How Six Cities Are Pursuing Equity and Innovation in Economic Development

photo - How Six Cities Are Pursuing Equity and Innovation in Economic Development
photo - How Six Cities Are Pursuing Equity and Innovation in Economic Development
This week, NLC staff is heading to Houston, one of six cities in our inaugural class of EED Fellowship participants. Our plan is to further provide technical assistance to help the city pursue economic development goals. (Getty Images)

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

The need for equitable economic development programs is dire. According to the Brookings Institute, states and localities spend $50 to $80 billion on tax breaks and incentives each year in the name of economic development, despite a mountain of evidence showing that tax incentives produce mostly marginal returns. These traditional approaches to economic development by local governments have not benefited all populations – and, in many cases, the policies and programs have particularly neglected or even shortchanged people of color, immigrants, and low income communities. Cities need to be intentional about targeting their economic development programs, funding and policies at the specific populations and neighborhoods that are increasingly distant from the growth sectors of their regional and city economies.

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

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

Throughout the year, the EED Fellowship also offers technical assistance via webinars on different topics identified by the six cities. Some of the topics covered include: inclusive strategies for small business development and entrepreneurship support, best practices in collecting data for equitable economic development, institutionalizing equity in economic development programs and policies, and presenting a framework to incorporate an equity lens in economic development incentive package.

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

Boston

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

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

Charlotte

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

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

Houston

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

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

Memphis:

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

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

Milwaukee:

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

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

Minneapolis:

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

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

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

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

Senior Associate, Equitable Economic Development Fellowship