From Public to Private: Building Bridges at the NLC Capstone Leaders Forum

City leaders and the private sector must collaborate for our cities to succeed. NLC’s Capstone Leaders Forum brought together public- and private-sector thought leaders to discuss issues ranging from addressing the workforce skills gap to the importance of data.

For local leaders, making their communities economically successful is often at the top of their to-do lists. Not only are they responsible for attracting new business to their city, but they also act as the convener, the entity that helps unite citizens with the private sector. For a city to thrive, all three parties need to work in tandem — which is why the National League of Cities (NLC) works with corporate partners, connecting local governments with private-sector thought leaders.

These critical connections were the focus of the second annual NLC Capstone Leaders Forum. Held in beautiful San Diego, California, May 10–12, the forum provided our capstone and enterprise partners and NLC leadership with the opportunity to exchange ideas across the public and private sectors, share emerging trends, and examine noteworthy innovations from across the country.

Nine of our top corporate partners and representatives from 17 cities met to discuss a wide range of topics, from addressing the workforce skills gap to the importance of data. Here are a few of the discussion highlights:

Promoting Economic Mobility and Opportunity

NLC President and Cleveland Councilmember Matt Zone and NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families Executive Director Cliff Johnson challenged participants to think about how they can work together to champion the mission of the Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force. The primary role of the task force is to promote economic growth through partnerships and programs to help foster new, more skilled workforces in America’s cities.

The participants concluded that there are three essential parties that need to be present at the table: cities, academic/educational institutions, and private-sector businesses. Working together, these three groups can design programs and resources to help close the workforce skills gap.

Mayor Mark Stodola of Little Rock, Arkansas, believes that once these programs are in place, the main challenge will be effective outreach to the target constituent groups. Councilmember Gerri Schroder from Henderson, Nevada, further asserted that in order for the programs to be successful we need to promote a sense of community and purpose around these outreach programs. Another critical hurdle is determining who is best suited to convene cooperation between these three groups — a decision that will vary city-by-city.

Federal Advocacy and Creating Diverse Coalitions

While NLC’s mission at the city level remains the same, a change in our approach to federal advocacy is necessary as we work with the new administration. The Trump Administration is largely focused on policies driven by business interests, and city advocates need to adjust their strategy accordingly.

NLC Senior Executive and Director of Federal Advocacy Irma Esparza Diggs emphasized that now is the time to create diverse coalitions with businesses across a wide range of sectors. Corporations partner with NLC because they believe in our mission of building better communities, but they also recognize that thriving communities are better for business. Many of the same issues that are important to corporations — marketplace fairness, tax reform and infrastructure funding, for example — are also the priorities and concerns of cities. Policy decisions affect us all, and NLC partnerships help create strong and diverse coalitions that serve as a powerful, unified voice on Capitol Hill.

The Power of Data

Another key topic discussed at the forum was the value of research and data for our partners. NLC Senior Executive and Center for City Solutions Director Brooks Rainwater led a formative discussion on how NLC can better serve its partners by conducting specific research and gathering data to support their missions and initiatives. Nicole Rongo, vice president of marketing and acquisitions at CGI Communications, argued that while data collection is important, the data also needs a story behind it. Using data to support a story is an essential way to educate the public. Cindy Stewart, vice president of the International Council of Shopping Centers, agreed that data can be used to help overcome assumptions or perceptions, further enhancing the narrative. In this way, data becomes relatable, promoting real policy change at the local level.

Throughout all the discussions at the forum, one idea consistently rose to the forefront: the critical importance of building strong partnerships between the public and private sectors. The power these partnerships create at the local level strengthens communities and greatly increases economic opportunity and success for city residents across the country.

Learn more about the benefits of becoming a NLC corporate partner.

Featured image: The beautiful city of San Diego, California, recently hosted the 2017 NLC Capstone Leaders Forum. (Getty Images)

About the author: Lauren Bradley is the senior associate for strategic partnerships at the National League of Cities.