PM Magazine, July 2024

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Jan Perkins, ICMA-CM Vice President, Raftelis Retired City Manager Read more on page 34.

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Igniting the Spark of Local Economies

Reimagining economic development and growth with the help of AI

I had just returned from the Local Government Reimagined Conference in Palm Desert, California, when I sat down to consider my column for this month’s PM, which is focused on sustainability and economic development. Sparks of innovation were ignited at that conference, as attendees uncovered and discussed ways that they might use artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance local government. I expect that leveraging AI will drive many of the best practice discussions at the upcoming ICMA Annual Conference as well.

Thinking Beyond

Washington, D.C.

Sustainable economic growth remains one of the most important strategic elements in the portfolio of every local government leader and it’s exciting to consider how AI might be applied to this fundamental discipline.1 One key benefit of AI is that it gives leaders the ability to “think beyond.” So often managers are limited by access to data and the ability to fully analyze the information at hand. Using new AI applications, communities can upload their local information—current workforce, data about employers, local institutions of higher education, etc.—and assess potential contributions the community might make on not only a local but a regional and even global scale. More importantly, AI may help identify gaps in the

Public Management (PM) (USPS: 449-300) is published monthly by ICMA (the International City/County Management Association) at 777 North Capitol Street. N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002-4201. Periodicals postage paid at Washington, D.C., and at additional mailing offices. The opinions expressed in the magazine are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICMA.

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municipality’s comprehensive plan. For instance, the type of workforce needed to compete given a broader landscape may be lacking. This could then inform a partnership between the local government, the Chamber of Commerce, and community colleges to develop a curriculum to satisfy skills shortfalls.

This line of thinking also connects to ICMA’s continued programming around local government leadership for economic mobility and opportunity (EMO), made possible with support from the Gates Foundation. ICMA just launched our second EMO peer learning cohort to support members and their communities in advancing strategies to promote upward mobility for their residents.2 A special digital supplement to this issue ( also features lessons from the last year of EMO programming and commentary on future implications.

Predict vs. React

As a local government manager, I often felt that we were in a reactive mode, chasing bids and trying to create an incentive package that would make our municipality more attractive than one down the road. Rather, imagine using AI to help predict which growing business will be making investments and then to proactively seek partnerships that will lead to new opportunities. An organization called REDI Cincinnati

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Creating and Supporting Thriving Communities

ICMA’s vision is to be the leading association of local government professionals dedicated to creating and supporting thriving communities throughout the world. It does this by working with its more than 13,000 members to identify and speed the adoption of leading local government practices and improve the lives of residents. ICMA offers membership, professional development programs, research, publications, data and information, technical assistance, and training to thousands of city, town, and county chief administrative officers, their staffs, and other organizations throughout the world.

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has helped the region attract billions of capital investment dollars using this type of predictive analysis.3

Another aspect of thriving economies is economic diversification, as Michael Huling from Clark County, Nevada, points out in his article. While he cited Las Vegas’s dependence on tourism, I can recall my own experience in Kalamazoo, Michigan. At that time, a major employer that also contributed heavily to the philanthropic life of the city abruptly departed because of a merger. We had to scramble to recover. Many of our members find their communities overly dependent on one company or one type of industry for their economic vitality. There are excellent examples of using AI for scenario planning, applying specific prompts to forecast potential outcomes.


ICMA Executive Board

PRESIDENT Lon Pluckhahn*

Deputy City Manager Vancouver, Washington


Tanya Ange*

County Administrator

Washington County, Oregon


Jeffrey Towery

City Manager

McMinnville, Oregon


International Region

Rebecca Ryan

General Manager

Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional

Council, New South Wales, Australia

Colin Beheydt

City Manager

Bruges, Belgium

Doug Gilchrist

City Manager Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada

Midwest Region

It’s Happening in Pittsburgh

Allegheny County, Pittsburgh, and its surrounding townships and boroughs— the site of the 2024 ICMA Annual Conference (—is a great example of an economy forced to diversify. After decades of being primarily dependent on the steel industry, the region steadily grew its expertise in areas such as healthcare, financial services, higher education, and high tech, including robotics. And the interesting thing about the area is its dedication to building green and working to create a “net zero” carbon footprint—a major transformation for the Steel City. In fact, a water park has been built on the site of a former steel mill along one of the city’s three rivers.

Looking at the schedule for the ICMA Annual Conference alone is reason

Corri Spiegel* Manager in Transition

Michael Sable* City Manager Maplewood, Minnesota

Jeffrey Weckbach

Township Administrator Colerain Township, Ohio

Mountain Plains Region

Kenneth Williams** City Manager Beaumont, Texas

Dave Slezickey* City Manager The Village, Oklahoma

Pamela Davis

Assistant City Manager Boulder, Colorado

Northeast Region

Scott W. Colby Jr.

Assistant Town Manager Windsor, Connecticut

Dennis Enslinger

Deputy City Manager Gaithersburg, Maryland

Steve Bartha*

Town Manager Danvers, Massachusetts

Southeast Region

Valmarie Turner*

Deputy City Manager Fairfax, Virginia

Jorge Gonzalez*

Village Manager Village of Bal Harbour, Florida

Eric Stuckey

City Administrator Franklin, Tennessee

West Coast Region

Pamela Antil*

City Manager Encinitas, California

Jessi Bon

City Manager Mercer Island, Washington

Nat Rojanasathira**

Assistant City Manager Monterey, California

* ICMA-CM ** ICMA Credentialed Manager Candidate

enough to get pumped up about this unique time in the history of the local government management profession. Sessions on AI and thriving economies are planned for every day of the conference and many mobile workshops will take you inside some of the amazing innovations that have powered the Pittsburgh region’s new economy. One thing is for certain, when our members get together, the sparks of innovation ignite new ideas to improve our communities and the lives of our residents.


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SheLeadsGov Virtual Forum — Resilient Leadership: Powering Through in Local Government

July 17 | Virtual Event

4th Annual ICMA Equity Summit — Keeping it Moving: The Power of Us

July 25 | Virtual Event

2024 CivicPRIDE Inclusion Summit

July 26 | Virtual Event

Asking Police Chiefs the Right Questions

July 31 | Webinar

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July 31–August 1 | Jones Bay Wharf, Sydney, Australia

Data to Action: How Sugar Land, TX is Leading the Way in Community Engagement

July 23 | Webinar

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Leading the AI Revolution: How the Public Sector is Pioneering AI Adoption

August 14 | Webinar

Capital Improvement Plans: Understanding the Fundamentals

August 28 | Webinar


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September 11–12 | Taituarā, New Zealand

Ethics at the Helm: Staying the Course Despite Unethical Elected Officials

September 12 | Free Coaching Webinar

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10-Year Member Review Process Ensures ICMA Code of Ethics Reflects the Profession’s Principles

The membership feedback effort concludes with the remaining two tenets for review this year.

A foundational element of the local government management profession is the ICMA Code of Ethics. It’s the standard that all members agree to uphold and is reinforced through ongoing education and training, such as this column! One of the key aspects of the Code is ensuring it remains as relevant today as it was 100 years ago when it was adopted at the 1924 ICMA Annual Conference in Montreal. This responsibility primarily rests with the ICMA Executive Board’s Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC).

In 2013, the Board approved the CPC’s plan to engage the membership in a structured review of the Code. The approach ensures the Code continues to ethically guide those working in service to local government as we begin the next 100 years. This comprehensive effort facilitated discussion about the language and values in the Code, as well as the guidelines that help interpret its principles.

It is fitting that this year, on the Code’s 100th anniversary, ICMA concludes this cycle by examining Tenet 8 on professional development and Tenet 10 on job encroachment.

Where We Have Been

The review for each tenet began by gathering feedback at regional and state events. Those proposed changes were presented to members via a survey. The dialogue then informed proposed tenet revisions and guidelines that accompany some tenets, which members approved by ballot as specified in ICMA’s Constitution for the board’s adoption. As part of this review, Tenets 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 12 and/or the guidelines have been revised. The summary of this comprehensive effort follows:

• Tenet 7: No change to the tenet language; the board voted to adopt amendments to the guidelines in September 2013.

• Tenet 12: Members approved new tenet language in May 2015, and the board approved new guidelines in June 2015.

• Tenet 3: The membership approved revised tenet language in May 2017. The board voted to adopt revisions to the language for the existing guidelines, drafted a new guideline on personal relationships, and revised the language on personal relationships that create conflicts of interest under Tenet 12 in June 2017. Based on the CPC’s recommendation, and apart from the structured review process, the board adopted a new guideline on conduct unbecoming in June 2019.

• Tenet 4: Members approved a change to the tenet language in May 2018. The board adopted two new guidelines on inclusivity and diversity and moved the amended guideline on length of service to Tenet 3 as it relates more to the professional commitment to integrity in June 2018.

• Tenets 1 and 2: Concluding a review process that first began in 2017, membership approved changes to the tenet language in October 2019.

• Tenets 5 and 6: Membership approved revisions that updated the tenet language to highlight the member’s role in collaborating with elected officials to set goals for the community and organization, then the board approved moving the conflicting roles guideline from Tenet 5 to Tenet 3, where it is now aligned with the existing guidelines on conflicts of interest.

• Tenets 1, 4, 9, and 11: Over three years and more than 15 member feedback sessions provided ICMA’s consultant (the School of Government at the University of North Carolina) with expertise on proposed changes. Through a special election ballot in March 2023, 84% of corporate members approved proposed changes. Notably, this special election holds the distinction of having the highest participation rate (31%) in ICMA’s online voting history. The board approved the changes to the associated guidelines at its June 2023 meeting.

Figure 1 summarizes the effort.



Tenet 7


Tenet 12

• 10/2013: guideline update

Tenets 1 and 2

• 10/2019: revised language

• 6/2020: updated Tenet 2 guideline

• 5/2015: new tenet language

• 6/2015: new guidelines

Tenets 5 and 6

• 6/2020: tenet revisions and moved guideline to Tenet 3

Tenet 3

• 5/2017: tenet revisions

• 6/2017: revisions and new guideline

• 6/2019: new guideline

Tenets 8 and 11

• 6/2020: effort began then paused due to COVID-19 response and recovery

Remaining! Tenets 8 (professional development) and 10 (encroachment of responsibilities)

Tenets 8 and 10

Thank you to the members that already provided feedback through facilitated discussion on these two remaining tenets at conference sessions this year. Since ICMA has more than 13,000 members, many have not weighed in on the tenets or their guidelines, so brief a history follows.

