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Archive for April, 2011

We’ve discussed a number of topics over the past few months pertaining to community economic development (CED) – from identifying key partners to embracing fundraising to recognizing the important role of the legal profession.  However, we must not forget that at the end of the day, community economic development is a “people business”.  It takes knowledgeable people to create and implement policies and procedures that positively affect communities.  It takes observant people to see how local decisions and regional trends will affect them and their communities.  It takes a giving person to look beyond themselves and see how they can help improve their communities.  In other words, the basic infrastructure for successful CED is made up of the development of the people who live in that community.

I will be the first one to admit that I am not a psychologist, sociologist or have any other expertise in the study of people.  However, I believe there are a number of ways that individuals can prepare themselves physically, mentally and spiritually for the work of CED.  A few are listed below:

  • Gain knowledge – We’ve all heard that “knowledge is power”, and this is especially true when it comes to CED.  Individuals must become knowledgeable about issues such as available resources, trends in the economy, who to contact for assistance, and new laws that can affect your work.  The more people who have relevant knowledge, the better.
  • Get control of your personal finances – The issue of debt is something that people generally don’t discuss because it’s so personal and, sometimes, embarrassing.  I’ve experienced personally how excessive debt can be an “albatross around your neck”!  It can, for example, hinder your ability to support local businesses, one of the building blocks of CED.  If you have better control of your personal finances, you will be in a better position to buy a home, expand your education or even start a business.  For many years, Black Enterprise Magazine has led a campaign to encourage individuals and families to improve their financial status and has recently initiated a Financial Fitness Contest.
  • Give – I believe that a person (and a community) that is focused on giving will generate not only goodwill, but increased resources as a result.  The Bible speaks about giving numerous times throughout the text.  Examples include the following:

–  “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38 NIV).
–  “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,’ Says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it'” (Malachi 3:10 NKJV).
–  “But this I say: He who sows [plants, gives] sparingly will also reap [gather, gain] sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6 NKJV) [Comments added].

In short, a discussion of the “macro” issues of CED should begin with a discussion of what it takes to improve the health and wellbeing of those on the “micro” level – its people.

Be strong and be blessed!

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The answer to the question posed in the title is not apparent…until I share with you a couple of books I have read (or am currently reading).

To Right These Wrongs by Robert Korstad & James Leloudis
I heard about this book on WUNC (our local NPR station) on a Saturday morning a number of months ago and was interested in buying it, but didn’t at the time.  I was re-introduced to the book at a recent meeting (thanks, Jeanne Tedrow!) and was encouraged to read it.  To Right These Wrongs tells the story of the North Carolina Fund, described in the book’s Introduction as “a pioneer effort to improve the lives of the ‘neglected and forgotten’ poor in a nation that celebrated itself as an affluent society”, which was used as a “laboratory” in the mid-1960’s for President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and its war on poverty.  This five-year effort brought together civic leaders – men and women, black and white – from across the state to work toward correcting the ills brought on by discrimination and poverty.  Even though their efforts were groundbreaking and their lasting effects are still being felt today, they came to understand that it would take more than “charity and self-help” to alleviate poverty.

don’t think of an elephant! by George Lakoff
If someone were to tell you “Now, don’t think of an elephant.  Whatever you do, DON’T THINK OF AN ELEPHANT!”  What are you going to do…of course, think of an elephant!  This book speaks to the importance of uniquely “framing” your message and that trying to use an opponent’s message against them by using their “frames” only reinforces their message.  An example of this is the use of the term “tax relief” for “tax cut”.  When you are “relieved” of something, this suggests that you were previously “burdened” and that, in this case, taxes are a burden to be relieved of.  The question of what expenses get reduced (or how much debt to take on) to offset these tax reduction efforts (e.g., military vs social programs) become the battleground issues.  In fact, Democrats began using the term when trying to counteract the Republicans message, which only reinforced the need for “relief”.  Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, or consider yourself conservative, liberal or progressive, this book helps to show the importance of creating your own “frames of reference” in shaping your message.

