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New $6 Million Strong Cities, Strong Communities Challenge to Spur Economic Growth in Six Cities

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Guest blog post by Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine

Today, at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Orlando, Florida, I joined Erika Poethig, the Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to launch the latest key components of the Obama administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) initiative, which was announced in July 2011 to help strengthen local capacity and spark economic growth in local communities while ensuring taxpayer dollars are used wisely and efficiently.

The Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration (EDA)—an SC2 Federal partner—announced the $6 million Strong Cities, Strong Communities Visioning Challenge to help economically distressed cities leverage innovative strategies to spur local economic and job growth.

The challenge will start with the competitive selection of six cities, one in each of EDA’s regions. Each of the winners will receive up to $1 million to conduct their own two-phase competitions. In the first phase, winning cities will encourage teams of experts in such fields as transportation planning, economic and community development, business incubation, and engineering to submit economic development proposals for their city or region. The highest-rated proposals, as evaluated by a city-appointed review panel, will receive cash awards. In the second phase, the finalists from the first round will compete for a cash prize by developing comprehensive economic development plans.
HUD, another key SC2 partner, also announced $5 million to fund the National Resource Network, a single portal for short-term technical assistance on a variety of operational and programmatic issues faced by our cities. It will give municipalities access to a one-stop shop of national experts in these areas.
The Obama administration has unveiled several initiatives designed to speed up the growth of new, job-creating companies and support regional economic development. The two programs announced today are important steps to connect government resources directly with local communities to create jobs and improve the business climate.

I’ve had the good fortune of working with mayors from small towns to big cities and everything in between. I know well the vital role that our nation’s cities play in creating an economy built to last. Intergovernmental collaborations, such as the White House SC2 initiative, will empower local leaders to identify and leverage bottom-up strategies to strengthen their local economic ecosystems.

Strategic, smart public investments that look to leverage other capital, especially private capital, and smart investments that are competitive—requiring a concrete strategy and plan—and real buy-in in the community as an essential prerequisite are the models of the future. The Strong Cities, Strong Communities Visioning Challenge provides the tools for cities to do this by generating comprehensive and innovative economic development plans that meet their specific needs.

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