Tenet 8 on Professional Development

As background, Tenet 8’s current language reads: “Make it a duty continually to improve the member’s professional ability and to develop the competence of associates in the use of management techniques.”

The first statement emphasizing professional development appeared in the Code’s 1952 version, “The city manager considers it his duty continually to improve his ability and his usefulness and to develop the competence of his associates in the use of management techniques.” That principle was restated three times with the last revision in 1976 reflecting the current language. The other two revisions:

1969: Make it his duty continually to improve his ability and his usefulness and to develop the competence of his associates in the use of management techniques.

1972: Make it his duty continually to improve his ability and to develop the competence of his associates in the use of management techniques.

In 1995, two guidelines were added: Self-Assessment. Each member should assess his or her professional skills and abilities on a periodic basis.

Professional Development. Each member should commit at least 40 hours per year to professional development activities that are based on the practices identified by the members of ICMA.

Tenet 10 on Job Encroachment

The current language of Tenet 10 is: “Resist any encroachment on professional responsibilities, believing the member should be free to carry out official policies without interference, and handle each problem without discrimination on the basis of principle and justice.”

The principle was first included in the Code’s 1938 version, “The city manager, in order to preserve his integrity as a professional administrator, resists any encroachment of his control of personnel, insists on the exercise of his own judgment in accomplishing council policies, and deals frankly with the council as a unit rather than secretly with its individual members.” It has been amended over the years with the most recent version in 1995 reflecting the current language. The other three revisions:

1952: The city manager, in order to preserve his integrity as a professional administrator, resists any encroachment on his responsibility for personnel, believes he should be free to carry out council

Tenet 4

• 5/2018: revised text

• 6/2018: new guidelines

Tenets 1, 4, 9, and 11

• 3/2023: tenet revisions

• 6/2023: guideline revisions

policies without interference, and deals frankly with the council as a unit rather than with its individual members.

1969: Resist any encroachment on his responsibilities, believing he should be free to carry out official policies without interference.

1972: Resist any encroachment on his responsibilities, believing he should be free to carry out official policies without interference, and handle each problem without discrimination on the basis of principle and justice.

In 1995, a guideline was added:

Information Sharing. The member should openly share information with the governing body while diligently carrying out the member’s responsibilities as set forth in the charter or enabling legislation.

What’s Next?

Every member’s perspective can help shape the direction and next steps, so please scan the QR code to complete the survey by July 31 to add your voice to this important process. ICMA routinely receives more than 2,000 written comments on ethics surveys so don’t be shy in sharing yours. The CPC will review all comments and responses later this year and determine the next steps. We will update members in the Leadership Matters enewsletter on this effort. Thank you in advance for adding your valuable perspective on these last two principles!

Speak Now: Growing Women in the Profession

We must learn to speak up for own career development and advocate for other women to do the same.

“I’m surprised you didn’t apply. You would have been great.” These were the heartbreaking words I heard from my boss seven years ago.


is deputy city manager of Albany, Oregon, USA. She helped found the awardwinning Brighton Performance and Leadership Academy. She is a 2020 ELGL Traeger Award winner and a 2024 ELGL Top Local Government Influencer. Kayla is also an active contributor to the ELGL Morning Buzz series and writes organizational culture and leadership content on LinkedIn ( kbperrotta).

I had just sat on a hiring panel for a position I had been doing for the last eight months and we had just selected who we would be making an offer to. It was a significant promotion, the next step in my city management career, and a position I wanted immensely. But I did not apply. The position had years of experience I did not meet, and even when the first recruitment fell through, and I started hinting that I was interested, there was no conversation, and it was reposted with the same requirements. I saw this as an indication that my boss simply wanted something different and resigned myself to sitting at the other side of the table to ensure we selected someone amazing.

It would be four years before I realized my experience was not abnormal. Across the board, women are less likely to advocate for themselves in their careers and less likely than their male counterparts to apply for positions where they do not meet all the requirements. This phenomenon is not new and over the last few decades the “fix” has largely been rooted in teaching women to have more confidence, to let go of perfectionism, and to open themselves to more risk. While this is certainly meaningful dialogue that should occur, it misses the persistent workplace dynamics that also contribute.

A 2023 study published in the British Journal of Social Psychology, outlined how workplace culture perpetuates this experience.1 Risk aversion and lack of advocacy are dependent on women’s professional experiences. If leaders in their organizations are not actively seeking their advice and input, women are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. While there were no differences found in willingness to take initial risks by men and women, men were far more likely to report positive responses to their

risk-taking than their female counterparts, and thus were more willing to take further risks to advance their careers.

ICMA founded its Task Force on Women in the Profession back in 1974, when only one percent of chief administrative officers (CAO) were women, and while tremendous growth has happened in that time, at 23% of CAOs worldwide, women are still disproportionately represented in this top position. While certainly there are many reasons this number remains low, given my personal experience and the emerging research into workplace gender inequality, I cannot help but wonder if things would be different if we all just made it a point to speak up.

That day seven years ago transformed my leadership approach. I am conscious about speaking up. I actively solicit input from my employees and provide them with regular coaching. I make it a point to discuss growth opportunities with them, including letting them know when I believe they are ready to advance, even if they do not yet see it.

I also teach them to advocate for themselves, letting them know that not every boss will initiate or be receptive to these discussions, but that does not make these discussions any less valuable or important. I teach them to assess not only themselves but also their organizations, and while they should learn whatever they can from every boss, they should seek managers that advocate for them.

If we truly want to develop our next generation of CAOs, particularly female CAOs, it is essential that we recognize that our organizations must commit to supporting these emerging managers with the same vigor that they support our communities.


1 Ryan M. K. (2023). “Addressing workplace gender inequality: Using the evidence to avoid common pitfalls.” British Journal of Social Psychology, 62(1), 1–11.


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A PM Retrospective: Ethics, Front and Center

Commemorating 100 years of the ICMA Code of Ethics by revisiting an article from the PM archives

In this article from September 2014, ICMA past president Troy Brown wrote that “we must ensure that the Code of Ethics remains front and center in our thinking and relevant to the changing times upon us.” In the decade since, the Code has undergone necessary changes to ensure that the language reflects the values of the profession.

Ethics, Front and Center

When I was in high school in rural Pennsylvania, I vividly remember sitting in history class during the long humid spring and early summer days learning about William M. “Boss” Tweed and his infamous corrupt political reign in New York City during the nineteenth century.

At the time, I had a special interest in learning about Tweed’s corruption because I was serving as class president. In particular, I found myself fascinated with the reform that followed his downfall.

Coming from a working-class family and background, I related to the socioeconomic circumstances—prevalent in the country during that time— that Tweed exploited for his personal benefit. It is well documented that immigrants were flooding New York City in waves, chasing the American Dream and seeking opportunities for a better life.

Most had given up everything they had to travel to America for a chance to make something of their lives, and the hopes of our government structure played a huge role in providing those opportunities.

Those aspirations resonated among Americans and to this day, the dreams remain. We rely on our local governments to meet our most basic needs for roads, water, power, sanitation, and public safety. We ask many things, but most of all we don’t want local government to get in our way or be a hindrance to our quest for the American Dream.

A Paradigm Shift

Isaac Newton’s law of motion tells us that every action has an equal and opposition reaction that follows.

Considering the tension between citizens and government that existed during the 19th century, which was caused by the widespread corruption of organizations much like Tammany Hall, the reform that swept the nation following Boss Tweed’s reign changed the role of government service delivery.

It also had a profound impact on ethical expectations of future government administrators.

“In response to this public discontent, progressive reformers fought for and won a series of government reforms that spawned several organization experiments.”1 The reform that followed set in motion key governance changes and spawned the council-manager form of government.

Under this system, local government managers partner with local elected officials to assist with the development and implementation of public policy. This is done in a collaborative capacity, whereby the professional manager brings such philosophies as civic engagement, transparency, political neutrality, and ethical behavior into the political process.

This paradigm shift is significant because when it’s properly administered, it actually elevates the role of elected officials by allowing them to focus on broad policy

objectives and setting vision, rather than getting mired in the minutia of day-to-day operations. The significance of this change is most realized when results are achieved and local services are delivered in a fair, equitable manner across all socioeconomic and demographic regions of a community. This is the foundation of why ICMA was incorporated.

We use the Code as our guide to remind ourselves where we have come from and which course we must stay on.

In 1924, ICMA amended its constitution integrating the ICMA Code of Ethics into the organization and codifying ethical behavior among its members. This integration impacted the behaviors that managers would display, and also played a key role in advancing governance throughout the world.

Although the Code of Ethics is designed to provide guidelines for managers, at its core it strives to provide citizens the opportunities to self-actualize on a level playing field. When adhered to in a consistent manner, residents, contractors and vendors don’t have to be concerned about fairness in political processes, stewardship of public funds among local officials, or corruption within the local government structure.

This is why the Code of Ethics is so critically important— to assist with the promulgation of the democratic process throughout our profession.

An Evolving Code

The world has evolved dramatically since the adoption of the Code in 1924 and continues to evolve today. To keep pace with the transformation nurtured by ICMA and local managers, the Code has been critiqued and reviewed a number of times, and subsequently amended.

The ICMA Executive Board’s Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC) plays an important role for professional managers and ICMA members. It serves not only as the investigatory branch for allegations of malfeasance against the Code, but also as a link to our history for reminding us why ethical behavior is important.

CPC members help keep ICMA members accountable to the promises made by those in our past, who fought for fairness and equality along the way so that we and our children can have our own opportunities for self-actualization.

We use the Code as our guide to remind ourselves and members of where we have come from, and which course we must stay on, as we are entrusted with our communities’ most valuable asset—quality of life.

Looking forward, we have to remain diligent in keeping up with the Code. We are in the midst of one of our most transformative periods in recent time. The speed and efficiency of technological advances pushes professional managers to be both educators and learners; challenges us to be reformers and to be reformed; and demands that we do this in real time on a daily basis.