Both of these texts highlight the importance of not only creating effective policies for the “change you want to see”, but that effective communications are just as important and that how you craft your message can go a long way toward your level of success.

Be strong and be blessed!

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Even before programs such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program was enacted by Congress in 1974, the federal government had been intricately involved in creating policy and funding programs that benefitted low-, medium- and moderate-income individuals and families.  These programs sought to address many of the social and economic challenges of these populations such as blight, poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, etc.

However, another vital piece of the puzzle that is often overlooked is the important role the legal system plays in shaping and implementing CED.  From the NAACP and other civil rights organizations to public and private practices to university-based law clinics (talked about more below), these organizations work to address a wide variety of issues that affect CED, including family law, poverty law, government benefits, homelessness, housing and legal assistance to the poor.

CED Law Clinics – There is a wide array of law clinics throughout the U.S. that focus on community economic development.  Even though each may have a different focus (e.g., affordable housing, entrepreneurship, etc), they are all dedicated to improving the economic conditions of low wealth populations through the law by providing direct services as well as specialized training for future lawyers.  Some examples of CED law clinics include the following (for a more complete list, click here):

If you have legal questions regarding your small business, if your landlord has treated you unfairly or have other issues affecting your economic wellbeing, contact your local CED law clinic for assistance.

As you can see, CED and the legal profession are “joined at the hip”.  The community must ensure that the legal profession continues this service without bias that benefits ALL people.

Be strong and be blessed!

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Just before the federal government was scheduled to shut down, a deal was struck to keep the government “open for business”, while implementing a spending package that has been described as “historic”.  I applaud the Herculean efforts of President Obama, House Speaker Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Reid and staff members in getting a deal done before the shutdown deadline.

I have to admit I have mixed emotions.  On one hand, I’m happy for the hundreds of thousands of federal workers that would have been furloughed during a shutdown, including many of my colleagues.  Talk that a prolonged government shutdown would have hindered the country’s economic recovery has been put on the shelf.  Services that many people rely on for everyday survival will continue (I hope!).

On the other hand, I’m cautious because as of the writing of this blog entry, few details of the spending plan have been made public.  What programs are included in the $38 billion “cut” package?  Who will bear the burden of these reductions?  Will the economic recovery of those who are most in need be hindered?  How will the faith-based and non-profit communities be affected?

As we’ve all heard before, the “devil’s in the details”.  Oh, by the way, these discussions are only the beginning – negotiations on raising the debt ceiling and the 2012 federal budget loom just around the corner.  It will continue to be interesting times – stay tuned!

Be strong and be blessed!

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“What does autism have to do with economic development?” you might ask.  Well, as it turns out, it does, and will continue to,  have an effect.  As with any trend, economic developers and other community leaders must be mindful of global, social, financial and even medical trends and how these trends affect their community’s overall health and growth opportunities.

According to the Mayo Clinic, autism is one of a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that appear in early childhood — usually before age 3.  Though symptoms and severity vary, all autism disorders affect a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others.  Children with autism generally have problems in three crucial areas of development — social interaction, language and behavior.

Of course, for many of you, I’m “speaking to the choir”.  With 1 in nearly 100 children being diagnosed with autism, either your family or the family of someone you know has been affected (including my family).

So, back to the question at hand…how does autism and economic development relate?  The children diagnosed with autism today will become, unless a cure is discovered, adults with autism tomorrow.  As this occurs, communities that have the medical and (more importantly) social infrastructure to accommodate their needs will succeed in not only attracting them, but their families and other support networks.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, take this opportunity to reflect on how your community recognizes, supports and assists in integrating those affected with autism and other developmental delays into the overall community.  For more information on autism and other developmental delays, visit the websites of Autism Society, Autism Speaks and The Arc.

Be strong and be blessed!

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