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Live at ICIC's Inner City Economic Summit: How Cities Define and Quantify "What Works"
Written By Cristina Garmendia
One of the things I was listening for in the introductory session, “What Works for Cities: Spotlight on Solutions” was exactly how cities define “what works.” What are the measures of success for economic development? As a student of policy analysis, I am very interested in quantitatively measuring impact of investments. Yet I know evidence-based decision-making is a dream for many policymakers, as the evidence either doesn’t exist and is prohibitively expensive to collect. Many policy decisions have to be made on the basis of anecdotal evidence and short-range political optics. It is important that innovative programs have funding to evaluate social and economic impact.
We heard inspiration from case studies from asset-based forms of economic development: stakeholder, input, and clustering assets. My round-up of the case studies from the anchor institutions panel is below.
Panel One: City and Anchor Institution Collaborations
Anchor institutions, such as hospitals and universities, are major stakeholders in cities. What are the levers that anchors pull that serve economic and community development? Mary Kay Leonard of ICIC points out seven opportunities: core service or product provision, infrastructure building, real estate development, cluster anchoring, workforce development, employer, and purchaser. From the panelists, I heard the most valuable roles that anchor institutions can play in local economic development are as the long-range thinker, the powerful convener, and as a risk-taking leader.
The guest panel included decision-makers from universities, city government, and community-based economic development organizations:
- Marilyn Higgins, Syracuse University
- Tracey Nichols, City of Cleveland
- David Barna, Midtown Detroit, Inc.
- Joan Fitzgerald, Northeastern University
Syracuse University’s Near Westside Initiative concentrates a variety of property and human capital investments in one neighborhood: home building and starting supportive organizations for small businesses such as a business association and a microfinance program. Results are measured in investment dollars, jobs created, homes renovated, job training and placement for residents, and faculty and student engagement. Higgins said one of the strongest reasons for their success was the energy that came from a leadership team with a roster of unusual suspects (since the usual suspects did not think they would succeed).
The City of Cleveland took a very different approach to serving as an anchoring institution with the Greater University Circle Wealth Building Initiative, particularly with the Health Tech Corridor. This initiative resulted in a brand new building that attracts high-tech businesses who would otherwise move out of the city after graduating from their incubator or accelerator program. The other main program, Evergreen, looks at strengthening the local supply chain through strategic procurement strategy by anchor institutions. Results are measured in companies created, jobs created, square feet developed, acres of brownfield redeveloped, employees assisted (supportive housing, etc), new jobs created, and workforce development.
Midtown Detroit, Inc, is also working on recycling dollars locally through changing procurement practices at their largest institutions through their program, Source Detroit. David Barna, Midtown’s Anchor Procurement Program Manager, stated that $16.5 million in spending has been transferred to Detroit-based businesses, from bakeries to janitorial supply.
Building up the supply chain, or procurement, is an extremely challenging and slow moving method to support economic development. Wins are measured in the thousands of dollars, not big contracts. As Barna points out, “Purchasing is based on relationships.” Nichols of the City of Cleveland adds, “At the top of the institutions, [leaders] are all on the same page, but thousands of employees underneath them have relationships” with suppliers.
Joan Fitzgerald, Interim Dean of Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy, presented several pilots the University has undertaken to support small business development in the Roxbury area. These efforts include the Community-Business Clinic, Safe and Sound Return Entrepreneurship Institute, and the Boston Inner-City Database. These projects have yet to be evaluated, but the Community-Business Clinic has the clearest definition of success: Do high quality legal services decrease the fail rate for entrepreneurial businesses? Safe and Sound asks whether a 10-week training program for formerly incarcerated women improve their employment and entrepreneurship prospects. The Database asks whether collecting data about businesses in economically distressed urban areas help cities provide better technical assistance.
If risk-taking anchor institutions such as Northeastern are able to track the impact of these investments on the local economy, it will be a great example to other research institutions to follow and to help provide evidence for other communities looking to invest intelligently in new entrepreneurs and their small businesses.
Cristina Garmendia is a Masters in Public Policy candidate at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
BY Guest Blogger on September 20th, 2012
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