Switch to Full View
Tuesday, October 10, 2017

DOT announces $500 million for TIGER grants

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On September 6, 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a new round of Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant funding, totaling $500 million. These competitive grants, appropriated as part of the FY2017 budget year, will have an application deadline of October 16. 

As part of the rollout of this new funding, DOT will be hosting two webinars to assist in the completion of TIGER applications. These webinars will be held from 2:00 to 4:00 PM EDT on Wednesday, September 13 and Tuesday, September 19. To register, please visit the TIGER Webinar Series webpage. In addition, DOT confirmed that more webinars will also be held sometime in the future. This new round of grant funding has updated criteria, making these webinars an important source of information and assistance.

In the funding opportunity announcement, DOT states these grants will give special consideration to projects which emphasize improved access to reliable, safe, and affordable transportation for communities in rural areas, such as projects that improve infrastructure condition, address public health and safety, promote regional connectivity, or facilitate economic growth or competitiveness.”  This will provide an opportunity for economic developers to take advantage of this federal funding partnership in both rural and urban settings.

TIGER grants were originally introduced as part of the 2009 economic recovery package legislation (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), have awarded over $5.1 billion for capital investments in surface infrastructure over 8 rounds of competitive grants. TIGER grants have historically achieved, on average, co-investment of $3.6 (including other Federal, State, local, private and philanthropic funds) for every TIGER dollar invested. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

NGA launches new program to advise states on emerging tech

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On September 27, 2017, the National Governors Association (NGA) announced the creation of a new advisory division intended to help state government leaders better understand their roles in relation to a growing host of emerging technologies.

Called NGA Future, the new division is a place where emerging technology and state public policy intersect. The idea is to build a network of experts from the private sector, media and academia who can help governors understand which new technologies — like blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT) — are worth their time and how they might fit into the future of state government policy.

These could be areas where states could take advantage of certain technological developments to improve how government operates, or areas where technological developments are going to change or have a major impact on state economies and therefore governors need to develop policy and best practices in preparation for that change.

The initial focus areas identified by NGA Future include blockchain, the tradeoffs inherent in increased connectivity, transactional payment technologies, distributed ledgers and their potential for state government, automation’s impact on the future of labor and the use of cognitive computing to improve public policy.

NGA traditionally has served as a convener and adviser for governors on a wide array of issues, including those surrounding technology. The organization has recently taken a facilitating role in helping states like Illinois scale emerging technology initiatives beyond state lines. The state's blockchain for government and Smart State initiatives have garnered interest from other states, and NGA is helping to host gatherings and share information that will allow further development elsewhere.

Monday, October 2, 2017

New EPI report examines local, state, and federal infrastructure investments

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On September 11, 2017, the Economic Policy Institute released a new report examining the division among federal, state, and local governments for funding, financing, and overseeing infrastructure investment. The main findings of the report are that the case for state and local governments to play the larger role in infrastructure investment is quite weak, while the benefits of a strong role for the federal government in funding, financing, and overseeing infrastructure investments are much greater.

Infrastructure plays a vital role in economic growth, and over the past year there have been a growing bipartisan support for increased investment in America’s infrastructure. But supporters of infrastructure investment often have conflicting ideas about which level of government will provide that investment.

The Trump administration’s infrastructure plan would leave state and local governments to pick up at least 80% of the increased investment. In contrast, Senate Democrats recently proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure plan constituted entirely of federally funded and financed investment.

Other key findings of this report include:

  • The federal government can help mitigate infrastructure funding challenges at the state level during economic downturns because it can run deficits over the short term, positioning the federal government in helping states to maintain stable or increasing infrastructure investment.
  • Infrastructure user fee pricing mechanisms are the best funding option for ensuring economic efficiency; such mechanisms can be managed at any level of government – federal, state, or local.
  • Because most infrastructure is connected to regional or national infrastructure networks, federal government may be better positioned than states to make infrastructure decisions that most effectively and efficiently integrate the network by taking into account economies of scale and positive spillover effects.
  • The federal government can play an important role in pricing externalities, taking account of externalities of carbon emissions and avoiding the challenge of states setting different carbon pricing levels.
  • A federal role can help ensure equitable access to infrastructure for all citizens by promoting equity and access to basic needs, ensuring that all citizens regardless of where they live and regardless of local economic conditions.
Wednesday, September 27, 2017

DOT to scrap proposed local hire program for infrastructure projects

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On August 24, 2017, the U.S. Department of Infrastructure (DOT) announced that it will withdraw a proposed rule developed under the Obama administration that would permit local governments to use geographic hiring preferences for transportation infrastructure projects.

DOT does not permit recipients or sub-recipients of federal funds to impose in-state or local geographic preferences in procurement processes unless those preferences are explicitly permitted or encouraged under federal law. However, many communities have sought to use “local hire” provisions to help ensure that low-income individuals and other underrepresented populations in or near infrastructure projects are able to benefit from jobs created through these investments.

The Obama administration previously sought to expand access to local hire provisions under federal transportation contracts, launching a pilot program under DOT to allow for local hire initiatives in at least 10 states. DOT also issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in March 2015 that would have explicitly permitted such provisions, but the DOT withdrawal announcement signals that the Trump administration will not be carrying forward this important effort.

With President Trump’s continued support for a major infrastructure package, and more generally his campaign promises to focus on job creation and economic growth, the withdrawal is particularly disappointing for economic developers at the state level. A recent report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce estimated that a $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create more than 11 million new jobs in construction, manufacturing, and other critical sectors.

America currently lacks a well-designed infrastructure bill that could include significant new investments in work-based learning strategies and work supports that help to diversify the pipeline of workers into these new jobs is essential for promoting economic opportunities while also helping employers address existing and future workforce gaps. The bipartisan Building U.S. Infrastructure by Leveraging Demands for Skills (BUILDS) Act, introduced earlier in 2017, is only one such attempt at encouraging investment in industry-driven partnerships in infrastructure sectors while also supporting critical pre- and post-employment services to help low-skilled individuals advance in these careers.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

SBA expands regulations on passive investments

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is withdrawing the final rule concerning Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) investments in passive businesses that was published on December 28, 2016, and is replacing it with a new final rule. This final rule expands SBIC permitted investments in passive businesses and includes new reporting and other requirements for passive investments. This rule also makes a few minor technical amendments.

