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Many U.S. towns, cities, and regions are working to rebuild their economies after losing many of their traditional economic drivers over the past four decades. Rebuilding and revitalizing the economies of these places, particularly the most distressed, is a key challenge and opportunity in the 21st century. In 2011, the Obama administration launched the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) Initiative, as a new federal interagency pilot program to revitalize the economies of challenged cities through place-based strategies. The SC2 Fellowship Program, made possible by a gift from the Rockefeller Foundation, was one component of the overall SC2 initiative.

The Fellowship Program directly helped grow the capacity of local governments by placing highly skilled professionals with a commitment to public service in the seven pilot cities for a two-year fellowship period. Participating cities included Chester, PA; Cleveland, OH; Detroit, MI; Fresno, CA; Memphis, TN; New Orleans, LA; and Youngstown, OH. GMF, Cleveland State University (CSU), and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) managed the Fellowship Program from 2012 to its conclusion in 2014. You can read the full summary of the Fellowship Program and its accomplishments here

Selected accomplishments include:

  • Developed and executed a multi-pronged approach to catalyze interest and investment in downtown Fresno through local events, business outreach, anchor institution engagement, and federal-local collaboration (Cole Judge and Gretchen Moore);
  • Built a framework for public-private-partnerships to advance strategic priorities in Chester and channeled that framework to bring new partners to the table to set a vision for a special cultural arts district (Arto Woodley and Ricardo Soto-Lopez);
  • Strengthened employer-city relationships in New Orleans to create a pathway for local hiring in growing industry sectors, and built strategic partnerships with anchor institutions in Memphis to attract and retain a talented workforce (Annette Hollowell and Surayyah Hasan);
  • Launched new systems to prioritize vacant property demolitions in Cleveland, streamline the process of redeveloping vacant properties through Cleveland’s land bank, and build capacity for efficient code enforcement and blight remediation in Youngstown. (Tim Kobie, Christopher Alvarado, Chris Dorle, and Kathleen Fox);
  • Improved access to critical services in New Orleans by implementing safety net sustainability and coverage expansion policy recommendations in the Greater New Orleans Primary Care Safety Net Access Plan, and developing a strategy for expanding the availability of broadband services, especially in distressed neighborhoods (Maxwell Ciardullo and Jennifer Terry); and
  • Implemented strategies to strengthen grants management processes in Detroit, upgrade case and docket management technology in Detroit’s law department, and establish a Performance Management Platform to enhance strategic resource alignment and internal coordination in Memphis (Elizabeth Palazzola, Dekonti Mends-Cole, and Bernice Butler).

Program accomplishments include:

  • Led recruitment and a highly competitive selection process that accepted only 17 of the 242 applicants (7 percent acceptance rate);
  • Successfully partnered with SC2 cities to select fellowship placements and projects that matched candidate expertise and skill sets;
  • Provided a comprehensive management and leadership training program that strengthened core competencies for fellows, enabled peer-to-peer learning, and built a cohort of professionals through seven management academies focusing on 15 topics, with more than 20 facilitators;
  • Offered supplemental activities and support the fellows, including mentoring, access to professional development and training funds, and access to broader networks of urban leaders in the United States and abroad; and
  • Built and strengthened relationships in SC2 cities with important stakeholders to support fellows and the program with financial, programmatic, and professional resources.