Leadership on economic inclusion is coming from the local level

August 1, 2019

Dear Changemakers,

In a welcome contrast to national politics, our cities benefit from strong public trust, far less partisan gridlock, and a growing understanding that inclusive growth is the key to sustainable prosperity. Local leaders face widening wealth gaps across race, gender, and class that are being fueled by technological advances, shifting labor markets, and changing demographics. In the face of these national and even global forces, more and more local innovators are convening their communities to foster the kind of economic growth that yields widely shared benefits.

The solutions do not come from Washington, but national organizations like Urban can help accelerate promising local approaches and spread best practices. That’s the premise of the Shared Prosperity Partnership (SP2). Organized by the Kresge Foundation, which is led by Rip Rapson, Urban’s Research to Action Lab helmed by Erika Poethig, the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Communities Program spearheaded by Amy Liu, Living Cities and its CEO Ben Hecht, and the Aspen Institute’s Center for Urban Innovation, founded by Jennifer Bradley, SP2 is doing the unexpected: We are working together to help cities across the country build more inclusive economies.

The approach is fairly novel. Rather than helicopter into a community and offer prescribed solutions, we listen. We find a credible local anchor partner to convene stakeholders across sectors and help them identify a challenge blocking their community’s progress. We ask local leaders and residents what would help them move forward on that local priority. We then determine which of our organizations has the expertise to offer meaningful support to the community’s efforts. We also rally experts who are tackling the same challenge in other places to advise. And, we bring data and analysis to the table to help local leaders understand different dimensions of their lived experience.

Two examples:

  • In Fresno, California, a group convened by the Central Valley Community Foundation sought to align their workforce, community, and economic development efforts that had for too long been pursued independently. The effort was galvanized around data showing that growth around Fresno was less inclusive than any other metro area in the state. The SP2 roundtable helped lay the ground work for a new initiative, Fresno DRIVE, a 10-year investment plan with the attention of the governor.
  • In Arlington, Virginia, the community is facing risk of accelerated displacement with the arrival of Amazon HQ2 and planned development around the new tech center. The Arlington Community Foundation and local groups wanted to mitigate displacement of low-income residents and ensure all Arlingtonians could contribute to the county’s economic growth. An SP2 convening with area business leaders, government officials, and community advocates was a key initial step in building a relationship that yielded a major gift from Amazon to create or preserve affordable housing and provide support services. And it began a process of deeper engagement with other businesses in meeting the community’s needs.

Each SP2 effort has a common approach. First, we anchor discussions in data and analysis and identify concrete metrics we want to move. Second, we create solutions with community leaders who work directly with residents. And third, we put racial and ethnic equity at the center of every project.

Local wins are great, but I am hopeful that local work will add up to even more. As we experience what a mindful practice of advancing shared prosperity looks like, Urban will be elevating promising models and using these insights to shift paradigms and, ultimately, national policy—through SP2 and other efforts.

As many of you know, Urban recently celebrated our 50th anniversary by launching our Next50. In the decades ahead, we commit to do more work that provides local and regional changemakers the support they need to advance shared prosperity.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences, warnings and opportunities, about this kind of urban practice.

Warmly,
Sarah


In case you missed it…

Expanding apprenticeships. I’m thrilled to share that the Department of Labor is supporting Urban with $20 million to help create youth apprenticeship programs in at least 10 communities across the country and increase the number of apprenticeships in the technology industry. Learn more here about this latest effort led by Institute fellow Robert Lerman and senior researcher Diana Elliott.

Advancing financial well-being. I encourage you to tune in our Critical Value podcast. The most recent episode has Chris Hughes of the Economic Security Project and Tax Policy Center researchers Elaine Maag and Len Burman, discussing an approach to providing a basic level of economic security for more Americans. Listen here.