To that end, we must ensure that the Code of Ethics remains front and center in our thinking and relevant to the changing times upon us. That is why each year the CPC takes on the task of reviewing one tenet of the Code of Ethics. During my second year of CPC service, committee members evaluated Tenet 7, which speaks to political neutrality. Then, our efforts were focused on a review of Tenet 12, which provides guidance for endorsements. The amendments to the tenets and guidelines are important in keeping pace with the changing environment we all face. Equally important to keeping the Code relevant, however, is the conversation around the Code itself and the dialogue and opinions that we all have a right to share.

This conversation provides a forum so we as managers can debate the guidelines, words, and phrases but also preserve the basic principles behind the Code when it was originated 100 years ago: fairness and equality in public service.

None of us are perfect, and we all have moments that challenge our thinking and perceptions of ourselves and others.

Personally, I have benefitted tremendously by having had the honor to serve on this ICMA committee. I have learned more about myself and the Code of Ethics than I ever could have predicted. For each, single, teachable moment for members that I have encountered during my tenure, I have had two learnable moments for me professionally. The biggest takeaway for me is that it doesn’t matter if you’re an ICMA member or not, the manner in which local government professionals conduct themselves affects all managers.

Each day I strive to do my part to ensure that residents in the community where I work have the opportunity to chase their dreams and create positive memories about their life so they can share those memories with someone else. It’s become part of what defines me as an ICMA member and a professional manager. It has become an intrinsic part of me.

The Public’s Perception

The challenges for managers don’t end with their management responsibilities. Whether we like it or not, working in the public sector casts an eye of scrutiny over all of us, regardless of our position or role in an organization.

Not so long ago, as an example, I was perusing my Facebook newsfeed and catching up on the latest births, announcements, pet updates, and food postings of my friends. I saw an article that was posted from someone on the East Coast, which is nearly 3,000 miles away from me, mind you, about a city employee who was being accused of misappropriation of public funds.

My friend commented, “Don’t trust government employees, they are all corrupt!” I couldn’t leave that hanging out there, so I commented to him that not all government employees are corrupt, and, in fact, a number of communities with millions of Americans are run extremely well.

Fortunately, my friend clarified his comments and stated that he wasn’t talking about professional managers like me and admitted that he made the posting out of frustration.

This is just one example of the perception some people have of public servants. It didn’t even matter that the employee in question was a supervisor in a transit division; his actions had an impact on the general perception of all public employees.

It is not enough to simply be ethical in your personal dealings. We have to promote and emulate ethical behavior in our workplace, support our peers in their ethical behaviors, and dispel misconceptions as we carry out our workplace duties. In short, we have to take care of one another.

Ethics is one of the key pillars for professional management and a tenet for ICMA. This responsibility has been handed down to us by the nineteenth century reformers

who were the catalysts for monumental changes in government. Their dedication in eliminating conditions that fed corruption like a starving animal was the foundation for which future structures would rise and give way to opportunism for all Americans. They left us with a heavy burden in carrying out our duties.

Regardless of the position that one holds in a public agency, a high level of responsibility comes with the role. Public officials are not all cut from the same cloth; we are unique individuals with our own imperfections and varied opinions.

But the one thing we have in common is the responsibility to do our best to be stewards of the public funds and create opportunities for prosperity among all residents. If we don’t, then the road that was paved with the actions of the reformers of the past will be the road that we head down into the future as we, ourselves, are reformed.


1 “The Legacy of Local Government Professionalism: A 100-Year Perspective,” Robert J. O’Neill Jr., 2014, The Municipal Year Book, pp. x-xv.

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Why cities should prioritize diversification of local industries to ensure economic stability and prosperity

A few years ago, I came across an article in Vice that told the story of an investor who lost nearly everything on a single stock option purchase.1 The investor was convinced that he had discovered an undervalued stock that was destined for growth, so much so that when the stock price declined precipitously, he doubled down and invested more. The stock option soon lost all of its value, leaving the investor with a complete loss.

This story interested me because it demonstrated the importance of having a diversified investment portfolio, ensuring that you do not risk everything on a single stock that is ultimately unpredictable. And while this validated my personal (unprofessional) investment strategy, it also made me consider how this approach might apply to local economies. Investors who diversify typically do so as a hedge against risk because no one knows with certainty how an individual stock or industry will perform over time. And the longer the timeframe for making a prediction, the less reliable it becomes. This is true in economics, climatology, biology, and virtually any other field of study because the variables that influence outcomes become less predictable as a model is scaled further into the future. In simpler terms, we can predict next week’s weather with some confidence, but predicting the weather 100,000 years from now would be considerably more challenging.

An Investment Strategy for Cities

The point here is that diversification ensures that you do not have all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak. If one stock loses value, you have an array of stocks, bonds, and other assets available to offset it. I think the same idea applies to local economies, meaning that a diversification of local industries is necessary to sustain longterm growth and mitigate the risk of economic downturn. Dependence on one or two

sectors may work in the short term, but becomes extremely precarious in the medium to long term as technology, culture, and economic preferences change.

Diversification, on the other hand, allows for much greater adaptability. A city or region that relies almost exclusively on manufacturing, for example, may do extremely well during an industrial era featuring robust demand for manufactured goods. This was true for countless cities in the “Steel Belt” (before it was pejoratively renamed the “Rust Belt”) until the second half of the twentieth century, when massive cultural and economic changes led to the relative deprioritization of domestic manufacturing in the United States.

The percentage of American workers employed in factories fell from nearly 40 percent to below 10 percent between 1943 and 2010.2 This decline coincided with the rapid growth of numerous other industries; a process famously

A diversification of local industries is necessary to sustain longterm growth and mitigate the risk of economic downturn.

and other civic institutions, followed by soaring rates of homelessness, drug addiction, and, perhaps most alarming, hopelessness. The reasons that some of these places have never recovered are complex and innumerable, but their lack of economic diversity is undoubtedly a major factor.

described as “creative destruction” by economist Joseph Schumpeter. Many towns were decimated by the loss of their factories, losing not just manufacturing jobs, but the social and economic stability that accompanied them. Timothy Carney spends much of his book, Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse, describing how the decline of manufacturing subsequently caused the widespread closing of churches, schools, libraries,

While the events that cause extreme economic downturns are often unpredictable and may be indiscriminate in terms of which industries are affected (the Great Depression famously spared very few), having numerous vibrant business sectors helps mitigate the severity of the impact and accelerate the recovery. This was true following the Dust Bowl, the aforementioned industrial bust of the twentieth century, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Our cities may not be able to fully anticipate such dire events and circumstances, but they can certainly prepare for them through economic diversification.

Why Some Cities Recover While Others Don’t

An interesting study was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research last year, which analyzed how cities around the world have recovered (or failed to recover) from the deindustrialization of the latter part of the twentieth century. The authors found “a strong negative relationship between a city’s share of manufacturing employment in the year of its country’s manufacturing peak and the subsequent change in total employment, reflecting the fact that cities where manufacturing was initially more important experienced larger negative labor demand shocks. But in a significant number of cases, total employment fully recovered and even exceeded initial levels, despite the loss of manufacturing jobs.”3

The main reason why some former manufacturing hubs recovered while others did not: The percentage of the local labor force with college degrees, as cities with higher shares of college graduates experienced significantly faster employment growth, with

the effect partially explained by “faster growth in human capital-intensive services, which more than offsets the loss of manufacturing jobs.”

Cities with a more educated workforce had a much easier time transitioning to new industries as the demand for manufacturing decreased. Put another way, some places successfully adapted to economic disruption through industry diversification, which was possible because of their advantage in workforce education and development.

Assessing the disparate recoveries of Rust Belt cities through the lens of this study provides additional clarity. Many of the Rust Belt cities that have fully recovered and are now thriving feature excellent universities that are preparing students for success in the modern economy, which is extremely important for cities since a significant percentage of graduates remain local as they begin their careers. Here are just a few examples of flourishing Rust Belt cities with renowned universities: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Madison, Wisconsin; Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio;

and South Bend, Indiana. These cities have found ways to diversify and modernize their economies since the decline of their manufacturing industries, and deserve immense praise for doing so. They have provided a model for other cities and regions, which should be modified with prudence to ensure that diversification strategies implemented elsewhere are appropriately tailored to a municipality’s particular history and circumstances.

Economic Diversification in Practice

I spent some of my time during the pandemic living in the Las Vegas area, where I now work as a county planner. It was apparent to me that the local economy was far too dependent on the tourism industry, which

is admittedly easy to see when hotels, restaurants, clubs, and other entertainment venues are forced to reduce operations—if not close their doors entirely.

However, this economic uniformity also plagued the region during the Great Recession, with Nevada arguably being the state that suffered the most and experienced the longest road to recovery. Nearly half of the Southern Nevada region’s gross economic output is related to tourism, according to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA).4

This statistic is something of a Rorschach test as one may interpret it as illustrating the vitality of the region’s tourism industry, while another may conclude that the local economy is overdependent on tourism. The truth is that both perspectives have merit. The region endured a 20-percent decline in visitor spending, falling from $36.9 billion in 2019 to $29.6 billion in 2020.5 The financial pain for local residents who work in tourism-based occupations was severe, as over 225,000 total jobs were lost in just three months.6 While the region was particularly impacted because of its reliance on tourism and hospitality, these industries recovered swiftly as the pandemic subsided, which one might expect given the unique allure of Las Vegas. The more interesting part of the story— and perhaps the primary reason why the post-pandemic recovery

was so much smoother than the years following the Great Recession—is because of the increased economic diversification in the Southern Nevada region and across the state.

