Accelerating Cities: Why States are the Most Important Partners for Economically Challenged Cities

National Resource Network Washington DC January 10, 2018 Economic Development

Millions of people live in hundreds of cities small and large across the nation that are faced with high poverty rates, limited opportunities for employment and—in some cases—continued population decline. These demographic and economic conditions can also contribute to other factors—underperforming schools, high crime rates and a declining tax base—that often make it seem impossible to abate a spiral of decline.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach when it comes to addressing a locale’s economic challenges and opportunities. Even when similar in size and geography, different cities often face different challenges and require tailored and individual solutions. But the absence of a straightforward answer to a complicated problem does not make that problem go away, nor does it alleviate the need for action.

This report attempts to begin a conversation about what steps policymakers can take to strengthen economically challenged cities. It builds on the work of the National Resource Network and one of the most important lessons it has learned over the last four years: the vital importance of state governments in supporting the work of economic turnaround and transforming economically challenged cities.

Far more than the federal government, state governments have the ability to provide the partnership and support to help local leaders rebuild and revitalize their cities. States have the ability to provide financial support, of course, but far more than that, they can encourage smarter fiscal planning, provide needed operational capacity and encourage new economic opportunities.

As more and more cities face deep economic and fiscal challenges more governors and legislatures are taking proactive steps. The Network is helping lead the way and forming strong state partnerships through our State Resource Network initiative. While the need for state action exists in different ways for all 50 states, this report focuses on the two states that are in the midst of governmental transition: New Jersey and Virginia.

Our analysis shows that state intervention—and ideally partnership—is well worth the effort. The fact is even the most economically challenged cities are regional and state economic drivers. In each state, cities are home to thousands of jobs and significant economic activity, but they also need statehouse collaborators. This report provides a closer examination of these dynamics and what can be done.

Accelerating Cities: Why States are the Most Important Partners for Economically Challenged Cities