Next week, I’ll participate in the 2011 Annual Conference of the National Association of Counties(NACo) with partners from across the Administration.
The timing is bittersweet for me, as I prepare to return to Seattle after more than two years as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But this conference reminds me how far we’ve come since I first spoke to NACo two years ago – and the steps we’ve taken to help cities and regions tackle common challenges together.
Having served as King County Executive in Washington for a dozen years before coming to HUD, I knew all too well that the Federal government wasn’t usually part of that conversation. And when it was, the Federal government was more often a barrier to progress than the kind of partner we needed.
In King County, we created a regional affordable housing program, one of our nation’s first regional climate plans, and established light rail service that connected some of the most distressed areas of Greater Seattle. Virtually on our own, we turned into the kind of thriving metropolitan region we need to win the future.
Unfortunately, without a federal partner to help places facing similar challenges cut through the red tape and leverage private investment, the kinds of turnarounds we’ve seen in Seattle or Boston or Pittsburgh have been all too rare.
But because of President Obama, Secretary Donovan and leaders throughout this Administration, that’s beginning to change. They realize that our metros produce over 80 percent of the nation’s patents and exports, where 90 cents out of every dollar America produces come from, and where more than 8-in-10 residents live. And they know competitors like China and India realize it, too.
That’s why we’ve worked with organizations like NACo to provide the tools and partnerships counties need to build strong regional economies and create jobs:
With this work, we’re helping lay the foundation not just for stronger communities – but for the dynamic, diverse economy America needs. And instead of following the old Washington playbook, we’re doing it from the ground up—not telling communities what they need, but by listening, learning and partnering for growth.
That is the kind of change President promised when he came into office two-and-a-half years ago. It’s the kind of change I’ve been proud to be a part of during my time at HUD. And it’s one I’ll be proud to share at NACo when I speak there on Sunday.
Ron Sims is Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.