Poster Paper: Using the Past to Improve the Future: Best Practices and Lessons from the Empowerment Zones

Thursday, November 6, 2014
Ballroom B (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Ljubinka Andonoska, University of Texas, El Paso
By examining the experiences of the local and federal government actors with the empowerment zones, this study will identify: a) best practices as perceived by the local and federal government players, and b) lessons regarding the impediments that reduced the effectiveness and the efficiency of this federal program.

The purpose of this Report is to provide insights about the best practices of the local government players as they relate to a specific federally initiated government program for local economic development. This study will also analyze the lessons from the local and the federal government regarding the major difficulties that hindered efficient and effective implementation of the program.

This study will use a survey design to examine the perceptions of the local and federal government administrators and leaders regarding different practices and lessons that they have learned during the process of application and implementation of the EZs program. The survey will include the administrators responsible for the program as well as the people included in the governance bodies of the EZs (on average 15 per empowerment zone). ). In addition, it will also include the HUD personnel who had made coordinative and collaborative efforts during the implementation of the program.  The total number of surveys sent would be around 500. The survey will concentrate on 5 main areas: managerial practices, intergovernmental relations, measuring performance of the program, institutional capacity, and the level of local political support. 

The study comes in time when President Obama has just introduced the first five promise zones, which in many ways represent a continuation of the local development policies already established about twenty years ago with the empowerment zones. The conceptual proximity of these two federally initiated urban programs (the Obama’s promise zones and Clinton’s empowerment zones) could be recognized in the types of federal benefits offered to the designated communities as well as in the eligibility criteria, which are based on size, poverty, unemployment, and other socio-economic indicators that qualify these communities.

Therefore, the lessons from the actors involved with the empowerment zones become critical for the parties involved in the creation, the implementation, and ultimately, the success of Obama’s promise zones. This is especially important because the promise zones designation will go in four stages (rounds) of five zones each stage. The zones will become effective at the beginning of 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 (U.S. Treasury, 2013). The initial period for the federal incentives is projected for ten years. This timeline allows for taking adequate steps to improve the program’s design and practices in a timely manner.