Philadelphia could learn a lot from Erie’s Fair Investing Handbook

Erie, Pennsylvania is on a roll. Like many communities in the Midwest, this city and county has suffered the harsh effects of deindustrialization, decline and disinvestment. Over the past decade, however, a group of dedicated local government, business, university, and citizen leaders, spurred on by the growth and investments of Erie Insurance Company, have begun to rebuild the city.

There is no better proof of this fact than a substantial recent development: today, Erie has one of the most ambitious investment playbooks in the country and a bold new governance model to ensure its proper implementation. implemented.

Even in a swing county within a swing state, Erie is proof that substantial, bipartisan progress toward equitable local growth is possible.

Many of Erie’s recent efforts have focused on optimizing the urban core. Despite decades of gloom and misfortune, Erie has several distinctive advantages for its size and industrial heritage, starting with the unparalleled beauty of Lake Erie and Almost Isle State Park. Anchor institutions such as Gannon University, UPMC-Hamot, and Erie Insurance Company are also concentrated in the historic downtown, giving this small geography an enviable level of employment density. The city center is undergoing a metamorphosis, stimulated by the creation and capitalization of Erie Downtown Development Corporation (the “EDDC”) and the strategic deployment of investments in the Opportunity Zone.

This progress has formed a solid platform for the next wave of collaborative action. Building on these recent successes, Erie leaders are once again making a substantial bet on the future of the city and county. Last week, a network of public, private and civic institutions released the country’s latest investment playbook, titled “Erie’s Inclusive Growth: A Framework for Action.”

Erie’s Investment Playbook identifies 35 concrete, priority projects, identified through discussions with local stakeholders. The projects are ambitious and go beyond simple uses of federal funds: they range from expanding the acquisition and renovation of single-family homes to completing mixed-use developments in the Bayfront to accelerating remediation of polluted industrial properties. The Playbook puts equity first, prioritizing support for Black and Brown-owned small businesses, first-time and minority owners, and local suppliers.

There are projects that focus on specific locations (for example, the central business district, the waterfront, adjacent residential neighborhoods, and a nearby industrial corridor) as well as projects that cross the city and county (eg. example, infrastructure, entrepreneurship and business clusters). The spatial distribution of the projects is presented below:

While some of these projects are “ready to go,” with well-defined costs and stakeholders ready to take the lead, others require some planning (for example, the Playbook recommends that Erie expand the continuum of care to homeless individuals and families) . For each of these still “exploratory” projects, as described below, a local delivery team is identified and tasked with refining the project designs within a specified time frame.

Erie is the latest city to use the Investment Playbook tool, co-created by New Localism Associates and Drexel University’s Nowak Metro Finance Lab, to take full advantage of federal resources in specific geographies. A formal investment manual has also been created for downtown DaytonOhio, a health innovation corridor in El Paso and disadvantaged trade corridors in BuffaloGreensboro, North Carolina, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. An effort to create an investment manual for downtown San Bernadino is also underway, working closely with the Latinos and Society program at the Aspen Institute.

Investment playbooks respond to the reality that the federal government invests trillions of dollars in hundreds of programs and dozens of agencies. These resources are unprecedented and much needed. But the funding fire hose will only have a transformative effect if cities actually have real plans that (a) are concrete and costed; (b) can mobilize other public, private and civic capital; and (c) can be layered and aligned with other interesting projects. American cities have learned the hard way that transformative visions without capital details drive conversation, not investment.

While federal resources may be plentiful, only localities can design specific projects that are location-appropriate, ripe for investment, and brought together for cumulative impact.

The Erie Investing Handbook stands out on several levels

First, the Erie Investment Handbook is the first to include funding made available under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The layering of transportation, energy, and broadband projects in small geographic areas (e.g., waterfronts, downtowns) shows the potential for alignment and coordination that is often advocated at the federal level, but that is only possible when the funding actually hits the ground.

Second, Erie is the first place to create a special governance vehicle to ensure projects are actually funded and delivered. Erie leaders created a new “nerve center” led and overseen by Mayor Joe Schamber, County Executive Brenton Davis and representatives from the Erie Community Foundation, Erie Insurance, Erie Regional Chamber & Growth Partnership, Jefferson Educational Society, Erie County Gaming Revenue Authority and Erie County DEI Commission.

It is an unlikely and remarkable coalition. Although the newly elected Republican county executive and the Democratic mayor may not agree on all policy issues, they are closely aligned on the work of the nerve center. In this way, Erie demonstrates remarkable collaboration across sectors and across parties. Even in a swing county within a swing state, Erie is proof that substantial, bipartisan progress toward equitable local growth is possible.

While federal resources may be plentiful, only localities can design specific projects that are location-appropriate, ripe for investment, and brought together for cumulative impact.

The day-to-day work of the Nerve Center will be led by Kim Thomas, who previously worked for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development and has the ideal skills for the job. Specifically, Kim and the nerve center are now responsible for:

  • Deploy Delivery Teams and Refine the Playbook: For example, the Nerve Center is working with multiple neighborhood organizations to create an integrated plan to accelerate home renovations and home ownership.
  • Matching local projects with federal, state and philanthropic capital: For example, the Nerve Center is exploring unique financing mechanisms for brownfield projects (e.g., sinking funds) and assisting the local development corporation (EDDC ) to explore a second fund to invest in downtown developments. .
  • Ensure ongoing collaboration: For example, the hub will bring together the planning office, utility providers and local investors to ensure that each entity works together on an improved grid structure for the town centre.

Finally, Erie understands very well that the investment playbook will require smart local investments. The creation of EDDC and the Erie Preservation Trust and the deployment of capital from the Opportunity Zone has already shown an unusual commitment by local investors to invest in their hometowns rather than exporting capital to other countries. other parts of the country. With strategic local capital investments in the Investment Playbook, Erie knows it can leverage orders of magnitude greater amount of funding that can be put to work for the city and county.

Erie’s public, private and civic leaders and institutions exemplify the radical collaboration that is needed to build back better in the aftermath of the pandemic. They come together to do big things in a small town.


Bruce Katz is the founder of New Localism Associates; Florian Schalliol is project director at New Localism Associates.

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