SBICs are generally prohibited from investing in passive businesses under the Act. Prior to this final rule, the previous SBIC program regulations provided for the two exceptions that allowed an SBIC to structure an investment utilizing a passive small business as a pass-through through a holding company exemption and blocker corporation exemption.

SBA is withdrawing the final rule published on December 28, 2016, and is replacing it with a new final rule that expands permitted investments in passive businesses, provides further clarification with regard to investments in such businesses, and adds certain requirements to improve SBA's ability to monitor such investments. The rule also includes a conforming change to the regulations regarding the amount of leverage available to SBICs under common control to be consistent with the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 (H.R. 2029), which increased the maximum amount of such Leverage from $225 million to $350 million.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

DOT announces experimental initiatives on public transit financing

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On August 31, 2017, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced its proposal of new, experimental procedures to encourage more innovation in project funding, improved efficiency, and new project revenue streams in infrastructure and transportation projects. The primary goal is to address impediments to the greater use of public-private partnerships (P3s) and private investment in public transportation capital projects (Private Investment Project Procedures or PIPP).

Over the past decade, federal legislation has evolved to encourage increased use of public-private partnerships and private investment in public transportation capital projects. FTA has been active in providing limited technical assistance to transit agencies, local officials, and consultants on legal and regulatory issues, financing, and contract matters related to P3s in order to facilitate increased private sector participation in project development and operation of transit projects.

Upon ratification of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), FTA was able to identify impediments to the use of public-private partnerships and private investment in public transportation capital projects, and to develop and implement procedures that authorize an expedited project delivery program for capital investment projects that requires projects be supported, at least in part, by public-private partnerships.

FTA anticipates using the lessons learned from experimental PIPP procedures to develop more effective approaches to including private participation and investment in project planning, project development, finance, design, construction, maintenance, and operations.

FTA is soliciting public comments on the announced proposal until September 29, 2017. Any comments filed after this deadline will be considered to the extent practicable. Comments can be submitted through the Federal Register.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Congress to begin tax reform before the end of the year

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On July 27, the Trump administration and House and Senate leadership issued a joint statement on the importance of and next steps for tax reform, which they hope to hold up as a major legislative accomplishment. In the statement, the two congressional tax-writing committees aims to develop and draft legislation that will result in a comprehensive tax reform suitable for the needs of modern America. The statement also suggests that collaboration between Democrats and President Trump is expected.

Simplification and lowering of tax rates could significantly boost economic development and help tax payers around the country, particularly in rural communities. The priority for economic developers focus on the possibility of tax-exempt status of municipal bonds and the deductibility of state and local taxes.

Tax-exempt municipal bonds are a critical financing tool for major infrastructure purposes, including roads, bridges, hospitals and schools. Additionally, eliminating deductibility of state and local taxes would be a double tax on individuals, significantly impacting local middle class tax payers and asking them to shoulder an increased burden for key local priorities.

While the statement is a positive indication of cooperation between Congress and the administration, the lack of details indicates much work remains to be done. Tax reform is complicated, and each member of Congress and the coalition are likely to bring different ideas and concerns to the table. Congressional leaders have aimed for initial drafts to be released in September after the August recess, though that month will also be consumed by federal budget and appropriations debates and potentially additional health care reform efforts.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Congressional Democrats advocate for skills training in workforce development

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

In late July, Congressional Democrats released details of the new “Better Deal” campaign in advance of the 2018 midterm elections that will highlight tax incentives for employer-based training while also boosting  federal investments in apprenticeship and public-private partnerships.

The “Better Deal” campaign focuses on a range of proposals, including efforts to increase federal support for infrastructure, reduce health care costs, and support family leave policies. Notably, the campaign also places significant emphasis on the idea of creating up to 10 million full-time jobs, in part by helping American workers get access to skills and credentials that will support career advancement.

The campaign materials emphasize three major policy ideas on skills:

  • Expanding registered apprenticeship and work-based learning, specifically by doubling the federal investment in apprenticeship. Congress has appropriated $95 million to support registered apprenticeship expansion as part of the FY2017 omnibus spending package approved in May, though the House appropriations committee recently passed an FY18 spending bill that would eliminate apprenticeship funding next year.
  • Providing a new tax credit for employers who hire and train new workers. This proposal would provide an unspecified tax credit to employers who hire and train new workers, so long as those workers are being paid a good wage and retain full-time employment with the business for a set period of time.
  • Creating a network of partnerships between businesses and career and technical education programs, including at community colleges. The proposal suggests that these investments will include both sector partnerships authorized under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and other partnerships with community and technical colleges and other training providers.

The ideas outlined in the Better Deal agenda are aligned with many of the priorities of economic developers across the nation, particularly the focus on work-based learning and expanding partnerships between business and other stakeholders. It remains to be seen how willing the Congress and the Trump administration are to work together to advance policies that will help workers and businesses stay competitive in today’s economy.

Monday, September 4, 2017

American businesses outline priorities for NAFTA renegotiation

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

As the U.S., Canada, and Mexico meet in Washington D.C. to discuss the modernization of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the business community welcomes the opportunity to modernize the agreement, offering key objectives for the Trump administration to consider during renegotiation discussions.

Trade with Canada and Mexico is a significant driver of U.S. economic growth, with more than 125,000 small and medium-size businesses exporting to largest markets for American goods in Canada and Mexico. Most important, trade with Canada and Mexico supports 14 million American jobs and NAFTA is the foundation of this prosperous relationship. Therefore, the American business community believes that:

  • It is essential not to disrupt the $1.3 trillion in annual trade that crosses the borders because of NAFTA. Reverting to the high tariffs and other trade barriers that were in place before the agreement could risk millions of American jobs.
  • To avoid lost exports and lost jobs, NAFTA should be amended, not ended. The Agreement already has an amendment process built in to ensure that it can be modified as needed. This process should be used while preserving the many parts of the agreement that are working well.
  • The Agreement should be kept trilateral, as transitioning to entirely new bilateral agreements could interrupt commerce. Introducing divergent rules for Canada and for Mexico would only raise costs for businesses, sapping competitiveness and hobbling industries.
  • S. negotiators must consult Congress by following the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) law, which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce helped pass in 2015. TPA already has the buy-in of lawmakers and the business and farming communities. It will also help build support for a modernization agreement in Congress.
  • Negotiations must move quickly as uncertainty about the future of free trade with Canada and Mexico would suppress economic growth in all three countries. It could also spur a political reaction that would harm existing trade ties.

SMEs expect such an approach to contribute to an even stronger NAFTA that would reinforce American trade relationships with Canada and Mexico, and reaffirm North American competitiveness in the global economy.

Friday, August 11, 2017

DOT announces new infrastructure grants

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

DOT announces new infrastructure grants

On 5 July, 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) published a notice of funding opportunity through the Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects (INFRA) program, a new initiative which provides federal financial assistance to highway and freight projects of national or regional significance. The notice solicits applications for awards under the program's FY2017 and FY2018 funding, subject to future appropriations.

The new INFRA program advances a pre-existing grant program established in the FAST Act of 2015 and will make approximately $1.5 billion available to infrastructure projects that are in a neglected condition. In addition to providing direct federal funding, the INFRA program aims to increase the total investment by state, local, and private partners. INFRA will align them with national and regional economic vitality goals to leverage additional non-federal funding. The new program will increase the impact of projects by leveraging capital and allowing innovation in the project delivery and permitting processes, including public-private partnerships. 

DOT will make awards under the INFRA program to both large and small projects. Large project will receive at least $25 million and small project will receive at least $5 million. For each fiscal year of INFRA funds, 10% of available funds will be reserved for small projects. The INFRA grant program preserves the statutory requirement in the FAST Act to award at least 25% of funding for rural projects. For rural communities in need of funding for highway and multimodal freight projects with national or regional economic significance, INFRA is an opportunity to apply directly for financial assistance from the federal government. For these communities, DOT will consider an applicant’s resource constraints when assessing the leverage criterion.

INFRA grants may be used to fund a variety of components of an infrastructure project, however, the Department is specifically focused on projects in which the local sponsor is significantly invested and is positioned to proceed rapidly to construction. Eligible INFRA project costs may include: reconstruction, rehabilitation, acquisition of property (including land related to the project and improvements to the land), environmental mitigation, construction contingencies, equipment acquisition, and operational improvements directly related to system performance. 

Applications must be submitted by or on November 2, 2017. The “Apply” function on www.grants.gov website opened on August 1, 2017.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

EPA will charge fees for financial assistance to water infrastructure projects

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On June 28, 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published a final rule that establishes fees related to the provision of federal credit assistance under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014 (WIFIA) in order to recover EPA’s cost of providing credit assistance to entities seeking to develop water infrastructure, as well as to cover the costs associated with the program.

WIFIA authorizes EPA to provide direct loans and loan guarantees to water infrastructure projects and to charge fees to recover all or a portion of the agency's cost of providing credit assistance and the costs of retaining expert firms, including financial, engineering, and legal services, in the field of municipal and project finance to assist in the underwriting and servicing of Federal credit instruments. This action applies to entities seeking credit assistance under the WIFIA program for the development and construction of a water infrastructure project.

EPA is establishing an application fee, credit processing fee, servicing fee, optional supplemental fee, and fee for extraordinary expenses to cover these costs to the extent not covered by congressional appropriations. To effectively administer the program, EPA will incur both internal administrative costs (staffing, program support contracts, and other costs) as well as the costs of retaining expert firms, including legal, engineering, and financial services, in the field of municipal and project finance, to assist in the underwriting of the federal credit instrument.

A detailed summary and breakdown of various fees can be found in the Federal Register.

Monday, August 7, 2017

International Entrepreneur rule delayed and under threat of elimination

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On July 11, 2017, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration released a notice that it is temporarily delaying the effective date of the International Entrepreneur Final Rule in order following the Presidential Executive Order on improved border security and immigration enforcement. This delay provides an opportunity to obtain comments from the public regarding a proposal to rescind the rule and review the possible implications.

The International Entrepreneur rule is designed to enhance entrepreneurship, innovation, and job creation in the United States. The rule would add new regulatory provisions on the use of parole in case-by-case basis for entrepreneurs of start-up entities whose entry into the U.S. would provide a significant public benefit through the substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation. Such potential would be indicated by the receipt of significant capital investment from U.S. investors with established records of successful investments, or obtaining significant awards or grants from certain federal, state or local government entities. Granting parole would provide a temporary stay of up to 2 years (extendable by up to an additional 3 years) to allow the entrepreneur to oversee and grow their start-up entity in the country. A request for re-parole would be considered if the entrepreneur and his or her start-up entity continues to provide a significant public benefit as evidenced by substantial increases in capital investment, revenue, or job creation.

The delay and subsequent review of the rule provides the public, economic developers, and related entities and organizations to provide their feedback on the potential positive impact of the program on communities, cities, counties, and state where international entrepreneurs are responsible for significant improvement and creation of opportunities. In addition, potential negative implications from rescinding of the rule are also welcome for review by the DHS. The International Entrepreneur is similar to the EB0-5 visa program that incentivizes investment and employment creation in the U.S., and was also placed under review.

The implementation of the rule is delayed from July 17, 2017, to March 14, 2018                . Written comments from the public must be received on or before August 10, 2017 through the Federal Register.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

DOT announces $226.5 million funding opportunity for public transportation

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On July 18, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), under the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced the opportunity to apply for approximately $226.5 million in FY 2017 funds under Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program. Funds will be awarded competitively to assist in the financing of capital projects for acquisition of buses and/or construction of bus-related facilities. Incidental costs such as the costs of related workforce development and training activities, and project administration expenses, are also included.

The purpose of the Bus and Bus Infrastructure Program is to assist in the financing of buses and bus facilities capital projects, including replacing, rehabilitating, purchasing or leasing buses or related equipment, and rehabilitating, purchasing, constructing or leasing bus-related facilities. According to DOT’s latest Conditions & Performance Report, transit providers nationwide face a maintenance backlog of nearly $90 billion, including 10,000 buses estimated to be in poor or marginal condition.

