LISC push on economic development strikes a chord

When Maurice Jones became LISC CEO in September 2016, he set economic development as a key strategy to help lift up struggling communities. “You cannot have a sustainable growth path if you’re not figuring out how to make all of your communities ‘communities of opportunity’,” he said during a recent visit to Phoenix.

“I had a music teacher who said you’ve got to care about every note,” Jones said. “It’s our job to make sure there are no forgotten notes.”

The new emphasis on economic development is music to our ears.

In 2015, we made economic development a key component of the Phoenix strategic plan to help residents transform distressed communities. In 2016, we identified several key commercial corridors along the Valley’s light-rail network where there is potential to raise the standard of living for individuals and create sustainable neighborhoods: downtown Mesa; Apache Boulevard in Tempe; 19th Avenue and Camelback Road; and along the South Phoenix Light Rail Extension.

Within these corridors, comprehensive community and economic development activities could yield results similar to a recent national study that found a 9 percent increase in both wages and employment where LISC had invested for several years compared to similar places where it had not worked in the same time period.

Jones has said the 2016 national election highlighted a need for greater understanding about economically disadvantaged populations. The American story can’t be told in full without an understanding of the underserved communities that LISC serves, he said, adding that the narrative must be a centerpiece not a footnote.

He challenges those interested in raising the standard of living for people in communities left behind in conventional economic development strategies to truly understand what they see and hear. Look at what widespread low expectations perpetuate in communities that LISC is trying to help. Listen for the sounds of comprehensive economic development striking all the right chords in helping to build healthy neighborhoods that contribute to economic growth in a region.

In 2017, we will feature a new series of articles, Communities on the Line, to promote understanding of LISC-style comprehensive economic development, which includes special attention to small businesses and creative placemaking.

For LISC Phoenix Executive Director Terry Benelli, the passion for small business was ignited early in life, having started her first business at the age of 23. “By investing in small businesses, you are strengthening the foundation that sustains an entire community,” Benelli said. “We created this series as a way to showcase all of the amazing stories we are discovering along the light rail corridors, we hope you enjoy the articles and join us in the conversation!”