Collaborating with City Governments towards more Equitable Economic Development
Cities across the US have become especially interested in building economic mobility and resilience as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and plan to spend federal assistance funds. Invest Atlanta, the economic development authority for the City of Atlanta, and Neighborhood Nexus, the local National Neighborhood Indicators Partner, are using local data in innovative ways to ensure the city’s economic development efforts are implemented equitably.
To achieve better economic and social outcomes for Atlantans, especially for Black residents with low incomes, the city adopted a new economic development strategy in 2020 called the One Atlanta: Economic Mobility, Recovery & Resiliency Plan (PDF). The plan has five overall objectives: creation of good jobs, access to good jobs, support for small businesses, neighborhood investment, and access to affordable housing. The Invest Atlanta leadership team sought measures and spatial analysis to prioritize investments and turned to the pro bono municipal government consulting firm, Bloomberg Associates, and Neighborhood Nexus, which has a track record in developing indicators to support community decisions, including the Child Well-Being Index for United Way.
Nexus staff and Bloomberg Associates operationalized One Atlanta’s place-based pathways with indicators on community engagement, transit access, and vacant properties. In collaboration with Invest Atlanta, Bloomberg Associates, and Neighborhood Nexus, staff selected 30 indicators from a mix of local and national data sources that form the basis for indices for the five objectives. Additionally, the Economic Mobility tool includes indicators measuring the neighborhood-level impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as broadband access. The indicators and indices are displayed in a user-friendly neighborhood-level interactive dashboard that represents support systems and pathways for economic mobility in every Atlanta neighborhood. Together, the framework and tool reinforce for policymakers and residents that policy areas interact to create or enable barriers to economic mobility.
According to Eloisa Klementich, president and CEO of Invest Atlanta, “The tool has become totally integrated into strategies for supporting disinvested neighborhoods, and their work is integral for the success of Invest Atlanta and city of Atlanta.” For example, the city used the index as a factor in distributing the $40,000 grants from the CARES Act Resurgence Fund to small businesses. The scoring process gave additional points to applications from neighborhoods with lower mobility scores. This statistically based definition of a disinvested community met the rigorous requirements for investors and auditors. This sound and transparent methodology legally justifies additional dollars flowing to places where people of color and those with low incomes live. As a result of this process, a higher percentage of people in South Atlanta, an area where more people of color and people with low incomes live, received grants this time than before.
The agency also incorporated the measure into their $27 million business incentive program to reinforce that improving economic mobility is a shared responsibility. If a business wants to receive city incentives, they need to hire people from neighborhoods with low mobility scores. For every person from these areas hired, the city will provide a subsidy of $3,000 per job. The agency has also applied for new funding from the American Recovery Plan using evidence from the Economic Mobility tool.
The partnership between Bloomberg Associates, Neighborhood Nexus, and Invest Atlanta has modeled how equity-driven, data-informed collaborations can help distribute public economic development funds more equitably. In addition to the economic development agency, the City of Atlanta mayor’s office, city council members, several departments across city hall, and other local nonprofits are using the interactive dashboard to make programmatic and funding decisions. Neighborhood Nexus has demonstrated how an easy-to-use tool designed for decisionmaking can contribute to aligning resources from many programs and sectors to the places and people who most need them.
This story was written by Sonia Torres Rodríguez at the Urban Institute. Neighborhood Nexus is the Atlanta Partner in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, a learning network in 30 cities coordinated by the Urban Institute. All Partners ensure communities have access to data and the skills to use information to advance equity and well-being across neighborhoods.
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