DETROIT – The Obama administration is launching a pilot program designed to spark economic growth in urban America by partnering federal officials with local decision-makers in six cities, the U.S Housing and Urban Development secretary announced Monday.
The idea, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said, is to create what he called Community Solutions Teams, which will include employees from several different federal agencies, and have them work directly with local officials in Detroit; Chester, Pa.; Fresno, Calif.; Memphis, Tenn.; Cleveland and New Orleans.
The federal staffers will in effect be embedded in the cities, working on issues the mayors have identified as important, such as developing transportation infrastructure, improving job-training programs and the like. In Detroit, Donovan said, up to a dozen "federal folks" will be in town for a year or two.
"Too often, the federal government has been part of the problem, rather than part of the solution," Donovan said at a loft development, where he announced the tenets of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities plan.
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who leads one of the nation's most financially troubled cities, was on hand for Donovan's announcement. He recounted a conversation in which he asked President Barack Obama for federal money for the city.
"We don't have any," Bing recalled the president saying.
"If I can't get capital, then how about another resource?" the mayor responded.
When Obama asked what he wanted, Bing then said, "I've got to get human capital."
On Monday, they mayor said he was excited to receive that kind of investment from the federal government, particularly when infusions of money haven't always been handled well in the past.
"One of the things that's happened historically with Detroit is that we've gotten financial support and we've not managed the finances very, very well," Bing said. "When I came into office, there was money that had been allocated to us years and years ago."
The pilot cities were selected on the basis of economic need, strong local leadership, potential for economic growth and geographic diversity, Donovan said.
"I really believe that getting this kind of support and the collaborations from several departments down in Washington is going to be for Detroit's benefit. ... They believe in us. We gotta start believing in ourselves," Bing said.
A news release announcing the program said the Detroit team is expected to include representatives from HUD, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration and the Department of Labor.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis visited New Orleans on Monday to outline plans for that city as part of the pilot program. Solis noted that Mayor Mitch Landrieu often has referred to the city after Hurricane Katrina as a laboratory for urban economic innovation, including the development of independently run charter schools, efforts to develop public-private partnerships and plans to partner a major medical center now in the planning stages with a new Veterans Administration hospital.
Federal employees heading to New Orleans will be responsible for cutting through the red tape in Washington, she said.
"We're here today to give the lab the tools it needs," Solis said.
Associated Press writer Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report.
Mike Householder can be reached at http://twitter.com/mikehouseholder .