Sometimes, the stars just align. A series of fortuitous meetings and the willingness to make introductions and keep plans flexible led to a quickly scheduled meeting at the White House on December 17 for the mayor of Flint, Michigan, Department of Energy (DOE) staff and White House staff. On the agenda was how to help Flint address issues of poverty, job loss and declining business activity.
“Opportunity Zones”: Reducing Geographic Inequality
The city of Flint, Michigan is one of over 8,000 communities across America designated as an “Opportunity Zone”. Opportunity zones are distressed communities facing high poverty and unemployment rates and the continued loss of local jobs and businesses. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act created tax incentives for private-sector companies who invest in Opportunity Zones. The goal is to bring economic growth and job creation where they are needed the most and to reduce geographic inequality.
The White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council
Just as Opportunity Zones created incentives to attract private investment to economically distressed areas, the new White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council seeks to do the same for Federal programs.
The Council works across 13 federal agencies to improve revitalization efforts by streamlining, coordinating, and targeting existing Federal programs to Opportunity Zones. The idea is for private and public investments to work together to lift distressed communities and reduce geographic inequality. This White House fact sheet is an easy-to-read summary of what the Council is tasked to do.
The Department of Energy (DOE) is one of those 13 agencies. James Campos, Director, Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED) represents the DOE on the Council and participates in 3 of its 4 subcommittees: Economic Development, Entrepreneurship, and Safe & Healthy Communities.
Mayor of Flint, Michigan - DOE, and White House Staff Meet to Explore Ways to Help Flint Improve Economic Opportunities for Citizens
Mayor Karen Weaver and Dr. Pamela Pugh, Chief Public Health Advisor attended for the city of Flint. Mayor Weaver discussed how her city is transitioning from crisis to recovery by shifting its focus on education, small business growth and workforce development. Like many distressed communities, Flint faces issues of lack of affordable housing, “food desert” issues, lack of access to capital for small businesses, and a high percentage of low-income citizens.
The group - see the full attendee list below - discussed how the new Council can assist the city in tangible ways, such as providing technical assistance when applying for Federal funding and grants. Also discussed was how to help the city leverage its Opportunity Zone status to get access to capital for locals, and how to advertise the advantages to outside investors.
This was a phenomenal opportunity to meet with the mayor of Flint. I’m looking forward to further engagement with the city.
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) shared information about two recent DOE initiatives: the Water Security Grand Challenge and the $100 Million Energy-Water Desalination Hub. The discussion of clean and secure water is vital not only to the city of Flint but also to urban and distressed communities as a whole.
With the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council barely a week old, the meeting was an early opportunity to listen, to share, and to begin to explore opportunities to leverage 13 federal agencies to help the city of Flint and the other distressed communities to lift their citizens’ economic prospects.
James Campos, Director, Office of Economic Impact & Diversity (ED) represents the Department of Energy (DOE) on the Council and participates in 3 of the 4 subcommittees: Economic Development, Entrepreneurship, and Safe & Healthy Communities. This meeting was made possible through the efforts of Kelly Mitchell, Senior Advisor, Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED) to bring all participants together.
Mark Planning, Director, Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs; Zachery Michael, Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs; William Crozer, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs; Dr. Pamela Pugh, PhD, MS, Chief Public Health Advisor, City of Flint; Kristin Repass, Special Assistant, Office of Economic Impact and Diversity; Annie Whatley, Deputy Director Office of Economic Impact and Diversity; Kelly Mitchell, Senior Advisor, Office of Economic Impact and Diversity; Mayor Karen Weaver, City of Flint, Michigan, the Honorable James Campos, Director, Office of Economic Impact and Diversity; Suzanne Wilcox, Director, Department of Planning and Development, City of Flint; Elise Atkins, Director, Office of External Affairs; Alexander Fitzsimmons, Chief of Staff, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Dwayne Bolton, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs.