Money for Metropolitan Business Planning

One thing that we’ve lost focus on during the two years of the Metropolitan Business Plan process is that it’s not just about BETI. Yes, yes, we love our idea for the Building Energy-Efficiency Testing & Integration Center and Demonstration Network, and its proposal to catalyze our local energy efficiency IT cluster through validating these technologies in real-world settings. But although we identified the idea of BETI through the Metropolitan Business Planning process, the MBP goals are much broader.

And the exciting thing is that one of the big goals – funding of regions through Metropolitan Business Plans – may be coming to fruition!

There are two ways that MBPs are supposed to change things.First, they serve as an overarching analytical framework for evaluating your economy on a variety of leverage points (clusters, yes, but also things like human capital, spatial efficiency and innovation infrastructure). In an ideal world, multiple proposals like BETI would spring out of each of the leverage points, and every one would be a catalyzing investment that brings together multiple assets to grow jobs.

Second, however, is the idea that Metropolitan Business Plans reframe the federal-metropolitan funding relationship. In the words of the Brookings Institution:

The Metropolitan Business Plan project is designed to be a used as “reverse RFP” whereby metro areas complete a holistic, aligned, and integrated business plan and use it as an investment prospectus when seeking funds from the federal government. Rather than cities applying to hundreds of federal programs siloed across dozens of agencies, metros ideally would be able to put together comprehensive plans that demonstrate their benefits, and receive more flexible, performance-based, funding. That is, once a business plan is in place, metro leaders could present a “prospectus” to the federal government for investment in the region.

Over the last few years, the federal government has done a significant amount of this kind of “integrated federal funding.” There was the $130 million, seven agency E-RIC funding that ended up going to Philadelphia, and more recently there was $100 million distributed through the HUD-DOT-EPA Sustainable Communities Program ($5 million of which was won by PSRC). Now, the six agency, $1 million i6 Green grant is out (which is right up BETI’s alley by the way*).

But all of that is very project specific, rather than comprehensive. Which is why I was very excited to read in the latest U.S. Economic Development Administration e-newsletter about the FY 2012 budget proposal’s inclusion of ““$40 million for new Regional Innovation Program (Growth Zones) to support regional cluster development, regional business plans, investment in science parks, etc. in 20 economically distressed areas with growth potential. Assist with planning, seed capital and technical assistance.” (emphasis added!)

We had been hearing for a while that there would be “money for metropolitan business planning” in the FY 2012 budget proposal, and this is indeed the case. More specifically (under “Enhance Regional Economic Competitiveness):

[T]he “Growth Zone program will deliver expanded tax incentives for investment and employment and more streamlined access to government assistance to 20 new economically distressed areas with growth potential. Replacing the Empowerment Zone program, the Growth Zones will include a mix of rural and urban areas that will be selected through a national competition that will judge their competitive strategies and their need and ability to attract investment and growth. The Budget also provides $40 million through EDA to assist the selected zones with planning, seed capital, and technical assistance.”

The idea of being designated as a “Growth Zone” which would get ongoing targeted funding and technical assistance from a variety of federal agencies is a huge opportunity, and very much in-line with the Metropolitan Business Plan concept. It’s also very analogous to the idea of “Preferred Sustainability Status” that the Sustainable Communities Program is looking to designate, (which makes it no surprise that the EDA would actually be coordinating with HUD on this Growth Zone competition).

We’re a long way to go before the FY 2012 budget gets passed (there’s not even a FY 11 one yet, and we’re half way through the year!), but it’s exciting to see that the business plan concept has legs…and it seems to know how to use them.

*I’m just saying, i6 Green is funding for ““Proof of Concept Centers…[that] allow emerging [green] technologies to mature and demonstrate their market potential, making them more attractive to investors and helping entrepreneurs turn their idea or technology into a business.” Is that BETI or is that BETI!?!

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