How local and regional governments are creating jobs
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Working with private interests
Because many local government budgets have been strapped in recent years, funding for corporate incentives and other job attraction tools has been scarce. To overcome that challenge, a number of local governments have turned to public-private partnerships to fund projects and create jobs. “Public budgets are running very tight, and many cities and counties have had to lay off employees,” says Rick Norment, executive director of the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships (NCPPP). “If you can create a project by leveraging limited public funds and adding private funds, that creates jobs.”
Some of the most effective public-private partnerships that have created jobs are those that focus on repairing or replacing aging infrastructure, Norment says. For instance, some communities have used public monies and private funds to rebuild crumbling bridges or upgrade wastewater treatment plants. While such projects always create temporary construction jobs, “in some cases, you’re creating permanent jobs,” Norment says. “Wastewater projects always create permanent jobs. If you build a new university building, people have to work in it.”
For many communities, energy efficiency improvements have been a source of new jobs through public-private partnerships. “Old buildings leak a lot and are not energy efficient,” Norment says. “When energy service companies do a complete retrofit of an old building, the capital expenses for the project can often be paid back within a short amount of time through energy savings. And saving energy costs puts a lot of people to work.”
For instance, last year, the Virgin Island Energy Alliance Program, a partnership of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Bostonia Partners, addressed soaring energy costs by creating a program to train local residents to install systems to improve energy efficiency and stimulate private energy-related companies to make investments in the program through energy savings performance contracts. These contracts are “partnerships in which the private sector pays for the installation of new equipment that uses less energy, and with the reduction in energy bills, those savings provide the funding for repayment to the private sector,” Norment says.
Last year, the Energy Alliance Program created 200 jobs as local residents started businesses to undertake energy efficiency retrofits. As a result, NCPPP recognized the program with one of its 2011 Innovation Awards.
In Centennial, Colo., a different type of public-private partnership has led to new private-sector jobs and increased government efficiency. Founded in 2002, the city “is not bound by 100 years of tradition, so we’re able to take advantage of the newest technologies and ideas to make city government work,” says Dave Zelenok, Centennial’s public works director.
Rather than employing the large staff usually required for a city of 100,000, Centennial employs only 48 people and maintains a dozen different contracts with public-private partnerships, Zelenok says. And those contracts often create jobs in the community. For instance, rather than purchasing and maintaining its own equipment for cutting grass and plowing snow, the city uses private companies to keep the grass mowed and the streets clean. Not only has the arrangement helped strengthen local businesses, but it also has allowed the city government to cut costs and operate “more efficiently and effectively,” Zelenok says.
As cities and counties continue to strive for economic development and increasing numbers of jobs, the importance of collaboration will continue to increase, Coleman says. “The trend toward collaboration and partnership across even broader segments of our communities will continue to grow,” he says. “Nobody has all the resources needed. It’s much more than just looking for dollars; it’s who has the ideas to provide the jobs and the quality of life, talent development and other necessities to keep them in our communities.”
Nancy Jackson is a Huntsville, Ala.-based freelance writer.