RACINE — If you have ever tried to get information or assistance from a federal agency you’ll know how easy is it to get lost or hit a roadblock. You might approach the Economic Development Administration looking for help with a business loan only to find out that it’s the Small Business Administration you need to be talking to.
It’s a problem White House Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Jay Williams and fellow White House officials are looking to solve.
On Thursday Williams and representatives from more than a half dozen federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the SBA and the Environmental Protection Agency came to Racine’s City Hall. They were there to meet with Mayor John Dickert, city department heads, area developers, state legislators, and local clergy about a new program aimed at improving communication between communities and the federal agencies charged with serving them.
Dickert, who knows Williams, had lobbied for Racine to be a first meeting site.
The group spent more than an hour getting to know each other, talking about housing and economic development projects, and learning how the agencies might work to combine their services to help them get the projects off the ground.
“We had this (meeting) to make sure that the mayor and the local stakeholders had an opportunity to meet face to face with all the federal agencies that are assigned to this region,” said Williams, who manages the Obama Administration’s relationships with local elected officials. “Every one of the federal agencies has someone assigned to this region, but very rarely have they all been in the same room at the same time meeting with local officials.”
He said the point of bringing everyone together was partly to ensure that local leaders have a contact in an agency that they can to go to for assistance, but also to help foster creative use of federal funds.
“Often when you are looking at development or redevelopment there are so many pieces to the puzzle,” Dickert said of the effort. “What happens is if you have a developer looking at a site they run into a gap . . . Now with what the White House is doing . . . it is not just the city and the developer, it is all of us working together. It makes the project much more amenable and much more affordable.”
The initiative, dubbed “Connecting Your Community,” is also aimed at “breaking down the silos” that can make it difficult for federal agencies to work together to help local entities and developers, Williams said.
“When we talk about breaking down silos we are really talking about making sure that federal agencies are all focused on their mission but are also looking at the big picture, and how what they do . . . can be leveraged to work together for the communities.”
State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, who was one of several local residents who took part in the meeting, said he was encouraged by the initiative.
“I got to lots of meetings, but this is one where I believe I learned a lot and made some great connections,” he said.