President's Perspective

From Transactions to Transformation


September was a very good month for Emerald Cities. I proudly watched three of our local council directors move from transactions to transformation. Leveraging the power of their multi-stakeholder coalitions, they each moved closer to institutionalizing ECC's mission within their local political economy. Let me explain.

I routinely remind everyone (and myself) that the Emerald Cities brand  -- the triple bottom line - is one of the best, but still one of the hardest brands to sell. We want: 1) energy efficient buildings, 2) that create jobs and business opportunities, 3) that are high wage with careers and benefits, and 4) that are shared with disadvantaged populations. There are gigantic hurdles to overcome in realizing any one of these objectives. Yet, each of our local councils have adeptly garnered a pipeline of building retrofit projects - public buildings, community colleges, downtown commercial projects, and multi-family affordable housing projects - that carry the Emerald Cities brand. Believe me, this important work, project development, is hard enough.

Yet, our local councils are moving beyond deal flow into broad-based community engagement. This month, Cleveland and Portland, following on the coattails of San Francisco's pilot community workforce agreement (CWA), turned populists, elevating ECC's mission into the public forum. Coalition members organized and convened hundreds of labor and community residents to advocate for high road economic development policies with their city officials. These city-wide campaigns and public dialogues are the stuff of real transformation. They are clearing the underbrush, talking about the hard issues, and changing hearts and changing minds. They are advancing policies and changing business practices. They are making subsequent high road deals easier to do. In fact, they are creating a "new normal" such that their success in creating high road jobs may actually put them out of work. Definitely something to ponder.