In recent years, Southern Nevada municipalities have made economic diversification a key feature of their long-term vision, and they are reaping the benefits as a result. The economic and workforce development section of the Las Vegas 2050 Master Plan calls for “promoting and attracting occupations in target industries, including gaming and tourism, technology, healthcare, global finance, clean energy, logistics, and light manufacturing.”7

The neighboring city of Henderson’s economic development strategy explicitly commits to economic diversification through the targeting of five industries as priorities for business development and recruitment: advanced manufacturing and logistics, technology, healthcare and life sciences, headquarters and global finance, and hospitality, tourism, and retail.8 The Clark County Master Plan encourages diversification of the economic base to enhance resilience, striking a balance between emphasizing existing industries that are successful (tourism, conventions, and gaming), while expanding emerging sectors such as healthcare, technology, autonomous vehicles, green energy, and manufacturing.9

The industry that may stand out most here is manufacturing, given its decline in other parts of the country and historically limited presence in Nevada. In recent years, the Las Vegas Valley has become a national leader in industrial

The expansion of non-tourism industries in the Southern Nevada region was a decisive factor in the robust recovery following the pandemic, and has positioned the Las Vegas Valley for sustained success in the decades to come.

development, with much more planned in the near future.10 The trend holds true statewide, as Nevada’s manufacturing labor force has increased by nearly 17 percent since 2019.11

The emergence and evolution of Nevada’s manufacturing industry is not coincidental, but the product of a concerted effort with coordination between the private sector, local municipalities, and the state government. The expansion of non-tourism industries in the Southern Nevada region was a decisive factor in the robust recovery following the pandemic, and has positioned the Las Vegas Valley for sustained success in the decades to come.

There are a variety of ways to increase economic diversification, in addition to those already mentioned. Nevada has offered tax abatement programs to incentivize manufacturers to relocate to the state, including Tesla, which

developed a lithium-ion battery factory in Northern Nevada that has transformed the regional economy. The tax abatements featured conditions that businesses must meet to be eligible, such as capital investment, minimum wage, and job creation requirements.12

In the 2010s, South Bend, Indiana, made a conscious effort to reconceptualize its local economy under the leadership of Mayor Pete Buttigieg. A town that had struggled for decades to recuperate from deindustrialization suddenly became a hub for innovation and technology. Through a collaborative effort involving businesses, the University of Notre Dame, and other governments (including other cities in the region and the federal government), the city was finally able to turn the corner on revitalization.13 The establishment of the South Bend - Elkhart Regional Partnership has crystalized this progress for the region, which has brought new industries and opportunities for residents.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is another city that excelled during the industrial age, but struggled to rebound from the closing of many of its factories. After decades of economic disarray, the city has successfully rebranded itself as a science and engineering powerhouse.14 Some have described this as a transition from the Rust Belt to the “Brain Belt.”

These places have a new economic outlook as a result of their upstart industries, but maintaining their newfound diversification will be imperative moving forward.

There are plenty of other success stories—in the United States and around the world— with the commonality being diverse local economies that have become stable, resilient, adaptable, and prosperous. Let’s learn from their investment strategies.


1 bvnn3a/i-lost-dollar400000almost-everything-i-had-on-asingle-robinhood-bet

2 chart-us-factory-jobs-as-a-share-of-uspayrolls-have-been-in-steady-declinefor-75-years-starting-in-1943-and-itsnot-because-of-trade/


4 economic-impact-las-vegas-tourismindustry-hits-record-high-79.3-billion2022/s/09510b4a-a9d6-4180-9aec9cd8c385b347

5 https://www.vegasmeansbusiness. com/economic-impact/

6 las-vegas-covid-job-losses-businessesclosing-struggle-cbsn-originals/

7 planning/CLV-2050-Master-Plan.pdf

8 home/showpublished document/1192/637383771918170000

9 CC_MasterPlan_Adopted.pdf

10 videos/how-southern-nevada-isstealing-californias-industrial-mojo/

11 business/nevada-is-adding-moremanufacturing-jobs-than-ever-will-itboost-the-industry-3043958/

12 incentives/nevada#:~:text=Personal%20 Property%20Tax%20 Abatement%3A%20Qualifying%20 businesses%20locating%20or,of%20 business%20personal%20property%20 taxes%20for%2010%20years

13 https://successfulsocieties.princeton. edu/sites/g/files/toruqf5601/files/ TD_South%20Bend_FINAL_1.pdf

14 how-the-once-struggling-pittsburgh-isreinventing-itself-as-innovation-hub

MICHAEL HULING is a county planner in Clark County, Nevada, USA, and an advisory council member at the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership.

Thou Shalt Be Environmentally Sustainable

“Sustainable” houses of worship are missing their best chance to save the planet while serving as a community asset.

Today, fewer Americans belong to a house of worship1 or attend services regularly.2 The decline in religious participation offers challenges—and opportunities—to houses of worship determined to pursue environmental sustainability.

The teachings of most religions and denominations encourage, if not command, followers to care for God’s creation. Since the first Earth Day in 1970, many houses of worship have taken the message of environmental sustainability to heart. They tend to start with improving the day-to-day behaviors of their congregations: recycling; using china plates and cups and metal cutlery instead of disposables; or saving energy by setting the thermostat a few degrees higher in the summer and lower in the winter. Next, congregations may look beyond human behavior to the operations of their buildings and grounds. They may install high-efficiency HVAC systems, plumbing, and large appliances. Others may place solar panels on the roof and electric car charging stations in the parking lot. Or they adapt their grounds to better handle stormwater and to create community gardens to help feed the congregation and neighbors.

The goal of many, if not most, house-of-worship environmental sustainability programs is “net-zero emissions,” meaning a house of worship produces as much clean energy as it consumes. But most church sustainability guides—and there are many—ignore an even more obvious action to take to ensure true sustainability: using often grossly underused properties as fully and productively as possible for the community good.

With fewer religious followers and more improvements in internet connectivity, most congregations face a great mismatch between small, aging congregations and large, often deteriorating properties. A small number of worshipers meet in too large sanctuaries on the Sabbath, while education wings and other outbuildings lie underused or even unused.

Should a house of worship that achieves a net-zero carbon footprint but whose buildings serve only a few people a few hours per week be considered environmentally sustainable?

Consider this example: Two city buses drive down the street. Bus #1 carries 60 passengers several hours every day of the week. Bus #2 carries six passengers only one day of the week. Bus #1 has to stop more often, open and close its doors more, and exerts more wearand-tear on the engine and tires. Bus #2 enjoys relatively uninterrupted journeys and sits in the bus garage six days a week.

Which bus is more environmentally sustainable? Bus #2 might be adjudged more sustainable in the narrow net-zero sense, but most of us would agree that Bus #1 is in fact more environmentally

sustainable. The full city bus draws its passengers from those who might otherwise be driving their own cars, greatly reducing overall emissions.

Houses of worship that decide to focus on environmental sustainability are being led to focus on energy production and consumption rather than consumption per person served, or even more broadly, for community purpose. To what ends are the house-ofworship properties being used and for how many people?

Congregations often don’t like the inconvenience of sharing their properties. Rev. Dr. Thomas E. Frank, dean emeritus of Wake Forest University, notes: “Congregations become as protective as homeowners, anxious not to scratch the new flooring, fearful of strangers moving into the neighborhood, welcoming only friends and family and ‘people like us.’”

As a result, many faith properties remain empty most of the week and are used only for a few hours even on the Sabbath. That model is not environmentally sustainable, not necessarily because the carbon footprint is large, but rather because the beneficiary population is small.

Contrast that with houses of worship that have purposefully opened their doors to other activities—sometimes because it helps fulfill their mission, sometimes because it helps a strapped congregation pay the bills, often both.

• Veirs Mill Baptist Church in Silver Spring, Maryland, hosts three immigrant congregations in addition to its own in a vibrant ethnic neighborhood.

• St. Jax Centre, formerly St. James the Apostle Anglican

Church in Montreal, serves as home to an immigrantserving agency, a circus, and a circus school, in addition to a church.

• Emory Fellowship United Methodist Church in Washington, DC, developed 99 units of affordable and supportive housing as part of a mixed-use development on its underused land.

To ensure true environmental sustainability, in addition to pursuing net zero, houses of worship need to let the community in to the church, with these areas of focus:

Mindset: Accept that the house of worship’s property is a community asset, not a private asset. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship offers creative ideas for its member churches in two volumes of case studies, Sacred Spaces, Innovative Places.3

Properties: Use as much of the house of worship’s property as possible, for as many hours as possible, in ways that assist the community. A small congregation meeting in a huge building is not only environmentally problematic but financially questionable.

Measurement: While monitoring improvements to the carbon footprint, also measure the community impact of the house of worship’s real estate. How many people are being served and with what impact on their lives?

Management/ Ownership: If the house of worship is unable for whatever reason to enliven its property, consider getting it into the hands of someone who can, whether it be through management or sale.

Of course, another important way that houses of worship can become more environmentally sustainable is to educate their congregations for advocacy on environmental issues— encourage them to take an active role in local, state, and federal efforts.

Striving for a zero-carbon footprint for the congregation and its properties is a laudable way to improve environmental sustainability. Equally or more important is for a house of worship to use its real estate to host activities that make it more than a clubhouse for its members, but a true community asset.

Reprinted with permission from news/2024/1/22/sustainablehouses-of-worship-aremissing-their-best-chance-tosave-the-planet.


1 62386b03b1725

2 religion/2016/08/23/2-religiousattendance-fluid-for-many-americans/ 3

RICK REINHARD is principal of Niagara Consulting Group in Rockville, Maryland, which advises organizations on reuse and redevelopment of houses of worship. He has served public-private, community-, and economic development partnerships and city governments for 30 years before becoming an official for the United Methodist Church. (

Reviving the Retail Built Environment


performance grants can revolutionize retail center revamps

Across the United States, inner-ring suburbs are struggling with visible signs of wear and tear in their once-thriving prime retail centers, mostly located at prominent intersections with high visibility. The surge in competition from revitalized metropolitan downtowns and outer-ring suburbs poses formidable challenges for these transitional communities, manifesting in the decline of property values and market share. An amalgamation of outdated municipal planning practices, aging retail centers, evolving retail formats, demographic changes, limited market opportunities, and rivalry with large-format retailers contribute to the decline many of us are facing.

These retail centers serve as veritable barometers of community health and vitality. While it may seem convenient to entrust their revitalization to the private sector, the reality often demands

city intervention, even when the ownership is accustomed to modest returns. Collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors are imperative to breathe new life into these areas. Addressing challenges such as retail over-zoning, fragmented ownership, outdated designs, and the aging character of these centers is paramount. Additionally, a proactive approach is required to tackle rising construction costs and interest rates and supply chain disruptions.

