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Supporting Local Communities by Building Capacity and Cutting Red Tape

Shaun Donovan and Cecilia Munoz highlight the impact of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative.

One year ago, the President established the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) that established an innovative new model of federal-local collaboration dedicated to assisting communities get back on their feet and create jobs by helping them better leverage federal resources and form key partnerships to implement economic visions. Teams of federal employees are embedded with seven Mayors across the country to provide tailored technical assistance to cut through red tape, increase government efficiency, and build partnerships to help local leaders implement sustainable economic plans.

A year later, we have learned a lot about collaboration, team work, and how the federal government can support local communities working as a team to get things done. 

These lessons are outlined in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Annual Report, which describes the impact of the SC2 Initiative and identifies emerging innovations that have the potential to be applied to many other communities working to strengthen their economies and job creation at the local level. 

At a time when communities must accomplish more with every dollar of investment, SC2’s work in its first few years has already enabled communities to maximize the impact of more than $345 million in existing federal funds.

In addition to helping local governments tap into federal expertise, the work of the SC2 teams in pilot cities has identified best practices that will improve how the federal government partners with many other communities to support job training, economic development, safer neighborhoods, and improved public health outcomes.  The work has also demonstrated the value of cultivating deeper public-private partnerships, especially with businesses and philanthropy, as city governments look for new models to expand their capacity to serve residents. 

More recently, in his State of the Union address, the President proposed to align his signature revitalization initiatives to ensure that federal programs and resources are focused on 20 communities that are suffering the most from the effects of the recession. As these “Promise Zones” are designated, SC2 will contribute to this effort, by helping local leaders navigate federal programs, cut red tape, use federal resources more effectively, and provide technical assistance.

As Co-Chairs of the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities, we are proud of what SC2 has achieved to date and are excited for the work that lies ahead.  In the coming months, SC2 will expand to additional cities, support the President’s proposal to designate “Promise Zones,” and announce the selection of an Administrator for the SC2 National Resource Network—a one-stop portal for communities seeking additional expertise to address their challenges.

With all of these efforts, SC2 is demonstrating that the federal government can be a strong partner to communities and local leaders. This partnership is especially critical to building ladders of opportunity for those working hard to make it into the middle class and stay in the middle class. 

For a fuller picture of the SC2 initiative, feel free to read the entire report (click here to download), but some of the highlights include:

  • CHESTER: The SC2 team helped facilitate an investment by a Philadelphia-based food-bank, Philabundance, to provide residents with low-cost, nutritious food in a supermarket-style food bank, addressing a major impediment to attracting investment and growth in the community. The project broke ground in late September 2012 and will provide the first new grocery store in the City for over a decade.
  • CLEVELAND: The SC2 team and NASA, working with the City, County, and the Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network, selected nine medium- to small-sized companies to receive a total of 400 hours of subject matter expertise and access to $450K in low-interest loans, which will allow them to grow their business and hire more employees.
  • DETROIT: The SC2 team worked with the City of Detroit and the M-1 Rail investors to facilitate partnerships and lay the groundwork for a light rail system along the Woodward Corridor. M1-Rail is a consortium of Detroit area corporate business ventures, foundations and public and private institutions, which are committing over $100 million in funding to build and operate a 3.3 mile modern streetcar system on Woodward Avenue, the region’s primary north-south thoroughfare.   The project aims to link downtown Detroit, the region’s largest employment center, with the rapidly developing Midtown and New Center neighborhoods to the north, serving destinations such as Tiger Stadium, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and Wayne State.  USDOT has pledged $25 million towards construction of the project.
  • FRESNO: The SC2 team identified the opportunity to re-route the planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line through the City’s top priority area for downtown revitalization, which will also host the Nation’s first high-speed rail station. The new location will create a vibrant downtown transit-corridor that will help the Fresno maximize the economic impact from the BRT line and better leverage multiple federal investments.
  • MEMPHIS: The SC2 team helped the City address small business funding needs in the community through the establishment of the Economic Growth and Development Engine (EDGE). Developed by the City and Shelby County with technical assistance from the Small Business Administration (SBA), EDGE and its associated entities are capitalized at $16 million and include an Imprest Fund for smaller loans and a Growth Fund for needs exceeding $100,000.
  • NEW ORLEANS: The SC2 team provided technical support to the City that accelerated the launch of a $52 million homebuyer assistance and neighborhood redevelopment initiative. This assistance reduced a significant amount of red tape, and helped get the funding out into the community. To date, more than 220 first-time home buyers have closed on homes through the initiative.
  • YOUNGSTOWN:  The SC2 team worked with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to establish a Diagnostic Center to improve public safety by using data to gauge the scope of community challenges, recognize trends, establish baselines, and determine data‐driven strategies to increase public safety.

Shaun Donovan is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Cecilia Muñoz is Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.