NY Times Op-Ed: To Truly Resist Trumpism, Cities Must Look Within

Long before the nation’s attention turned to the investigation of the Trump administration’s ties to Russia, the president’s discriminatory and divisive policies and rhetoric were drawing intense criticism — and cities were being lauded as leaders of the resistance against them. Some of this praise of cities is deserved. But if they are to make meaningful change, local leaders also must look inward to confront the Trumpian forces that have long existed within their own boundaries.

In some ways, cities have in fact been the home of the anti-Trump resistance. From the Women’s March that took place the day after the inauguration in 500 cities across the country and worldwide to the protests against President Trump’s executive order on immigration in major airports, advocates, public officials and residents in cities across the country have led the fight against the policies of the Trump administration.

Read the full op-ed in the NY Times>>>

When Renters Rise, Cities Thrive: National and City Fact Sheets

Overview

Renters now represent the majority in the nation’s 100 largest cities, and contribute billions to local economies. Yet renters face a toxic mix of rising rents and stagnant wages, both of which add up to an unprecedented affordability crisis that stymies their ability to contribute to the broader economy and thrive. This analysis, produced in support of the Renter Week of Action occurring September 16-24, reveals what renters and the nation stand to gain from addressing this crisis. We find that nationwide, if renters paid only what was affordable for housing, they would have $124 billion extra to spend in the community every year, or $6,200 per rent-burdened household. Download the national fact sheet and press release.

Bridging the Racial Generation Gap Is Key to America's Economic Future

Overview

In 2015, 78 percent of America’s seniors were white while 49 percent of the nation’s youth were people of color — a phenomenon that we call the racial generation gap. To the extent that racial divides result in predominantly white seniors choosing not to invest in a more racially diverse young population, this could hamstring the development of the next generation of workers and leaders. This research brief examines the growth of the racial generation gap and its effect on per-child k-12 education spending. We find that every percentage-point increase in the racial generation gap is associated with a decrease in state and local per-child education spending of around 1.5 percent. This adds up in places that have seen a lot of demographic change. For example, Nevada’s spending could be about $2,600 more per student if there was no racial generation gap. Given this relationship, it is critical to ensure equitable school funding, direct investments in youth, and build multi-generational coalitions for change. Download the BRIEF or DATA.

Empowering Black Long Island: How Equity Is Key to the Future of Nassau and Suffolk Counties

Overview

Long Island – defined as Nassau and Suffolk counties – is rapidly diversifying. Today, one in three Long Island residents is a person of color – up from roughly one in 10 residents in 1980. Black Long Islanders, who were largely excluded from the massive federally subsidized suburban development that characterizes Long Island, continue to face barriers to full social, economic, and political inclusion. This profile shows how persistent segregation and racial disparities in wealth, housing, educational attainment and many other areas is costing Long Island billions of dollars in potential economic growth each year. The accompanying policy brief provides a series of recommendations designed to close the racial wealth divide which would result in a major boost to Long Island’s economy. It was produced by PolicyLink and PERE, with lead support from Citi Community Development and funding from Long Island Community Foundation and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read the policy brief and profile, and see the press release.

Health Equity: The Path to Inclusive Prosperity in Buffalo

Overview

With millions in public and private investments on the horizon, Buffalo, New York, is poised for resurgence. But if new investments do not address persistent racial and economic inequities, the city’s long-term economic future is at risk. This health equity and inclusive growth profile offers leaders data and strategies to undergird policy solutions to advance health equity, inclusive growth, and a culture of health. They were developed by PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at USC, in partnership with Open Buffalo, and with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read the policy brief and the full profile.

Advancing Health Equity and Inclusive Growth in Buffalo

Overview

With millions in public and private investments on the horizon, Buffalo, New York, is poised for resurgence. But if new investments do not address persistent racial and economic inequities, the city’s long-term economic future is at risk. This health equity and inclusive growth profile offers leaders data and strategies to undergird policy solutions to advance health equity, inclusive growth, and a culture of health. They were developed by PolicyLink and the Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) at USC, in partnership with Open Buffalo, and with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read the policy brief and the full profile.

