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Place-Based Growth: Assessing Biden-Harris's Bold Approach to Economic Renewal. Abhey Singh Guram, Beloit College, Intern

(PHOTO: Abhey Singh Guram, Creative Investment Intern, pictured with Dr. Lael Brainard, National Economic Advisor, at The Brookings Institution on January 22nd, 2024.)

During a recent event at the Brookings Institution, Dr. Lael Brainard, President Biden's National Economic Advisor, emphasized the importance of place-based growth in revitalizing communities across the United States. The discussion revolved around the administration's commitment to spreading economic prosperity to regions left behind, focusing on sustainable initiatives and connecting communities. 

This piece will explore the environmental justice framework, the concept of equitable development, their correlation with the points raised at the Brookings event, and recent initiatives that have come out of the White House. It underscores the importance of sustainable policy-making to build more resilient communities, and the importance of sustainable initiatives, elucidating how all these elements intertwined.

Environmental justice aims to ensure fair treatment and active participation of all individuals, irrespective of their race, color, national origin, or income, in the creation, execution, and enforcement of environmental laws and policies. And, from this Environmental Justice framework, we get the concept of "Equitable development," which involves addressing the needs of underserved communities by implementing policies and programs that minimize inequalities while promoting healthy and vibrant spaces.

By targeting investments to specific regions, we can stimulate local economies, spur private-sector growth, and enhance community resilience. Empowering communities through targeted incentives fosters job creation, addresses regional disparities, and revitalizes industries. By supporting these initiatives, we can champion a bottom-up approach, emphasizing local priorities and individual empowerment. Place-based policies offer a pathway to economic revival, reinforcing the bedrock of resilient communities and promoting sustainable growth.

The central theme of place-based policy revolves around the idea that when communities thrive economically, so does the overall economy. Dr. Brainard emphasized the need to lift communities up instead of leaving them behind, pointing out the drawbacks of trickle-down economics. She pointed out, “Trickle-down has generated wealth and opportunity for some, but at the expense of widening inequality, deteriorating infrastructure, and fragile supply chains.”

She highlighted the Biden-Harris Administration's place-based strategy embedded in various policies and programs, including the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Chips and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act. The focus was on priming the pump for private investment in nationally significant industries such as clean energy, semiconductors, and biomanufacturing. The administration's goal seems to be to create a more sustainable and resilient economy that benefits communities across the nation.

The $14 billion National Clean Investment Fund (NCIF) competition and the $6 billion Clean Communities Investment Accelerator (CCIA) competition together are part of a broader strategy that includes various clean energy financing programs and initiatives. These programs cover a range of areas, including grid resilience, clean energy tax credits, clean energy financing, and support for energy-efficient buildings. These efforts collectively contribute to building a more sustainable and resilient infrastructure.

The Department of Energy's announcements regarding awards for energy code implementation, net-zero federal buildings, and funding for energy improvements in schools demonstrate a commitment to investing in clean and energy-efficient infrastructure.

There is significant funding for electric buses , public charging infrastructure, and grants for replacing diesel buses with cleaner alternatives.  These initiatives contribute to the administration's goal of reducing emissions from the transportation sector and promoting sustainable transportation solutions.

The administration has made investments in rural electrification , technical assistance grants for renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements in rural areas, and funding for clean energy projects on current and former mine lands. These efforts contribute to both environmental justice and sustainable development by supporting rural and energy communities.

Moreover, Dr. Brainard underscored the importance of addressing regional inequalities, labor force decline, and the downward spiral of disinvestment that leaves communities and the middle class hollowed out. She mentioned how the administration aimed to reverse these trends through targeted investments and incentives. She outlined six principles guiding this place-based strategy, emphasizing well-designed public investment, incentives for private investment, programs connecting communities, support for science and innovation clusters, emphasis on local priorities through competitive grants, and stacking federal investments for a synergistic impact.

These place-based solutions, as outlined by Dr. Brainard, complement rather than substitute federal programs, serving as accelerators for historically disadvantaged places. Metrics such as employment rates, labor force participation, small business creation, and income levels will gauge the success of these initiatives.

While place-based policies advocate for economic revival, there's a risk of government overreach and potential inefficiencies in directing investments. To address this, a more targeted and transparent approach should be adopted. Establishing clear criteria for project selection, incorporating market-driven solutions, and emphasizing private-sector partnerships will safeguard against unintended consequences. A streamlined regulatory environment and regular assessments can enhance accountability. 

The administration envisions long-term success through sustained improvements in these metrics, signaling the resurgence of communities left behind. The adaptability of place-based policies to diverse contexts, including rural and urban areas, aims to build lasting capacity in communities. The ultimate goal is to foster a more localized, inclusive, resilient, and environmentally conscious economy.

The Brookings event spotlighted the Biden-Harris Administration's commitment to place-based growth as a key strategy for economic revitalization, indicating a shift towards a more localized and inclusive economic agenda. Through sustainability initiatives, community connectivity, and addressing historical disparities, the administration aims to create a more inclusive, resilient, and environmentally conscious economy. Success will be measured not only in economic terms but also in the positive impact on the lives of individuals and communities nationwide.

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