2012: Nonprofits, Elections and an Economic Revolution

The idea of government partnering with nonprofits to create new jobs and inspire innovation will generate investment, and most importantly, an air of excitement critical to attracting a new generation of employers.
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Welcome to 2012. As presidential primaries heat up, congressional ads show up in every district, and mayoral and city council election signs spring up in cities big and small, thousands of candidates will pledge to attract businesses and create jobs.

Many talk about the economy yet few candidates are providing the vision to truly energize it and create tangible economic opportunity.

Sure, some promise to bring much needed manufacturing jobs back to America. But newly minted college grads aren't looking for that. And manufacturing isn't a good fit for the millions of Americans over fifty wanting employment.

America's economic revival will grow out of its backyard; a robust new generation of locally focused, small businesses that re-invest back into the community. Many will mirror the mom and pop stores of the past, but with two stark differences. They will be incubated by new public/private offices, often within city halls or state houses, and they will be run by innovative charitable organizations dedicated to gaining financial independence, while creating jobs for the men and women they serve.

What's most exciting? This economic revolution is already underway... and already successful.

In Colorado, the Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships has been generating results since 2004. Created by then Mayor Hickenlooper and maintained by his successors, a small staff has invested modest resources to help nonprofit businesses -- already a significant source of outside investment in this and every community -- attract almost $40 million in new revenue to the city. This has helped these tax paying businesses innovate, expand, hire new employees and maintain the social environment in which traditional business thrive.

In North Carolina, the nonprofit Bull City Forward is vigorously aligning nontraditional partners to help incubate and open new businesses in Durham. Modeled on the principles of innovation that launched the Research Triangle a half century ago, the effort syncs the Office of the Mayor, the Chamber of Commerce, local nonprofit partners and Duke University with the goal of making Durham a national social enterprise hub. And it's working! More than 100 businesses have started or joined the collaborative, each pledging to reinvest in Durham, while respecting the triple bottom line ethos of keeping people, planet and profit on equal footing. Their effort is a huge community bonus that attracts recent college grads. They can start businesses, buy homes, raise families and invest in their futures securely. Other cities have noticed, including Charlotte, which recently inaugurated Queen City Forward.

In 2010, Connecticut became the first state to appoint a full-time nonprofit liaison to the governor. Governor Malloy recognized that the role nonprofits and volunteers play in attracting investment and providing effective and cost-saving services for the government is essential to the long-term health of the state. His office has set out to lower the barrier for nonprofits to contract with the state to provide services and employ residents. Like all these offices, Connecticut's nonprofit liaison seeks to measurably increase the amount of money that new partnerships bring into the state to help grow the economy, while it promotes accountability to ensure state funds yield measurable impact.

Make no mistake; the idea of government partnering with nonprofits to create new jobs and inspire innovation will generate investment, and most importantly, an air of excitement critical to attracting a new generation of employers to any city or a state. We must elect leaders who do not question this new equation, but who seek it out from day one of assuming office.

That is why CForward, a new PAC for America's 14 million nonprofit employees, will vigorously seek to educate candidates about the potential of this new formula. More than that, it will endorse and support candidates that pledge to appoint a point person to maximize the role of nonprofits in rebuilding the economy at the city, state or federal level.

2012 marks America's social and economic crossroads. Starting this year, ten thousand Baby Boomers turn 65 everyday. Will we help them work as long as they want?

Will we promote and incentivize jobs with values and opportunities that put people and profit on equal footing and that view re-investing in the community as an essential part of the corporate ethos?

Will we help the 90 million "Millennials" -- America's largest, most diverse, well educated and technologically advanced generation -- build their own businesses that create jobs that fuse income and philanthropy?

Most importantly, will we view America's robust and dynamic nonprofit sector as an essential partner in this process of strengthening communities while rebuilding the economy?

Candidates must answer these questions. By understanding and embracing these public/private opportunities, the women and men we elect can help rebuild a vibrant and sustainable Main Street. Let's make 2012 the year we energize the economy by impacting the elections.

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