Many American communities are facing economic challenges due to restructuring of the national and global economy. These changes have often resulted in the loss of traditional industries and localized jobs, population decline, and increased rates of concentrated poverty. The recent recession exacerbated these trends and created a difficult fiscal and economic reality for many American cities.
In this context, the White House launched the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative (SC2). The SC2 initiative represents a new model of collaboration between federal and local government to improve how the federal government invests in and offers technical assistance to support locally driven economic development and job creation goals. The initiative focuses on changing how federal and local government systems interact, promoting enhanced collaboration and communication among federal agencies, tailoring solutions to local conditions, and increasing the capacity of local leaders and institutions for economic development.
In September 2011, as part of SC2, the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) and 14 federal agencies1 launched a pilot initiative in six U.S. cities: Chester, PA; Cleveland, OH; Detroit, MI; Fresno, CA; Memphis, TN; and New Orleans, LA.2 At the start of the pilot, federal agencies assigned employees to interagency teams of experts called SC2 teams. Each SC2 team consisted of a team lead and federal employees assigned to work for the city full-time, part-time, or in an advisory capacity. A small number of SC2 team members were deployed to the pilot cities where they worked at or in close proximity to city hall; other SC2 team members were based out of their agency’s headquarters in the Washington, DC, area or out of regional or field offices.
On March 15, 2012, the President signed an Executive Order creating the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2 Council). The SC2 Council leads the implementation of the various components of the SC2 Initiative, facilitates greater alignment between agencies to ensure communities have access to comprehensive, localized technical assistance and planning resources, and provides policy recommendations to the President and his Administration based on lessons learned through work on the ground in communities.
In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services contracted with Abt Associates and Mt. Auburn Associates to evaluate the first 18 months of the SC2 pilot. The evaluation focuses on how the pilot was implemented and the factors associated with its success, with success defined as the ability of SC2 teams
to assist cities in addressing their priorities for economic revitalization. The evaluation addresses three research questions:
- How are the activities of the SC2 teams being implemented?
- How have federal participants experienced SC2?
- What has been learned that can be used to enhance future program implementation?
The evaluation focuses on SC2 team activities implemented between September 2011 and March 2013. 3 Data for the study was collected through site visits conducted in March and April 2013, and key informant interviews and focus groups conducted in spring and fall 2013. To conduct the analysis, we drew on qualitative data collected through site visits, interviews, and focus groups, as well as background documents about the SC2 teams and the engagement. We also developed case studies that provide detail about the cities’ economic challenges and opportunities, their goals for the engagement, and how the pilot was implemented (see Appendix A).
1 Since the start of the SC2 Pilot, five additional agencies have begun to participate in SC2 Pilot. In 2014, there are now 19 agencies partnering on SC2 Team implementation.
2 In October 2012, after the contract for this evaluation was executed, Youngstown, OH, also became an SC2 site.
3 Due to the time frame, this study does not include an analysis of the SC2 teams’ exit strategy from the pilot cities. It also does not discuss the ways in which the program design was modified in preparation for the second round of SC2 team implementation (in the spring of 2014, SC2 teams deployed in seven second round cities. These seven cities will receive intensive technical assistance from SC2 teams: St. Louis, MO; Gary, IN; Flint, MI; Brownsville, TX; Rockford, IL; Macon, GA; and Rocky Mount, NC). A short summary of these program modifications has been included as an addendum to the Executive Summary.