Revitalizing key commercial areas demands innovative thinking, as the long-term well-being of a community hinges on its ability to provide accessible goods and services for its residents. The ramifications of inaction are severe, encompassing lost tax base, the deterioration of neighboring commercial development, negative impacts on adjoining residential neighborhoods, job declines, and an overall erosion of the economic health and growth of the

community. To counteract this trajectory, cities must adopt best practices and devise strategies for the productive use and reuse of the underutilized retail centers. Recognizing current trends in retail markets and repositioning these centers to mirror the mature nature of the surrounding communities becomes a pivotal factor in fostering long-term community health and economic vitality.

Retail Rehabilitation Performance Grant Program

Established by the city of Carrollton, Texas, located within the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, the Retail Rehabilitation Performance Grant Program provides financial incentives to existing retail shopping centers for rehabilitation and/or redevelopment. The program is receipt reimbursable with the goal of rehabilitating the retail facilities for aesthetic or architectural appeal and any improvements that would otherwise enhance the tax base.

As an inner-ring suburb, Carrollton’s major corridors needed more than just maintenance of the infrastructure. Refreshing the “windshield view” of these corridors became a city council initiative, and a wholistic approach was necessary to formulate a plan that encompassed everything from the center line of the median to the building face on private property. It required updating the city’s general design standards, sign regulations, creating urban design strategies for entry signage, median improvements, landscaping, screening requirements for HVAC units, and regulating anything that could potentially create unnecessary blight.

The program was created to encourage commercial property owners to become aware of the need to rehabilitate their sites and implement building improvements to further increase their potential for higher returns and a superior tenant mix.

Carrollton Town Center

A once-thriving 154,263 square foot retail center Carrollton Town Center had fallen into disrepair with a disappointing 20% occupancy rate. Despite the city’s efforts to encourage redevelopment, the site’s multiple ownerships and differing expectations hindered progress. However, it was evident that the financial feasibility of the project wouldn’t be profitable without significant rental price increases.

The city was willing to offer incentives, but the project was deemed too risky by the prospective developer, who wasn’t willing to secure the multiple parcels that it would take for such a development. Eventually, in 2014, a retail development group purchased the center with plans to redevelop it as a destination retail area catering to the Asian American population of northwest Dallas County.

It became obvious that the retail market was shifting, and for whatever reason, Carrollton consumers simply didn’t provide sufficient

support to keep the existing stores profitable, with the consecutive closures of some major chains, such as Hobby Lobby. These new investors felt they could connect the product, demographics, and the right location to make their venture profitable.

With limited control over the property’s and site’s architectural character or tenant mix, the ownership was not obligated to involve the city beyond basic permit review. It was understood that the center would merely back-fill the tenant spaces without any façade or site improvements. The city stepped in and became an equity partner by providing a nominal performance incentive grant.

Today, this center, together with the surrounding areas, has exploded and there is evidence of extremely high increased value to the tax base. In 2023, Carrollton Town Center had a total of 3.3 million annual visits with an average dwell time of 71 minutes. This represented a 91.1% increase in foot traffic over the previous three years. It ranked as the third most visited neighborhood center within 15 miles, and the fourteenth most-visited shopping center in its category in Texas (in the 98% percentile).

There is an obvious increase in property tax through the rehabilitation efforts, and by removing blight and helping

create an improved shopping experience, there is noticeable increase in the tenant base leading to an increase in sales tax. Since the rehabilitation, the property value almost doubled, and the total estimated taxes collected increased accordingly over a 10-year period. The Carrollton Town Center has generated approximately 850 direct jobs and has had more than one million people visit the center at least 10 times per year. A major factor: the center is located within a half mile of the renowned Trinity Mills Station DART light rail station and two major highways.

Program Administration

In this era of “faster, cheaper, and better,” transforming the organizational process has become a contentious priority for many governmental jurisdictions. While typical municipal economic development departments administer all incentive-related programs, the doctrine of placing all functions related to “taking vision to reality” should be administered under a single management control. This is especially true when it comes to public-private partnership projects, where there is a need to manage the project from concept to final occupancy, allowing for a more streamlined and efficient process.

It’s crucial to establish a comprehensive development

Carrollton Town Center in 2024

services department to serve as the primary point of contact for developers where all functional staff are knowledgeable of the city’s vision—from establishing private partnerships to building and development regulations—enabling more effective evaluation and monitoring of incentive programs. The department is functionally able to anticipate potential complications and provide practical problem-solving strategies to solve complex economic development issues. Negotiating and programming incentives can be tied to milestones in the permitting and inspection process, ensuring compliance and timely project completion. In addition, the development services department can proactively identify potential incentive opportunities and connect developers with relevant resources. And because of the “one-stop shop” process, there is no need for collaboration between multiple departments with possibly contentious priorities.

Grant Details

The Retail Rehabilitation Performance Grant Program is a matching grant program based on receipt reimbursement. This means that the approved reimbursement, which consists primarily of cash payments, is payable upon successful completion of stages of the improvements or redevelopment as outlined in an incentive agreement between the city and the owner of the retail facility. The city may elect to make a grant in an amount up to 100% of the cost of the improvements.

Figure 1

Retail Rehabilitation Performance Grant Program

Carrollton, Texas

Acceptable Design Categories of Improvements:

• Enhanced landscaping improvement costs.

• Parking lot improvement costs.

• Signage upgrade costs.

• Center façade improvement costs.

• Center redevelopment; mixed-use/residential or office improvement costs.

Eligibility Criteria for Retail Facilities:

• The retail facility or facilities must be older than 20 years.

• The property on which the retail facility is located must be in excess of two acres, unless a smaller acreage is approved by the city.

• Potential impact of the reinvestment project on surrounding neighborhoods.

Figure 2

Carrollton’s Retail Rehab Project


• Total square footage rehabilitated: 1,220,000 sq. ft.

• Total estimated private equity: $25,000,000

• Total grant allocations: $3,000,000

• Total assessed valuation: $112,597,633 (Dec 2022)

• Transformative impact:

- Increased occupancy rates from 5% to 95%.

- Revitalization of aging shopping centers.

- Rehabilitation of tired commercial centers.

- Unique non-franchise restaurants featured in Dallas–Fort Worth’s D Magazine.

- Removed blighted signs and facades.

- Refreshed landscaping.

The funding source of such a program can be left to each municipality. However, during the initial onset of the program, Carrollton chose to seek $2 million as part of the bond election process. Due to the success of the program, the city elected to fund the program subsequently through the general fund balance. And in no instance are such grants to exceed $1 million of public funds for each grantee.

Ready the Environment — A Best Practice

Cities and counties hold the power to institute impactful strategies to facilitate the transformation of the retail landscape. This can be accomplished by establishing policies, revising outdated codes and ordinances, considering judicious rezoning proposals, and establishing incentives policies to promote appropriate revitalization and redevelopment of aging retail centers. This approach has emerged as a best practice with a systematic process involving a comprehensive analysis of existing sites, creation of a grading schedule, and development of tools and strategies to help guide the municipal practitioner. The understating of market conditions, occupancy rate assessments, and criteria for site evaluation play a pivotal role in establishing a pathway for change. These tools further guide the identification of issues, recommendation of warranted conditions of design changes, and assistance in selecting appropriate funding strategies. Of course, a crucial aspect of this is gauging public sentiment and the willingness of the political will for establishing a framework within the community to “ready their environment” for investment.

As Carrollton’s built environment continues to age, the Retail Rehabilitation Program will need to be re-evaluated to include other commercial properties on the major arterial thoroughfares through additional public/private partnerships. Having come as far as we have, we stand ready to tackle future improvements on the horizon.

RAVI SHAH is director of development services for Carrollton, Texas.

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Brownfield Redevelopment Information

In partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, ICMA has released a new guide to brownfield redevelopment for resilient and equitable communities.

Even though the definition of a brownfield site is just a few decades old, the longer lens of history shows that redevelopment is a constantly occurring event in municipalities and communities. Today, brownfield redevelopment is a critical practice for community revitalization, involving identification and realization of economic, environmental, and social goals. These sites of former industrial or commercial activity are often in disrepair, not up to building code, and/ or out of compliance with local zoning ordinances and modern design guidelines.

In addition to direct site conditions, brownfields are often located in areas subject to general disinvestment, depressed property values, and below-market rents that can make redevelopment less attractive or financially viable than their greenfield counterparts. Given these many direct and contextual challenges, brownfield redevelopment often

requires significant financial support, capacity building, and partnerships between community stakeholders, officials, developers, and planners.

Beyond these perpetual challenges to redevelopment, communities are contending with urgent concerns related to recovery from a global pandemic, a warming planet, and heightened attention to social and economic disparities. However, public and private stakeholders are modeling innovative practices, programs, and projects that support brownfield redevelopment and more resilient and equitable communities.

To support local government leaders, their partners, and their people in the face of these intersectional challenges and opportunities, ICMA and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) have partnered to produce a new guide to brownfield redevelopment for more resilient and equitable communities ( brownfield-guide-2024).

The guide provides background on the enduring and more recent factors influencing brownfield redevelopment, and an overview of national, regional, state, and local technical assistance, tools, and resources available to support effective and sustainable redevelopment.

Its core content includes examples and guidance— including tips for local governments—on emerging and leading practices that advance community resilience and equitable development. The following is a preview of themes and examples covered at length in the full guide.

Incremental Development

Redeveloping places with smaller-scale projects can provide a path to more sustainable and communitysupported revitalization. Incrementally scaled projects can be calibrated to specific local needs, such as addressing missing middle housing or catalyzing revitalization of

stagnant commercial corridors. These types of redevelopments can be thoughtfully planned for and implemented by local people, ensuring that the end product is appropriate and attainable for those in the community rather than perpetuating displacement.

Hudson Center

Hudsonville, Michigan, USA

Hudsonville, a small suburb of approximately 7,000 residents outside Grand Rapids, aimed to redevelop its downtown after decades without any new development.

Along with adopting a 2030-focused master plan in 2015, it underwent the process to become certified as “Redevelopment Ready” by the MEDC. Completed in 2019, the Hudson Center project catalyzed the realization of the city’s vision and involved the rehabilitation of an existing building along with the construction of a new three-story, mixed-use building containing 8,400 square feet of ground floor retail/restaurant space, 8,400 square feet of office space on the second floor, and

Allen Place redevelopment
Photo courtesy of Allen Neighborhood Center.

nine market-rate residential apartments on the third floor.

