Poster Paper: Accomplishments and Challenges of the Federal Empowerment Zone Program: The Case of Tucson

Friday, November 9, 2012
Liberty A & B (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ljubinka Andonoska, Arizona State University

The U.S. Federal government has continuously strived to revitalize communities and neighborhoods by providing market and aid incentives in different forms, ranging from tax credits and employment benefits to grants for projects that foster local economic development. In addition to economic development, community development through public participation in local affairs has also been an important goal.
This study concentrates on the Federal Empowerment Zones Program (EZ/C), which was created in 1993 under Clinton’s administration. Demonstrating a commitment in solving tough socio-economic problems in distressed communities, the Empowerment Zone program held the promises of economic recovery of distressed communities by creating jobs and providing various services to the indigenous population. The designation of the empowerment zones went in three rounds (1994, 1998, and 2001), and although the conditions for designation and the types and the amounts of federal incentives varied across rounds, the main principles around which the program evolved remained unchanged: strategic vision for change, community based partnerships, economic opportunity, and sustainable community development. Since its inception, the EZ program has been implemented in 30 urban and 10 rural communities in 27 states across the U.S.
This research paper addresses the following main questions: 1) What have been the main accomplishments of the Federal Empowerment Zones program?, and 2) What have been the main challenges of the Federal Empowerment Zones program?
This is a case study design that will collect evidence from the Tucson empowerment zone, designated in Round 3. Tucson Empowerment zone is intriguing for at least two reasons. Firstly, many were skeptical about the application because Tucson was already rejected twice before receiving designation in round 3. Secondly, in 2005 there was a major change of the city administration that could potentially have had a major impact on the program itself. Namely, all economic development programs, including the zones, were transferred to a single non-governmental agency.
Data collection will include different sources: in-depth interviews with key informants, review of a relevant documentation, and press coverage at any stage of the empowerment zone policy process. Under relevant documentation, based on availability, several sources will be considered: the annual performance reports (PERMS) as requested by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), GAO reports, documents used for application, minutiae from governance board committee and subcommittee meetings, census tract data and others.
By using qualitative analysis this research paper investigates some of the common challenges associated with the analysis of the impact that this federal program had on the community economic development.