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Jacksonville’s Community Wealth Building Roundtable: Local Government Convenes to Seed a New Idea for Community Development

Michelle Barth

A detailed look at how a municipal government can plan and carry out a successful community wealth building roundtable, from the perspective of the Mayor's Deputy Chief of Staff in Jacksonville, Florida.

Like many American cities, some of Jacksonville’s 870,000 residents live in deep poverty, often concentrated in neighborhoods that suffer from chronic disinvestment. And like most cities, Jacksonville finds itself challenged to address these issues. 

Members of the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation, and Empowerment (ICARE), a network of 38 local congregations, asked the city's mayor in 2012 to organize a community wealth building roundtable, to explore how Jacksonville could build community wealth in disadvantaged neighborhoods, particularly in historically underinvested Northwest Jacksonville.

The mayor, Alvin Brown, agreed that the Community Wealth Building (CWB) strategy was worth exploring as a new approach to inclusive economic development. CWB seeks to develop the resources that already exist in a municipality to create locally-owned businesses that pay a living wage while giving workers a share of the profits they generate. The new businesses provide services and products to stable “anchor” institutions so that more of the anchor’s purchasing power is channeled inside the city. Employee-owned businesses have the added advantage of being less likely to move, creating a long-term investment in community well-being.

While an exciting prospect, the strategy requires new partnerships and the support of a wide range of stakeholders. The mayor directed his senior staff to organize a citywide Community Wealth Building Roundtable to introduce the idea to residents, nonprofits, and businesses while also exploring key existing initiatives. After the conference, which was held over two days in March 2014, the City launched a task force to review the recommendations that emerged, and begin formulating ways to make the economic development strategy a reality. Even though Mayor Brown did not win re-election in 2015, his successor has continued to support implementation of the community wealth building strategy in Northwest Jacksonville.

Jacksonville was the first city government in the country to host this kind of a convening, but it is unlikely to be the last. Since Jacksonville held its roundtable, two cities—Rochester, New York and Richmond, Virginia—have launched their own community wealth building efforts. This report provides a guide for other cities interested in organizing a conference and building support for a community wealth building initiative—covering everything from identifying an area of the city that would benefit from the initiative, to working with outside consultants, to identifying and engaging stakeholders, attracting sponsors, organizing a conference, and conducting follow through.