The Hudsonville Downtown Development Authority invested $150,000 of tax increment financing, and the MEDC committed gap financing of $686,645 through its Community Revitalization Program. These public dollars leveraged an additional $4.2 million in private investment and the project created 27 new jobs for the community.

Emerging Developer Initiatives

Recognition of the heightened barriers to entry faced by people of color, women, small-scale, and/or other demographics outside the typical real estate or commercial developer profile has given rise to an array of capacity-building initiatives across the country. These “emerging developer” programs typically provide a combination of tools and resources, coaching and training, networking, and/ or direct access to capital, helping to keep wealth in a community and fostering career pathways for historically underserved populations.

The MEDC’s Developer Toolkit provides a one-stop shop of online, open-access guidance especially for those newer to real estate development. It emphasizes important steps to take even prior to pre-development, such as accessing training or technical assistance via embedded webinar recordings, accessing training or assistance provided by community

partners, finding a mentor, or engaging with local or state professional networks. While many of the partners and programs referenced are Michigan-based, much of the guidance is generally applicable to real estate development if a complementary resource is not available for your state. Local governments can also consider emulating this approach on their own websites by consolidating links to similar resources and annotating lists with plain language narration on navigating the process.

Creative Placemaking

Creative placemaking is an approach for community development that integrates arts, culture, and creativity into the process of communitydriven problem solving. By leveraging artistic and cultural activities, communities can transform public spaces, neighborhoods, and communities, as well as discover new ways of working through persistent challenges and opportunities to center equity in development.

City Hall Artspace Lofts

Dearborn, Michigan, USA

In Dearborn, a suburb of roughly 108,000 just outside Detroit, nonprofit developer Artspace converted historic buildings into a mixed-use park specifically for the Dearborn arts community.

Working with the city and community stakeholders, Artspace rehabilitated the historic Dearborn City Hall,

former police station, and surrounding area into 53 affordable live-work units for artists. The development also includes several galleries and over 19,000 square feet of commercial area for non-resident artists and arts organizations, as well as live-work space for the Arab American National Museum’s artist residency program and space dedicated to housing the local high school’s public art project, “Pockets of Perception.” Residents from all over Dearborn visit the park for community events like its summertime jazz festival and holiday open studios.

This $15.8 million project included a $1,000,000 investment from the MEDC’s Community Revitalization Program, $7,921,010 in Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and $2,464,335 in Federal Historic Tax Credits. These funds were supplemented by $800,000 in local investments and $3,459,296 in philanthropic investments.

Green Infrastructure and Resiliency

By integrating climate resiliency into brownfield redevelopment approaches, communities can simultaneously address environmental contamination,

revitalize abandoned spaces, and build sustainable, adaptive, and resilient neighborhoods. Examples can include strategies to manage stormwater runoff, reduce flood risk, and mitigate urban heat island effects; incorporating native vegetation, restoring wetlands, and creating green spaces; and incorporating solar panels, wind turbines, or other clean energy systems.

Mitchell Bentley Solar Garden

Cadillac, Michigan, USA Originally owned by the Cadillac Handling Company, this property was used to create manufactured wood products for boats. In 1971, the property was bought by Mitchell Bentley Corporation and used to make automobile parts. After the Mitchell Corporation filed for bankruptcy in 2010, the city took ownership of the property. In 2013, a devastating fire burned down most of the building, leaving 5,000 tons of burnt asbestos debris and harmful compounds in the soil. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) utilized $950,000 in brownfield redevelopment grant funding and a $300,000 loan to remove the burned debris and test the soil. Consumers Energy purchased the property and recycled much of the concrete and steel to

Completed Hudson Center redevelopment, Hudsonville, Michigan, USA. Photo courtesy of Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
Former city hall included in Artspace mixed-use redevelopment, Dearborn, Michigan, USA. Photo courtesy of Neumann/Smith Architecture.

create a 2.77-acre communitybased solar garden. This solar garden is Consumers Energy’s first brownfield to brightfield project and generates .5 MW of electricity.

Adaptive Reuse

Repurposing existing structures instead of constructing new ones on undeveloped land can help to conserve natural resources, preserve green spaces, and protect ecologically sensitive areas. Communities can avoid the environmental impact associated with demolishing old structures and the need for additional infrastructure development. Repurposing and restoring historic sites can help communities retain their unique character and architectural legacy, enhancing the overall sense of place.

Book Tower Detroit, Michigan, USA

In 2018, the Michigan Strategic Fund approved the first-ever Transformational Brownfield Project (TBP) award in support of Bedrock’s $2.1 billion private investment in four iconic properties around downtown Detroit: Hudson Tower, One Campus Martius, Monroe Block, and Book Tower. Collectively, the proposed redevelopment forecasts 7,738 new jobs and a positive net economic impact of 3 to 1. The TBP was valued at $618 million, which will be reimbursed to the development team over 30 years. The rehabilitation of the Book Tower and Book Building

is one of the largest adaptive reuse projects in Michigan. The building was built in 1926 by the Book Brothers and, at the time, was the tallest building in Detroit. Standing at 685 feet, the building remains an anchor of the Detroit skyline after a $300 million historic restoration, which took over seven years. Such ornate architectural details as caryatids, ceiling tiles, art glass panels, and more were restored and replaced to preserve the original character, with other improvements made for modern functionality and energy efficiency. The 38-story building now offers 229 residential units, 117 ROOST Apartment Hotel accommodations, and 52,000 square feet of retail, office, and dining options.

Small-Scale Manufacturing

Prioritizing a small-scale manufacturing sector where local makers and startups establish niche manufacturing businesses focused on specialized products can yield economic benefits for local people and places. Brownfield properties usually have existing

infrastructure, such as buildings, utilities, and transportation network assets to be leveraged by small-scale manufacturers and makers. By establishing small manufacturing businesses on brownfield sites, skilled and semi-skilled jobs can be created, providing employment to local residents and contributing to the local economy.

Allen Place

Lansing, Michigan, USA

Allen Neighborhood Center (ANC), a place-based hub located in the capital city’s diverse Eastside neighborhood, launched a farmers market pilot in 2004 in response to high rates of food insecurity among its residents. The successful market has since propelled growth of programming and infrastructure to foster a strong regional food system.

As remaining commercial tenants adjacent to the ANC moved out of its complex— which originally housed a gas station and two dry cleaners—plans for a full redevelopment rooted in support for local urban growers and food entrepreneurs began to gain traction. The center secured an $850,000 cleanup grant in 2019 from the state’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy and a $1.5 million Community Revitalization Program grant from the MEDC in 2020. ANC’s strong community connections, including a partnership with community development financial institution Cinnaire Solutions, leveraged over 30 supporters of the $11 million project.

Reconstruction took place between September 2020 and February 2022. The property is now a mixed-use building containing an accelerator

kitchen that supports the launch and scaling of local food businesses, a community food cooperative grocery store, a health clinic and pharmacy, and 21 units of mixed-income housing. Local artist Brian Whitfield was inspired by this project and painted a mural on the side of the building.

Learn More

Access more extensive examples, including from other states and regions, along with additional recommendations and links to resources in the full guide, now freely available at /brownfieldguide-2024.


ICMA’s guide to creative placemaking, ICMA’s guide to green infrastructure financing, Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) Project Profiles, MEDC’s Developer Toolkit, https://www. Kathleen Achtenberg, “MSF-Approved Projects Generate Nearly $2.7 billion in Investment, Create or Retain 9,372 jobs,” Michigan Economic Development Corporation, https:// msf-approvedprojects-generate-nearly-$2.7-billion-ininvestment-create-or-retain-9372-jobs/. Lawrence Cosentino, “Work Begins on East Side’s Allen Place Project,” City Pulse, September 23, 2020, https:// work-begins-on-east-sides-allen-placeproject,14989.

Mitchell Bentley Solar Garden redevelopment, Cadillac, Michigan, USA.
Photo courtesy of Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
Book Tower lobby after redevelopment, Detroit, Michigan, USA. Photo courtesy of Bedrock Detroit.

Innovative SUSTAINABILITY Through Reuse

A game changer for evolving your solid waste management for greater sustainability and a thriving community

It has become the norm for consumers and producers to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality when it comes to single-use packaging waste. But for local governments, waste and what to do with it is certainly top of mind.

But what if packaging weren’t trash? What if it were made durably to be recirculated and reused? Cities like Seattle and Ann Arbor are adopting municipality-wide reuse systems, a concept that can and should scale globally, not only to mitigate single-use waste’s environmental and health consequences,1 but because it offers a huge opportunity for city/county managers and their communities.

At Upstream, a nonprofit leading change agency for the reuse movement, we’ve spent many years showing how reuse is a win for the

environment,saves businesses and communities money, and catalyzes thriving local economies.2 Reuse stimulates job and workforce development, can add stable revenue streams to the struggling recycling industry, and reduces budget spent on waste disposal—all while helping local government leaders become sustainability heroes in their communities.

One of the biggest challenges of reuse involves establishing a reuse system that’s as simple as garbage. During my time as CEO of Don’t Waste Durham,3 we conducted a three-year study, The ReCirculation Project, in Durham, North Carolina, USA, that examined the feasibility of a shared, interoperable system for reuse and recycling. The hypothesis: the existing infrastructure of the recycling industry could facilitate a societal shift

to adopting more reusable packaging by providing a system that is as easy as rolling your reusables to the curb, just like trash and recycling.

Phase 1: Partnering to Prove that It Could Work

We knew from the start that comingling returnable, reusable packaging with recyclables is without a doubt fraught with problems, but Phase 1 of the project was to begin to build the first small proof of concept—that reusable packaging could arrive at the material recovery facility (MRF) and be sorted off the line. Don’t Waste Durham formed a partnership with the city of Durham’s solid waste management department, the Sonoco recycling corporation, and three tech companies to test the concept, identify a comprehensive list of challenges, and ideate creative solutions together.

