Images courtesy of Multnomah County (left) and Hennepin County (right).

City/County Collaboration Can Help Make Progress on Economic Mobility Strategies

Four take-aways from WWC and NACo’s session on city and county collaboration

By Alejandra Montoya-Boyer and Maia Jachimowicz

On December 11, the What Works Cities (WWC) Economic Mobility initiative and the National Association of Counties (NACo) Economic Mobility Leadership Network co-hosted a virtual collaborative session to bring city and county leaders together to foster a cross-jurisdictional conversation on economic mobility. Both organizations work to help local governments make progress toward advancing mobility outcomes for residents through evidence-based strategies on issues including housing, education and workforce.

The joint event was an opportunity for WWC city leaders to learn from county leaders on how counties are successfully working to advance economic mobility outcomes for their residents. It was also an opportunity to explore the relationship between overlapping cities and counties and hear, in a peer-learning setting, how cities and counties are working in partnership to achieve shared economic mobility goals.

Lessons from Hennepin and Multnomah Counties

Tools for Identifying Economic Inequities

Commissioner Marion Greene from Hennepin County, MN and Commissioner Lori Stegmann from Multnomah County, OR discussed a number of insights from the county government perspective.

“You can’t advance economic mobility without advancing racial equity,” said Commissioner Greene. Earlier this year, Hennepin County, after becoming a focal point for national conversations about race equity, declared racism a public health crisis and resolved to advance efforts to dismantle systemic racism through various facets of their work. Commissioner Greene shared Hennepin County’s disparity reduction approach, illustrating how reducing disparities in any one policy area can have positive benefits in others as well.

Commissioner Marion Greene (center) at the Hennepin County swearing-in ceremony for Angela Conley (left) and Irene Fernando (right)—the first women of color ever elected to the county board of commissioners. Image courtesy of Hennepin County.

Said Commissioner Stegmann, “Zip code shouldn’t determine where you end up in life, but there are layered inequities that hold people back from fulfilling their fullest potential. We know this because we’ve disaggregated the data and analyzed it by geography.” Commissioner Stegmann shared Multnomah County’s Marginalization Index, a tool that amalgamates various risk factors for marginalization and is used by county leaders to make decisions about funding and the provision of services.

Multnomah County’s Marginalization Index. Image courtesy of Multnomah County’s website.

Value of Cross-Jurisdiction and Cross-Sector Partnerships

Participants also had the opportunity to join breakout groups with city and other county representatives to talk about their experiences. There appeared to be consensus among participants that cities and counties working in partnership on shared economic mobility goals can lead to better outcomes by expanding the pool of available program resources and local champions, and by ensuring that available government services — whether city- or county-funded — are more fully accessed by eligible residents.

Commissioner Lori Stegmann shakes hands with participants at the annual Veterans Stand Down event in Portland. Image courtesy of Multnomah County.

Commissioner Stegmann shared that, while politics can make it challenging, it is an important goal to establish and maintain honest and long-term relationships across these jurisdictions. She also shared that an ongoing relationship with the Portland Business Alliance has been valuable to the county government. This relationship has facilitated the creation of a $1M Small Business Relief Fund for East Multnomah County businesses, helping to expand financial support to struggling small businesses in partnership with local business and city government leaders who could not otherwise provide this assistance.

Lessons from City Participants

Convening Power & Information Sharing

The City of Lansing, MI reported that it was an external philanthropic funder, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, who helped bring the city and Ingham County, MI together for collaboration through a co-applied grant for their Invest Health program in 2016. The partnership, borne from this initiative, has been sustained ever since. Now the city and county have joined in developing multiple new investments in the Pleasant View neighborhood, including shopping plaza improvements, a sculpture and town square and new exercise and play areas.

The Racine Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) offers free, professional, one-on-one financial counseling as a public service. Image courtesy of the City of Racine’s REC website.

One of the breakout groups discussed that both counties and cities have great leverage as a convener and contemplated the possibility of working together as co-conveners. Participants also discussed the importance of regularly sharing the work taking place with their county and city peers, and doing so with plenty of notice. For example, the City of Racine, WI is working to implement free financial counseling services for all Racine residents and shared these plans with Racine County, WI. As a result, a referral process now exists between the Racine Financial Empowerment Center and Racine County Human Services, which includes the Community to Careers service, which provides low-cost rides to work or training. By aligning the city and county programming, both governments are advancing their shared employment and financial security goals for residents.

Working Together Toward Shared Goals

Participants acknowledged that while cities and counties have different work streams, funding sources and service responsibilities, there are many points in common and underlying shared goals. There is value in each entity not reinventing the wheel with every project and rather building opportunities for common progress. For example, as part of the WWC Economic Mobility initiative, the City of Rochester, NY is working in partnership with Monroe County’s Department of Human Services to encourage county benefits recipients to engage with the city’s free financial counseling services and test the impact of different messaging campaigns. In the past seven weeks, 1,900 flyers have been distributed by the County to residents to encourage their participation. If successful, this work will help the city and county advance shared financial stability goals for residents.

The WWC Economic Mobility initiative aims to help nine participating cities identify, pilot, and measure the success of local strategies designed to accelerate economic mobility for their residents. NACo’s program is structured around a framework of convenings, emphasizing peer learning and community site visits as a means of fostering creative and collaborative solutions for counties. Both initiatives seek to lift up promising strategies and have identified that when cities and counties work in partnership they can expand the impact of each governments’ work while advancing common economic mobility goals to produce better results for residents.

Alejandra Montoya-Boyer is the Associate Program Director for Resilient Economies & Communities at the National Association of Counties (NACo), in which one of her primary responsibilities is co-leading the Economic Mobility Leadership Network cohort. For more information about NACo, visit naco.org.

Maia Jachimowicz is Vice President for Evidence-Based Policy Implementation at Results for America and leads the What Works Cities Economic Mobility initiative. For more information about What Works Cities, visit whatworkscities.org.

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Helping leading cities across the U.S. use data and evidence to improve results for their residents. Launched by @BloombergDotOrg in April 2015.