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Can equitable growth strategies help a city change?

There's a kinship of sorts among candidates in a mayoral race, because only they really appreciate how hard running is and how alone you often feel. It feels like you have to pick the entire effort up by yourself and carry it to the finish line.

When I dropped out of the Mayor's race in December, 2021, Tim Findley Jr. who was also a candidate running for Mayor of Louisville, reached out to me with warm wishes and a request to connect. . Actually, he was the first person to reach out, which I've since learned is a regular thing with him. He thinks about your well-being first, then the topics at hand. I was appreciative, and I told him I would meet with him just as soon as I was beginning to get back in the swing of things. And I did.

Tim and I had been talking about the same things. He talks about culture change and a belief that the future of Louisville has to be about more than policing policy. I had been talking about how, if equity is a given, economic growth, which had stagnated, becomes immediately possible in Louisville. We quickly determined we share a passion not just for innovation, in policy and programs, but also for doing more with what we already have.

It's about innovative policy and programs, and doing more with what we already have.

We've been sharing ideas for what growth strategies for change could mean for Louisville since then, including what it would mean to combine community health and safety under a single strategic and management structure to change how money is spent and what gets accomplished. That led to a whole new organizational chart for the City where everything was restructured for culture change, equity and improved performance toward a new type of economic growth.

In February, I helped him announce to the public the vision we collaborated on for equitable, sustainable, shared economic growth for Louisville. For Velo, it represents a chance to test out a shared growth issues campaign we are developing.

We identified 10 drivers of economic growth that work in tandem to create improvements across quality of life, community and infrastructure and drive economic growth in what planners and economists call a virtuous cycle.

Create a place people want to be and they will move and stay. People often go where jobs are, but jobs often go where people are. Get this momentum going and it will be easier for our community to create and grow our own businesses.

How can these equitable growth strategies help a city change? How is this plan different?

  1. It reflects what other cities have learned about what drivers really stimulate growth. Louisville has made efforts in some of these areas, for instance, a talent attraction campaign supported by local foundations, but learned if you don’t have credible efforts in all of them, in a coordinated way, you’re not going to get momentum with one or two.

  2. This plan creates growth not just for the benefit of a few dozen people, that’s not real growth. It creates inclusive growth. Shared prosperity.

  3. It puts all of these efforts under one area in the “org chart” from a strategy and management perspective. How we organize our work can drive change.

  4. It includes policy changes and new programs, but also relies on citizen leadership mechanisms that bring creativity, energy and momentum. Many of these are already in place. They just need to be elevated.

It will take a great effort, but thinking differently about the issues around the city will get us further. Here are the specifics on how we approach each topic.

Moving From Talking to Doing, And Showing Results Among the Drivers

Community Health & Safety

We had previously announced the plan for combining Community Health and Safety, so we won’t cover those details here other than to be clear that it is a prerequisite for the rest of the plan to work.

Louisville will not be credible to the outside world, which represents our target market of the talent and businesses we are hoping to attract, if we have not dealt honestly with things that are dividing our community. We are the city of Breonna Taylor, and the aftermath, and we still need to acknowledge the harm and come together to heal.

Education, addressing a key quality of life driver

° Given that decision making for the public school system is controlled by the State, the plan will focus on what the City departments can do to help.

° Each of the departments will be required to pursue, as a top three Key Performance Indicator or outcome, ways to support student engagement and instructional time, the two most important drivers of educational attainment.

° An example is that TARC shuttles can swing by the schools again to pick up students in sports or other extracurricular activities, which are shown to improve student engagement.

° The plan includes citizen leadership efforts like the policies outlined in A Path Forward and also the efforts of Evolve502 during pandemic, where they gathered an extraordinarily broad range of organizations, including representatives of City government and drive efforts to support children during remote learning.

Arts & Culture, Parks and Festivals, creating a great place to live

° The plan includes creation of Arts Council to seed a multiple of events held in various downtown venues, include a subsidy and three-year commitment to each event, featuring our city as a place of cultural and social possibility.

° Empower neighborhood arts initiatives like those of Fund for the Arts, including near immediate events permits in neighborhoods

° Preparing for equity study results from the Parks Alliance, an identification of the equity gap in neighborhoods, and targeted investment to make parks work for all neighborhoods

Talent Attraction & Retention, you’ve done enough to get the buzz going

° We will work with the fastest growing businesses, many of which are tech, to help them with educational partnership(s) for tech talent within 3-400 mile radius, where the main selling point to talent is quality of life in Louisville.

