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LOBBYISTS HELP GREENSBORO WITH FEDERAL FUNDING PRIORITIES

 jeff@yesweekly.com | @jeffreysykes

Greensboro’s city council considered this week a two-year extension of its contract with a major federal lobbying firm.

The city entered into the contract with Pillsbury Shaw Pittman in 2012, agreeing to pay about $70,000 a year for the firm’s assistance with a variety of federal funding initiatives.

The new two-year contract will cost the city $140,400 in all, with the Greensboro Partnership of the Greensboro Area Chamber of Commerce providing an additional $23,400 for the same purposes.

In a letter dated Dec. 2, Craig Saperstein, a senior associate with Pillsbury Shaw Pittman who has experience working on behalf of former North Carolina senators John Edwards and Kay Hagan, wrote that the firm hopes to “capitalize on our momentum in 2014 by continuing to pursue funding and policy opportunities for a variety of priorities that benefit the city and the Triad.”

The firm helped secure two grants for the city in 2014 totaling $114,505. The first grant came from the Department of Homeland Security and helped the Greensboro Fire Department fund its health and fitness programs. That grant award was $89,505.

The second grant came from the Department of Agriculture and helped the city plan its Local Food Promotion Plan. The $25,000 in federal money was used to “develop a strategy for bringing healthy foods to underserved neighborhoods.”

“Federal statistics indicate that a disproportionate segment of Greensboro’s population lives in a food desert, in which healthy foods are not readily accessible or affordable,” Saperstein wrote. A food desert is defined as an area where residents live more than one mile from a grocery store. According to USDA statistics, about 38 percent of Greensboro residents fall into this category.

Since 2012, Saperstein wrote, the firm’s public policy team has assisted with about $44 million in secured federal funding opportunities for the city. Those funds include $35.2 million awarded to Guilford County Schools under the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top. The award funded the school systems technology-based curriculum for middle school students.

Another $6.1 million came from the Federal Aviation Administration to help pay for improvements at Piedmont Triad International Airport. The result was a new taxiway that helped Honda Aircraft Company expand its manufacturing operations.

Another $1 million award covered the city’s participation in the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Visioning Challenge. This program, developed under the U.S. Department of Commerce, is closing in on the finalist stage, where entrepreneurs in the city are competing for a top prize of $500,000 to fund their economic development projects. The city announced this week that six finalist will be named Wednesday.

Another $50,000 grant helped fund the Greensboro Police Department’s switch to a stratified model of operations. As part of the department’s Neighborhood Oriented Policing plan, the stratified model expands responsibility for neighborhood concerns from one officer on patrol to the entire command in that area.

The priorities for 2014 represented the biggest and most talked about projects on the city’s radar.

Transportation involves some of the most important projects, topped by the need for a new air traffic control tower at PTI. The existing tower was built in 1970 and airport officials say a taller tower is needed to improve visibility for staff and to increase operational safety. The current tower is 88-feet tall. Plans call for a new tower to be about 200-feet tall.

Other transportation projects include pursuing additional funding for road construction and the Downtown Greenway. Significant federal money is used in Greensboro to improve sidewalk and other pedestrian facilities.

The city recently shifted federal transportation money away from a stalled project that would have extended Florida Street near Gateway University Research Park. The money is now going toward sidewalk improvements along East Lee Street and a portion of the Downtown Greenway.

Securing federal dollars for both Gateway and the Union Square Campus has been a priority, Saperstein wrote. However, the US Economic Development Agency rejected the city’s first grant application from Union Square. New applications were due in October, but Union Square officials decided not to submit a second application.

Saperstein said that the lobbying firm is working with Gateway “on several funding opportunities it is currently pursuing.” The research and economic development potential at Gateway is being pitched to federal officials across the board, including the White House and agencies as diverse as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense.

In addition to continuing to pursue these opportunities, Saperstein listed two economic development priorities moving into the next two-year cycle. The federal Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) selects 12 communities to work closely with national agencies to gain access to millions in economic development funding. The first 12 communities were selected in May. Those communities gained direct access to 11 federal agencies with $1.3 billion in economic development funds available.

A second round of competition is expected soon. The competition calls for communities to “identify technologies or industries in which they would be competitive in the future.”

The Triad region was awarded a planning grant for Phase 2 of IMCP, and Saperstein said this “signifies that we are well positioned” for the next round of competition.

A final priority for 2015 is focusing on the city’s Promise Zone application. President Obama announced in 2013 that he would designate 20 Promise Zones across the country that would receive federal attention to create jobs and economic activity while increasing educational opportunities and reducing violent crime.

The first round winners were announced in January, and a second round of applications closed last month. The city submitted its application with an extensive narrative description of the challenges and opportunities faced in Greensboro.

The city identified large sections of east and south Greensboro as its Promise Zone. The area has a poverty rate of 41.2 percent, which is 23 percent higher than the citywide average of 18.8 percent. The area also has unemployment and violent crime rates much higher than the city as a whole. About 26 percent of the city’s 279,639 residents live in the identified zone.

“These statistics represent both the root causes and effects of a range of negative circumstances impacting the City and in particular, the communities located within the proposed Promise Zone,” the application’s narrative states. “These data points highlight the interrelated array of challenges the City and its partners face in revitalizing theses communities: limited private investment, anemic economic activity, poor educational outcomes, high crime, and clusters of vacant and underutilized properties that create and reinforce negative perceptions of these neighborhoods.”

Five cities per year for the next three years will win Promise Zone designation.

“We are currently working our congressional delegation to advocate for Greensboro’s recently submitted appli- cation under this program,” Saperstein wrote. !

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