The Bus and Bus Infrastructure Program provides funds to designated recipients that allocate funds to fixed route bus operators, and to states, and local governmental authorities that operate fixed route bus service. FTA also may award grants to eligible recipients for projects to be undertaken by economic development organizations engaged in public transportation. FTA may prioritize projects that demonstrate how they will address significant repair and maintenance needs, improve the safety of transit systems, and deploy connective projects that include advanced technologies to connect bus systems with other networks.

Complete proposals must be submitted electronically through www.grants.gov before or on August 25, 2017. More information can be found at transit.dot.gov

Monday, July 31, 2017

Congress continues work on spending bills without budget resolution

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

As Congressional August recess approaches, the House Appropriations Committee continues its work on the 12 annual appropriations bills for FY 2017. To date, the Committee has passed 7 bills and anticipates approving the final 5 bills before the recess. Combined, these 12 bills will direct government funding for the next fiscal year. Currently, neither the House nor Senate have passed a FY 2018 budget resolution which sets funding amounts for all federal agencies and programs, allowing the appropriations committee to move ahead of the normal budget process.

In the House, budget committee leadership continues working on their FY 2018 resolution with negotiations ongoing between moderate and conservative members. House Republicans hope to use the FY 2018 budget to lay the groundwork for tax reform and some cuts to mandatory spending levels.

Reports indicate the House budget resolution, which has yet to be released, will also include reduced levels of non-defense discretionary spending while increasing the amount of defense discretionary spending. This increase in defense spending would be above the funding caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25), requiring a new bipartisan budget agreement to fund these programs. Such an agreement could be difficult to reach, as Democrats would be unlikely to accept significant reductions in nondefense spending in exchange for higher defense caps. Despite this, House appropriators are pushing forward with their bills, even though if a new spending agreement is reached, it could require them to rewrite certain bills to meet the new spending levels.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is moving at a slower pace, and will likely mark up many of the spending bills after the August recess. Similar to the House, any bills passed by the Senate committee may need to be rewritten if a new budget agreement is reached.

Monday, July 24, 2017

New Senate bill to support infrastructure workforce

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On July 20, the Senate introduced the bipartisan Building U.S. Infrastructure by Leveraging Demands for Skills (BUILDS) Act, which would support grants to industry partnerships in transportation, construction, energy, and other infrastructure sectors. Administered by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Departments of Transportation, Energy, and other federal agencies, the grants would allow local partnerships to develop work-based learning programming and apprenticeships and help workers and businesses get the necessary skills for rebuilding American infrastructure.

The BUILDS Act would help businesses in targeted industries grow and maintain the workforce necessary to keep up with demand, while also ensuring that a diverse range of workers could access the training and credentials needed to find sustainable jobs in these fields. The Act would support implementation grants of up to $2.5 million over three years – and renewal grants of up to $1.5 million - to partnerships comprised of multiple employers in a target industry, education or training providers, labor organizations, local workforce boards, and other stakeholders where appropriate. Partnerships would be required to carry out activities that support:

  • Assistance in navigating the registration process for registered apprenticeship;
  • Connecting businesses and education providers for development of classroom curriculum to complement on-the-job learning;
  • Serving as employers of record for participants in work-based learning programs for a transitional period;
  • Training managers and front-line workers to serve as mentors to work-based learning participants;
  • Helping businesses recruit individuals for work-based learning, particularly individuals being served in the workforce system or by other human service agencies.

Partnerships would focus on apprenticeship and other work-based learning programming during which workers earn wages while obtaining specific occupational skills and credentials along a career pathways in key industries that help advance workers into higher-paying jobs.

The BUILDS Act coincides with strong political interest in infrastructure investment, as President Trump has released a plan to incentivize up to $1 trillion in new funding for construction and related projects that could lead to as many as 11 million new jobs. Businesses in infrastructure currently face intense labor shortages given impending retirements, a lack of diversity in the workforce, and overall skill shortages in growth industries. According to a report by the Departments of Education and Labor, there are 68% more projected job openings in infrastructure jobs over the next five years than there are students training for these jobs, with an approximate potential loss of $200 million in revenues in 2017 due to unfilled technical jobs.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Hollings MEP program receives increased funding

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On June 27, 2017, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued a final rule to amend the regulations governing the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program to allow NIST to provide up to 50% of the capital and annual operating and maintenance funds required to establish and support an MEP Center. The regulations are also being amended to remove other cost sharing rules that are not required by the MEP authorizing statute or current program policies.

The Hollings MEP Program consists of technical centers in each state that connects small and medium-sized manufacturers to public and private training, tools, and other resources essential for increasing innovation capabilities, expanding domestic and foreign markets, and improving productivity and overall competitiveness.  MEP focuses on small and mid-sized enterprises that puts manufacturers. MEP leverages more than $100 million of federal investment into a nearly $300 million program by partnering with state a local governments and the private sector to provide a wealth of expertise and resources to manufacturers

Prior to being amended the program required that NIST provide less than 50% of the capital and annual operating and maintenance funds of an MEP Center beginning in the fourth year of a cooperative agreement. The revised statute allows NIST to provide up to 50% of the capital and annual operating and maintenance funds required to establish and support an MEP Center. This is a welcome change for economic development, as an increase in funding translates to greater support for a program that aid small American manufacturers in developing new products, expanding into global markets, adopting new technology, reshoring production, and upgrading their technological capabilities.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

House passes TANF subsidised jobs bill

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On June 23, 2017, the House passed the Accelerating Individuals into the Workforce Act (H.R. 2842) which would allocate $100 million under the current Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) contingency fund for demonstration grants to support subsidized jobs programs. At least one of the demonstration projects supported by the grants would need to fund registered apprenticeship programs, and the bill requires that 15% of the overall funding be reserved for career pathways programs as defined by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).

More than 80% of today’s jobs require postsecondary education and training, but less than 10% of adult TANF recipients have education beyond high school. Despite these barriers, less than 7% of combined federal and state TANF spending goes to work, education and training programs. 

