What Baton Rouge can learn from JPMorgan AdvancingCities grant winners

    JPMorgan Chase announced its first round of cities selected to receive $3 million grants through its AdvancingCities Challenge, but Baton Rouge, which submitted a proposal, did not make the cut.

    The five winners of the annual AdvancingCities Challenge—a five-year, $500 million initiative to support inclusive growth and economic opportunities for cities—were Miami, Chicago, San Diego, Louisville, Kentucky, and Syracuse, New York.

    Baton Rouge’s proposal, one of more than 250 submitted, focused on the Plank Road corridor revitalization project, spearheaded by the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority in collaboration with community and city-parish organizations.

    While the winning cities are obviously much larger than Baton Rouge, there are lessons to learn from their successful bids. What seemed to be the common thread among the proposals, says RDA President and CEO Chris Tyson, is their strong collaboration with business partners and an emphasis on workforce development.

    “They appeared to have major partners at the table, not just in community development but partners in the business space,” Tyson says. “They also had strong workforce development pipeline opportunities, and they actively included people who could give jobs and provide opportunities.”

    Baton Rouge’s pitch, meanwhile, focused on collaboration with community development groups that can coordinate but not necessarily provide jobs.

    Chicago’s winning proposal, for example, included partnerships with major health care systems and envisioned leveraging “the hiring, procurement and investment power” of those systems to improve economic vitality of surrounding neighborhoods.

    “I think we can be more aggressive and look to these cities as examples of the types of collaborative ecosystems these major grant funders are expecting to see,” Tyson says.

    Tyson, in his experience applying for grants, has learned the competition is tough, and while Baton Rouge has the stats to justify the need for the money, that’s not all a city needs to secure major grants.

    “They want to see who are the collaborators and what’s the leverage,” he says. “Are you working together? Collaboration—that’s what they want.”

    Tyson points to the Cincinnati canvas trip Baton Rouge leaders took last year, in which one of the big takeaways was the importance of having the business community “not just on the sidelines to cut a check, but as thought leaders at the table” to move cities forward.

    The RDA is working on building collaboration with business partners, Tyson says, and plans to incorporate that into grant proposals going forward. The Plank Road initiative has support from several business partners such as Investar Bank, Coca-Cola, General Informatics, ExxonMobil and Tony’s Seafood, among others. The project has also received a $100,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase’s Partnerships for Raising Opportunity in Neighborhoods competition.

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