What they found is that reusable containers placed into residential recycling bins on the street can be successfully picked up by recycling haulers, arrive at the recycling facility, dumped into the hopper, and then tracked, sorted, and recovered

off the conveyor belts. The containers were tagged with radio frequency identification (RFID), and an RFID scanner was mounted on the conveyor belt. The results proved that using technology (like RFID or optical sorting) and innovation can surmount many of the challenges with shifting to a new system, as

Consider whether your recycling program could grow its impact and gain stable revenue through enhancing your existing services to include reuse.

well as the fact that leveraging partnerships between public and private organizations in the community can increase your success rate.

Katie Hunt, reuse hub program manager in Durham’s department of solid waste management, expressed the city’s gratitude. “We appreciate the efforts of

Don’t Waste Durham staff washing stainless steel sporks for a reusable lunch utensil and tray program for Reaching All Minds Academy.

community partners (like Don’t Waste Durham through their ReCirculation Project) to show city/county managers, residents, and visitors how to better use what they’ve got. The city of Durham has launched a Reuse Hub initiative4 aimed at catalyzing a local circular economy through strategies that keep materials, products, and components in use at their

highest value rather than going to waste. The goal of this new initiative is to show that with enough time and commitment, we can divert waste from disposal, which is good for the planet, our communities, and the bottom line.”

Phase 2: Economic Analysis

In Phase 2, we wanted to

look specifically at the economics of integrating reuse into recycling systems and conducted a value chain analysis in partnership with a waste economist and Duke University. This analysis concluded that it is profitable for recycling companies to recover and redistribute durable packaging back to retailers, producers, and manufacturers, as long as the volume of the materials collected is at a certain threshold or above. Most notably, the city stands to benefit under an all-reusables scenario by receiving 100% of the revenues generated. While the city yields a net-positive cash flow in any scenario, it stands to be the greatest under the 100% reusables scenario.

Phase 3: Simulation and Resident Reception

In the third and final phase of The ReCirculation Project, Don’t Waste Durham wanted to assess the volume of reusable packaging that could be circulated back by residential households, gauge public interest in citywide residential pickup of reusable glass packaging, and measure the potential cost

savings for businesses and carbon emission reduction. We simulated the work of a recycling hauling company and a MRF by picking up glass jars, glass bottles, and plastic can carriers from five areas of Durham over a period of eight weeks, sorting them at their facility, and then identifying end markets to which they could sell the packaging back to local producers and manufacturers.

Our conclusions were that volume can be achieved and that residents wanted glass packaging to have more lives beyond one use. We found that many opportunities exist to create a more equitable

Don’t Waste Durham volunteer coordination team setting up the warehouse to optimize collection and inventory procedures.
Can carriers and durable materials recovered from a Durham household during Phase 3 collection.

economy and stimulate workforce development through hyperlocal, local, and regional circulation of resources, instead of shipping in virgin materials to be used only once. The environmental benefits were also clear. We projected that municipal solid waste services would have emitted 5 tons of CO2e in collecting the same items during the same span of time, whereas The ReCirculation Project curbside collection emitted only 355 pounds of CO2e—saving 4.5 tons

in transportation emissions during this small 10-week project alone.


At Upstream, we feel that it is important for communities to examine whether the recycling industry could grow its impact and gain stable revenue streams by enhancing their existing services to include reuse. The status quo has been mitigation—the landfilling or incineration of trash and sorting, baling, and selling recyclables. But what if local

The status quo has been mitigation— the landfilling or incineration of trash and sorting, baling, and selling recyclables. But what if your waste management included prevention as well as mitigation?

government waste management included prevention as well as mitigation? As we continue to examine how recycling and reuse might work as one to be a stronger solution together, we encourage city/county managers to innovate and evolve legacy ideas of solid waste management. Get involved with the burgeoning reuse industry, and see how it can help you efficiently meet sustainability goals and help your communities thrive.

A great place for local governments to start is Upstream’s Reuse for Onsite Dining Library, available at reuse-onsite.





4 Reuse-Hub-Project

CRYSTAL DREISBACH is a reuse pioneer whose life goal is to disrupt the status quo of our throw-away economy. She is in her fourteenth year of creating solutions that move our society away from single-use and joined Upstream as their new CEO in 2023. Upstream (upstreamsolutions. org) is a U.S.-based nonprofit and leading change agency for the reuse movement in the United States and Canada. They accelerate the transition from our current throw-away economy to one that is regenerative, circular, and equitable by normalizing reuse, growing and supporting the reuse industry, and creating an enabling policy environment for reuse.

Global Perspectives

Matt Fulton joined us to talk about the importance of fostering global engagement among local government leaders, as well as his connection with ICMA’s historical work focused on building out the “I” in ICMA through his personal global experiences.

Tell us a bit about your previous experience with global engagement. ICMA has provided me with many opportunities to connect on a global scale with other local government professionals. Being a member of ICMA’s Global Engagement Committee, which was known as the International Task Force during my time of service, connected me with a network of local government professionals around the world. These professional relationships, which in many cases became great personal friendships, helped me appreciate the universal commonalities in the work we do in our local government organizations. Creating vibrant, sustainable, and safe communities requires the same levels of leadership, professionalism, and commitment in meeting the challenging issues of the day. The solutions are dependent on the environment of our communities, including such things as form of government, economics, political dynamics,

social contexts, historical precedents, geography, access to resources, legislative mandates, and more. The connections and conversations gave me a much broader perspective on how to best meet the needs of the communities I served.

How have global exchange experiences impacted your professional life? Exchanges offer the unique ability to gain much deeper understanding and appreciation of how common issues affecting local government organizations and communities are addressed globally. My experiences exposed me to many unique approaches to public service delivery that fundamentally broadened how I considered issues and challenges during my career.

In the United Kingdom, it was fascinating to learn about the neighborhood constables who focused on resolving issues without needing to carry guns and relying on a metropolitan police force when additional help was required. It was also very impressive

to learn about the creative organizational development and recognition programs that UK communities implemented with great success.

In Mexico, because of its three-year term limit requirements for elected officials at the time, I was exposed to the challenges of not being able to plan long term and the impacts of always seeming to work in crisis mode, particularly with capital improvement needs.

In Australia, I was able to observe a wonderful friendly competition between Australia and New Zealand called the Management Challenge. Teams made up of younger leaders competed in developing organizational responses to several mock scenarios focused on typical community issues, with an occasional community disaster thrown in along the way. I left convinced that this type of fun and practical experience would be very helpful for our emerging leaders.

In Jamaica, the conversation with peers focused on how to strengthen local government

services in an environment dominated by the national level.

In Sweden, Swedish City Manager Miomir Serbinson and I led an exchange program of Minnesota city managers/ administrators and Swedish chief executives. We decided to have participants stay in the homes of their hosts, which strengthened relationships and fostered a better understanding of lifestyle and culture. The local government “cradle to grave” approach with social issues helped me reflect on possible ways to support the needs of employees in my organization, and the country’s commitment to environmental sustainability left me appreciating how seemingly advanced they were from what I had experienced in the United States.

When the ICMA Executive Board met in Slovakia, we heard from a Czech Republic city manager that his most pressing issue was a community swimming pool that had failed. He was getting strong pressure from the community and elected body to get the pool fixed, yet he was constrained due to the lack of capital resources. It made me appreciate how globally we are all after the same community goals and can learn and benefit from each other’s experiences.

ICMA offers such wonderful opportunities to develop strong networks beyond our domestic boundaries. I would contend that my global experiences directly influenced the opportunities I had to serve ICMA, not only as an Executive Board member, but also in my current role as Midwest regional director.

Why are global exchanges and knowledge sharing so valuable to anyone in local government?

As our world becomes smaller and increasingly influenced by global issues, immigration, and advancements, it is imperative that local government professionals develop the awareness of how to best meet the needs of their increasingly complex and diverse communities.

The adage, “You only know what you know,” demands that perspectives and approaches to dealing with today’s “wicked issues” are informed by best practices, regardless of where they exist globally. The rapidly changing dynamic of the local environment requires an equally open-minded approach to finding the best answers to help create sustainable and strong local communities. Building awareness and trust in the exploration of global best practices is the foundational requirement in gaining a truly global perspective. Both require intentionality and the willingness to create these international connections and relationships. The beauty is in recognizing the mutual interest in learning from each other! The challenge is how to bring local professionals together, which is where ICMA steps in. ICMA is structured to be the premier professional organization to help shape and bring these connections together.

What advice can you give others who may be interested in taking part in a global exchange?

Here is my advice to those who are sincerely interested in building a global perspective:

1. Be courageous. It is sometimes difficult to rearrange professional and personal priorities/ commitments without significant effort.

2. Be a leader and champion around the importance of learning beyond your boundaries. Lean into learning how other professional local government executives carry out their goals of strengthening the quality of life in their communities. Build a culture that supports global learning.

3. Communicate the value of a global perspective with your elected body, the organization, and the community. This requires leadership, an intentional strategy, and a relationally intelligent approach. If possible, bring others along on the journey; it requires as many “champion voices” as possible to introduce innovative ideas and approaches.

4. Incorporate the idea of building a global perspective into your strategic plan and appreciate that it will be something built/created/ embraced over time. A global exchange program can play an important part in this strategy.

5. Find international influences already existing in the community and align plans/ exchanges to strengthen those connections. The

more you can bring the community together around the value of building a global perspective, including participating in exchanges, the more likelihood of success.

What are your hopes for ICMA’s next 100 years of global work?

My hope is that ICMA will be uniformly recognized as the international professional membership organization that strengthens professional local government management globally. Furthermore, I hope that:

1. Through ICMA’s global engagement strategy, ICMA will fully embrace, support, and actively build an international network of local government professionals. The strategy should include a comprehensive database of best practices focused on the issues local government organizations and communities face,

and a structured, yet unencumbered, method for connecting professional colleagues from all over the world around these topics.

2. ICMA will provide opportunities for building and strengthening professional networks through conferences and multimedia approaches using the best technology available.

3. ICMA will have a wellestablished exchange program for professionals at every stage of their career, and a process that shares those experiences with others to communicate the value of thinking globally.

4. ICMA should continue to support its grant work around the world and provide opportunities for practitioners to take part.

