MDC’s Network for Southern Economic Mobility Expands to Include Savannah

Staff Report From Savannah CEO

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Savannah is one of four Southern cities that are taking on the challenge of improving the economic mobility of their young people were accepted into the second group of communities in the Network for Southern Economic Mobility created and managed by MDC.

In addition to Savannah, Fayetteville, N.C., Little Rock, Ark., and Spartanburg, S.C will receive customized coaching and technical assistance and hear from experts in institutional and governmental systems change. They will have the opportunity to work together and share their insights into what works—and what doesn’t—as they strive to eliminate the barriers that keep a high percentage of low-income young people from rising into the middle class. The new cities join Athens, Ga., Chattanooga, Tenn., Greenville, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla., which are entering their second year in the network.

“The first cohort of cities has made great strides in lifting up the economic mobility imperative, grappling with difficult data, and identifying key intervention points in their local talent development systems,” said David Dodson, president of MDC. “Like their predecessors, this new cohort has shown the desire and capacity to do the work and address the challenge.”
“This is such an important opportunity for our community,” said Jen Singeisen, executive director of Step Up Savannah. “In partnership with MDC and the other cities in the cohort, we will dive deep into what is holding back our young people and identify solutions that we can implement across sectors in Chatham County.”
The Savannah team, led by Step Up Savannah, consists of team members from the City of Savannah’s Economic Development Department, the Chatham County Juvenile Court, Worksource Coastal, Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition, Savannah Technical College, and Savannah Graduates among others.
MDC is a nonprofit based in Durham, N.C., that has been working with communities and institutions in the South for 50 years to create equitable policies and programs. The problem, as spelled out in MDC’s State of the South report “Building an Infrastructure of Opportunity for the next generation,” is that it is harder in the South than anywhere in the U.S. for young people in the poorest households to move up the economic ladder as adults. Southern cities that are top-rated as places to do business also are among the places with the highest ratings of inequality and lowest rankings for economic mobility, the report found. While education beyond high school is the best indicator for getting a job that pays family-sustaining wages, fewer than 20 out of 100 ninth-graders go on to earn a postsecondary degree on time in all Southern states except Virginia.
Cities in the Network for Southern Economic Mobility have shown a commitment to helping marginalized young people, a foundation of promising programs on which to build, the presence of industries with career potential for young people, and top leaders who see the connection between economic mobility and the long-term health of their economy.
The economic mobility challenges are different in each network city but familiar to many other communities, and they have begun taking steps to align resources to address them:

· In Savannah, more than 26 percent of the population lives at or below the federal poverty line. Organizations like Step Up Savannah have worked for years to address these issues and want to expand their vision for youth and young adults. A joint effort of the local school system, universities, and Savanah Graduates’ Near Peer College and Career Advising Program places recent college graduates in advising roles in targeted high schools. Already, 50 percent more students have a plan beyond high school, and 88 percent plan to pursue a postsecondary degree.
Core support for the Network is provided by the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and other philanthropic investors. Communities are contributing a participation fee to support a portion of on-site technical assistance, coaching visits, and annual conferences.

“Across the South, our experiences have shown us people and organizations who align their efforts make greater and more enduring progress toward shared goals like creating opportunity and fostering economic mobility,” said Gladys Washington, deputy director of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation.
Network cities bring together leaders from each community in business, government, education, nonprofits, and philanthropy to examine how well their existing systems are reaching those young people facing the most difficult barriers to advancement; analyze the policies, systems, and culture that impede their progression; and adapt or build the pathways that connect institutions and social supports, from school to rewarding employment. At the end of their initial two-year commitment, Network cities will be expected to have:

· detailed systems and data analyses of those youth in the lowest income brackets and a clear understanding of the principal barriers to their economic mobility

· a diverse leadership group equipped to challenge institutional inequities and implement an action plan that leverages changes in the local talent development system so that it better serves the needs of both young people and employers, and so that it accelerates youth mobility efforts

· a set of priorities to build stronger organizations with the capacity to refine existing programs, aggregate and realign resources, and spur innovation

· a cross-region peer group of leaders working together on a cutting edge issue of national significance

“We can’t have a society where only exceptions succeed or where so much is left to the luck of the draw—especially when the deck is so often stacked against those who need the uplift of mobility the most,” Dodson said. “We must be about changing the odds, not expecting people to beat the odds.”