Twenty Years of Experience in Community Economic Development

2020logo.jpgA couple of weeks ago, I attended a community economic development conference in Minneapolis. It was called 20/20, reflecting the twentieth anniversaries of the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers and the Local Initiative Support Corporation (or LISC). In fact, I got my very first predevelopment loan from LISC almost twenty years ago for ArtSpace Projects’ Frogtown Family Lofts in St. Paul.

Over 400 people involved in community economic development from around the region attended. As you can imagine, we live in exciting times, particularly those of us involved in community economic development.

LISC Executive Director Andriana Abariotes welcomed us. She recognized that we faced new challenges.

Then former St. Paul Mayor George Latimer led a panel discussion with leaders from the The McKnight Foundation, Travelers Foundation, Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota, and the Northwest Area Foundation. While the panelists acknowledged the stock market decline adversely impacted their resources, all of the panelists, encouraged by Latimer, said that there were new opportunities for collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors.

During the break, I was able to connect with several of the people I had sought, including Ron Price, Senior Program Officer (and retail specialist) at LISC. He guided me to several excellent on-line resources which I am continuing to explore.

At lunch, I sat at a table full of bankers and equity investors. They all agreed that there was still money out there, that the underwriting requirements, at least for affordable housing, were still shaped largely by the state, and that the biggest change was a “flight to quality”, meaning higher returns and/or more reliable cash flow for financial participants.

Julie Causey, Chair of Western Bank, Michael Rubinger, President and CEO of LISC, Dan Bartholomay, Commissioner of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, and Elizabeth Kautz, Mayor of Burnsville, spoke during lunch. All were anticipating roles for the private sector in the economic development efforts initiated by the public sector in the coming months.

During the afternoon, I attended a session on “Community Development’s Return on Investment”. The speakers were Paul Fate, President and CEO of CommonBond Communities, Peter Heegaard, Founder and Director of Urban Adventure, and Mike Temali, Executive Director of the Neighborhood Development Center. All of the speakers seemed to indicate that neighborhoods were now being reviewed much like businesses, as a single entity that generates jobs, sales, and tax revenues.

The themes emphasized by the speakers during the conference included: 1. Collaboration, 2. Holism, 3. Community Engagement, and 4. Regional Integration. They are not unfamiliar to many of us in community economic development in Northfield.

Personally, I thought other concepts were strongly represented in the sessions. In my mind these were: 1. Grow Existing Assets, 2. Produce Local Results, 3. Clarify the Specifications of Success, and, in the current environment, 4. Cut Through the Noise, Fear, and Uncertainty when Making Decisions.

It was a great opportunity to renew old friendships, interact with peers and share successful models. I anticipate generating returns on this “investment” as part of the NDDC’s work plan for 2009.

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