Watch Matt’s full interview and learn more about ICMA’s global journey by viewing the ICMA Global playlist on YouTube.
2012 ICMA Executive Board meeting in Slovakia



We like to write articles encouraging people to seek their dream job in local government management. We need excellent leaders as our city, town, and county managers. But, if one were to set out to design a senior management role that would generate lots of pressures and conflict, it might look a lot like the chief administrative officer (CAO) position in local government.

In this article, we address some of the realities that a CAO can find themselves facing. It is not to discourage anyone, but rather to examine how one should react to various pressures when things get tough. The position can be a recipe for a stress souffle:

• Start with five, seven, or nine elected bosses who may know little about public administration, may not like each other much or see eye to eye on major policy issues, and can fire the city/county manager at any time with or without cause.

• Add a maze of laws, rules, regulations, and rulings from federal, state, and regional agencies and courts and the legacy work of numerous previous councils and administrations.

• Mix in wide-ranging responsibilities for a host of critical safety, qualityof-life, land-use, and infrastructure services with more than a sprinkling of hot-button social issues that defy solution.

• Thin it with very real resource limitations and a lack of control over revenues.

• Fold in an often suspicious and demanding public with scant understanding of the constraints and system in which the CAO operates and a generally unionized workforce that feels underappreciated and underpaid (often because it is).

• Bake it in the heat of a polarized political environment, constant media and social media scrutiny, and negative commentary and sunshine laws requiring that almost everything the manager thinks, says, or writes is in the public domain.

• Voila!

How Hard Can It Be?

This job is not for the faint of heart. There are countless easier ways to make a living these days, even while providing public service.

The city/county manager plays a crucial role in making local representative democracy work and ensuring that effective, efficient, and equitable services are provided within the means of the city, town, or county. Local government management is noble, demanding, and satisfying in ways that many professionals cannot fully appreciate. It is often said that there is no one best CAO profile because success in the position is so dependent on the fit

“I think of all the times I have drafted resignation letters only to throw them out at morning’s light.”

are or when to seek your next opportunity?

Ethical Guidance

between the manager, council, staff, and community served. However, these relationships are in constant flux. No matter how well suited the manager may seem on the day of hiring, the situation can be very different once a person assumes the role, as elections change the composition of the council and events shape the city government.

The first month or even year can be smooth, but inevitably there will be conflict, controversy, and stress— guaranteed! At times, the pressures may be so great that the manager cannot perform satisfactorily and needs to move on for their own well-being and the community’s good. There are other times when the professional manager must dig in and steer the city through the rough seas to safe harbor.

But how do you know when it is best to stick it out no matter how difficult the challenges

ICMA’s Code of Ethics offers a guideline on the length of service, which is instructive. It suggests a minimum of two years of service in a position as an appointed city/ county manager or chief administrative/executive officer. The guideline qualifies this advice by acknowledging that in limited circumstances it may be in the interests of the local government and the manager to separate earlier than two years. The examples that are given include a council’s refusal to honor the terms and conditions of the manager’s employment, a vote of no confidence in the manager, or serious personal issues. It goes on to stress that short tenure should be the exception rather than a recurring experience.

When to Stay

There are many situations when the city/county manager may consider leaving:

• It is not uncommon for one or more elected leaders to take an active dislike to the manager. This can create very unpleasant meetings and public displays of disrespect.

• There will be times that the council refuses the manager’s recommendations, resulting in very negative consequences, such as budget deficits, litigation, union actions, and social unrest.

duties. This can include overt direction to hire or fire employees or contract with or cease contracting with certain businesses. Even so, stay. As difficult and unpleasant as these scenarios are, the CAO should remain

public positions, staying close to family and friends, exercising and vacationing regularly, eating right and avoiding self-medication, and seeking counseling if needed. Our colleagues can especially be great sources of

emotionally distressed and cannot meet the demands of the position.

• If you become bored of the work and are simply going through the motions.

• If the council refuses to fully honor your

clear, and positive statement expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to serve and thanking the many people with whom you worked in the community. Resist the temptation to assign blame if your departure is due to poor

Your true legacy as a city manager is the strength of the organization when you leave.

provides for a somewhat more orderly transition upon being terminated.

Accrue sufficient savings. Sometimes it can take a year to find another job. If you have a severance of at least six months’ salary

is imperative that you focus on positive relationships with colleagues (as well as executive recruiters) while on the job. If you are terminated or decide to leave, it is difficult to repair relationships if they are already damaged within

At the End of the Day, It’s All About Service

We prepare for and accept these demanding jobs as city and county managers because we can help shape communities for greater

ICMA-CM is vice president of Raftelis, a local government management consultant and facilitator, retired city manager, and a believer in good government and in the city management profession.


Adding Strategies for Economic Development Success to Your Playbook

Improving economic outcomes for your community

Economic development is a team sport. Sometimes it feels like a solid rushing offense, steadily grinding away, down after down, to score the touchdown business recruitment project. Other times it’s a quick and nimble basketball team that expertly addresses its existing business community needs to capitalize on expansion opportunities. Occasionally, it feels like a strong farm system, ensuring a steady supply of talent is readily available to meet employer needs and promote innovation. Regardless of your preferred sports analogy, city/county managers are in a critical position to design and execute strategies that foster robust environments conducive to economic development.

Leverage Local Spending

A significant portion of our budgets include contracting for purchases of goods and services. The volume of procurements and specifications may result in purchasing from large national or global businesses. However, local companies may offer better service and higher quality products due to their proximity and vested interest in maintaining a good reputation within the community. Buying from local businesses helps sustain and create jobs within our communities, stimulating our local economy.

Many governing bodies have adopted and refined local business procurement preference programs

We’re in a critical position to design and execute strategies that foster robust environments conducive to economic development.

as awareness and advocacy for the potential economic impact has grown. For more than 30 years, the city of San Antonio has implemented the Small Business Economic Development Advocacy (SBEDA) program, which encourages local spending by giving preference to local small, minority-owned, and women-owned businesses in city contracts. This program helps ensure that a larger portion of municipal spending benefits local enterprises. In 2023, approximately 57% (roughly $330 million) of the city of San Antonio’s contract payments went to 517 different local small, minority-owned, and women-owned businesses. Contracting with these businesses helped build their capacity, resulting in business growth and job creation. These policies may at times seem at odds with efficiency expectations of public managers, but these concepts are not

ALEX LOPEZ is assistant city manager of San Antonio, Texas.

mutually exclusive. While prioritizing local companies, public managers should ensure transparency, fairness, and competitiveness in procurement processes to avoid potential downsides like favoritism or inefficiency. Balancing these considerations can help maximize the benefits while maintaining integrity in procurement practices.

Build for Growth

By addressing the specific needs of local employers and creating opportunities for all residents to develop skills, we can foster a more resilient, inclusive, and prosperous community.

The planning, design, and delivery of capital projects is a significant portion of our work as public managers. Although the primary beneficiaries of these projects may be our current residents, infrastructure development is also a cornerstone of economic growth. Upgrading and maintaining roads can reduce transportation costs and improve access to markets, making a city more attractive for businesses. Developing efficient public transit systems can enhance connectivity within the city, making it easier for employees to commute and for customers to access businesses. Ensuring a stable and affordable energy supply is crucial for businesses, especially those in manufacturing and tech industries.

Originally a military base, Brooks City Base in San Antonio was transformed into a mixed-use community through strategic planning and investment in infrastructure. This development included upgrading roads, enhancing public transit options, and ensuring a robust energy supply and telecommunications infrastructure. As a result, Brooks City Base has attracted a variety of businesses, from biotech firms to educational institutions, creating over 7,000 jobs and demonstrating how thoughtful infrastructure investments can drive economic growth and community revitalization. Companies often cite development costs as key factors influencing their expansion decisions. Like the private sector, we must also prioritize our infrastructure investments. Our opportunity rests in adding an economic planning and development lens when evaluating and prioritizing capital projects.

Built It and They Will Come

One of the few factors that may outweigh infrastructure limitations is a community’s talent pool. Local governments can play a pivotal role in promoting workforce development to help close skills gaps and create opportunities for hardto-serve groups to improve their economic standing, while cultivating the talent needed by local employers. Some simple straightforward approaches to financial support include grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans to individuals seeking training and tax incentives, or subsidies to businesses that invest in employee training programs. While local governments often lack the resources to support financial investments in workforce development,

San Antonio voters have repeatedly approved sales tax ballot initiatives to invest in education and training that benefits individuals from early childhood through adulthood. The program PreK 4 SA provides highquality prekindergarten education to three- and four-year-olds, laying a strong foundation for lifelong learning. Celebrating its tenth year, this program is championed by the local business community and incorporates family well-being and social-emotional learning as distinguishing characteristics. Another program, SA: Ready to Work, provides training opportunities and wraparound support to residents, helping them secure better-paying jobs and advance their careers. Since its inception just two years ago, this initiative has placed over 1,100 residents into high-quality jobs. On average, their wages are three times higher than before they entered the program, and nearly 60% are under the age of 35, with plenty of years to continue growing their careers and wages. Together, SA: Ready to Work and PreK 4 SA create a comprehensive approach to workforce development, addressing both immediate job training needs and long-term educational foundations.

Leveraging our role as community conveners can also make meaningful progress within our community’s workforce development ecosystem. As public managers, we can work with local businesses to identify skill gaps and collaborate with schools, colleges, universities, and training providers to develop curricula that align with local industry needs. We can establish industry advisory boards to ensure training programs are relevant and up to date. By addressing the specific needs of local employers and creating opportunities for all residents to develop skills, we can foster a more resilient, inclusive, and prosperous community.


My professional experience with economic development began 15 years ago with a temporary assignment to support a project in need of additional resources. To conclude the sports team analogies, this experience might best be described as dropping a quidditch player onto a soccer field. City executives saw the transferability of my skills to the economic development realm and over the years, this work has helped me understand my community’s assets and opportunities. Most importantly, it’s allowed me to leverage public management skills and practices to influence the economic wellbeing of our residents. Whether budgets and resources are significant or scarce, focusing on improving economic outcomes is the key.




Ethics – Ethics at the Helm – Staying the Course Despite Unethical Elected Officials


Skill Building – Navigating Workplace Challenges: Strategies to Maximize the Performance of Difficult Employees


Workplace Development – Talent Retention Toolbox –Strategies for Keeping Your Best Talent

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