During his State of the Union speech in February, President Obama announced plans to assist the country’s most economically depressed cities. This proclamation sparked pleas from people such as Mike Fitzgerald and Congressman Jerry McNerney for the President to consider Stockton’s troubles. Moored in bankruptcy, high crime rates and crushing unemployment, it would be difficult to justify Stockton’s exclusion from any city-based assistance initiative. Now, we finally know what type of aid could be coming our way as the administration unveiled the specifics of their plan last week.
Officially known as the Strong Cities, Strong Communities National Resource Network—or SC2 Network for short—the initiative sets up teams of executive-level professionals in select cities to help address specific issues ranging from crime to job creation to economic development. Here’s how it works: Once a city is chosen as a “promise zone,” a team of policy professionals from various federal agencies will work directly with local officials on city-identified issues or projects. In theory, these partnerships should lead to a greater leveraging of federal grant dollars and resources, increased coordination between public and private institutions, and better problem solving in general.
This new program is essentially an expansion of the administration’s original Strong Cities, Strong Communities pilot initiative (SC2) launched in 2011 (as SCL predicted in our original article on the topic). So far, SC2 has enjoyed modest successes in the handful of cities where it was piloted. For example, in New Orleans, the SC2 team helped launch a $52 million homebuyer assistance and neighborhood redevelopment program. In Youngstown, Department of Justice officials established a diagnostic center to help the police department make better use of data to increase public safety. In Fresno, SC2 facilitated the return of the city’s Social Security office to downtown.
While these are modest successes, the feedback from those on the ground has been universally positive. Local officials credit these programs with breaking down administrative silos and cutting through red tape. The experts who moved in to these cities also reported enjoying their experiences more than their regular responsibilities.
With city staff spread razor thin, leveraging federal knowledge would be invaluable, helping the city discover previously unconsidered funding mechanisms or devising economic development strategies. Being selected for the SC2 Network certainly won’t solve all of Stockton’s problems, but I am sure City Hall will take all the help it can get.