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Xav Briggs, Associate Director of OMB, spends the day with MPC

From left: Robert Fitzsimmons, Mayer Brown & MPC Co-Vice Chair of Development; Xav Briggs, White House Office of Management & Budget; MarySue Barrett, MPC President; Paul Carlisle, Wintrust Financial & MPC Co-Vice Chair of Development

Last Thursday, Oct. 27, Xavier de Souza Briggs, associate director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, spoke to MPC’s Leadership Circle over breakfast, and then spent the day with MPC staff and partners strategizing on how to make the most of the region’s recent federal funding awards, leverage private sector investments, capitalize on the federal government’s attention and commitment to formerly industrialized regions (including Chicago’s South Suburbs and Northwest Indiana), and position greater metropolitan Chicago for future federal investment.

Addressing MPC’s Leadership Circle, Briggs stressed that the Obama Administration is committed to becoming a better partner – rather than just a compliance monitor – with both metropolitan regions and individual communities nationwide. He said the current feeling in Washington, D.C., is that reform is more necessary than ever, but at the same time harder to achieve. In this new economy, where there’s “not a penny to waste,” there is a great deal of anxiety about shaking things up. Even if people can see that the old way isn’t going to work anymore, they worry about what direction change will take, and whether the benefits will reach their region or community. But there is agreement that we need to invest more strategically, and while that means getting the most “bang for the buck” by investing in existing assets and communities, it also means our nation’s rural areas must be included in the process and see their own future bolstered by these new ideas. Speaking less than a week before mid-term elections, Briggs also acknowledged uncertainty about who will lead our regions and states in the coming years; however, he noted that the Administration is committed to support livable communities and regions, no matter who is elected on Tuesday.

Briggs’ strongest message was that, in order to survive, regions must examine  their core export markets and growth strategies, re-evaluate what makes them competitive, and, most importantly, have a business plan with both a vision and a strategy – both a goal and a means of getting there.

He detailed three concepts that will strengthen regions and improve how the federal government supports their work:

1)     Regions need a regional “business plan” – which, he stressed, is not the same as a spending list – to provide a strong sense of direction. It’s also essential to create a compact between stakeholders who are committed to realizing this plan, rather than just to spending that achieves their own discrete goals. On that note, Briggs – who said Chicago “has taught the nation about the best and worst of how to do things,” because we typically do things so big – pointed to northeastern Illinois’ plan, GO TO 2040, recently released by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning after months of stakeholder engagement, as an example of a strong plan that positions the region well for federal investment.

2)     We need fewer and better streamlined plans that produce smarter policies and better strategies for implementation.

3)     We need a better delivery system. While compliance and process-oriented strategies to eliminate fraud and waste are important, implementation strategies that leverage improved policies and achieve on-the-ground successes also are necessary. He said regions should build on successful examples (such as the Silicon Valley affordable workforce housing model, which led to MPC’s successful Employer-Assisted Housing strategy) to facilitate solutions.

MPC’s Leadership Circle posed some interesting questions to Briggs, including how the private sector can get more involved. Briggs pointed to proposals such as the President’s proposed National Infrastructure Bank to fund surface transportation investments as a program that will direct private sector involvement in positive ways. He added that the administration is under no illusions that the public sector can do the work without the private sector, and he called on the business community to be part of the civic force driving these initiatives.

Throughout the conversation, Briggs teased up a couple of key policy agenda items to watch:

  • The next surface transportation bill. Briggs said to stay tuned in the new year for more specifics on this important bill, including a vision for the nation’s future transportation network, how to pay for it, and more details on the President’s proposed National Infrastructure Bank.
  • Neighborhood revitalization. Briggs suggested that the administration is looking into a new version of the Hope VI program to address severely distressed public housing and move more people to opportunity areas. He said the new program must recognize the difference between transforming real estate and transforming lives. 

The Metropolitan Planning Council Leadership Circle is a society that gives members access to exclusive networking events and briefings.  Throughout the year, the Leadership Circle hosts interesting speakers on timely topics.  Members include corporate donors who give $5,000+ annually and individual donors who give $1,000+ annually MPC. If you would like more information about joining the MPC Leadership Circle, and being invited to future events, please contact MPC Development Director Kirsten Powers at 312-863-6010 or kpowers@metroplanning.org.

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