Month: November 2015

Immigrants Can Help Rejuvenate Rural Towns

Taken from Daily Yonder

From the eastern tip of Long Island to Vermont and Iowa, big cities aren’t the only places attracting new American residents. In many cases, these new denizens carry with them economic renewal.

My Manhattan friends were surprised when I chose to retire to Greenport, a knuckle on the finger of the North Fork of Long Island. Bordered by farms and vineyards to the east and west, Peconic Bay to the south, and the sound to the north, a village of 2,200 people seemed a strange choice. I had spent most of my adult life reveling in the color and chaos of the great city 100 miles away. How could the lure of the rural compete with that?

But competition wasn’t the issue. I wanted a little peace, a walkable downtown, a daily view of the yellow school bus trundling through the neighborhood, a smile of recognition at the supermarket. And I knew, from acquaintance with Greenport in a former life, that its fortunes had vastly improved from the 1970s, when it staggered through the days of sex, drugs and rock and roll without enjoying the associated excesses. It now boasted fine restaurants, beautiful parks, handsomely renovated old houses, and a carousel that delighted weekend visitors from “up-island.”

Revitalization of the village has several sources. A succession of progressive mayors got grants to clean up the center and develop a marina for Greenport’s deep-water port. Second-home owners returned to what had been, until the post-World War II, a lively summer respite from the Big Apple, less pricey and pretentious than the Hamptons. And to realize the ambitions of residents and officials came a new working class. Starting in the mid-1990s, Latinos—young families as well as single men looking for work—arrived to shape and sustain the new economy of the village by building and cleaning houses, repairing roads, working in restaurant kitchens, and landscaping gardens. Largely unauthorized immigrants from Mexico and Central America, they made up one-third of Greenport residents by 2010.

Patterns of immigration have changed in many ways since the great wave of the late-19th and early-20th century that brought Italians, Poles, and many others to till the fields, run the looms, and pave the roads—in effect, constructing the American century. Jobs for immigrants now tend to be in service (e.g., Greenport) and information sectors, rather than in manufacturing or agriculture. Immigrants from Latin America and Asia now vastly outnumber Europeans, who were the principal focus of immigration policy until 1965 legislation did away with an immigration system that favored them. And immigrants have gravitated to suburbs and small towns as well as to cities and border states.

It would be an exaggeration to say that today’s immigrants respond more to the charms of rural life than to those of the metropolis. But small towns and cities are coming into their own as desirable destinations, and often the result is new energy and improved economies for those communities. The nation’s oldest refugee organization, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, puts it this way: “Some of the most welcoming and best-suited places in the United States for the refugees and immigrants who settle here are the smaller cities and towns….[S]maller communities can offer services and opportunities not available or affordable in big cities.” The fortunes of the receiving communities may also improve; a recent study undertaken by the Daily Yonder found that individual incomes in rural counties rose as immigrant populations increased.

At first Greenport’s immigrants came because there was work and rental housing aplenty. Relatives and friends then joined the early arrivals, links in the migration chain that often binds an immigrant community. Family formation followed, with small children fending off the declining school population that, all over the country, beleaguers small communities with aging populations. Lacking health insurance for the most part, the newcomers have nonetheless found a cobbled-together health care system that meets most needs. Their traffic offenses bring them before local judges who often go easy on drivers who are prohibited by New York State law from getting licenses.

Diana R. Gordon's book Village of Immigrants.
Diana R. Gordon’s book Village of Immigrants.

Despite language barriers and seasonal, low-paid work many of Greenport’s Latino residents are moving beyond mere survival in the new land. They are “settling out” (the scholar’s term for their upward economic mobility) by starting small businesses—restaurants, landscaping companies, a barbershop—and sending their American-born children to college. A few young people who arrived in the U.S. as children have moved into the middle class as beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA, President Obama’s program of work permits and temporary relief from deportation.

It would be easy to conclude that revitalization is possible only in small towns with amenities like Greenport’s beautiful bay and nearby opportunities for winetasting and pumpkin picking. But renewal has other sources in other parts of the country. Sometimes it’s a single industry that recruits workers. Poultry “processing”—euphemism for the unlovely slaughter and packaging of chickens and turkeys—provides jobs for immigrants throughout the Midwest and the South. Proving that opportunity and exploitation can converge, Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride, the two biggest chicken processors in the country (both of which have been sued for violating labor laws), employ more than 120,000 “team members” in low-wage jobs. We cannot know how many of those are held by immigrants, but many workers in poultry plants have also worked in agriculture, and in 2012, almost half of farmworkers were foreign-born.

