Collaborating with City Governments towards more Equitable Economic Development

Author: Sonia Torres Rodríguez
Date Posted: July 22, 2021

Cities across the U.S. have become especially interested in building economic mobility and resilience as they seek to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and plan for spending 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 that the city’s economic development efforts are implemented equitably.   

In an effort to achieve better economic and social outcomes for Atlanta, 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.  

The plan has five overall objectives: creation of good jobs, access to good jobs, supporting 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 Bloomberg Associates, the pro bono municipal government consultants, and Neighborhood Nexus, which had a track-record in developing indicators to support community decisions, including the Child Wellbeing Index for United Way.  

For example, Nexus staff and Bloomberg Associates operationalized One Atlanta’s place-based pathways with indicators on community engagement, access to transit, and vacant properties. In collaboration with Invest Atlanta and Bloomberg Associates, Neighborhood Nexus staff selected a total of 30 indicators from a mix of local and national data sources that are the basis for indices for of the five objectives. Additionally, the Economic Mobility tool includes indicators affecting the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in neighborhoods, such as broadband access. The indicators and indices are displayed in a friendly neighborhood-level interactive dashboard that represents support systems and pathways for economic mobility in every Atlanta neighborhood.  As a whole, the framework and tool reinforce the idea for policymakers and residents that policy areas interact to enable or create barriers to economic mobility. 

According to Dr. 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.” As one 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 with low incomes and people of color. As a result of this process, a higher percentage of people in the southside of Atlanta (the area with lower incomes and more people of color) received grants this time than before.   

The agency also incorporated the measure into their $27 million business attraction incentive program to reinforce that improving economic mobility is a shared responsibility. For example, if a business wants to receive city incentives, they need to hire individuals in neighborhoods with low mobility scores. For every person hired who lives in the focus area, 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 Councilmembers, several departments across City Hall, and other local non-profits are using the interactive dashboard to make programmatic and funding decisions.  Neighborhood Nexus has demonstrated how an easy-to-use tool designed for decision-making 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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