An Equity Profile of Long Island

Overview

Long Island – defined as Nassau and Suffolk counties – is rapidly diversifying. Today, one in three Long Island residents is a person of color – up from roughly one in 10 residents in 1980. Black Long Islanders, who were largely excluded from the massive federally subsidized suburban development that characterizes Long Island, continue to face barriers to full social, economic, and political inclusion. This profile shows how persistent segregation and racial disparities in wealth, housing, educational attainment and many other areas is costing Long Island billions of dollars in potential economic growth each year. The accompanying policy brief provides a series of recommendations designed to close the racial wealth divide which would result in a major boost to Long Island’s economy. It was produced by PolicyLink and PERE, with lead support from Citi Community Development and funding from Long Island Community Foundation and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read the policy brief and profile, and see the press release.

An Equity Profile of New Orleans

Overview

New Orleans’ incredible diversity can be a tremendous economic asset if people of color are fully included as workers, entrepreneurs, and innovators. However, while the city’s economy is showing signs of resurgence after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, rising inequality, stagnant wages, and persistent racial inequities place its long-term economic future at risk. This equity profile was developed with the support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support local community groups, elected officials, planners, business leaders, funders, and others working to build a stronger and more equitable city. Read the policy brief and the full profile.

Advancing Health Equity and Inclusive Growth in Fresno County (Profile)

Overview

Fresno is the nation’s top agricultural county, yet it struggles with slow growth, high unemployment, and an economy dominated by low-wage jobs and few pathways into the middle class. While communities of color account for 68 percent of the population — up from 38 percent in 1980 — the county’s racial inequities persist across all indicators of community health and well-being. This health equity and inclusive growth profile and accompanying policy brief were developed in partnership with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, and with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. They provide unique data and actionable solutions for residents, advocates, funders, business leaders, and policymakers seeking to reduce racial inequities and build a stronger Fresno. Read the policy brief and the full profile.

Expanding Opportunity in City Contracts: St. Paul’s Racial Equity Strategy

When Rick Harris, owner of Ideal Commercial Interiors (ICI), moved to the Twin Cities seven years ago, he struggled to get the private sector contracts that had been his bread-and-butter during his three decades of business in California. 

"Coming here was totally different. I kept trying to get my foot in the door and instead would have it shut in my face," Harris said. ICI is certified by the North Central Minority Supplier Development Council and the Central Certification Program as a small, minority-owned business, but Harris noted that the greatest obstacle he faced was not discrimination, but inertia. 

"Businesses were not open to building relationships with new vendors. They preferred to maintain the same decades-long ties with people they knew and were familiar with — but that impedes access to the market," he said. "It’s bad for the economy when you have these small businesses that can’t grow because they’re consistently locked out of the market." 

For a city that struggles with staunch racial inequities in employment and poverty, these barriers to entry pose persistent challenges to the local economy. 

"The state says it wants to create more jobs for people of color, but to do that, you have to understand that minority-owned companies hire more employees of color, and so you have to focus on helping these companies grow," Harris said. 

That is precisely what the City of St. Paul is working to do. With the help of the city’s comprehensive efforts to foster racial equity in its municipal contracting, Harris has been able to fill the void of private sector work with city, county, and state contracts — which now make up 90 percent of his business.

According to David Gorski, a human rights specialist for the City of St. Paul, "The broader goal is to make the local economy more inclusive, to create a launching pad for small businesses," especially those owned by people of color and women.

Supporting entrepreneurs of color boosts local economies

St. Paul is a rapidly diversifying city; nearly half the city’s residents are people of color, and communities of color — especially Black communities — are leading population growth. But these communities continue to face persistent racial inequities in opportunity. Unemployment for people of color is 12.6 percent in the city, compared to 5.3 percent for Whites. For African Americans, unemployment skyrocketed from 9.6 percent in 2000 to 18.8 percent in 2014. Almost two in three people of color in the city are economically insecure — with family incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level — and one in five are working poor, struggling to make ends meet despite working full-time. 

In an attempt to combat these longstanding disparities, St. Paul launched its Racial Equity Initiative in 2014. This initiative includes numerous policy and practice reforms to make racial equity an explicit goal for the city — not only to foster inclusion and community justice, but as a necessary precondition for a prosperous, thriving local economy.

Connecting businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color to city contracts is a crucial lever in this work, because these firms represent key areas of growth in the local economy. Businesses owned by people of color in Minnesota are growing significantly faster than average, with 118 percent growth from 2002 to 2012, compared to 10.3 percent growth for all firms in the state. The number of small businesses owned by African Americans in the state grew by about 60 percent between 2007 and 2012, while small businesses owned by Whites declined 3.4 percent. Yet, many of these businesses are small and undercapitalized, with few employees.

