Coming Together to Grow, the State of Federal Government

25 Apr 2018

York County, Nebraska, Legislation, Economic Development, announcement,

Coming Together to Grow, The State of Federal Economic Development

Lisa Hurley, CEcD,YCDC Executive Director


In March, I attended the International Economic Development Council’s (IEDC) Fed Forum, which is the nations’ only multi-day program focused exclusively on programs and policies of the federal government that play a key-role in local job creation. YCDC and I work hard to keep up on issues that have the potential to effect York County, but I walked away with a few surprises. I’ll go into more detail below, but the key points are we need to pay attention to what is happening at the federal level, as much as we do at the local and state levels. Housing, workforce and infrastructure are challenges everywhere.


On the federal level, I knew that the Economic Development Administration does not have a nominee for the Director position, and that there are several other key senior Economic Development presidential appointees not appointed yet. The surprise was only about 35% of appointed positions that economic developers would typically work with, are appointed and/or approved. Why you might ask? The reasons can be debated back and forth to as to why. At the end of the day these programs need to be in place and are important to putting projects together. Over and over I heard that without government programs to partner with, be it at the local, state or federal level, we’re not as competitive as we would be with strong partners.


Perhaps the most important things I was reminded of are to find effective partners and to focus on the issue, not the politics behind the issue. Jan Campbell, Director Washington Office, National Development Council stated that when there is a public investment, it is often a private investment. The economic developer has to make sure that everyone that is engaged and providing funding gets credit. Getting people to care is the first step, and this rang true to my ears.


The Decline of Start-ups

While I’ve known that the USA is growing entrepreneurials at a slower rate than in the past. I was surprised when Kenna Fikri, Director for Research, Economic Innovation Group, said that during the past 40 years, the startup data has halved. The US is missing about 100,000 new companies a year right now from lack of start-ups. One of the theories for the decrease is the high level of student loan debt.  In the U.S., the number of community banks have declined by a quarter over the recovery, making startups in the banking sector harder to finance. This slow winding down of the economy’s dynamism is producing more geographically unequal outcomes. Hearing this makes me thankful that York County has banks that are willing to work with our resource providers to reduce their risk on smaller businesses. It also pushes YCDC to continue to expand offerings and connect resources for entrepreneurials.


The Opportunity Zone

The City of York was awarded an Opportunity Zone on April 9, 2018. These are a new, bipartisan solution to expand the geography of economic growth and were discussed in length at the Forum. They are designed to spur long-term private sector investments in low-income communities nationwide. It offers a way for investors to reinvest unrealized capital gains into Opportunity Zone Funds, in exchange for a graduated series of incentives tied to long-term holdings. Zones can accept funds for the area at any time and have 10 years. Money needs to in a fund by the end of 2019 for the investors to fully realize the advantages. This is the first new national community investment program in 15 years. The Department of Treasury will have final guidelines out in July, and it will be exciting to see what opportunities this will bring to York County.


Building Capacity – York County’s status for growth

Geoffrey Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America spoke on the value of location to graduates. The importance of place can overrule incentives. Quality infrastructure and amenities are critical to growing communities. Anderson said 64% of college graduates decide where they want to live, and then start looking for a job. Because many can work from anywhere, they choose the best place they can go. Housing trends are affecting this quality of place, and communities must be walkable to attract/retain residents. Investment in existing infrastructure is a must, and private investment is there to leverage public funds giving a high rate of return. Communities need to look at what is the goal, what is the need, and how to measure.


Adie Tomer with the Brookings Institute spoke on how infrastructure is a platform to development. Transportation, broadband, energy, trails, lights, etc. are truly the means to the development project. If you’re hearing in your local community that they need to raise water or sewer rates, most likely they do need to raise water rates to cover replacing aging pipes and to meet new requirements. That is something several York County communities have experienced recently. Tomer pointed out that it doesn’t matter if the broadband pipe comes to your house or small business, if you can’t afford it. That sets areas up to be left behind in the digital market, and there is a need to identify a way of lowering broadband cost for small businesses and households. Tomer said don’t bet on Washington stepping in to help with these challenges. Infrastructure is multi-generational, and some communities are not keeping up on upgrading.


Nathan Orley, Rural Development Assistance Partnership spoke on policy work to help communities under 10,000 population. In order to get additional resources, communities must already have resources in place, and be ready to respond quickly. He said that innovation is in the DNA of the smaller communities, because it’s a must, and encouraged participants to focus on the technical assistance, business assistance and involving partners. He also stressed the importance of connecting; how infrastructure and housing pieces connect to economic development for residents in the community. Without both being improved, the businesses can’t grow, which leaves the community stagnant.


In conclusion, there was much more that was discussed, but it comes down to we have to keep an eye on what is happening at the federal level, as much as we do at the local and state levels. Also, the infrastructure, workforce and housing challenges are across the entire U.S., not only in our area. For our County’s long-term growth; YCDC, communities and partners must be positioned to respond quickly to opportunities, and at the same time, work towards keeping who is already here. While York County has many of the same challenges, by working together, I have no doubt that we’ll find solutions.


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