Ricardo Noguera has spent his career revitalizing urban areas spanning the United States, from Florida to Washington. His decades of local government experience have led to a key philosophy: Economic activity is the core of a community. Without this, a community has no heart, center or image. The following Q&A with Ricardo explains this idea.
How did you get into local government?
My father was a New York City police officer, so local government is the family business. During college I interned in various city planning departments and was drawn to community planning and development. There I saw a need to revitalize economically distressed communities.
What kept you in local government?
I get a thrill from seeing the impact of partnership between governments and businesses delivering results to communities. Watching revitalization happen requires patience, but the changes are dramatic and positively impact the lives of many within a community.
How does joining Avenu help you fulfill your personal and professional goals?
I get to solve many of the same challenges, just from a different angle. Helping communities maximize their revenues, strengthen their economies, revitalize distressed areas and attract and retain industry are the overall goals. Now, with Avenu the footprint in which I can make an impact is much larger. I work with multiple communities and city staff, and even mentor city staff where the opportunity presents itself. Plus, there are already some brilliant minds at Avenu who think deeply about local government revenues, so my internal partners on the team will make my work even stronger.
What are emerging economic development trends and issues in local governments?
On the negative side, there are fewer financing mechanisms in some areas. In California the loss of Community Redevelopment Agencies took away a great tool for revitalizing distressed neighborhoods and business districts. And states such as Texas offer many incentives to attract investment, which creates even more challenges for California.
A still-emerging issue is online sales tax reform. As Avenu explained in its recent webinar about the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Wayfair, Inc. vs South Dakota, implementation will take time as states issue guidelines and consider updating their legislation. Internet sales have been a longstanding challenge for traditional brick and mortar stores, and higher retail vacancy rates reflect that. I have even seen malls adding housing to better leverage infrastructure and create service demands for their retailers.
Regarding zoning, many cities encourage high-density residential and mixed-use developments. This revitalization strategy supports numerous restaurants, personal care and retail uses, and it dovetails with a trend toward urbanization. A 24-7 downtown community where people can live and work is very appealing to many high-tech firms and millennials.
However, other cities have different priorities, so their zoning policies may reflect industrial objectives, limited retail in a bedroom community or another focus. Economic development is about aligning the economics of a community with the goals of the community, whatever they are.
How does Avenu help local government address these trends or issues?
Avenu’s auditing solution ensures that public agencies collect the appropriate revenue and create a level playing field for all taxpayers. Economic development is a natural extension of that because we help governments maximize the value of their economic development efforts. We guide cities on zoning issues, show areas of opportunity, attract the right businesses, facilitate development, stay true to community objectives and generate sustainable revenue. In this way, Avenu is there to both help cities create taxpayers and help cities collect the taxes from taxpayers.
What are three best practices to support local businesses that lead to revenue enhancement?
First, agency staff need to get out and interact with business owners and entrepreneurs. The approach can’t be “them” and “us,” it has to be more “we.” Meeting at industry events, chamber meetings or downtown associations is important to understand and solve problems.
Second, obtain partnerships with educational institutions. College towns have received many benefits from the demand for higher education, but cities also can benefit from vocational schools and community colleges. Learning, refreshing skills and retooling a workforce is critical in a dynamic economy.
Third, partner with commercial real estate brokers and power players in the region. They know what is happening in a given location and are key influencers. Host regular events with that community and create a checklist of issues to address that may be barriers to businesses opening in your market.
What are the obstacles local agencies face in supporting local economic development activities?
Economic development requires the attention of private companies and location advisors. That requires a different skill set and attitude because cities traditionally have been monopolies that don’t need to sell to the public the water service or park access.
Also, cities tend to have more volatility at the elected official level. So, implementing a 20-year vision of economic development can hit obstacles when the city council changes members, such as going from “growth” to “no growth” policies.
Finally, platforms like Facebook and Nextdoor have greatly increased the spread of rumors and misinformation that gets neighborhood opposition more fired up and vocal. It is always important to work with stakeholders in a community when you are trying to revitalize an area, but it is also important that everyone agree on the facts of the plan or a program, rather than innuendo or falsehoods. This requires strong and proactive communications.
Ricardo has more than 27 years of experience in community economic development. He has represented communities throughout South Florida and, in California, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the Central Valley.