Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan on a National Conference Call for "Strong Cities, Strong Communities"

Monday, July 11, 2011

Thank you all for joining the call. Today, I'm proud to announce on behalf of the Administration "Strong Cities, Strong Communities" -- a new and customized pilot initiative, the goal of which is to spark economic growth in local communities while ensuring we can meet the President's mandate to use taxpayer dollars wisely and efficiently.

But before I describe the new kind of federal partnership that we are referring to as "SC2," allow me to explain the context for it. 

Over the last 30 months, the Administration has worked to strengthen the four key pillars of America's cities and metros, which are essential to winning the future. 

To support the people that make up a city's workforce and drive its economy, we've made historic education reforms like Race to the Top, provided critical support to our community college system and fostered regional innovation clusters to support the new and innovative industries that will drive economic growth in the 21st century.

To strengthen neighborhoods and the connections between them, we put people back to work building the bridges and roads, stabilized neighborhoods by helping turn foreclosed homes into the affordable housing families need, and worked across agencies to ensure poor neighborhoods become drivers in their city's economy, not drags on it

To better align the federal approach with local rules of the road, the Administration has streamlined rules and regulations and helped metro areas undertake a new wave of zoning, building code, and land use reform.

Today's announcement is about the fourth pillar -- supporting the leaders who make the decisions about how these forces work together and the capacity of the institutions they lead.

So many urban policies of past have failed -- either because inflexible federal policies ignored or worked against local leadership and institutions or because they didn't take into account the unique assets of every community. 

What makes this approach different is that it recognizes that no matter how big the federal grant or how well-crafted the federal policy, no city can succeed without strong local leadership and institutional capacity.

That is why through this pilot, the Obama Administration will focus on three key goals:

First, improving the way Federal government does business. That means cutting through red tape to help deal with the overlapping maze of agencies, regulations and program requirements that are often confusing to local governments.

Second, providing assistance and support -- working with local communities to find ground up, not top down solutions. That means, providing on the ground technical assistance and planning resources tailored to local government's needs and helping them use the federal funds they already receive more efficiently and effectively.

And third, partnering for growth -- developing critical partnerships with key local and regional stakeholders that encompass not only municipal and state governments, but also new partnerships with the business community, non-profits, anchor institutions, faith-based institutions, and other public, private, and philanthropic leaders.

This pilot initiative will be launched in six cities and regions: Memphis, Cleveland, New Orleans, Chester, Pennsylvania, Fresno, California, and here in Detroit.

We chose these places not simply because they face common challenges--from severe population loss and long-term economic decline, to high levels of poverty and unemployment, to low property values and deteriorating infrastructure--but also because each has developed a comprehensive economic development vision and the political leadership and will to move that plan forward.

To these communities, SC2 will deploy Community Solutions Teams that build on local visions, advise local leaders as they make decisions and help with implementation. 

Comprised of federal officials from various agencies, these teams funded from within existing agency budgets will work on-site full time for 1 year, possibly two, to assist SC2 cities with navigating and harmonizing existing federal programs, obligating federal investments strategically and identifying barriers to growth.

The other innovative capacity-building tool SC2 provides to these six cities is a Fellowship Placement Program. Funded not by government but philanthropy, these fellows will "deepen the bench" of pilot cities -- working for local government, taking on high-level responsibilities and becoming immersed in the day-to-day operations of the city.

We've also taken steps to ensure that cities that share these challenges can benefit from capacity-building tools and partnerships -- through a National Resource Network that would act as a "one-stop-shop" for technical assistance that could be provided to local governments across the nation and an Economic Challenge Competition designed for localities that have high needs but don't yet have a comprehensive strategy for their economic future.

And so this isn't a new grant program. It's a new approach -- one that recognizes that every community is unique, with its own set of challenges and opportunities.

An approach that acknowledges that what cities facing chronic challenges are looking for in a federal partner is support that can help them frame their own economic vision -- and identify, strengthen and leverage the assets and partnerships they need to realize that vision.

That is what this effort is about -- and it's why I'm so pleased to announce it today. And with that, I'd love to take some questions.


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