° The businesses themselves will guide on what new recruits package of housing and tax incentives, memberships, free festivals, or even bitcoin like some cities are offering.

° For retention, particularly for black and brown professionals that we are losing in droves, the plan includes encouraging broad scale, deep company DEI training for all employers, like that offered by Velo partner, Harper Slade, to ensure a welcome, empowering environment for our new recruits

Housing Development, focus on creating places to live that improve income and quality of life

° The plan includes incentivizing the development of low income and workforce housing but with special tactics to ensure each development includes at least 15% units at 30% AMI. Workforce housing is a little easier to build at 60-80% AMI, and we have the largest low income housing developer in the nation, we just need to work with them and others to increase lower AMI units through higher gap financing and a special voucher-like programs. (like D.C.)

° We also want to focus development near near major employers. That will meet their needs, while also helping to increase diversity in our communities.

° The Community Health and Safety plan already announced addresses absent landlord property reclamation, rental rates freeze, property tax freeze for low-income ownership, basically anti-gentrification policies that will help our growth be fair to all

Income/Jobs/Workforce Development

° The plan establishes a Worker Relations Director to focus on worker pay and wages, benefits, wage theft, worker safety, bargaining, etc. Give that department the power to fine like code enforcement, fines to go to workers. (like Boston)

° $15-20 minimum wage for city employees, livable wage and raising the bar for other employers

° Build on a another successful citizen led mechanism, which is the JCPS Academies pathways/ Jefferson/Simmons/Spalding/UofL with Companies through Kentuckiana Works/GLI. This is an effort that is working and we want to accelerate its successes.

Business Attraction

° National/global entrants, target of 6, recruited by top businesses and citizens, Example: Largest NY developer considering Louisville for expansion based on initiative of a local minority developer

° Complete the NBA deal for Louisville

° Tightening tax incentives by requiring equity components and including claw backs for nonperformance

Commercial Development

° Equity-oriented developments will get City attention and help identifying sources of funding. Other developments are welcome to “have at it” but will not absorb City resources.

° Development getting support must demonstrate an environmental sustainability lens, and we will pursue a policy requiring net zero builds for new development.

° Improved fairness and effectiveness in zoning, permitting, citations. Entrepreneurs and developers are calling for simpler build environment in Louisville.

° The City will support efforts to get it the West End Partnership operational and providing needed development capital in neighborhoods, another example of a citizen leadership mechanism bringing energy to economic growth

Small Businesses and Startups

° A Path Forward also identified need for business infrastructure investments and incentives (accounting, legal, e-commerce, marketing, co-working space, labs, training, job placement) and the startup ecosystem is fighting for those same resources

° The plan will innovate by combining these efforts and bringing infrastructure and help for growth across all sectors.

° The plan will seek accelerated paths to capital: non-dilutive grants, debt and equity

° Work on having our established businesses involved as clients in this new ecosystem, which represents another citizen leadership example already in motion in Louisville, but that will need a great deal of focus to work at any scale.

Public Transit, City Planning

° Public transit will move to become integral to economic development and planning. This is the most significant way a city can address the affects of climate change, and a key driver of equitable economic growth.

° The plan includes implementing free fares based on a number of objectives such as supporting education, revitalizing downtown, or tied to Universal Basic Income with the goal of making free fares perpetual.

° The plan supports TARC's East/West, North/South network improvements and plans. These changes will drive equity, income and wealth building by moving people to jobs, schools along with improving services to doctor appointments and entertainment venues. They can spur development as well, for instance, TARC's improvements on Route 23 can help catalyze the City’s Broadway corridor redesign.

Fellow citizens often ask me what is holding Louisville back from these sorts of ideas and accomplishments. In Louisville, we don’t always recognize that we are famous nationally, and internationally, in a not great way right now.

But if Louisville is doing the work, the City will be re-branded by the outside world as a place that is working to deliver true growth opportunities for all. Seeking shared prosperity is what unlocks these ideas.

Those who come here to make a difference, and there are many of us who have, will find more fertile ground, and get more traction. And the companies and talent will follow.


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