First & Main: Local Elected Officials Fight for Main Street

By Special Contributor posted 02-28-2018 10:38


By John Robert Smith 

Local elected officials are uniquely positioned to tell federal decision-makers what their communities need to flourish, and scores of them are uniting behind a new blueprint for prosperity in these smaller and midsized communities. The nonpartisan First & Main initiative is a coalition of elected officials from small to mid-sized communities—that is, ones with populations of up to 150,000—across the country. Initiated by current and former elected officials, the coalition will fight to protect federal programs proven to work for local communities, improve those programs that should be more effective, and create new ones to provide local communities with additional resources. 

Overhead view of a Main Street | Credit: First & Main, Smart Growth America

America prospers when its small and mid-sized communities are economically vital. But these communities need a reliable federal partner to support their homegrown, local efforts. The Trump administration’s FY19 budget and infrastructure plan threatens that support: vital federal programs that directly benefit smaller communities could be cut or eliminated entirely. 

For example, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) fund local community development activities including affordable housing and infrastructure development. And Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) provides competitive grants to local communities for capital investments in their transportation system. The National Endowment for the Arts provides communities with creative placemaking funds, while the Economic Development Administration provides capital investment to help localities attract new businesses. Finally, Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) funds help pay for critical water and wastewater projects. Each of these programs would be impacted or eliminated by the Trump administration’s proposals. 

The First & Main Blueprint, prepared based on feedback from local elected leaders, contains more than 30 proposals that help their communities rebuild, reinvest, and remain competitive in today's economy. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s brownfield grants have been used in smaller communities across the country to turn fallow and wasted land into productive new assets for communities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program provides loans and grants to rural America, creating jobs and promoting economic development. It also provides technical assistance, empowering communities to help themselves. Gigabit Zones, a program for underserved areas and economic opportunity zones, would deploy high speed internet access through grants and low-cost loan support that lead to new economic opportunities in those areas. All of these programs are featured in the First & Main Blueprint, which seeks to sustain and expand federal and local partnerships through increased funding and new programmatic directions. 

The recently passed congressional budget actually increases funding availability, and the First & Main effort will help ensure that a fair share gets targeted to these smaller places. The Trump administration and members of Congress cannot know the needs of these places unless we articulate them. The blueprint offers local elected officials the opportunity to share their stories of how federal programs and policies have helped—and continue to help—improve their economic opportunity and quality of life. 

Are you an elected official from a small to mid-sized community—such as a mayor, city council member, tribal leader, or county board member? Do you know or work with someone who holds such an office? Here is how you, or they, can get involved with First & Main. 

  • Read the blueprint to learn more about the specifics of what we are proposing
  • Sign up for our free kickoff webinar, scheduled for March 1 at 3 p.m. EST. On the webinar, we’ll talk more about the genesis of First & Main. We’ll look in depth at the threats local communities face from the cuts in the Trump administration’s budget and infrastructure proposals. And we’ll talk more about campaign goals, strategies, and next steps.
  • If you are a local elected official, join First & Main for free to share your story and become a part of this critical effort to save key federal programs that benefit America’s local communities.
  • Ask your local elected officials—mayors, city council members, county board members, tribal leaders, and others—to join First & Main.
  • Travel to Washington, D.C., April 22–24 for a First & Main gathering where we’ll talk about these issues in more depth, strategize, and then go to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress regarding the importance of the proposals laid out in the blueprint. 

Now is the time for local elected officials to step up and call on the Trump administration and Congress to protect, improve, and expand federal programs that help small and mid-sized communities revitalize their downtowns and pursue economic development opportunities. Join First & Main to be part of a coalition that will do just that. 

John Robert Smith served 20 years in local government, including 16 years as the mayor of his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi. He is a senior policy adviser to Smart Growth America and chairman of Transportation for America.

Get Connected

Discuss this blog post and more on Forum’s new online community. Sign up now.