Under current law, TANF funds can be used by states to subsidize TANF recipient’s wages, however less than 1% of total TANF spending is used on subsidized jobs programs. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) also provided an additional $5 billion in funding to supplement states’ TANF spending on subsidized jobs, though that funding expired after FY2010. These programs can be successful if they connect participants to training and upskilling opportunities, like those available in apprenticeship programs and when built into career pathways programs.

The bill recognizes the importance of investing in training opportunities for TANF recipients, a population and an activity drastically underfunded in the current TANF system. However, the Act currently lacks language that would see the program receive increased annual funding to keep pace with historic levels of investment and dedicate new resources for proven strategies like industry partnerships and career pathways.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

House passes 2017 Perkins reauthorization act

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On June 23, 2017, the House passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act of 2017, which would reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The bill was passed out of committee on May 17, by a unanimous vote.

The bill is similar to the reauthorization bill passed by the House in September 2017 and includes requirements for closer alignment of postsecondary performance indicators with the core performance indicators under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). It also contains requirements that state Perkins plans describe how CTE programs fit within the state’s broader vision and strategy for preparing an educated and skilled workforce. The bill would additionally adopt several key WIOA definitions, including recognized postsecondary credentials, industry or sector partnerships, and career pathways.

Despite strong support for the House bill, the prospects for Senate action are uncertain. The Senate did not take up the House bill last year and was unable to reach agreement on their own proposal, in large part because of partisan disagreements about the Secretary of Education’s oversight role in CTE programs.

In addition, President Trump’s FY2018 budget request includes a proposed reduction of $168 million for Perkins state grant, or a cut of 15% against current funding levels. This makes the reauthorization effort come against a backdrop of larger political discussion around the future of federal investments in education and workforce initiatives.

Friday, July 14, 2017

FAA reauthorization bill increases funding for airports in local communities

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On June 21, 2017, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) introduced the new FAA reauthorization bill which extends the current one-year extension expiring on September 30 to a new six-year period, providing more long-term certainty regarding aviation policy. The main objective of the new 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform and Reauthorization Act (21st Century AIRR Act) remains the intention to privatize air-traffic control, there are several provisions that provide positive developments for county governments.

The bill contains several key features for local governments. The Essential Air Service (EAS) program, which supports commercial flights for the nation’s most rural communities, would see increased funding each year throughout the bill’s lifetime. In fact, the final year of the authorization would fund EAS at $350 million, almost double the current funding level. This vital program to connect the nation’s most rural communities with larger transportation hubs will ensure continued travel options for county residents as well as key opportunities for economic development.  In his FY 2018 budget blueprint, President Trump had advocated for the program’s elimination.

Also included in the bill is the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), a key grant mechanism to assist airports in starting new projects, would see an increase in the 21st Century AIRR Act. Funding levels under the bill would increase each year through 2023, in total raising AIP funding from the current level of $3.35 billion to slightly more than $3.8 billion, which amounts to a $467 million increase.

On June 27, 2017, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the bipartisan 21st Century AIRR Act (H.R. 2997). However, Congress remains divided on the issue of air-traffic control privatization, with only the House advocating for privatization, while the Senate leaves air-traffic with the FAA. Despite contention, the new reforms are expected to cut red tape to ensure manufacturers can get products to market on time, stay competitive, and continue to employ millions of Americans, as well as encourage American innovation in aviation technologies to promote a stronger workforce.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

EPA to redefine contentious WOTUS rule

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

In late June 2017, the Trump administration announced that they will repeal the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of the Army and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are proposing a new rule that would rescind the Obama administration’s WOTUS rule and re-codify the regulatory text that existed before its adoption in 2015. The agencies claim that these actions would provide certainty in the interim while a new rule-making process is undertaken.

Property developers, chemical manufacturers and oil-and-gas producers have voiced opposition to the rule, which they argue is an intrusion on property owners’ rights and an impediment to economic growth. The rule expanded the definition of federally-regulated waters so broadly that ditches, canals, collection ponds, and isolated wetlands far from “navigable waters” were covered. In order to build or make modifications on their land, farmers, ranchers, and businesses would need to hire consultants and lawyers to get costly federal permits. In late February, President Trump signed an executive order directing the EPA to review WOTUS and to do so based on a much narrower interpretation of “navigable waters” as outlined in a 2006 Supreme Court opinion.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt stated that "EPA is taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation's farmers and businesses.” According to him, the re-codification "is the first step in the two-step process to redefine 'waters of the U.S.' and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public."

The proposed rule would recodify the identical regulatory text that was in place prior to the 2015 Clean Water Rule and that is currently in place as a result of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit's stay of the 2015 rule. Therefore, this action, when final, will not change current practice with respect to how the definition applies. The agencies have also begun deliberations and outreach on the second step rulemaking involving a re-evaluation and revision of the definition of "waters of the United States" in accordance with the Executive Order.

Monday, July 10, 2017

House approves EPA’s brownfields reauthorization program

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On June 15, 2017, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on the Environment approved the reauthorization of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Brownfields Enhancement Redevelopment and Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 3017) which would reauthorize EPA’s brownfields program and extend liability protections for local governments that did not cause or contribute to the contamination.

EPA’s brownfields program provides technical assistance and grants for communities to undertake brownfields projects. The program was originally authorized in 2002 through the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act. While the program’s authorization expired in 2006, Congress has continued to fund the program on an annual basis.

Brownfields are abandoned or underutilized properties whose redevelopment is hindered by real or perceived environmental contamination.  There are an estimated 400-600,000 sites like these throughout the United States, and redeveloping these locations has been a priority for the Conference of Mayors since the 1990s.

Redeveloping brownfields cleans up properties, creates jobs, and recycles land back into productive use while preserving farms and greenfields. According to EPA, since the inception of the program, over 26,000 brownfield sites have been assessed and over 5,700 properties and 66,000 acres have been made ready for reuse. The program has leveraged over 123,000 jobs and over $23.6 billion dollars. It is estimated that every dollar spent leverages approximately $16 in other investments.

