Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson believes, “there’s no place like home.”
Elected in 2011, she takes great pride in being Mayor of her hometown and often reminds us that Gary’s best days are ahead - “I believe that Gary will realize it’s full potential and will see a resurgence that will surpass many of our visions. Together we can make it happen.”
Mayor Freeman-Wilson also acknowledges that Gary has a history of many obstacles, but believes the city’s challenges pale in comparison to its potential.
Now, just as Dorothy clicked the heels of her ruby slippers and set Glinda’s simple, but powerful magic spell into action, the federal government has announced that Gary will be included in the second phase of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) initiative along with Brownsville, TX; Flint, MI; Macon, GA; Rockford, IL; St. Louis, MO; and Rocky Mount, NC.
An innovative and flexible program established by the Obama Administration in 2011, SC2 is designed to strengthen local capacity, coordinate federal investments and spark growth in economically distressed communities. It was developed in partnership with mayors, members of Congress, foundations, nonprofits and other community entities committed to addressing the challenges facing local governments working to create economic opportunity for all residents as the country continues to recover from the recession.
“For our city to be designated by the White House to receive this assistance is big news. This represents an important tool in the creation of a better Gary,” Mayor Freeman-Wilson, who learned about the exciting news just a few days ahead of the official announcement last Thursday, said.
“This not only represents a partnership with the federal government, but the strengthened engagement of our local educational institutions, local medical providers, local foundations, local non-profits and corporate partners. It is our collective goal to be the hardest working SC2 team in the history of the program.”
According to SC2, federal inter-agency expert teams will be deployed to work alongside city leadership, community organizations, local businesses and philanthropic foundations in Gary to support the city’s vision for economic growth and development. The primary goal is to help the city more effectively invest existing resources, provide advice and expertise in support of local priorities, better align federal programs and investments, and facilitate new partnerships and peer learning opportunities wherever possible.
In addition, AmeriCorps VISTA members will aid the effort as on-the-ground liaisons with local leaders and citizens to help implement the solutions that meet these communities’ needs.
“During these tough fiscal times, it is vitally important that the Administration provides support to those cities in need,” Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said. “The support provided by the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative is helping local leaders maximize every dollar to spur economic growth, create jobs and build stronger and safer communities.”
“The goal is to help position these communities to be more economically competitive, which ultimately will create better opportunities and improve the lives for their residents,” Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Muñoz said. “The expansion of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative to these seven new cities is based on the success and proven track record that the SC2 Teams have had, and we hope to repeat that success.”
The SC2 Teams will aim to duplicate the record of success established in the original pilot cities of Chester, Pa.; Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; Fresno, Calif.; Memphis, Tenn.; New Orleans, La.; and Youngstown, Ohio. Along with enabling these communities to more effectively use $368 million in existing federal funds and investments, the SC2 Teams provided advice and expertise that helped them make significant progress toward their priorities in economic development, housing, transportation, public safety and public health, among other areas.
Following the announcement last week, Mayor Freeman-Wilson was quick to acknowledge the various community partners that played a role in the SC2 application process. These organizations, non-profits, companies and educational institutions sent representatives to the final SC2 interview round, which was held with Federal representatives at Gary City Hall in November 2013.
“We know that the testimonies from our community partners certainly helped us earn this coveted opportunity,” she said. “I continue to stress the importance of forging these partnerships. As we have seen today, Gary’s economic future is much brighter thanks to these collaborations.”
Gary’s SC2 Community Partners include:
Miller Beach Arts District
Purdue University Calumet
Lake County Minority Health Coalition
Broadway Area CDC
Ivy Tech Community College
Gary Community School Corporation
University of Chicago Harris School
Urban League of NWI
Gary Economic Development Corporation
Gary Housing Authority