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Speeches/Remarks

Dennis Alvord
Deputy Assistant Secretary
National Association of Counties
2020 Legislative Conference
Community Economic and Workforce Development Policy Steering Committee - Subcommittee Meetings
Washington Hilton, Columbia 11&12, Terrace Level
Saturday, February 29, 2020: 10:00am – 12:00pm

[As Prepared for Delivery]

Thank you, Supervisor Lancaster, for the kind introduction.

I thank the National Association of Counties for inviting me to speak with you today.

It’s great to see so many leaders representing our nation’s counties here and it’s an honor to be working with my fellow panelists.

As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

By working together here today, we will strengthen the economies of our counties and our nation.

I am pleased to share with you today an update on the work that we are doing at the U.S. Economic Development Administration – or EDA - to help advance locally-created economic development strategies.

While many of you have worked closely with EDA, some of you may not be familiar with our role.

I’ll begin with a brief overview of our mission and work and then I will update you on some of the key initiatives we are currently leading.

As the only federal government agency with economic development as its sole mission, EDA, a bureau under the U.S. Department of Commerce, is available to help you implement your plans to improve your communities and create new jobs.

EDA provides strategic investments through competitive grants that foster job creation and attract private investment to support development in economically distressed areas of the United States.

We understand that some communities need help developing a plan and figuring out where to start their economic development efforts. That others need critical infrastructure supporting business expansion. And, that still others need help building ecosystems to translate innovation into jobs.

The fact is, even though our nation is experiencing significant economic expansion there are still communities that are being left behind.

These communities may be impacted by the loss of a major employer, they may be suffering from the downturn of an entire economic sector as we see in coal country, or they may have been impacted by natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, or wildfires.

Therefore, EDA makes investments to catalyze locally driven planning, technical assistance, and infrastructure strategies designed to spur economic development.

I’d like to emphasize that EDA does not go into communities advocating a Washington-knows-best approach.

Rather, we support impactful, well-thought out, locally devised strategies designed to make it easier for businesses to start and grow and our grants, for the most part, require local match.

Today, one of the keyways we are working to help transform communities is through the Opportunity Zones initiative.

Our mission fits hand in glove with the goal of the Opportunity Zones initiative, which is also focused on driving transformative private investment into distressed communities.

We want economic developers to think of Opportunity Zone investment as a new tool in their toolbox that can work to not only enhance ROI, but also encourage the public/private partnerships needed to drive private investment to distressed areas – adding a social value to investing.

Critically, EDA took steps in its 2018 Notice of Funding Opportunity for Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance Programs to make eligible entities within qualified Opportunity Zones generally eligible for EDA funds.

In June of last year, we added Opportunity Zones as an Investment Priority.

The Opportunity Zone Investment Priority now immediately applies to most existing EDA funding notices.

We anticipate that these actions will significantly increase the number of catalytic Opportunity Zone-related projects that EDA can fund to spur greater public investment in these areas.

To help communities across America maximize their ability to attract investment to Opportunity Zones, EDA has also published an update to our Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies (CEDS) Content Guidelines.

Since FY 2018, EDA invested nearly $362 million in 272 projects in or near Opportunity Zones across the U.S., including in many of your states.

Opportunity Zone investors magnify the amount of private investment that can be directed to these areas and have the potential to increase EDA’s ROI 5-fold, 10-fold, 25-fold, or even more.

To help local economic and community developers and investors target private investment to these zones, EDA, in partnership with Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, launched the USA Opportunity Zones tool.

This new web-based tool provides critical demographic and business data for communities and economic development practitioners.

I encourage you to visit: StatsAmerica.org to explore this new tool and the many other tools that EDA has funded to help you promote your communities.

I’d also like to mention that we are in the midst of an outreach campaign to States that is helping us learn all we can about how they are supporting Opportunity Zones, where the best practices are, where the challenges are, and to explain EDA’s role and the assets we have.

We have seen state and local governments that are offering their own Opportunity Zones tax incentive packages. We are also making communities and investors aware of other incentives to stack on top of the federal tax incentive.

Critically, today, governors, mayors, and other community leaders are including Opportunity Zones in their economic development strategies and we encourage you to offer your own Opportunity Zone tax incentive packages to compliment the federal Opportunity Zone tax incentives.