Friday, July 7, 2017

HUD Secretary Ben Carson expresses concern FY2018 budget

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On June 8, 2017, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson expressed his concern before the House and Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee over the Trump administration’s FY2018 budget request for HUD. The President’s budget proposes a $7.4 billion reduction to HUD’s budget relative to FY2017 enacted levels. The budget would eliminate the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, currently funded at $3 billion, and the HOME Investment Partnerships program, currently funded at $950 million.

The CDBG program provides annual grants on a formula basis to nearly 1,200 metropolitan city, county, and state governments. There are 185 counties that receive these grants directly, while local entitlement cities and counties receive 70% of CDBG funds and states receive 30%. Counties utilize the flexibility of CDBG funds to support projects that address their local community and economic development, housing, water and infrastructure and human service priorities. HOME funds are used for the acquisition, reconstruction and rehabilitation of housing for low-income families.

Senate subcommittee members from both parties expressed concerns about the drastic cuts proposed in the president’s budget. Senate Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-Maine) stated that the funding levels proposed in the FY2018 budget will place vulnerable families at risk of losing their assistance and of becoming homeless, while Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) shared similar concerns that the drastic cuts will be devastating to communities across the nation. Several House T-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee members similarly expressed concerns about the proposed cuts during their hearing.

Secretary Carson noted in his testimony that HUD looks forward to working with state, local, and private partners to support them in playing a greater role in local community and economic development.  He also reiterated during the hearings that he expected improved efficiency, public-private partnerships, and greater flexibility would help HUD meet its mission even with reduced funding.

The outcome of the testimony resulted in an advice to cities, counties, and states to collect information on CDBG and HOME-funded housing, community, and infrastructure projects. This will be needed to calculate the impact of these programs on local entities, if the programs are to be eliminated in FY 2018.

On June 23, 2017, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3, affirming that the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin was correct in the case Murr v. Wisconsin. The Court ruled that “Treating the lot in question as a single parcel is legitimate for purposes of this takings inquiry, and this supports the conclusion that no regulatory taking occurred here.” According to the Supreme Court, there are two guidelines relevant for determining when a government regulation constitutes a taking. First, “with certain qualifications . . . a regulation which ‘denies all economically beneficial or productive use of land’ will require compensation under the Takings Clause.” Palazzolo v. Rhode Island, 533 U. S. 606, 617 (quoting Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U. S. 1003, 1015). Second, a taking may be found based on “a complex of factors,” including (1) the economic impact of the regulation on the claimant; (2) the extent to which the regulation has interfered with distinct investment-backed expectations; and (3) the character of the governmental action. Palazzolo, supra, at 617 (citing Penn Central Transp. Co. v. New York City, 438 U. S. 104, 124).

The timeline of this case starts in 1960 when the first plot of land was purchased in 1960 and the title was placed in the Murr’s private plumbing company. On the first lot the Murr’s built a family cabin. In 1963 the Murr’s bought the adjacent lot which has remained vacant. In the 1970’s environmental regulations reduced the usable size of each lot to less than an acre. In the location of Murrs’ property, state and local regulations prevent the use or sale of adjacent lots under common ownership as separate building sites unless they have at least one acre of land suitable for development. So in 1995 when the lots were brought under common ownership the St. Croix County ordinance that states if abutting properties have less than an acre of economically developable lands and they are owned by a single entity the lots are too be considered as one property. The Murr’s land was subject to this regulatory burden, moreover, only because of voluntary conduct in bringing the lots under common ownership after the regulations were enacted. As a result, the valid merger of the lots under state law informs the reasonable expectation they will be treated as a single property, according to the Supreme Court.

The Court also agrees that “the physical characteristics of the property support its treatment as a unified parcel. The lots are contiguous along their longest edge. Their rough terrain and narrow shape make it reasonable to expect their range of potential uses might be limited.”  The Murrs’ could have also “anticipated public regulation might affect their enjoyment of their property, as the Lower St. Croix was a regulated area under federal, state, and local law long before petitioners possessed the land.”

Lastly Court agreed that the prospective value of the two lots supports considering the two as one parcel for purposes of determining if there is a regulatory taking. The Murrs’ are prohibited from selling the lots separately or from building separate residential structures on each. Yet this restriction is mitigated by the benefits of using the property as an integrated whole, allowing increased privacy and recreational space, plus the optimal location of any improvements. The special relationship of the lots is further shown by their combined valuation. The combined lots are valued at $698,300, which is far greater than the summed value of the separate regulated lots Lot F with its cabin at $373,000 and Lot E as an undevelopable plot at $40,000. The value added by the lots’ combination shows their complementarity and supports their treatment as one parcel.

The factors stated above are why the Supreme Court upheld the decision that the taking clause did not apply in this case. The guidance given by the is that “Courts must instead define the parcel in a manner that reflects reasonable expectations about the property. Courts must strive for consistency with the central purpose of the Takings Clause: to “bar Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.”” Chief Justice Roberts dissented stating, “Basing the definition of “property” on a judgment call, too, allows the government’s interests to warp the private rights that the Takings Clause is supposed to secure.”

The previous Supreme Court case that affected economic development was Kelo v. City of New London. The Court held that the general benefits a community enjoyed from economic growth qualified private redevelopment plans as a permissible "public use" under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.  Unlike in Kelo v. City of New London, it is not clear if the the Murr v. Wisconsin ruling will affect economic development in a positive manner. On one hand there is the potential to reduce the amount economic burden that is incurred when a development uses emanate domain to acquire property.   On the other hand Murr v. Wisconsin did not provide any clarity to the issue of the Takings Clause and the uncertainty of the regulations could impact the decision of individuals and firms to purchase adjacent plots of land.

 Urban economists have long argued about the detrimental effects of land use regulation which is the lynchpin of this case. The regulation requiring minimum lot parcel size for this property to be sold is detrimental to economic growth. Land use regulations are the reason that in many metropolitan areas rents are skyrocketing. Instead of allowing the market to determine the efficient use of the space and allow innovations local and state governments are inhibiting growth. Hsieh and Moretti (2015) have estimated that “lowering regulatory constraints” on land use in regional economic centers would “increase U.S. GDP by 9.5%.”  

