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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Streets of Gold or Pathways to Poverty: Reviving America's Cities

Streets of gold look a little more like pathways to poverty. American cities have been on the decline for decades as investments diverted from urban areas to emerging countries that rolled out the red carpet. The infrastructure that was built when American cities were at the height of their economic might is still mostly intact waiting for visionary investors. Getting investment interest and better city governance can lead to mutual growth for business and job-hungry residents if the two can come to a mutual understanding.

Pick any major city in the country and follow its historic rise and fall. You may notice that as people moved to the city, built homes, and invested their resources these collections of people grew in wealth and influence. The collective action of small and large investors created a synergy of growth that pushed profit margins to higher levels. Money, government, and people had a mutual self-interest in development.

As international competition rose, technology changed, and poor government policy stagnated these cities; they became ghost lands that are a pale comparison to their previous glory. Where opportunity flourished a few decades ago, some cities have grown dilapidated virtual prisons. The poorer a family was, the more likely they were stuck in a cycle of poverty. American men, women, and children were left behind.

Bleakness doesn’t need to be the norm. Cities that still retain their basic infrastructure are ripe for renewed development that not only produces higher returns on investment (ROI) but offers new opportunities for residents. When opportunity grows, hope also grows, and new economic life is born with it. The marriage of investors and government  into pro-growth policies can nurse new opportunities.

Consider the mass investment draws to places like Eastern Europe, India, China, and other emerging nations where red tape restrictions are little but returns are high. American cities offer many of these same opportunities as the low cost of buildings, motivated work force, and reliable infrastructure found in combinations will grow once the right capital levers are applied.

Stakeholders will need to look at the global market and existing local competencies to determine where the best investment growth potential can be realized. When capitalists engage in pack investments and create spawning clusters of business activities to capitalize on existing competencies and infrastructure, growth is not far over the horizon. Economic wastelands can become investment wonderlands with a little good old fashion spit shine.

Many proposals such as new recreation centers, additional funding, tax allocations, etc...have been tried at one time or another. They were short-lived because they were not profitable and often came with long-term commitments with difficult to measure results. Building investment hubs fixes the foundations of poverty that lead to better housing, additional tax bases, better education and more community support.

The problem isn’t so much that investors are not willing to invest in these cities but that awareness is lacking, and local government is often short-sighted in their policy development that inadvertently restricts future opportunities. Revamping the way we think about investments, government, and education/training helps to ensure that struggling cities look more like diamonds in the rough. Enlightened government starts where partisan politics ends.

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