Evaluation of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Teams Pilot: Final Report. A5.3.3 SC2 Team Roles and Activities

08/25/2014

The SC2 team’s work in Memphis was a combination of carrying out long-term strategic work in certain areas and responding to issues that came up while the SC2 team was on the ground. The SC2 team lead and members were proactive in identifying streams of work to focus on in addition to the key activity areas listed in the work plan. Nearly all of the SC2 team’s work was centered at the city level, although control over key policy areas such as education, health care, and transportation resides at the county and state levels. The mayor of Shelby County, in which Memphis is located, was not involved in the assessment process and county government remained somewhat removed from the SC2 pilot. This limited the SC2 team’s ability to work on regional strategies and projects and as a result work focused on the issues within the city’s jurisdiction.

As mentioned above, one of the most important roles of the SC2 team in Memphis, particularly the SC2 team lead, was providing strategic planning support to the mayor and city government. The SC2 team lead also played an important role interfacing with the mayor’s Innovation Team, which was working in Memphis on issues related to youth handgun violence and neighborhood economic vitality.

In addition to this added capacity, city government representatives reported that the SC2 team helped to improve government efficiency and economic development work by helping the city access transportation grants, supporting the development of a system to track city data related to mayoral priority areas, and helping repurpose a disused steamboat for a new commercial business.

  • Transportation. The Federal Aviation Administration team member supported the city’s work to apply for transportation funding. He connected Memphis to the railroad rehabilitation investment fund, which helped it to secure DOT and Economic Development Agency grants for the new rail project. In addition, he helped to write white papers that were produced to support the city’s TIGER grant application, a $14.9 million grant for the Memphis Main Street to Main Street Multi-Modal Connector Project. The DOT team member was fully allocated to the SC2 team role and spent a lot of time understanding the full breadth of transportation issues in the city and region. He worked with several transportation entities to understand and gather information. He was developing a complete thesis and recommendations for how to improve the transportation system in this region that was close to completion at the time of the site visit.
  • Youth violence. The Department of Justice team member coordinated multiple youth violence initiatives in Memphis, including the Defending Childhood Initiative, the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, and the Bloomberg innovation grant. Working on the Defending Childhood Initiative and the Forum was part of this team member’s regular duties, but being part of the SC2 team allowed her to draw connections to the Bloomberg initiative and increase coordination among all three. While funding for Defending Childhood came through the county and funding for the other two initiatives came through the city, all three initiatives were working in the Frayser community in Memphis, so having a single person to act as a liaison was helpful. This team member’s duties also included delivering training and technical assistance to the city in responding to an April 2012 Department of Justice finding that there were serious systematic failures in the juvenile court system.
  • ChoiceStat System. With the help of an SC2 fellow, the city is working to implement the ChoiceStat program, a management tracking system based on HUDStats that helps to improve government efficiency. The city staff interviewed indicated that technical assistance provided by HUD on the system, including a visit to Memphis from a HUD staff member involved in developing HUDStats, was very valuable in moving this project forward and exemplified the value of the SC2 team. One of the two SC2 fellows in Memphis was dedicated to working on this project.
  • Steamboat. By helping to make connections between the city and GSA, the SC2 team facilitated the city’s purchase of a new steamboat for a venture running multi-day cruises on the Mississippi River. This is a step for the city in continuing to grow local businesses and improve its standing as a cultural draw.

In addition to these initiatives, the SC2 team was able to play more transactional roles in bringing projects to completion on an expedited timeline. For example, the SC2 team helped Memphis’s first ever economic intermediary (River City Capital Investment) to get certified as a Community Development Financial Institution through the Department of the Treasury.

The SC2 team also identified a waiver for downtown buildings to enable federal agencies to locate in the city, resolving a contradiction between GSA regulations that mandated certain setbacks from the street and an Executive Order that federal facilities should drive city economic development. The SC2 team worked with the GSA chief of staff to reissue a bid for a new federal facility in Memphis, allowing downtown buildings to compete and bringing attention to possible discrepancies between agency regulations and other federal policies.

Other examples of transactional assistance provided by the SC2 team include helping to obtain expedited federal approval from the Food and Drug Administration to locate a new brewery in Memphis; convening the Aerotropolis Regional Conference to discuss plans for the use of 60 million square feet of industrial space near the airport; and educating partner Memphis Tomorrow about social impact bonds.

 

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