Iowa is a special case in the flow of immigrants to rural areas. Labor needs in that very agricultural state coincided with the North American Free Trade Agreement’s displacement of rural workers in Mexico as heavily subsidized American corn came on the market. Accustomed to village life at home, many immigrants preferred small Iowa towns to big cities, according to Himar Hernández of the Iowa State University Extension. Sometimes recruited, sometimes following word of mouth, they stepped into the breach to work for the farms and slaughterhouses. As consumers, and later as entrepreneurs, they have given new life to blighted downtowns. West Liberty, Iowa, population 3,762 in 2013, home of a turkey processing plant, is an exemplar of this development. With 52.2% Hispanic residents and 25.6% foreign-born, the town boasts a dual-language program in local schools and a revived commercial district that is included in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2013 the mayor noted that “[I]f we didn’t have the Hispanic community here we’d have a lot more empty businesses downtown.”

Surely the influx of immigrants since 2000 helps explain the fact that the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting sector of the Iowa economy added jobs every year between 2006 and 2014, even during the national downturn. Newcomers also flourish in Vermont, which is, along with Maine, the most rural state in the country, as defined by the percentage of the population outside of Census-designated “urban areas.” Here the recent immigrants are not undocumented peasants from villages in Mexico and Central America but refugees from Somalia and Bhutan and Bosnia, among others. Sometimes they are placed in the state by the federal government and sometimes they arrive from other parts of the U.S. to join relatives. The center of refugee activity is Burlington—not quite a small town with its 42,000 residents, but the hub of an area where refugees have started farms and other rural enterprises. The Association of Africans Living in Vermont (it serves non-Africans, too, despite its name) sponsors the New Farms for New Americans project, which provides training and technical assistance to very small-scale farms in plots on the outskirts of the city. Ten miles from Burlington, a group of men from Rwanda and Bhutan are raising and slaughtering bucklings (young male goats that are donated by dairy farms, where they are superfluous) to meet the demand for goat meat among refugees from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe—and, perhaps, soon from Americans acquiring a taste for it.

Presenting scenarios of immigrants moving into the East End of Long Island, rural Iowa, and Vermont as success stories is not to deny that tensions around their settlement in small towns exist, in those places and elsewhere. A few Greenport residents grumble that immigrants commit crimes, and the dual-language program in West Liberty has occasionally been controversial. The peaceful atmosphere for refugees in Vermont, attributable to welcoming officials and social service providers, may prevail, in part, because the state is relatively isolated, and many Vermonters haven’t the faintest idea that Africans are living there. But as multicultural America becomes a demographic inevitability, visible every day on our TV screens and in our classrooms, native-born rural residents seem likely to adapt as urban dwellers have—with acceptance and, in another generation, with inclusion.

National Broadband Recommendations: Advocate Reactions

Taken from Daily Yonder

With little hope of creating new spending initiatives for broadband that require congressional approval, the White House has released a report on steps the administration could take on its own to improve programs that support broadband access for poor and geographically remote communities.

The Broadband Opportunity Council released a set of recommendations earlier this week calling for federal agencies to adjust their funding guidelines to allow grantees more flexibility in using money to pay for broadband infrastructure and other digital technology.

The recommendations would make adjustments in programs such as the Ag. Department’s Rural Utilities Service and the Department of Commerce’s New Market Tax Credits.

Some of the changes are minor – for example, changing language on a “frequently asked questions” page to make it clear that tax credits could be used for broadband projects.

In other cases, the recommendations call for agencies to create new rules – a more formal regulatory process – to allow grants or loans to be used for broadband. For example, one recommendation calls for the USDA Community Facilities program – which supports a variety of bricks-and-mortar projects for healthcare, safety, and community centers – to allow grantees to spend funds on broadband projects. In another recommendation, Housing and Urban Development  would allow more flexibility for developers to include broadband connectivity in new publicly supported housing projects.

