Organizing locally to make best use of relief funds

720 405 Kate Roberts

Originally published in the Monterey Herald

As my friend Bruce Katz, the founding director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University, has been saying for months now, we must organize locally to be prepared to put COVID-19 recovery funds to the best use. In an article for, Katz gives a prescriptive plan that our region needs to be following.

“It is imperative that local coalitions organize to navigate the dizzying array of funding sources — loan products, tax incentives, competitive grants, block grants — and agencies. If organized, city leaders can direct resources to local transformative and job-creating priorities, allowing them to make the greatest use of this federal investment.”

This first round of immediate relief will include over $280 million for our region. As an example, the city of Watsonville is slated to receive almost $19 million which is one of the single largest amounts of federal funding they will have received. “We need to be coordinated in how these funds are deployed in order to maximize their impact,” said Matt Huffaker, Watsonville’s city manager and the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership’s board vice-chair.

In a recent New York Times article, Tucson, Arizona Mayor Regina Romero said her city was investing $5 million — $2 million more than last year — in the city’s tourism marketing group. “We’re working together as a region,” Romero said. “That’s one of the most important steps that we can take for recovery.”

At Monterey Bay Economic Partnership we work with over 80 members across the tri-county region (Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties) every day to solve long-term infrastructure issues around affordable housing, broadband access, workforce development and climate change. The American Rescue Plan funds are targeted at these same issues: overcrowded living situations, the digital divide, reskilling and upskilling our workforce for living-wage jobs. As just one example, we have been working with federal and state entities to ensure that we optimize our funding opportunities from previous packages that promote broadband expansion, such as the Emergency Broadband Benefit program and the California Advanced Services Fund.

MBEP is also a member of the Central Coast Marketing Team, which works toward advancing quality jobs and creating local economies that work for all residents. And we co-lead a comprehensive economic development effort that seeks to achieve inclusivity and prosperity for all residents in the Salinas Valley by synchronizing existing efforts and enabling communities through the co-creation of investment plans that overcome the uneven and inequitable impact that COVID-19 has wrought.

Susan True, CEO of the Community Foundation Santa Cruz County and MBEP board member said, “For over a year, neighbors have helped keep neighbors afloat with local philanthropy in our region. Now, as new federal and state dollars come to help, it’s essential that we maximize coordination of public and private dollars to ensure that we successfully meet the challenge of addressing the painful health and economic impacts of the pandemic.”

In addition to the ARP funds, recently President Biden announced a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to modernize the nation’s bridges, roads, public transportation, railways, ports and airports. As an organized region, we can leverage these funds on critical needs such as broadband, housing and transportation. The opportunity at hand is to create a plan and organize at a local level.

As a next step MBEP continues to seek input from our board and other leaders from our membership to discuss how best to organize and operationalize. Once we have feedback from both of these leadership groups, it will become clearer how best to proceed to limit duplication and inefficiency. We should also consider how some of the first round of ARP funding could be used to build capacity for planning for future funding.

We certainly don’t claim to have all the answers but we can convene, explore options, and listen. As the old adage goes, we need to skate to where the puck is headed, not to where it is. Let’s think big, organize and go.

Kate Roberts is CEO and president of Monterey Bay Economic Partnership. She also is president of the Central Coast Marketing Team and Co-Chair of the California Economic Summit.


Kate Roberts

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