As we enter into the New Year, it’s fitting that we take a moment to reflect upon the progress we have made as a city in 2018. Companies across Rochester like Bausch and Lomb, Datto, and CGI grew their businesses and created more jobs for residents, new Patrol Section offices were brought to neighborhoods to make them safer and contribute to another year of falling crime rates, and important investments were made in R-Centers and City libraries to transform these facilities into important education centers for students and adults. The Office of Innovation had its share of accomplishments as well (Including launching this blog!) Below you will find some info on some of the projects that we worked on throughout 2018.
Bank Partnership for Commercial Corridor Development
Since February 2018, staff from the Mayor’s Offices of Innovation and Community Wealth Building and the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development have been convening representatives from 10 local banks to develop solutions that bolster investment in Rochester’s distressed commercial corridors. Among potential solutions, the taskforce identified the need for a predevelopment loan product that can be used to prepare distressed commercial properties located in opportune locations so that they are ready for development and traditional bank financing. City staff are now negotiating with the banks to invest into fund held by the Rochester Economic Development Corporation, the City’s non-profit development arm. The City will also release the results of its Commercial Corridor study in early 2019, which will help inform a comprehensive strategy to redevelop targeted corridors that are shown to have capacity to support new investment and redevelopment. Look out for some big announcements in 2019 with lots more is in the works.
Affordable Housing Charter Amendment and RFP change
In the summer months, the Office of Innovation worked closely with partners in the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development and across the community to amend the City Charter to redefine what it means for housing to be labeled “affordable.” Before the amendment, the City Charter defined affordable housing as housing not costing more than a third of someone’s income who earns up to 120% of the area median income (AMI). This meant that affordable housing efforts could target a family of four making more than $88,000 annually, a population that is obviously not reflective of those who are most in need in the city.
The Charter amendment added clarity to the definition of affordable by breaking down income ranges into four classes: extremely low income (0-30% AMI), very low income (31-50% AMI), low income (51-80% AMI), and moderate income (81-120% AMI). The first tangible impact of this change was that it subsequently changed how the City’s annual request for proposals (RFP) for affordable housing developments is scored. Now, proposals are graded more favorably if they include plans to address extremely low income and very low income populations’ affordable housing needs as defined by the City Charter. This means that City support and potential financing will be awarded more often to housing developers planning to support those most in need.
In 2018, the Kiva Rochester program continued to have success and funded $107,000 in 0% interest Kiva loans to 22 small business owners. Since launching the program in August 2016, we have connected 71 local business owners to $365,525 in business capital. We supported entrepreneurs in a wide range of sectors – from a food truck owner, to a day care provider, a landscape architect, several artists, and a community video gaming venue. Our average loan size was just $4,900, but these loans are making a significant impact in the lives of our local entrepreneurs and in building a small business economy that is more reflective of Rochester’s diverse population. Many of our borrowers face barriers to accessing capital due to significant financial eligibility requirements. Kiva loans present an opportunity for financially excluded entrepreneurs to launch and grow their businesses by providing funding to purchase equipment and supplies, move into brick and mortar spaces, and hire employees. As the program matures, we are excited about the opportunity to analyze the data we have diligently been collecting since its inception. In 2019, we will conduct analyses on the impact of the program, including changes in business revenue and access to credit, job creation, and self-sufficiency.
OWN Rochester is the new name of our longest running project, formerly known as the Market Driven Community Cooperatives (MDCC) initiative. Director Henry Fitts has served as project manager and liaison since its earlies days, helping oversee the initial feasibility study in 2014 and the founding of MDCC in 2016. OWN Rochester celebrated its new name and rebranding in January of 2018, as well as the hire of our first staff, CEO Kate Washington. Kate Washington has helped oversee additional growth and development of the non-profit and its subsidiaries. In spring 2018 OWN Rochester launched its second company ENEROC Custodial. The company contracts overnight floor care services for Wegmans, and employs seven people. OWN Rochester’s first company, ENEROC LED, continues to operate with two employees and provides lighting installation and retrofitting for large commercial property owners. Most recently, ENEROC completed work at Foodlink’s warehouse facility. Both companies are overseen by General Manager Doug Caswell who has been with OWN since 2017.
With the launch and growth of the new Mayor’s Office of Community Wealth Building in 2018, support for OWN Rochester and Board operations is shifting in 2019 to Director Lomax Campbell and staff member Brad Willows.
NBD Business Grants and Loans Process Improvement
Innovation worked with the Economic Development team within the Office of Neighborhood and Business Development to streamline their processes governing how the City issues grants and loans to city businesses. This partnership brought together three separate work units that collaborate on these processes to map out every major step in delivering the service, identify pain points for both City staff and our external customers, define how long each step takes to deliver, and set goals for improvement. To date, the average time to issue grants and loans has decreased by roughly 20% thanks to the team’s innovations that focused on reducing unnecessary handoffs, updating and refining policy, improving program applications, and improving both internal and external communication.
In July, the Office of Innovation took over the project management of the implementation of Kronos, the online time and attendance application to better track, approve, and manage staff time. Innovation staff also worked with IT business analysts to train department end users on how to effectively use the new tool and provided on-site and remote assistance for user questions and concerns. The implementation will be closing out in March after multiple years of effort.
National Citizen Survey
Innovation managed a contract with the National Research Center to administer the National Citizen Survey to create a new data set of resident feedback on how well the City is providing specific services. In the next month, the City will be releasing the results of this survey, and OISI will be working with City departments to understand and apply the results to improve operations.
OISI also contracted Baker Tilly, a national accounting and management consulting company, to provide an analysis of the City’s high-level organization and major processes, resulting in recommendations for how we can improve our operational performance. OISI will be working on leading the execution of many of these recommendations with different departments over the course of 2019.
Employer of National Service Designation
This year, the City of Rochester was designated as an Employer of National Service, joining over 500 other organizations in the U.S. This designation provides special hiring consideration for alumni of national service organizations such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps. Volunteers make a significant impact in our community and this year, Rochester was ranked second overall for volunteering among cities in the U.S. By formalizing our recognition of the valuable work performed by national service members – including those currently serving in our office – the City is demonstrating its commitment to fostering a diverse and mission-driven workforce.
While celebrating some of the accomplishments we had last year, it is also important to recognize that the work to improve our community and City Hall’s internal functions is never finished. We have a lot that we are looking forward to doing in 2019, including more internal process improvements, more initiatives to make housing more affordable and evictions less frequent, and more partnerships that will grow investment in our commercial corridors. We are also looking forward to closing out some projects and analyzing the outcomes from previous projects. We’ll be sure to keep you posted on everything the Office is doing throughout the year, and we hope to also hear from you as well on what you think.