The report estimates that such changes in existing funding programs could open up $10 billion in federal grants and loans for “broadband-related activities.” Net government spending would not be affected, meaning that in some cases grantees would have to make the same amount of money go further if they were going to include broadband projects.

Another recommendation in the report calls for federal agencies to provide technical assistance to communities on broadband build-out and use. And it also says agencies, nonprofits, businesses, and telecommunications companies should work together to create a “connectivity index” to help assess how well communities were doing with broadband.

Rural broadband advocates praised the Broadband Opportunity Council’s recommendations, though some expressed disappointment that the administration couldn’t do more to support broadband in rural areas.

“These actions and reforms are heading in the right direction,” said Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “But we need to go in that direction much faster.”

The recommendations show that the president “is more serious about expanding broadband in rural areas than Congress,” Mitchell said. “Unfortunately, the kind and amount of funding that needs to be available – ideally in the form of loans for co-ops and municipal networks – need to come from Congress.” Christopher Mitchell is director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Striking a theme that has become familiar in discussions of community development and technology, the Broadband Opportunity Council emphasized that broadband is a necessity, like water or electricity, and has become a fundamental part of education, healthcare, business, public safety, and civic participation.

“The Broadband Opportunity Council’s report does a fine job of documenting America’s compelling need for broadband access,” said Bernadine Joselyn of the Blandin Foundation, which supports work in rural Minnesota and publishes the “Blandin on Broadband” blog. “We are especially heartened by the administration’s call for the rest of us to join in the effort of ‘helping communities become “broadband ready” ’.”

The report cited research showing that household income and geography are two of the biggest factors in determining who has broadband at home. Poorer neighborhoods are less likely to have broadband, and nearly a third of people in homes without broadband said expense was a major reason, according to the U.S. Census. Rural areas also had less access, the report said:

Some parts of the country, mostly rural and Tribal lands, are connectivity deserts – regions with little or no access to broadband – or “parched” with broadband coverage inadequate to meet community needs. For example, broadband speeds of at least 25 Mbps (download) and at least 3 Mbps (upload) are available to only 47 percent of rural households and 37 percent of people living on Tribal Lands, compared with 92 percent of urban households.

Communications scholar Sharon Strover, a University of Texas at Austin professor, said the report could have placed more emphasis on making broadband affordable.

“What a lot of our research suggests is that two factors figure in explaining why people don’t use broadband connections: affordability and lack of interest,” Strover said. “I don’t really see much in the report that grapples with affordability.”

She said the report’s emphasis on getting federal and state governments to work together on rolling out broadband was important. “This definitely is needed, but the mechanism by which this would actually occur is pretty opaque,” she said.

Frank Odasz, a community broadband consultant who lives in Montana, said rural communities need to learn from each other how to build out and use broadband well. He applauded the report’s call for communities to learn “best practices from their peers around the country.” But he questioned whether centralized resources like a one-stop portal on best practices would be useful for rural communities.

More than 200 individuals and organizations submitted comments for the Broadband Opportunity Council to consider as part of their research for the report.

One of those groups, the Rural Broadband Policy Group of the National Rural Assembly, argued unsuccessfully in favor of allowing small, independent Internet service providers to receive federal funding through programs like the Connect America Fund. “Even when large carriers could receive millions of dollars in subsidies to deploy broadband, they do not find it worthwhile to reach low-income and remote communities,” the group’s comments stated. Smaller, local organizations would be more likely to serve areas with low density and hard-to-reach consumers, the comments said.

The Broadband Opportunity Council, established by President Obama in March, is co-chaired by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Ag. Secretary Tom Vilsack.


Learning from Others about Rural Broadband

Ashtabula County has broadband Internet challenges. Many other rural counties share this challenge. We can learn from others.

Here is some great advice from Techzine.

Here’s the best way to enhance a nation’s competitive strength and the well-being of its citizens: Implement a national or rural broadband plan.

That’s why 142 countries have already developed their own plans to bring affordable broadband to all their citizens, with a particular attention to their underserved rural populations. These pioneers are demonstrating that competitive and universal broadband can deliver new tools, services and the power of instantaneous information to any country, region or economy.

The nations that join in next can build on their experience — by considering the following 6 points for creating a successful broadband plan. Key issues include new approaches to funding, how to choose the right technologies, how to shape a national transformational initiative, and the ongoing importance of enhancing user awareness.

1. Establish clear strategies and goals

Governments should be at the forefront in creating a national broadband plan, while reducing the digital divide by carefully considering the needs of all their citizens and consulting with a variety of stakeholders. The 1st step is to establish a comprehensive vision and set clear, short to long term objectives for broadband access to impact the country’s prosperity and social development.

From there, comprehensive strategies must be developed to encourage broadband investment, adoption, and usage by addressing both the supply and demand sides of new infrastructures and services. On the demand side, the strategies should set measurable goals and establish clear and comprehensive tactics for meeting the needs of key users — such as schools, hospitals, public administrations, businesses, and citizens in areas that are not yet served.

It’s also important for the plan to encourage private investment through public-private partnerships (PPPs), which can play a powerful role in removing barriers to infrastructure deployment.

2. Stimulate the market

As noted by the World Bank in its Broadband Strategies Toolkit, broadband development is “an ecosystem of mutually dependent and reinforcing components of supply and demand.” As a result, governments, the private sector, and international financing are now cooperating to overcome familiar obstacles to investment in broadband.

A balance of “give and take” can be achieved in a variety of ways. For example, regulatory and legal reforms can promote private sector investment, while simultaneously looking for more effective ways to regulate concentrated markets and encourage competition. By establishing a level playing field for all parties, a national or ruralbroadband plan can encourage innovation and give businesses and individuals a broader choice of providers.

When appropriate, the government can shape a transformational national or rural project. In these cases, the government may be willing to take on demand risk, which alleviates one of the main concerns of the private sector. New Zealand’s Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative, for instance, has taken an innovative approach to funding that has resulted in a new market structure. The government is responsible for fiber deployment along streets. Then private partners fund the connection from the street to individual premises, at the customer’s request.

3. Choose technologies that support long-term goals

Either a national or rural broadband plan must identify the best technologies for meeting its diverse goals. And this process will address factors ranging from the country’s existing infrastructure, population density, and demand for services to the cost of the necessary infrastructure — and the expected financial performance of the project.

The most common types of broadband initiatives involve 3 key technologies:

  • Fiber-based national backbone — This capital-intensive project involves acquiring rights of way and deploying the network’s physical assets. But once it’s in place, it can provide a transformative open platform for ultra-broadband access between population centers and international submarine cable access points.

    These networks are already being used worldwide to bridge the digital divide. In Columbia, for example, the state-owned telecom operator UNE EPM has upgraded the country’s national broadband infrastructure with a 100-Gbps backbone that includes Alcatel-Lucent equipment. The network connects all major urban areas and international submarine cables, serving approximately 14 million people.

  • FTTx-based next-generation access — A nation’s existing fiber backbone networks can be extended to the most economical point (FTTx), whether that’s to the home, the building, the node, or the curb. Then selected forms of high-speed copper, such as VDSL2 Vectoring or, can also be incorporated. This approach allows multiple service providers to bring ultra-broadband directly to all homes and businesses.

    Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Israel, Lebanon, Qatar, and other nations are using this method to deliver last-mile ultra-broadband. The Australian government is using fiber to deliver speeds of up to 100 Mbps — along with wireless networks that offer 12 Mbps or more to citizens in remote areas.

    In New Zealand, the Ultra-Fast Broadband Initiative is based on a Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) solution. It’s bringing downlink speeds of at least 100 Mbps to homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. And it reaches 75 percent of New Zealanders.

  • LTE-based open wireless access — Using 4G LTE technology, policy makers can start up broadband services faster, at affordable prices, particularly in rural and unserved markets. Physical infrastructure requirements are drastically reduced with this IP-based mobile technology. And its naturally open access platform is fully interoperable and well suited to offering mobile broadband services.

The right technology choices will satisfy today’s needs — and then continue to enhance competition well into the future. Because these choices are crucial to the success of a plan, it can be advantageous to work with advisors who are highly experienced in developing business modeling and technology strategies. Bell Labs Consulting, for example, can help governments model a broadband plan, providing pragmatic recommendations underpinned with independent, fact-based analysis based on long-established engagements around the globe.

