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BIDs Can Be the Catalyst For Social Equity

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Mary Hoehne
February 17, 2015

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) have the capacity and are positioned to be a catalyst to promote social equity, fairness and opportunity within their neighborhoods and throughout the entire city. BIDs began in the late 1970s and today there are more than 2,200 BIDs globally and growing.

Hoehne febBIDs not only address security, marketing, beautification and economic development within an area specified by boundaries, but also have a positive impact on the surrounding neighborhood and community. The reputation of the BIDs’ abilities to often exceed expectations positions BIDs as the mechanism to address social equity.

Economic development and retention has not historically been equated with social equity because the economic developer does not work within the community and does not interact with the business community and the surrounding neighborhoods. Many BID directors interact and work for the businesses and interact and work for the neighbors in an effort to grow the neighborhood and make it better for all.

BID Directors Lead Efforts

If BID directors recognize the only sustainable approach to continually enhancing and growing their community is to take a holistic approach that seeks both community and business engagement the pathway to recognizing a need for social equity will emerge. To create a sustainable economy, workplace diversity and small business development must exist. The BID director can take the leadership role to assure the employers understand why committing to a local hire and local sourcing policy is necessary to assure a competitive advantage for their businesses and the community.

Many employers do not know about or know who to contact to try to grow a local workforce. Nor do they have the time to train workers and prepare them for openings. Often the local workforce lacks the skills for the current open positions and future needs. The BID directors can take a three pronged approach to address this issue and begin the evolution of social equity in their community.

Collaboration Drives Local Hire Program

The BID directors can reach out to the employers, define their needs and measure their readiness to work with local hires if local residents are work-ready. Once the businesses are identified that will work with local hires, the directors can reach out to all workforce development collaborators to prepare curriculum to meet the needs. Because BID directors have relationships with employers, the directors can use this influence to bring the training classes to the neighborhoods to train the local hires at locations within the BIDs.

BID directors must embrace the role of collaborator between the employers, the local hires and the multitude of schools, nonprofits and government funded workforce training partners to create novel approaches to assure the locals obtain the skills training within their communities. This evolution of working with the businesses and the workforce trainers to identify and create the curriculum needed and provide the training on-site within the community can assist the private sector in removing employment barriers, establishing workforce equity and assisting in community revitalization.

This program establishes a fluid workforce training curriculum that addresses needs as they emerge and reaches out to the community to fulfill these needs with the assistance of workforce training programs. The holistic approach becomes an economic tool for the community in seeking more business expansion, retention and growth and provides a competitive edge to the businesses that now have access to a local workforce trained for their employment needs. The success of the businesses and the economic development efforts provides equity, fairness and opportunity for the community.

Communities Flourish, Businesses More Competitive

The establishment of a local hire program eventually evolves into the need for more businesses to meet the needs of the local workforce and thus provides opportunity for small business development. The BID can also be a catalyst in bringing small businesses to the area because the director should be collaborating with the local banks, small business lenders and nonprofits providing microfinancing opportunities. Working with lenders helps the BID identify possible startups for the area that will generate more jobs and more opportunity for the community.

Within a municipality, the BID directors often work with the school districts, the governments (local, county, state and federal), the colleges (private and public), nonprofits, churches, agencies and local neighborhood groups more than others in the city. The municipalities that oversee BIDs should make it policy to request that BID directors include social equity, fairness and opportunity as a goal stated in the BID mission statements and pursued as part of the BID’s overall objectives. The BIDs can make cities healthier and be that catalyst to bring social equity and opportunity to the local community.


Author: Mary Hoehne is the executive director of the Granville Business Improvement District in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ms. Hoehne is also working on her Ph. D. in Public Administration from Walden University. Her research topic addresses the role of BIDs. Ms. Hoehne can be reached at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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