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Promise Zones remarks, 1/9/14
President Obama announced the selection of the first five "Promise Zone" communities Thursday.
As part of an initiative to address economic inequality, President Barack Obama announced in remarks from the East Room of the White House Thursday that five of 20 "Promise Zones" have been selected. First mentioned in his 2013 State of the Union address, the targeted zones will establish programs designed to alleviate poverty by means of local-federal partnerships focused on creating jobs. Key elements of the Promise Zones will be support for education, affordable housing and crime-reduction programs to lure investment. The federal role will include tax incentives and grants.

The five zones comprise slices of San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, eight counties in southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

Among the dignitaries present for the announcement were Kentucky's two Republican senators, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul:

"There’s no doubt that Eastern Kentucky is a region that has suffered enormous hardship in recent years—much of it, unfortunately, related to the very same administration’s ‘war’ on coal families," McConnell said. "But the Promise Zone designation is a step in the right direction nonetheless."
The Choctaw Nation, home to some 85,000 enrolled tribal members in Oklahoma with an additional 140,000 living elsewhere, has produced a plan for what it hopes to achieve through the program.

This includes: training for skilled trades and professionals as well as stepped-up summer and after-school programs; partnering with Oklahoma State University and other institutions of higher learning to "create a strong base for economic revitalization" with a focus on STEM certifications; upgrading infrastructure to encourage private investment by removing obstacles to economic growth; improving educational outcomes, bolstering early literacy and parent support programs; seeking economic diversification by using "natural, historic, and cultural resources to support growth, including evaluation of market capacity for local farmers’ markets, as well as implementation of technology-enhanced “traditional” farming and ranching, and large-scale greenhouses and specialized training in business plan development, marketing, and financing to support the development of women-owned businesses in the Promise Zone."

More on the Promise Zones below the fold.

Elizabeth Barber writes:

The "promise zone" program, coming five decades after former President Lyndon Johnson pledged a “war on poverty” in the US, is not new in method. It echoes the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' programs to revitalize ailing communities in the Appalachian region, George H.W. Bush-era enterprise zones, the Clinton administration's empowerment zones, and even Mr. Obama's 2010 National Revitalization Initiative (NRI). But while the strategy of honing in on struggling places is well tried, the results of such efforts are not conclusive.

Evaluations of the Clinton empowerment zones (EZs) did not reach consensus on whether the program produced positive results in the blighted ZIP Codes to which it extended, and NRI has not yet been reviewed. Unless the promise zone initiative includes meticulous mechanisms for assessing its own successes and failures, experts say, it could be as difficult as ever to tell how much the new program helps the needy people for whom it is being launched.

Among critics' concerns are whether the benefits actually will reach the poorest people or mostly go to business owners who gain from the tax incentives and whether the special efforts may improve matters in a Promise Zone by pulling investment from neighboring areas. Past such programs have shown mixed (and disputed) results.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Thu Jan 09, 2014 at 12:56 PM PST.

Also republished by Native American Netroots and Daily Kos.

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