New Head of Economic Development Pledges to Raise Awareness
Alejandra Castillo, the new administrator of the United States Economic Development Administration, said communities should expect increased engagement and outreach from the agency as it strives to manage billions of dollars in grants that Congress makes available under pandemic relief legislation.
“The DNA of EDA has not changed. What has changed and will continue to change is the way we engage across the country to ensure that we engage new partners, new stakeholders, as well as communities that have been disenfranchised ”, Castillo said. Route fifty in an interview last week. “What you’re going to see is a lot more intentionality in making sure we reach urban, suburban and rural areas,” she added.
Castillo was sworn in less than a month ago, on August 13. She said she has so far met with university presidents and the National Governors Association and visited the coal country of West Virginia. The agency, meanwhile, she said, has held a dozen webinars to provide information to stakeholders about its programs in recent weeks, with more than 20,000 participants tuned in.
Big financial boost
This is a pivotal moment for the EDA, which describes itself as the only federal agency focused exclusively on economic development. In recent years, the agency has also assumed a larger role in disaster recovery. EDA’s fiscal year 2020 budget was approximately $ 330 million. But the US bailout law sent $ 3 billion and the previous CARES law sent $ 1.5 billion.
This money is intended for communities across the country to support economic development initiatives and recovery from the pandemic. Last month, EDA unveiled a suite of six new grant programs that will be used to distribute ARPA dollars.
An application deadline for one of the billion dollar programs Regional challenge Build back better, arrives October 19. This initiative will provide 20-30 regional coalitions with grants of $ 25-75 million, and possibly up to $ 100 million, to develop “industry clusters”.
“It’s a call to action, in terms of partnerships and regional collaboration,” Castillo said.
“We hope we have some really amazing ideas.”
The other new grant programs will focus on areas such as professional training, by helping communities hit by the decline of the coal industry, and helping places that depend on travel, tourism and outdoor recreation rebound of the economic blow of the coronavirus.
Many state and local governments are already managing an unprecedented influx of federal funds from the $ 350 billion ARPA program providing direct aid to states and communities. Unlike this giant program, the EDA money may seem small.
But compared to federal funding in the pre-pandemic era, that’s anything but.
For example, regular funding for community development block grants, a flexible program favored by local leaders, has been In the stadium $ 3.3 billion in recent years. Around 2015-16, dozens of cities were vying for just $ 40 million in federal funds as part of the Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge.
For the astute state or locality, EDA dollars are an additional funding stream that can be used to support economic development efforts and pandemic recovery, and possibly bolstered by matching the money with philanthropic investments or from the private sector.
“I saw what divestment looked like”
It is in this context that Castillo takes the helm of EDA, which is housed within the Department of Commerce. This is not his first time in the federal government. During the Clinton years, she was a political analyst for the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. Then-President Barack Obama appointed her in 2014 as national director of the Minority Business Development Agency of Commerce. She was the first Hispanic woman to run the agency.
Castillo also worked for the Commerce Department in 2008, on international trade issues. Just before taking on her new role as EDA, she was CEO of the nonprofit YWCA USA, one of the largest groups in the country focused on women’s empowerment.
While at the Minority Business Development Agency, Castillo worked with EDA. She said she was eager to secure the agency’s top job after Biden was elected.
“I love the communities,” Castillo said.
“The more you travel in our country, the more you realize diversity. Not just in terms of population, race or ethnicity, she added, “But the diversity of what makes communities work and how this economic fabric is, how strong it is and sometimes how bad it is. he is very fragile. “
Castillo described witnessing this growing fragility in New York City in the 1970s, a difficult time for the city. “I saw what divestment looked like. When the money is not poured into the communities, the infrastructure begins to deteriorate. The job opportunities are not there.
“It all really left a very big impression,” she added.
Castillo’s parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Her father, who died when she was 13, ran a bodega in the Bronx and her mother ran an Avon cosmetics company.
Their work left an impression too. “Watch my parents as small business owners, what happens to small business owners when the community around you is going through really tough times. The challenges facing small business owners, ”she said. “They are leaders themselves and how do they continue to uplift communities. “
Asked what she sees as the ingredients of a successful economic development program, Castillo said it’s critical to have a range of stakeholders involved in the planning.
She highlights, for example, how women and people of color have been disproportionately affected by the economic fallout from Covid-19, or how discussions about bringing an industry to a region are flawed without having to table of people who can talk about Workforce Development Needs. “You have to bring in diverse voices,” she said.
Castillo also suggested that programs like the ones his agency is working on have generally seen little change over the years. She noted that when economic development spending in the United States is compared to amounts in other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries spend, “we’re at the bottom of the list”.
“I think EDA has an incredible opportunity, but I also see it as an incredible challenge. How can I elevate the agency so that we can have a much more sustainable existence and not be underfunded, ”she added, after referring to the unusual increase in the agency’s budget. “I really hope this moment in time isn’t episodic, that it’s not just a unique moment.”