Economic & Community Development

This post highlights the importance of the next stop in our ecosystem: Economic & Community Development. It covers the importance of widespread community development versus economic development deals of largess, and offers specific ways we can engage in successful community development to retain our developed talent, and create a pipeline of future developed talent.


Last week, I shared the importance of Talent Development & Retention. This week, we're going to build on how to do that with meaningful development. One of the key premises from last week was that the older a person gets, the less likely they are to move. To prevent that, I firmly believe economic and community development go hand-in-hand with improving schools (which I will address next week), and they have been treated as separate and distinct for far too long.


  • Economic development deals of largess tend to benefit politicians and not the community
  • Focusing on community development includes small and minority-owned business development, along with targeted incentive and grant programs
  • Community development must be done in conjunction with efforts to improve schools, to both retain developed talent, and create a pipeline for future talent development

Economic Development

Having worked at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership as an economist, I am all too familiar with economic development deals of largess. Whether this be the $2B Tranlin deal in Chesterfield County, that touted 2,000 jobs that never came (link) or even Stone Brewing, with $33MM in incentives for 200 restaurant jobs that never came (link), these deals only serve the political figures putting them on their resume to advance their career.

While I was City Economist, the City of Richmond asked my opinion on both Shockoe Stadium and the Washington Football Team Training Camp. Neither of these made any economic, financial, or community sense. The City's response was to stop inviting me to the meetings. Instead of falling in line, I started speaking to City Council about the numerous issues which plagued the Department of Finance (link), as well as why the stadium proposal made no sense (link). And I blogged about it, with two posts (here and here) analyzing both the initial deal and the subsequent last-ditch-effort for a deal.

Whether we look to Navy Hill more recently, or even to 6th Street Marketplace further back, these deals do not effect meaningful change in our communities. It's as simple as asking what percentage of jobs were to be given to the local community.

Let's go back to Stone Brewing for a second. Instead of those 200 restaurant jobs that never came, what if instead we funded 20 small businesses with 10 employees each? What if instead, we even set aside half of the $33MM to be used for small business start-up funds, entrepreneur classes, and other targeted small and minority-owned business incentive and grant programs? What if we partnered with local coding groups that helped small businesses develop easy online ordering in the time of COVID-19? What do you think would have a greater impact at building wealth and success in our local community?

Community Development

Instead of thinking of one or two large economic development deals, we should think in terms of many small community development initiatives. The root of what we're solving for here is to eliminate concentrated centers of poverty, eliminate food deserts, and create avenues of success for our communities. Avenues of success could be more community amenities, like parks or bike lanes, or it could be expanding after-school mentorship programs, or as mentioned previously, targeted incentive and grant programs for small and minority-owned businesses. We should also look at ways we can support local mutual aid efforts. The more avenues of success we have, the more likely we are to be successful in building community wealth and inclusivity.

Recall from last week's post that entrepreneurship is highest among the 25 to 34 year old age group, and that our goal is to both develop and retain talent. The next question is how to go about effecting these changes to solve the root. I think we can look to our recent past and the plans for Dove Court in the 6th District.

Dove Court was public housing in Highland Park. At the time, the City agreed to demolish the public housing and replace it with mixed-income housing, as well as doing the same for the elementary school nearby. What happened was the housing part proceeded, but the school did not.

The question becomes, who will move to the community if the neighborhood is safe, but the school is below par? And who will move to the community if the school is new, but people feel unsafe in the neighborhood? This is why community development and schools go hand-in-hand. A combined strategy is how we can retain our developed talent, and continue to develop talent for the future, with schools improved and more after-school programs.

Let me be clear: mixed-income housing is not one-size-fits-all. It can be a starting point in a conversation. If the community decides to go that route, it's extremely important that we displace no one, and guarantee that everyone who receives public housing or assistance will be guaranteed to continue to receive that benefit and not be displaced. Forcibly moving people around does not solve the root issue.

Creating mixed-income neighborhoods can help eliminate food deserts and concentrated centers of poverty, which are correlated with higher crime rates. No one should have to worry about where their next meal will come from, or consistently have to pay meals tax because there is a food desert in their neighborhood.

We could also look at either incentivizing small business hiring within the community, perhaps in tax breaks (leading with a carrot), or requiring small business hiring within the community, perhaps as a certain percentage of overall employment (leading with a stick). Lastly, we should continue to invest in, improve, and expand the City's Center for Workforce Innovation (CWI).


If we want to contribute to the ecosystem, to develop and retain talent, we must think of ways we can engage in community development and improving schools, and ways that will also help eliminate concentrated centers of poverty, eliminate food deserts, and create new opportunities and avenues of success for our communities and all of their residents. This strategy also helps retain developed talent, and create an improved pipeline for future talent development, which creates perpetual tax revenue growth for the city.

This can be achieved through a combined approach of focusing on small and minority-owned business development, along with targeted incentive and grant programs, as well as looking to mixed-income housing which displaces no one, in conjunction with improving schools.

So how do we pay for this? Recall that I am the only candidate with a plan for deconstructing the police to reconstruct our communities. My proposal is to shift a stacking 12.5% of the RPD budget per year, for a total of 50% by the fourth year, into schools, parks, and community and social services. This would give each of those groups $41MM over the period, and an additional $17MM per year thereafter if disbursed evenly. The police treat a symptom, not the cause, and we must invest in our communities to create avenues and opportunities for success.


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