Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2)
In 2011, on the heels of the last economic crisis, the Obama Administration launched Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) to provide support to dozens of economically distressed cities across the country. Recognizing the interconnected challenges stemming from economic decline and concentrated poverty, as well as the reality that local governments faced deep challenges as their own budgets were decimated by the financial downturn, the White House Economic Council and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) held a national competition to select a consortium of technical experts to design, operationalize, and manage a National Resource Network (NRN). The purpose of the network was to provide targeted expertise to help local government leaders stabilize their budgets, plan for economic recovery and growth, establish local entities to manage public improvement projects and public assets, and leverage public/private partnerships to attract jobs and investment.
HR&A was a founding member of the winning NRN consortium, partnering with Enterprise Community Partners, Public Financial Management, ICMA, and New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. From 2014 to 2018, the consortium provided technical assistance to 40 economically distressed cities in 22 red and blue states, bringing expertise in economic development, housing, public finance, governance, and urban planning.
Engagements began with an NRN team assessment of social and economic conditions, a deep and wide-ranging conversation with elected leadership, and negotiation of a local match of HUD subsidy consulting funds – all in an effort to identify the nexus between the core challenges contributing to poverty and the areas of particular interest to local leadership, thus those most likely to receive sustained local commitment to NRN team recommendations. Depending on the areas of greatest need and interest, experts from the consortium provided subsidized technical consulting services, ranging from leveraging downtown real estate assets to catalyze growth, to creating housing and employment strategy plans, to providing long-term financial projections and plans.
HR&A led detailed economic analyses and strategies for cities including Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, PA, New Bedford, MA, Dearborn, MI, Meridian, MS, Kansas City, KS, and Waco, TX, among others.
Prior to joining HR&A, Director Nina Bennett served as core staff to NRN, managing the development and deployment of the consortium’s diagnostic services. During her tenure, more than 60 cities nationwide received intensive, in-depth evaluations of their municipal operations, looming challenges, and untapped resources.
NRN’s design included several important features that were unique at the time, were key to its success, and remain important to similar efforts today. These include an overarching focus on inclusive economic recovery, simultaneous deployment of multiple TA providers with broad expertise, an insistence that city-specific TA be designed in response to on-the-ground opportunities and not practitioner siloes, an ethos of adaptability and close teamwork across multiple organizations, and a built-in embrace of peer learning. Among the outcomes of HR&A’s work through the NRN were:
In 2015, the consortium was recognized as a finalist for the Harvard Ash Center’s Innovations in American Government Award. A 2018 evaluation by the Urban Institute found that Network cities “strongly believed that the [TA] engagements provided a valuable service, which the sites would not have otherwise been able to access.”