independence but shift economic risks on to workers. To help, cities could provide flexible and portable benefits, allow contract workers to unionize, and reclassify contractors as employees subject to minimum wages and basic worker protections. The Seattle City Council has approved a bill allowing car-sharing drivers to unionize. And Uber recently announced that New York drivers could form an association — though not a full-fledged union — that would provide some labor protections.
  1. Help sharing-economy entrepreneurs by providing seed capital and training, creating or subsidizing shared workspaces, and reducing licensing and permitting barriers. Seoul, Korea, through the mayor’s Sharing City initiative, has helped seed a clothes-sharing program for job seekers and a home-sharing platform.
  1. Require sharing-economy firms to expand their services into low-income neighborhoods or reduce prices for low-income consumers in exchange for government contracts or regulatory approvals. Some cities are already experimenting with ways to do this. Los Angeles introduced a pilot program to put 100 car-share vehicles in low-income neighborhoods. And in Minneapolis, the Nice Ride bike-share program offers subsidized memberships and conducts outreach in low-income communities.
  1. Support peer-to-peer lending to help people build credit and access more affordable loans, a barrier that may be keeping low-income households from becoming likely consumers of the sharing economy. Oakland and Richmond, California, offer municipal IDs that are also prepaid debit cards, which may help people without bank accounts.

Other barriers to participation — such as lack of Internet and smartphone access — still remain, but these actions could help cities harness the promise of the sharing economy and make it truly inclusive of all residents.

This post is part of an Urban Institute series funded by the Rockefeller Foundation that explores how city leaders can promote local economies that are inclusive of all their residents. The framing brief, “Open Cities: From Economic Exclusion to Urban Inclusion,” defines economic exclusion and discusses city-level trends across high-income countries. The four “What if?” essays suggest bold and innovative solutions, and they are intended to spark debate on how cities might harness new technologies, rising momentum, and new approaches to governance in order to overcome economic exclusion.

About the Author: Serena Lei is the senior writer and editor at the Urban Institute.

NLC Awards Grants to Six Cities to Strengthen Financial Inclusion Efforts

While cities are increasingly creating programs to address financial inclusion, bringing those programs out of their silos to engage with partners and current resources is what makes the difference in those programs’ long-term success.

Mother watching daughter count coins from piggy bank

“At a time when too many Lansing residents face serious obstacles to financial stability, NLC is helping the city to step up to provide them with vital assistance in reducing debt, building credit and saving for the future.” – The Honorable Virg Bernero, Mayor, City of Lansing, Michigan (Photo: Getty Images)

To accomplish his stated goals, Lansing, Michigan, Mayor Virg Benero joined the National League of Cities and five other mayors recently to brainstorm solutions to the financial challenges residents in his city face every day. This Mayors’ Institute was part of NLC’s two-year project supported by MetLife Foundation, Cities Building Systems to Promote Financial Inclusion, which provides technical assistance and grants to eight cities working to build sustainable financial inclusion programs and systems. Last week, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) awarded grants to six of these cities to help them implement diverse approaches to mitigate their residents’ financial challenges.

Nearly half of American households lack enough savings to cover a three-month emergency fund for basic expenses, necessary for the loss of a job or a sudden medical expense. Unless families are financially healthy, cities generate less money from property taxes and can lose revenue from unpaid public utility bills. They must also grapple with the costs of higher rates of foreclosure, decreasing education and health outcomes, and less vibrant local economies.

Cities and their community partners can build and implement programs that provide financial support and services, ranging from child savings accounts to financial counseling to avoiding check-cashers and predatory lending. But by focusing on systems-building, cities put infrastructure in place to ensure that programs are sustainable, integrated into community priorities, and efficient in building on existing services.

The grant funds awarded through this project provide mayors with the opportunity to build capacity, integrate services, and learn from other cities that are part of the project cohort. It can be difficult to secure funding that goes beyond support of existing, discrete programs; mayors will be able to think critically about how to build enduring relationships and recognize that while cities are increasingly creating programs to address financial inclusion, bringing those programs out of their silos to engage with partners and current resources is what makes the difference in those programs’ long-term success.

Cities are taking on elements of infrastructure, communication, and program design with technical assistance from NLC’s YEF Institute. Several are using funding to assess the landscape of financial inclusion in their cities: community organizations and nonprofits are passionate about providing services, so how can cities facilitate or coordinate the efforts of numerous partners?

Lansing is a city with strong programs in place to serve families, and their grant will go towards making connections between those programs. Mayor Bernero will use the grant to engage parents of children that are enrolled in the city’s Children’s Savings Account (CSA) program and connect them to services available through the city’s Financial Empowerment Centers. Financial Empowerment Centers offer residents an array of services such as debt reduction, access to public benefits and financial counseling.  This dual generation approach will help families build confidence in planning for their children’s futures.

Meanwhile, Dubuque, Iowa – another city receiving an NLC financial inclusion grant – plans to integrate its Bank On program (which connects unbanked individuals to accounts) with EITC/VITA initiatives to promote financial education and incentivized savings. By building a shared data platform, working together to target residents, and moving beyond the provision of bank accounts, Dubuque will strengthen the programs it already offers and ensure their sustainability.

With mayors as champions of financial inclusion, cities are well-positioned to make tangible changes in the lives of families. By thinking critically about their role as conveners of stakeholders, implementers of impactful programs, and communicators to residents, cities can use a systems-building approach to strengthen and sustain families and the financial inclusion services they receive.

For more information about NLC’s municipal financial inclusion efforts, visit our website or contact Denise Belser, program manager for economic opportunity and financial empowerment at

About the Authors: 

Denise Belser

Denise Belser is the Program Manager of Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment Program within NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Lily Roberts photoLily Roberts is an intern with the Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment Program within NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families.