Bush School of Government, Texas A&M University

Scaling Up for Local Sustainable Economic Development in Chronically Distressed

Lead Organization

Bush School of Government, Texas A&M University

College Station, Texas, United States


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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Too many cities and their residents are chronically left out of mainstream economic development approaches. Chronically distressed cities struggle to find ways of pursuing sustainable economic development. This project seeks to fundamentally change the way local economic development is done by mobilizing experienced academics and practitioners to address these issues. First, it forms collaborative teams based at four universities -- Texas A&M, Indiana, Rutgers, and Florida State -- and one major nonprofit to work with ten specific selected distressed cities to design, implement, and evaluate their respective inclusive sustainable development policies. Second, these universities will jointly make the project self-sustaining by designing and offering degree and certificate curricula, where none currently exists, to train current and future leaders. The goal is to help distressed cities measurably grow their local economies, improve their biophysical environments, and to ensure the benefits of both are done in equitable and fair way.

Problem Statement

Many cities have not benefited from traditional approaches to local economic development. We refer to these cities as "chronically distressed." For a variety of reasons, the people in these cities most left behind are those who have the least access to resources. The contemporary local economic development model as practiced in these cities -- attract, expand, and retain -- by definition neither achieves the long-term goal of economic growth, nor benefits those left behind. This project seeks to change this by working with selected cities to alter the ways they think about and pursue economic development strategies. This approach is refereed to as "local sustainable economic development." This approach sets explicit goals of advancing economic growth while protecting and improving the biophysical environment and advance the cause of equity in sharing in the benefits of economic growth. This project relies on this way of thinking about local economic development to work directly with cities to achieve these goals. The formal partners and external advisors have the expertise and experiences to bring to bear on addressing these goals. These participants will select cities, work with those cities, build long-term relationships with local policy makers, and implement tailored models of community engagement to ensure inclusion of people, neighborhoods, and groups theretofore not a part of local economic development decisions. Together, the partners in this project, local public officials, and local groups and processes will collaborate to achieve the designated impacts and goals. These goals are elaborated in the project's dedicated web site at https://kportney.wixsite.com/bushmacarthur

Solution Overview

The proposed solution promises to achieve accomplishments not heretofore achieved. The project participants all understand the enormity of the challenge. When this project is successful, selected cities will experience greater economic growth than experienced over the past. They will do so while reducing their environmental impacts, especially reducing their carbon emissions and protecting environmentally vulnerable areas of cities, and by ensuring that the benefits from economic growth and environmental protection and improvement accrue to those usually left behind. We consider these results to be public goods, and the milestones, measures of impact, and timelines are all designed to maximize the equitable distribution of these goods. The measures of impacts as outlined elsewhere in this proposal and on the project's web site are presented for each of the key areas -- economic growth, environmental improvement, and equity. By working with cities, and creating graduate programs to support this work, the expectation is that by the end of this five year project, each selected city will be well along the path toward adopting this new way of accomplishing economic development. The implementation of this project is designed to conduct constant monitoring of progress, and particularly in Phase 3, devotes attention to systematic assessment and evaluation. The MOUs (teaming agreements) signed by each partner ensure that all parties will be engaged in monitoring, reporting on, and intervening in achieving the project's impact goals.

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