From his first days in office, President Obama has directed his team to partner with local leaders, providing them better and more innovative tools to create jobs, rebuild critical infrastructure, and revitalize distressed areas. These tools have been particularly important to communities that have faced the systemic inequities and challenges of concentrated poverty, deindustrialization, residential segregation, disinvestment, and the uneven recovery from the Great Recession. Overcoming these challenges is never easy – but this Administration has shown we can achieve extraordinary results by adopting a more appropriate level of humility about the federal role in strengthening local economies: not dictating direction from DC, but partnering to fuel locally-developed plans that follow the evidence on what works.
This approach is the centerpiece of several successful initiatives, including the Sustainable Communities Initiative bringing jobs and infrastructure together to improve regional economic resilience, Promise Zones expanding educational and economic opportunities in high-poverty urban, rural, and tribal communities, and the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership building the next generation of American manufacturing. As the new Executive Director of the White House Council for Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2), Patrick will extend this approach in some of our nation’s hardest-hit cities as they build stronger economic and civic foundations.
Through SC2, the Administration works with committed local leaders in cities experiencing population and job loss, persistent poverty, and similar challenges – helping them implement a locally-driven economic vision in close collaboration with private sector partners. This work has already enabled SC2 cities to more effectively utilize more than $368 million in existing federal funds to grow their local businesses and invest in housing, transportation, education, public safety, and public health – the foundations of long-term economic resilience. These gains have garnered national recognition – including the Harvard Kennedy School’s recent recognition of SC2 as an Innovation in Government.
SC2 teams have played critical roles in establishing a regional transit authority and launching the “Text My Bus” initiatives in Detroit, rebuilding Fresno’s downtown and Memphis’s waterfront, ending a food desert in Chester, PA, and connecting NASA scientists and engineers with manufacturers in Cleveland to collaborate on product development and improvement.
To date, SC2 has partnered with over 40 cities to cut through red tape, accelerate federally-funded projects, and help communities accomplish their economic development goals via: (1) Direct deployment of on-the-ground federal SC2 teams in 14 cities; (2) An SC2 National Resource Network taking that partnership model to scale through technical assistance customized to a city’s level of need; (3) A direct 311 line for cities providing 48-hour turnaround with resources for common policy challenges; and (4) The Economic Visioning Challenge underway in three cities. Our on-the-ground teams will continue their work in seven of our cities through late 2016, and we expect to serve up to 80 more through the National Resource Network.
A Note from Patrick: I begin my service as the new Executive Director of SC2 with a deep and personal connection to our work, and gratitude to the extraordinary SC2 team and leadership of former ED Mark Linton, who together have laid the foundation for the resurgence of many of America’s hardest-hit cities. I grew up in Richmond, VA and began my career in Compton, CA – communities that have experienced many of the same economic challenges as our SC2 cities. I will ensure that we use every last day of this Administration to continuously innovate, improving our responsiveness to the cities we serve, and building an enduring model for federal-local collaboration.
Luke Tate is Special Assistant to the President for Economic Mobility at the White House Domestic Policy Council. Patrick Pontius is Executive Director of the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2).