4. Create a sustainable business model with infrastructure sharing

Traditional modes of network operation have relied entirely on commercial operators assuming all risks and making all investments. But with the unprecedented data explosion witnessed in mobile as well as in fixed services, operators in many countries could face financial struggles or may not want to this new round of investments.

Government-driven national or rural broadband plans are now devising complementary and new approaches that help meet their goals for universal, affordable broadband. For example:

  • Technology- and service-neutral regulations are making it easier for multiple operators to enter the market. These regulations promote healthy competition, with more service and price options for citizens.
  • Clear regulations (and simpler processes) are providing incentives for commercially driven infrastructure sharing.
  • Laws and partnerships are designed to take greater advantage of open access methods and reduce infrastructure costs.

These are just a few of the emerging models that can be used to reapportion risk and reward among stakeholders to enhance the overall broadband ecosystem.

5. Promote universal access to affordable services

Governments can play a vital role in the broadband ecosystem by fostering innovation — and by educating new users on the benefits of broadband offerings. The following steps can all be used to build and sustain user demand:

  • Lead digital literacy programs, so new users can develop their broadband skills and knowledge. Options include bringing instruction into the classroom and educating the public through mass media.
  • Promote electronic delivery of government services — as well as local offerings that the community can afford, made available in public centers, schools, and other institutions.
  • Support content developers as new entrepreneurs in the digital economy and invest in locally relevant content and applications.
  • Help bring down service costs by stimulating collaborations between ministries and business leaders — with the goal of greater sharing of broadband infrastructure.

6. Monitor and maintain broadband access as a top priority

National or rural broadband plans should also establish a clear structure for achieving specific milestones — and promoting continuous improvement. It can start by fast-tracking the broadband rollout and making it a strategic economic priority. Then follow up by managing and monitoring constantly each phase, with a government-based coordinating agency to keep an eye on investment, implementation progress and adoption rate.

As time passes, it’s also important to maintain good communication with partners by learning from experience and sharing doubts, issues, and best practices.This will be necessary to anticipate the new requirements coming from society and to support new technology. For example, in the domain of smart city or virtualization of services.

And finally, a sustainable plan also requires strong citizen involvement with a dynamic supply eco-system to provide relevant and local, digital content and services. This is imperative for driving Internet adoption and getting more subscribers online.

With a well developed national and rural broadband plan, governments have a powerful way to boost their economies and social development in today’s hyper-connected world. And by bridging the digital divide, they allow all their citizens to compete and thrive in the global marketplace.

– See more at:

Story-Telling: Marketing Place and Building Confidence

Stories are powerful in marketing and building confidence in communities. Great presentation at NADO’s 2015 Annual Training Conference, which offered strategies and tools for gathering and telling your own stories in compelling ways and explored the power of sharing your story utilizing local voices and language.  Methods and tools were offered for using story to engage regional populations in the planning process as well as how to access information and data from these efforts to share and report progress.

Trainer:   Holly Larson Lesko, Principal, Holles Consulting, Blacksburg, VA

Click on the link to learn more.

Making Data Work for Your Community

This is why we are doing the dashboard! Read this.

This session at NADO’s 2015 Annual Training Conference explored what free, open source data is available to you and your communities to make informed economic development, land use, and infrastructure decisions.  Participants learned how the East Arkansas Development District and Civic Analytics are building a sophisticated online data warehouse that allows users to easily identify local trends and visualize future scenarios.  The warehouse comprises primary and secondary data related to northeast Arkansas demographics, land use, infrastructure, education, and other economic indicators. Its interactive mapping technology enables users to view data in a geospatial context, explore layers, and download data sets.  


  • Brian Kelsey, Principal and Founder, Civic Analytics, Austin, TX
  • Melissa Rivers, Executive Director, East Arkansas Planning and Development District, Jonesboro, AR
  • Mark Goodman, President, Goodman and Associates, Conway, AR
  • Andrew Hait, Program Planning and Data User Outreach Liaison, U.S. Census Bureau

Learn more, click on these links:

Workforce Development: Learning from Others Who Do It Well

Developing the skills and competency of your region’s current workforce is an important element in meeting production demands and attracting additional investment and expansion.  At this session at NADO’s 2015 ATC, participants learned how regional development organizations are leveraging resources and supporting programs to assist incumbent, unemployed, and displaced workers with processing and manufacturing skills. Click on the links below to view the slide shows. Good information!