Thursday, July 6, 2017

EDA announces $30 million in funding for distressed coal communities

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On June 23, the Economic Development Administration (EDA) has published a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) of $30 million to assist coal communities and create jobs through the 2017 Assistance to Coal Communities (ACC 2017) initiative. In distributing the funding, EDA expects to accept ACC 2017 proposals and applications on an ongoing basis throughout FY2017 until all available funding has been obligated.

The $30 million in ACC 2017 funds available for application are targeted to directly assist communities and regions severely impacted by the declining use of coal through activities and programs that support economic diversification, job creation, capital investment, workforce development and re-employment opportunities. Under the ACC 2017 initiative, EDA is seeking applications for projects and activities that will:

  • Support the creation of new businesses and jobs in a variety of industry sectors;
  • Create or implement economic diversification strategies targeting affected workers and businesses;
  • Develop a business incubator program;
  • Enhance access to and use of broadband services to support job growth;
  • Facilitate access to private capital investment, and provide related capacity building and technical assistance;
  • Promote market access for goods and services created and manufactured by businesses in the impacted community/region.

The initiative is part of Trump administration’s efforts to reverse burdensome regulations that have squeezed the American energy sector and rural communities, as well as to block the anti-coal initiatives by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies.

Prospective applicants are encouraged to refer to the NOFA on grants.gov for more details on the ACC 2017 funding, including eligibility, matching-fund requirements, and other information.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Trump administration clarifies plans for infrastructure investment

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On June 8th, the President Donald Trump announced his new $200 billion plan to rebuild and modernize American roads, rails, ports, and airports in order to create more jobs, maintain U.S. economic competitiveness, and connect communities to more opportunities. This plan will build on a more ambitious $1 trillion infrastructure plan which made up the campaign promise of President Trump and which he actively advocated for in the first half of 2017.

The new infrastructure investment plan is one of President Trump’s regulatory reforms designed to spur growth and investment in America. Federal rules and regulations apply to virtually all infrastructure investments, while the federal government accounts only for one-fifth of all infrastructure spending. The new plan aims to make the nation more competitive by unleashing private sector capital by significantly reducing permitting time for major infrastructure projects from 10 years to 2 years, as well as slashing regulations to establish tangible response. Federal investments into infrastructure will be more targeted and awarded to projects of high priority. Additional responsibility will be transferred to the States in order to reduce the regulatory burden for infrastructure investment and spending.

Original goal of $1 trillion investment in infrastructure still stands. The administration will dedicate $200 billion in federal funding for infrastructure, while the originally promised $1 trillion in infrastructure investment will be funded through a combination of new federal funding, incentivized non-federal funding, and newly prioritized and expedited projects. Funding will be structured to incentivize additional non-federal funding. As such, the administration is committed to pursuing numerous funding proposals:

  • Expand the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) to finance surface transportation projects through direct loans, loans guarantees, and lines of credit;
  • Remove the $15 billion cap on Private Activity Bonds (PABs) and expand eligibility to other non-federal public infrastructure to issue tax-exempt bonds on behalf of private entities;
  • Provide competitive grants to urbanized areas mitigating congestion through the Urban Partnership Agreement Program and the Congestion Reduction Demonstration Program;
  • Liberalize tolling policy, which is generally restricted on interstate highways and prevents public and private investment in such infrastructure;
  • Fund EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan program designed to leverage private investments in large drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects.

The administration is also considering two proposals to support better fiscal restraint:

  • Federal Capital Revolving Fund to fund federally-owned civilian capital assets with annual appropriations and address underinvestment in capital assets driven by large upfront costs;
  • Partnership Grants for Federal Assets to fund private partners to build or improve federal facilities and donate it to the federal bodies, since government cannot loan itself funding.

As each $1 billion invested in infrastructure development has the potential to support more than 18,000 well-paying jobs, the American economy would benefit enormously from an ambitious increase in public investment and infrastructure investment. Such investment would not only create jobs, but also lock-in genuine full employment in the near-term, and would provide a needed boost to productivity growth in the medium-term.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

President Trump launches air traffic control reform

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On June 5, the Trump administration has begun rolling out reform for American air-traffic control system (ATC). The FY2018 federal budget request proposes to create a nongovernmental entity to manage the nation’s ATC system. Many countries have corporatized their air traffic control function, separating it from the governmental aviation safety regulation function. Calling for the separation of the ATC from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will reduce congestion, flight times, and fuel usage, and will allow America to use and develop modern technology and communication equipment. This will improve safety and enhance America’s role in modern aviation technology.

President Trump announced his support of a proposal to shift the ATC function of the FAA to an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization, while safety and regulatory functions would remain in the hands of the FAA.. Delays, wait times, and route inefficiencies prevalent in the current American system cost an estimated $25 billion a year in economic output. The reform would reduce aviation passenger taxes and the new entity would be responsible for setting and collecting fees directly from users based on their use of the American airspace. 

The new ATC privatization initiative will also benefit the U.S. aviation industry, which currently supports 1 out of every 14 American workers. The new non-profit corporation will not need any taxpayer funding and the privatization of ATC will reduce spending caps by $10 billion annually between 2021 and 2027. Additionally, the FY2018 budget proposes to reduce the various aviation excise taxes by an estimated $116 billion over the same period.

Last year, while debating a new FAA Reauthorization bill, Chairman Shuster pushed hard for ATC privatization, but in the end had to settle for an extension of the last authorization after the votes could not be mustered to support the spinoff.  With the president now providing support, Chairman Shuster has doubled-down on his efforts to see this privatization provision become a central part of a new authorization, due by the end of September 2017. 

Countries are major players in the debate over the reform of the ATC system as they own and operate 34% of the nation’s public airports. A central question remains as to the fate of smaller civil aviation facilities under privatization, as both local control and employment questions come to the forefront with the possibility of remote towers replacing manned towers at airport facilities. Some critics fear that a private corporation would decide it is more “economically viable” to maintain a current tower or consolidate control functions to a centralized location hundreds of miles away. In his remarks, President Trump did add assurances that rural airport facilities would benefit from the new ATC privatization push. However, he offered no specifics at this time.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

EDA announces new rounds of funding opportunities for entrepreneurs and EDOs

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On May 10th, 2017 the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) today published the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for its 2017 Regional Innovations Strategies (RIS) program with $17 million being made available to help spur innovation capacity-building activities in regions across the nation. Under this competition, EDA is seeking applications for two separate funding opportunities: the i6 Challenge and the Seed Fund Support (SFS) Grant competition.

