Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

How can we “recession-proof” Washington’s cities?

Photo: (Flickr Creative Commons)

Photo: (Flickr Creative Commons)

Washington’s cities are the engines of the state’s economy. But given an uncertain political and economic forecast ahead, what can cities do to stay out of economic peril? Some of our local economies are still struggling to rebound from the downturn — others (like Seattle) can’t seem to build quickly enough to keep up with growth.

To find out which cities are most- and least-recession recovered — and what policymakers, businesses and citizens can focus on in order to maintain or achieve economic growth — WalletHub recently convened a panel of leading experts (including EOI’s own policy director Marilyn Watkins) for advice. Following are Marilyn’s comments, and a link to the full story:

How can local authorities make their cities more “recession proof”?

People want to live and work in places with good schools, strong infrastructure, and vibrant cultural and business districts. Local authorities can make their cities more “recession proof” through steady investments and sensible regulations that protect public health and safety and build economic security.

Decent streets, reliable public transit, and safe drinking water help individuals and businesses of all kinds function efficiently. Sidewalks, parks, community centers, and libraries raise the quality of life and promote a sense of community cohesion and pride. Living wages for city contractors and local minimum wage and paid sick days laws increase the health and economic security of workers and their families, making them better customers for local businesses and helping them weather economic downturns.

What can the public and private sectors do to facilitate economic growth?

Thoughtful zoning codes along with targeted infrastructure investments can help revitalize rundown business and residential districts. A key historic or natural feature of the city can be a good hub from which to build out public and private investments: for example, turning an old railway station into a famers’ and craft market, or transforming a riverbank from a wasteland to a beautiful park with trails, sidewalk cafes, and spaces for cultural festivals. Investing in schools and promising high school graduates free college tuition will be a powerful draw to striving individuals who want the best
for their kids and will provide new talent and energy to the local economy.

Are there any benefits to moving to an economically depressed city?

Inexpensive housing is an obvious advantage to an economically depressed city – especially with soaring housing prices in boom cities such as Seattle. Millennials tend to prefer city living with its often messy diversity, where work and play are all in close proximity, to a bland suburban existence heavily dependent on spending hours in an automobile.

How should residents decide when it’s time to cut their losses and move from an economically depressed city?

We’re a mobile society. Many of our cities are brimming with people who moved in from other states and countries. Picking up stakes and seeking our fortune elsewhere is part of the American psyche. At the same time, moving can be expensive and risky. Housing costs more in cities with growing economies, moving in usually requires a deposit along with first and last months’ rent, and finding a job that pays a living wage often takes time.

For many of us, a sense of home, family and community are keys to a happy life. Once the basics of shelter and food are covered, being close to people we love can be more important than a chance for riches elsewhere. Moreover, family and friends can be a critical source of support through financial and personal storms. We live in a democratic society, where engaged citizens have the power to transform their communities themselves – if they come together with a shared vision. Whether or not to move on will be a highly individual decision with no right answer.

You can read the full story, including city-by-city rankings and answers to these questions from other policy experts, on WalletHub.

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