  • Bret Allphin, Development Director, Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley RegionalDevelopment District, Reno, OH
  • Christine Frei, Executive Director, Clearwater Economic Development Association, Lewiston, ID
  • Jon Gulliver, Director of Investor and Community Relations, Northern Maine Development Commission, Caribou, ME


  • Lloyd Frasier, Executive
    Director, Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, Rome, GA

Creating Opportunity and Prosperity Through Strengthening Rural-Urban Connections

Ashtabula County must be connected economically and socially to its surrounding urban areas. Don’t believe me. Read this article from the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO):

Metropolitan and rural America are highly connected and interdependent. To succeed, metropolitan America needs a healthy and sustainable rural economy and culture, and in turn rural America needs vibrant, well-functioning cities and suburbs to thrive and flourish.  Yet, the prevailing national narrative pits urban versus rural for investments and public resources, and official statistical definitions often create hard lines between urban and rural, and metropolitan and non-metropolitan.

Click to download issue brief (PDF)

Click to download issue brief (PDF)

For most families and businesses, however, there is no clear distinction between urban and rural places. Flows of people, capital, goods, and information continually blur political and geographic boundaries. People commute to work, make family visits, or take trips and vacations. Businesses source materials and labor across regions largely ignoring rural-urban boundaries, and sell their goods and materials to customers irrespective of their locations. Rural economies and places supply food, energy, workers, and ecosystem services while urban economies and places provide markets, capital, jobs, and specialized services, reinforcing a productive and deepening interdependence. Both rural and urban communities offer to each other a wealth of recreation and cultural opportunities.

This issue brief from the NADO Research Foundation describes some ways in which regional development organizations and other regional entities are recognizing the importance of connecting rural regions and urban centers. As yet, most of these connections are incidental to other efforts rather than intentional strategies, but it is possible to see three broad approaches that show promise for regional economic development by strengthening rural-urban linkages. These are:

  • Actions to level the playing field for rural residents and businesses so that they are not unduly penalized by distance and lack of economies of scale
  • Actions intended to increase opportunities for interaction and employment
  • Actions to expand economic development

Creating Opportunity and Prosperity Through Strengthening Rural-Urban Connections contains case studies on efforts underway across the country to support rural-urban connections in the areas of broadband development, disaster resilience, transportation, and food systems.  Click here to download the issue brief (PDF).

Additional NADO Resources:

Why Ashtabula County Must Improve Broadband Communications

Companies such as GE that outsourced information technology (IT) jobs to places like India and the Philippines are recognizing it can be better for them to reshore these jobs to the United States (Daily Beast). Surprisingly, some of the largest beneficiaries of this trend are small towns and rural areas.

But it’s only surprising at first glance, considering that many IT jobs can be done literally anywhere. With the right workforce, rural areas – with their low cost of doing businesses and high standard of living – are equally suited to attract these jobs as are big cities.

To attract talent, IT contractor Rural Sourcing emulates cool, trendy office spaces à la Google HQs, locating offices in repurposed warehouses and historic buildings. The company recruits young workers by hosting “hackathons” at universities, the winners of which are offered internships.

This model is also seeing success in Macon, Mo., pop. 5,500, where Onshore Outsourcing is winning contracts from companies like Panera Bread, Boeing, and Enterprise Rent-A-Car (Columbia Business Times). The company ensures a qualified local workforce by paying for its employees’ education, and providing child care during classes. A truly local success story, its founder got started with a revolving loan from the city.

Looking ahead, it stands to reason that locations with high-speed Internet will be better positioned to capitalize on this trend.

Source: IEDC

From Governing Magazine: The Building Blocks of Customer-Centric Governmen

With new tools at their disposal, governments have the opportunity to create a golden age of citizen engagement. That could do a lot for trust in government.

By the end of this decade, governments at all levels have an opportunity to dramatically change the nature of their interactions with citizens. The emergence of new tools, technologies and methods offers a unique chance to secure the bond between the public and those who serve them.

There is growing recognition that government can offer services attuned not to an alphabet soup of government bureaucracy but to the realities of life, with pathways for engagement around events such as the birth of a child or registering a new car. Equally important, the massive data collected by government can be made available openly to allow the private sector to create useful new products and applications, as it already has done with GPS technology.

