Time for New Metro Agendas

Karen G. Mills and Jan W. Rivkin

During and just after the recent election, the policy statements of Donald Trump lacked detail and shifted regularly.  Trump intended to deport 11 million illegal immigrants, or maybe 2 million; ban Muslim entrants to the United States, or vet newcomers from some countries; build a wall on the Mexican border, or perhaps mostly a fence; prosecute Hillary Clinton, or not; and so on.  The shifting nature of his policies made it difficult to think about how cities might need to adjust their strategies.  But now that Trump has named his Cabinet members, we have a clearer view of who will have the president’s ear.  Many of the intended Cabinet members have track records and agendas that are clearer and more enduring than does Trump himself.  So the picture of a Trump Administration begins to come into focus, as do the appropriate actions for cities.

It’s helpful to recall where America’s cities stand as we head into the Trump years.  Our cities differ from each other a great deal, but most of them share certain promises and perils.  On the positive side, most major U.S. cities are enjoying economic and population growth; are attracting talented and educated young people; and have institutions that draw government, business, nonprofits, educational institutions, and others into cross-sector collaboration.  But the cities also have major challenges, especially when it comes to creating broad opportunity.  Public schools are weak and plagued by achievement gaps.  Workforce skills are limited and often not aligned with the needs of employers.  Key elements of infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and public transport are run down.  Entrepreneurship is more difficult, particularly for Main Street businesses that were traditionally paths to the middle class.  As a result, prosperity is not shared: inequality is rising, and economic mobility is limited.  Racial and ethnic tensions run high, fueled by economic disparities and sometimes by police conflicts.

In recent years, federal gridlock has forced city leaders to face their problems and tap their potential with limited help from Washington.  With the federal government unhelpful and with many city governments constrained, fiscally and otherwise, civic leaders have often turned to businesses, foundations, and educational institutions to be important partners in city-level efforts.

Now, with the presidency and both houses of Congress in Republican hands, gridlock is likely to give way to federal action.  In fact, Congressional leaders have signaled that there will be major legislation in many areas, including infrastructure, immigration, healthcare, tax reform, and financial services regulation.  President-elect Trump has indicated that he will take executive action in these areas and others, especially international trade.  Precisely what actions are we likely to see?  And what do these actions imply for city strategy?  We take up these questions in a series of short posts, each centered on an area of likely federal action.  Click below to see our posts on…

  • Infrastructure investment
  • Immigration
  • International trade and investment
  • Economic growth and shared prosperity
  • Healthcare
  • Corporate tax reform

A theme that runs through our commentaries is that local cross-sector collaborations, particularly those that involve the private sector, will become even more important in the Trump years.  The president-elect has already indicated a predilection for more local (vs. federal) control and for public-private partnerships.  City leaders can begin to prepare for the times ahead by convening groups that already exist and perhaps forming new relationships focused on the challenges and opportunities that new actions in Washington will bring.  We hope our posts will provide a starting point for initial discussions or convenings.

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