Please also visit EDA’s Opportunity Zone webpage at EDA.GOV for more on how we are helping to advance the Opportunity Zones initiative.

Another key focus for EDA this year is administering $587 million appropriated to us by Congress to help communities respond to natural disasters – including Hurricanes, Typhoons, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, and floods – that occurred in calendar year 2018 and 2019.

In Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019, EDA received a total of $1.2 billion in supplemental disaster appropriations from Congress to help regions recover from economic harm and distress resulting from natural disasters occurring in 2017 through 2019.

With these funds, communities and regions hit hard by major disasters in the United States are rebuilding stronger, more resilient economies and EDA is pleased to help them achieve their goals through the supplemental appropriations.

There are no application deadlines and we are accepting proposals on a rolling basis until all funds are awarded.

Understanding that innovation is the backbone of our economy and that all citizens should be empowered to pursue the dream of entrepreneurship and be enabled to carve their own paths to prosperity, EDA’s Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, or OIE, is committed to furthering tech-based economic development initiatives that accelerate high quality job growth, create more economic opportunities and support the future of the next generation of industry leading companies.

On February 19, EDA announced the redesigned of its Regional Innovation Strategies -or RIS - program.

With a 40 percent budget increase and recent reauthorization, the new program is called Build to Scale, and is designed to build regional economies through scalable startups.

The modernized brand better reflects the spirit of the entrepreneurship and the communities the program works to serve.

Congress has appropriated $33 million for the RIS program in FY20, and EDA has designed a streamlined application process to help address the program’s growing demand.

The increased funding and improved application process will enable EDA to reach more communities and scale the impacts of this program.

The Build to Scale Program supports regional economic growth through three separate competitions:

The FY20 Venture Challenge, formerly known as the “i6 Challenge,” makes $26 million available to support entrepreneurship and accelerate company growth in communities, regions or combinations of regions.

The FY20 Capital Challenge, formerly known as “Seed Fund Support,” makes $5 million available to increase access to capital in communities where risk capital is in short supply.

And, the new FY20 Industry Challenge makes $4 million available to support entrepreneurship and accelerate company growth within the Blue Economy. The FY20 Industry Challenge is produced and co-funded in partnership with the Department of Energy.

Please visit the Build to Scale Program’s Web page on EDA.GOV for more information.

At EDA, we are also working to support the development of skills-training facilities that address the hiring needs of the local and regional business communities – particularly in the manufacturing sector.

Since 2017, EDA has invested more than $118 million of Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance grant funding in 80 projects to help communities and regions build the capacity for economic development through workforce development strategies.

EDA will continue in 2020 to use the additional funding authorized by Congress for our Economic Adjustment Assistance Program to invest in economic development and diversification efforts in coal communities through the Assistance to Coal Communities competition.

Since FY 2017, EDA has invested more than $96 million in 99 projects to assist such communities and regions across the U.S.

I would also like to mention before I conclude that EDA is working to launch newly funded initiatives from our FY 2020 appropriations.

This includes the new STEM Apprenticeship program, which will enable EDA to continue to support more innovation-focused economic development by helping communities more directly develop talent to meet the needs of industries of the future.

The newly funded STEM Apprenticeship program will enable EDA to continue to support innovation-focused economic development by helping communities more directly address the talent development needs of industries of the future.

With the $2 million appropriated, EDA will run a pilot program to identify new ways to increase STEM workforce development strategies across the nation.

EDA will also deploy the $15 million appropriation we received to support communities impacted by nuclear plant closures.

EDA has a strong history of working with communities facing nuclear power plant closures as well as other communities facing structural economic adjustments, including those impacted by contractions in coal-based economies or Defense related base realignment and closure activities.

We will continue supporting these communities through a variety of EDA programs, including but not limited to: planning resources, providing technical assistance and making funds available for competitive, infrastructure-based investments which will help these communities recover and envision future economic development opportunities in accordance with EDA’s investment priorities.

To close, EDA is a small, nimble agency that employs a flexible set of program tools that can help your communities realize their economic potential.

I encourage you to reach out to the EDA regional office with jurisdiction for your state to see how we might be able to help.

Contact information can be found at: EDA.GOV.

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