Why are we so optimistic that this could be the golden age of citizen engagement? As members of California’s Little Hoover Commission, we have just finished a nine-month study of the exciting new customer-centric changes in government services underway in the United States and in other countries. While our study focused on California, we are firmly of the view that public officials and policymakers everywhere have an opportunity to advance a future of better government services. And through improved interactions between citizens and the governments set up to serve them, we believe that trust in government can be improved.

Across the globe, governments — including ones without ready access to the talent and products of Silicon Valley — are already offering the public a window into government with customer-centric technology that makes it easy for the public to report problems or lodge complaints. Australia’s and New Zealand’s governments provide online one-stop shops for business formation. The government of the United Kingdom, a clear leader in digital services, has also applied learning from the emerging field of behavioral economics. This approach included the creation of a “nudge” office that gently guides citizens toward availing themselves of services that they deserve and that will help them.

In the United States, Utah leads the way toward improved digital interaction between citizens and their governments. Iowa is among states offering driver’s licenses that can be carried on a motorist’s mobile phone. Other states make access to government records as easy as making an OpenTable reservation. Equally meaningful reforms are coming from cities and counties. When he was mayor of San Francisco, for example, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (author of the book Citizenville) pioneered measures to assure that neighborhood residents could be heard on vital services such as garbage pickup and pothole repairs.

Our federal government has been setting the pace as well. In part out of the initial chaos and failure of came a recognition that a new group of people focused on the human element of government interaction, coupled with those who understand coding as well as customer service, could turn around broken government interactions. The federal government now has two complementary strike-force units: the United States Digital Service, operating out of the White House, and the General Services Administration’s digital-services agency known as 18F.

The former is a group of less than 200 employees who are deployed to specific agencies to work collaboratively with the existing civil-service workforce to tackle difficult government service-delivery problems. The latter group has small teams that are invited into agencies to help with digital redesigns based on making a government services more customer-centric.

In short, what we are seeing at all levels of government, here and abroad, is the beginning of a real revolution in the way public services can be delivered to the people and businesses that rely on them. To keep that ball rolling and build on what has already been done, we have some recommendations for public-sector leaders — concepts to keep in mind, encourage and build upon:

• Build a customer-first culture of government service with customers as the primary focus of interactions. Consult meaningfully with citizens about their needs and experiences.

• Organize government to make its interactions simpler and easier by experimenting with new digital and other techniques and service-delivery tools. Make better use of open data and behavioral economics.

• Work proactively with current government employees while recruiting new workers who understand why customer-centric government is essential. Digital-savvy millennials are a rich source for this new workforce.

In this emerging golden age of citizen engagement, government will improve by being open to experimentation and willing to embrace new tools such as crowdsourcing and public scorecards to measure the quality of its services. The results may be surprising: satisfied customers and renewed confidence in government.

Source: Governing Magazine

Ashtabula County Could Follow Buffalo’s Entrepreneurial Strategy Lead

Buffalo gets heavy snow. Ashtabula County gets heavy snow. Buffalo invests in attracting entrepreneurs. Ashtabula “could” invest in attracting entrepreneur and helping keep existing entrepreneurs.

Upstate New York has become an economic development laboratory as state and local actors take varied approaches to revitalizing the former manufacturing powerhouse. One new effort, 43North, is focused on attracting promising startups rather than established companies (New York Times).

43North is a business idea competition that entices entrepreneurs to locate in Buffalo with the promise of cash. Though not a new idea, what’s notable about the competition is the size of its prizes – a $250,000 guaranteed investment and one $1 million grand prize – the largest prize pool for any comparable U.S. program.

Now in its second year, 43North recently announced 11 winners after receiving 11,000 entries this year. Winning companies grant 43North a 5 percent equity stake and in return receive mentorship and free office space.

Winning companies must commit to stay in Buffalo for at least 12 months, with the hope they’ll stay for the long term. Several of 43North’s prizes go to local Buffalo businesses as well.

New York is putting significant dollars behind several ambitious economic development programs. 43North is part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s aptly named Buffalo Billion initiative, which is providing $1 billion in an effort to transform Buffalo’s economy. The state will also award $500 million to three of seven regions in a competition some have described as a “Hunger Games” for economic development (North Country Public Radio).