Though the state government of Minnesota has recently received criticism for its inequitable procurement practices, St. Paul has been meeting and exceeding many of its racial equity goals. For example, the city aims to award at least 25 percent of public contracts to small businesses. Within that small business goal, the city sets further targets to reach 5 percent of firms owned by people of color, and 10 percent of women-owned firms. In 2016, more than 30 percent of the city’s total business went to small businesses, with 5 percent awarded to businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color and more than 12 percent awarded to businesses owned by women. 

St. Paul’s progress in upping contracting equity can be traced to concerted efforts to reform and innovate practices within the city’s Purchasing and Contract Compliance Divisions. This work began with the assistance of Bloomberg Philanthropies What Works Cities initiative, through which the Government Performance Lab at the Harvard Kennedy School helped the city better understand why it wasn’t adequately reaching small businesses and businesses of color. What they found mirrored the hurdles Harris noted in the private sector. 

"Vendors felt that we were closed off," said Jessica Brokaw, deputy director of procurement, contract compliance & business development for the city. "They felt we had preferred vendors and that was that." 

This led to a series of structural changes to the procurement process. The city rolled out a new online bidding platform that made the process more transparent and accessible, and ensured that any vendor could download bids free of charge. They also revised the language of bids — from PhD reading level to eighth grade reading level— so that most any vendor could understand them without an attorney.

Wherever possible, officials also streamlined certification processes. For example, a vendor can become registered as a minority-owned business enterprise (MBE), a woman-owned business enterprise (WBE), or a small business enterprise (SBE) through one-day Central Certification Program (CERT) community workshops that are hosted monthly. These certifications are recognized by Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Minneapolis, and St. Paul, making it easier for businesses to pursue public procurement and contracting work regionally. The increased community engagement is reflected in attendance at the annual procurement fair, hosted by the city’s Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity. In 2017, 350 vendors showed up within the first three hours alone.

Perhaps most impressively, the city has made significant changes to open up public contracts to new businesses. Starting in 2014, the city has changed five-year agreements to yearly agreements whenever possible, and broken down larger projects into small subcontracts to increase opportunities for new and small businesses to bid. 

"We decided to not renew hundreds of master contracts — some of which we had held for 20 years," Brokaw said. "We got lots of pushback, because there were vendors who didn’t really have to compete for years upon years, and there were city departments who didn’t want to have to orient new vendors to how we operate." 

When the city opened up contracts to a more competitive market, however, "the city and the local economy benefited," Brokaw noted. "The bids are lower, so the city is saving several million dollars, and our relationship to the community is so much stronger because vendors can see that we are open to them." 

Bridging the public-private contract divide through mentorship

In addition to the structural and procedural changes noted above, one of the key facets of St. Paul’s efforts to promote small business growth among minority entrepreneurs is the Construction Partnering Program (CPP)

Founded by the city and administered through the Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) and the Association of Women Contractors, CPP supports emerging small businesses owned by women and people of color by fostering long-term partnerships between these firms and larger industry experts in the region.

In general, the odds can be stacked against small businesses trying to expand: They don’t always have access to the same product lines or discounts because they don’t buy in large enough quantities. They often lack access to the kind of financing necessary to purchase the kind of bonds that are required to insure projects or to cover their costs for the months it can take for contracts to pay out. 

"It creates a catch-22 because the financials limit the size of contracts a business can take," said Salah Tarraf, participant in the CERT and CPP programs and owner of Tarraf Construction, a general contractor operating in the Twin Cities for 17 years. "We have so many fantastic contractors of color who want to grow, but are held back because they can’t take larger projects." 

The city has stepped in to remove some of the financial barriers: city projects up to $100,000 no longer require bonds, so they are now more accessible to small contractors. Through CPP mentorship, however, the city also hopes to start bridging the gap between public and private work. 

Tarraf Construction has been partnered with McGough, a large general contractor headquartered in St. Paul, for the past 13 years. This relationship has allowed Tarraf to benefit from the insight and experience of the larger firm, and McGough has helped them break into the private market by inviting them to bid on subcontracts for their work and including them in negotiations as an "equal partner." 

Though it remains an "uphill battle" to get the private sector to work with small companies, Tarraf said he gives "a lot of credit to St. Paul. The city has been really supportive of the minority community, and I think it’s been a success." 

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