Sixteen Southeast Cities Commit to Initiative for Economic Inclusion

February 23, 2022 - (3 min read)

Washington, D.C. – The National League of Cities (NLC) has competitively selected sixteen cities throughout the Southeast U.S. to participate in the Southern Cities Economic Inclusion (SCEI) initiative. With support from, and in collaboration with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, NLC is launching two cohorts of cities committed to boosting economic growth for residents and businesses of color.

The cities selected to participate in the 20-month project include: Baton Rouge, La; Birmingham, Ala.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; College Park, Ga.; Danville, Va.; Jackson, Miss.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Mobile, Ala.; Montgomery, Ala.; New Orleans, La.; Nashville, Tenn.; Norfolk, Va.; Patterson, La.; Savannah, Ga.; Saint Petersburg, Fla.; and Tallahassee, Fla.

The cities will receive grant funding and opportunities to learn from each other and acquire guidance from experts to deepen local capacity and build leadership skills. SCEI aims to align peer learning among the two cohorts to enable deep city-level engagement of elected leaders and their senior staff to work together to transform communities. The cities will plan and implement a range of strategies and policy changes resulting in greater economic opportunity and resilience for communities of color. 

Deep and persistent inequities in small business growth, access to jobs, and affordable housing are exacerbated by decades of structural racism and exclusionary practices and policies that have marginalized communities of color, particularly Black families and businesses.  Economic inclusion strategies – the intentional engagement by communities to implement strategies that expand the participation of businesses and residents of color in the economy – are shown to be the superior growth model for communities, because they harness untapped talent and economic potential.  SCEI offers an opportunity for cities to invest funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and other federal sources in economic inclusion strategies toward a growth model that offers cities, their residents and businesses, greater economic prosperity. 

“Every day we learn more about the pandemic’s devastating toll on cities and how it has underscored systemic racial disparities. Intentional economic inclusion strategies are critical to building resiliency across our communities. There is an enormous opportunity for Southern cities to model and implement strategies that ensure equity and growth for BlPOC communities and businesses. Solutions for the south must be driven by cities in the south.  NLC is committed to working alongside the SCEI cities to drive economic progress now and for future generations.” -Robert Blaine, director of the Institute for Youth, Education and Families

SCEI is rooted in the firm belief that peer learning, especially in a southern context, is at the core of creating change in cities. To that end, NLC will offer cities the opportunity to gain deep experience from their peers on what works, what is challenging, and how to overcome barriers at the local level to move economic inclusion efforts forward. The initiative rests in a deep appreciation for the expertise and perspectives of those engaged in daily work to improve racial equity outcomes throughout southern cities. Through this lens, SCEI will focus on small business development; strategies to increase employment and wages; financial inclusion; and economic empowerment strategies targeted to youth and parents.

“We know that solutions are found within communities and we’re excited to support this initiative because the greatest opportunity for prosperity lies in the South,” said Rhea Williams-Bishop, director of programs for Mississippi and New Orleans at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “These leaders are critical to growing local economies and expanding opportunities for people of color, which helps us build new paths to prosperity for everyone.”


The National League of Cities (NLC) is the voice of America’s cities, towns and villages, representing more than 200 million people across the country. NLC works to strengthen local leadership, influence federal policy and drive innovative solutions. Stay connected with NLC on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.