  • The $13 million i6 Challenge helps entrepreneurs overcome barriers in building new companies and creating jobs by supporting the creation and expansion of programs that increase the rate at which innovations, ideas, intellectual property, and research are translated into products, services, viable companies, and, ultimately, jobs.
  • The $4 million Seed Fund Support (SFS) Grant Competition provide early-stage companies with funding for technical assistance and operational costs that support the planning, formation, launch, or scale of cluster-based seed funds that will invest their capital in innovation-based start-ups with a potential for high growth.

Prospective applicants are encouraged to refer to the Notice of Funding Availability on grants.gov for more details. The application period will close June 23, 2017.

On May 12th, 2017, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced the availability of funding for the FY 2017 International Engagement Ready Communities Competition. This $600,000 program seeks to help drive foreign direct investment (FDI) in U.S. communities with diverse economic development needs by enhancing their FDI attraction and export promotion efforts. The program also seeks to reduce resource constraints on economic development organizations (EDOs) that focus on investment promotion.

Through this program, EDA, SelectUSA, and the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC) will support empirical research on successful international engagement strategies and develop best practice reports and a competitiveness assessment tool. These elements will be incorporated into a user-friendly EDO toolkit and training guide to help local communities assess and increase their ability to become globally competitive while enhancing their trade and FDI promotion activities.

Eligibility is open to organizations engaged in economic or infrastructure development opportunities, including state and local governments, Tribal organizations, institutions of higher learning, and other related public or private organizations or associations.

Grant applications are due by June 12. For more information about how to apply, visit: https://www.grants.gov/web/grants/view-opportunity.html?oppId=293705, or contact: RNTA@eda.gov

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

NAWB launches online learning program to enhance workforce development

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On May 9th, 2017, the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) and their network of American Job Centers announced the launch of Study Workforce, an online learning platform to support workforce board members, workforce development professionals, elected officials, and agency staff seeking to build their knowledge and skills in the workforce development sphere.

The Study Workforce platform is designed to help professionals involved in the workforce development arena to understand how the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) can be leveraged in support of a workforce and economic development agenda that builds communities and benefits constituents. Understanding how the workforce development system functions under WIOA can help professionals meet their goals of improving the lives of residents through education and job training, and enabling economic success and business competitiveness.

NAWB is a membership organization and advocate for more than 550 workforce development boards. The Study Workforce project was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

New analytical tools released to assist economic developers

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

On April 20, the Census Bureau has released the 2015 County Business Patterns, which provides detailed annual information on the number of establishments, employees, and first quarter and annual payroll at the national, state, county, metropolitan, congressional district, and five-digit ZIP code levels for nearly 1,200 industries. County Business Patterns debuted 71 years ago and has been published annually for the past 51 years. County Business Patterns data can be accessed by using multiple tools available via the Census Bureau website, including American FactFinder, QuickFacts, Census Business Builder, and My Congressional District.

In addition, USAFacts is a new data-driven portrait of the American population, government finances, and the government’s impact on society. The site relies on data from over 70 government agencies in order to present reliable, current data for use by various users, including economic developers.

The Economic Development Administration (EDA) has also recently updated numerous data tools for economic developers. In partnership with businesses and universities through its Research and National Technical Assistance program, EDA develops and promotes instrument that help communities develop strategic plans, locate and evaluate regional clusters, as well as explore existing innovation capacity.

The StatsAmerica Innovation Index 2.0 Tool is one of the instruments providing economic developers a quick and easy way to calculate whether a country, region, or neighbourhood meets EDA eligibility threshold for unemployment and income. This tool delivers an easy-to-compare method of assessing the innovation capacity of a region with data on: human capital, economic dynamics, productivity and employment, and well-being. The updated 2.0 tool expands on the original index by adding more than 50 new measures, such as an ability to account for regional knowledge spillovers, technology diffusion, and foreign direct investment.

Another tool that offers significant support to businesses, policy makers, academics, and economic developers is U.S. Cluster Mapping and Registry Tool. Funded by EDA and created in partnership with the Harvard University’s Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness, the U.S. Cluster Mapping tool is a national initiative that provides data on regional clusters and economies to support U.S. business, innovation and policy. The site also provides a cluster registry where cluster organizations can connect with key businesses, both up and down supply chains, in their respective regions to help advance cluster initiatives.

Together, these analytic tools offer comprehensive data and analysis that can inform stakeholders’ collective action and can guide complex decision-making at the regional level by identifying region’s capabilities, challenges, and potential.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

FEMA’s disaster deductible proposal raises concern

posted by: Kirill Abbakumov

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has recently announced a proposal to implement a “disaster deductible” that would require states to satisfy an insurance-like deductible before receiving Public Assistance funding from the federal government to repair and rebuild damaged infrastructure after major disasters. After receiving initial comments from stakeholders in 2016, FEMA released the second iteration of the proposal in January 2017 to solicit further feedback.

The state deductibles would range from a high of nearly $53 million for California to a low of $1 million for Alaska, Vermont, and Wyoming. FEMA claims that states could cut their deductibles and earn “credits” by adopting and enforcing activities that support readiness, preparation, mitigation, and resilience. That would include things like revising building codes in areas prone to flooding or reducing dense brush and invasive plant species where wildfires might take place.

The recognisable danger in the proposal is that it would potentially violate current federal law that requires the federal government to provide a minimum of a 75% contribution on all public assistance funding provided following a disaster. The proposal is unclear on whether there are deductible offsets for investments that local governments made, and whether states have the sole authority to determine which projects would, and would not, receive funding when state deductibles have not been satisfied.

The current disaster deductible proposal by FEMA raises serious concern for local governments. According to the Congressional Research Service, there have been 13 disasters since 2000 that have each cost FEMA more than $500 million, while the agency’s disaster relief budget now exceeds $5 billion.