PO Box 413
Milwaukee, WI 53201
Community-based organizations (CBOs) and non-profits are playing an increasingly important role in local economic development, in Milwaukee and across the country. CBOs have become crucial service-providers, furnishing neighborhood-level economic planning, operating training and employment programs, starting and running "social purpose" businesses, and coordinating business development programs in low-income neighborhoods. In the City of Milwaukee's "Neighborhood Strategic Planning" process, virtually every participating CBO listed economic development as one of its priorities and claimed at least some capacity to deliver economic development services. In an era of limited government, CBOs around the country--and increasingly in Milwaukee--are more and more called upon to deliver economic development services in "comprehensive" community revitalization initiatives.
Clearly, high-capacity, high-performance CBOs will be at the heart of economic development in Milwaukee for the foreseeable future. Yet, despite the growing role of CBOs in economic development, we currently lack a comprehensive inventory of the capacity of these organizations as engines of economic development. We have no central compendium of the major projects of CBOs, the areas of economic development in which they specialize, the resources they have assembled, or the expertise of their staff. Funding organizations such as local foundations or the City of Milwaukee Block Grant Administration are strongly committed to CBOs as engines of community economic revitalization; yet, we lack a full-fledged inventory of the capacity of CBOs to serve this role. At a minimum, our efforts in this area would surely be improved by a comprehensive accounting of precisely what resources Milwaukee CBOs bring to the process, how equipped they are to carry out various economic development activities, and what they have accomplished.
Moreover, despite a growing commitment in Milwaukee to community economic development, we even lack--except perhaps in the most general sense--a systematic "vision" of what precisely a high-capacity economic development CBO would look like. What are the realistic expectations for CBOs in this area? What sorts of performance measures would be fair? How does Milwaukee's community economic development system--CBOs, funding organizations, and other supporting agencies--stack up compared to activities around the country? What can various supporting agencies--the City, foundations, academia--do to improve CBO capacity in promoting economic development? Placing this inventory of Milwaukee community economic development capacity into a national framework will, we hope, provide some insights into these questions and perhaps point to way toward strategies to nurture high-capacity CBOs and CDCs (community development corporations) in Milwaukee.
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