Kerney-Willis: Challenging Communities to Envision their Economic Future

Tricia Kerney-Willis, Deputy Director, White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities

As our economy recovers from the impact of the Great Recession, we have to remember that it wasn’t just individuals who were deeply affected; municipalities and local governments also suffered devastating consequences. Local governments saw a dramatic reduction in their tax base, forcing them to reduce services and think of creative ways to operate while providing services to their residents.

The recovery for local governments has been slow, but it is well on its way; and through initiatives like the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) the Obama Administration is providing them with the support they need to plan for a stronger, healthier and more resilient future. SC2 is an innovative new model of federal-local collaboration dedicated to helping communities get back on their feet through job creation, and by helping them to better leverage federal resources and form key private-public partnerships to implement their economic visions.

Since its creation in 2012, the SC2 teams have assisted 17 cities throughout the nation and developed a proven track record of helping communities maximize their investments. The work of SC2 has already enabled these cities to effectively utilize more than $368 million in existing federal funds and investments, including economic development, housing, transportation, public safety, and public health, among other areas.

In addition to the National Resource Network, one of the critical components of SC2 is the SC2 Economic Visioning Challenge, which was launched in 2013 in partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA). The cities of Greensboro, NC, Hartford, CT and Las Vegas, NV were selected to participate in the Economic Visioning Challenge—an innovative prize competition designed to engage diverse teams to help U.S. cities generate tailored economic development plans.

Having each been awarded $1 million grants from EDA, the cities launched their competitions in early 2014, and completed Phase 1of the competition in December 2014. In Phase 1, Greensboro, Hartford, and Las Vegas all awarded small prizes for the best preliminary economic development proposals.  A total of 502 teams registered for the competition across all three cities, of which 26 were selected as finalists to compete in Phase 2.  The preliminary proposals from Phase 1 were impressive:

  • Greensboro awarded its $55,000 first place cash prize to a proposal for developing a publically-owned gigabit speed fiber optic network;

  • Hartford awarded its $60,000 first place cash prize to a proposal for developing a healthcare and medical technology cluster; and

  • Las Vegas awarded its $60,000 first place cash prize to a proposal for creating an unmanned aerial vehicle and robotics resource center at the Cashman Center. 

Currently, the cities are entering into the final stages of Phase 2 of the competition.  In Phase 2, the finalist teams selected in Phase 1 build upon their preliminary proposals, and then present the city judges with detailed and targeted economic development plans.  As incentive for these plans, the cities are awarding a total of $2.5 million in cash prizes to the teams with the best ideas, including a $500,000 cash prize to the first place team in each city.  The finalist teams in Phase 2 will be submitting their plans to the respective city Selection Committees by late April, with Hartford selecting winners on May 20, Las Vegas selecting winners on June 17, and Greensboro selecting winners on July 13.