Members of the Meridian City Council approved a plan to work with a federally funded group of national experts working with cities to increase economic competitiveness.

    In a unanimous vote the council voted Tuesday to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the National Resource Network, which will provide Meridian with technical assistance focused on the development of a downtown health care sector district.

    The National Resource Network, part of the White House Strong Cities Strong Communities initiative and funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), helps cities comprehensively tackle pressing

economic challenges.

    The Network provides customized tools and advice to build strategic partnerships, strengthen economic competitiveness, and marshal public and private sector resources in selected cities, a press release states.Meridian is

one of the first cities chosen to be part of this initiative.  

    The Network is also working with Kansas City, Kans., Fall River, Mass., and the city of Miami, Fla.

    “Being able to connect our ideas to the resources and expertise at the Network will help us reach our goals for the community," Meridian Mayor Percy Bland said. "We have an opportunity, right now, to solve a lot of our problems. “The Network will provide technical assistance to get us from Point A to Point B. At the end of the day, it’s about results.”

    David Eichenthal, executive director of the Network, said Meridian has a bright future.

    “We look for cities that have the willingness and the leadership to make transformational change in their city," Eichenthal said. "Meridian is a great example.”

    Meridian’s work with the National Resource Network is focused on building

on the city’s role as a regional health care center, the press release states.

    "With the development of a health care district, Meridian will continue the revitalization of its downtown and create new job opportunities for the city’s residents," according to the press release. "While downtown Meridian has made significant progress, with investments in the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center and a branch of Mississippi State University, the city still faces challenges associated with a 34.3 percent poverty rate and a current unemployment rate of 9.8 percent."

    “The investment in our small community is generating a lot of energy and

creating a lot of activity and it’s the first steps toward a vibrant downtown,” Bland said. “We want to use this good economic news to leverage how we can effectively address some of the serious issues we have though, like early childhood education and crime and high gang activity. ”

    “We are looking forward to working with Mayor Bland and all the stakeholders in the city of Meridian,” Eichenthal said. “It’s an exciting time in Meridian. Our goal is to make a difference and to move things forward. The Network wants to make sure Meridian realizes their goals.”

    Two weeks ago, the Network released a Request for Assistance application to more than 270 eligible cities that can apply for assistance. The cities are selected based on data regarding their economic wellbeing as well as their interest and ability to actively partner with the Network.

    The Network is led by a consortium selected by the federal government due

to its members’ expertise and experience as national leaders in assisting cities in efforts to overcome challenges related to economic development, community development and fiscal and operational issues. The Network also includes more than a dozen strategic partners with experience and expertise in criminal justice, education, workforce development and other policy areas.

    The team includes:

    · Enterprise Community Partners – a national non-profit leader in community development and housing.

       · Public Financial Management  a 500 person private firm that provides independent financial advice and consulting services to state and local governments across the nation.

       · HR&A Advisors – a private sector consulting firm that has worked on economic development, transportation and land use issues with more than 200 local government agencies and their nonprofit and civic partners.

       · The New York University Wagner School of Public Service, which leads the policy, research and evaluation team also includes the Urban Institute and the USC Price School.

       · International City/County Management Association — the premier organization that works with city managers in the U.S. and internationally.

    The Network’s work in Meridian will be led by HR&A Advisors. Work will begin in January. For more information about the National Resource Network, please visit www.nationalresourcenetwork.org.

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