Renewing A Tradition Of Civic Problem-Solving

Labor strife in the early 1970s had Jamestown’s economy in a vise grip.

Strikes and other work stoppages were causing businesses to flee and unemployment to soar to more than twice the national rate. Distrust between management and labor was so great, and worker morale at many plants so low, that the area’s manufacturing economy was threatened with a collapse far more serious than the downsizings already sweeping other Rust Belt cities.

To address this problem, a young mayor named Stan Lundine led the way in activating the Jamestown Area Labor Management Committee, which was charged with building stronger working relationships between workers, unions, and factory managers in order to improve worker satisfaction, boost productivity, and avoid business-crippling strikes.

The effect of this novel cross-sector collaboration between businesses, labor unions, and government was noteworthy. Within a few years, work stoppages had all but ceased, productivity had risen by 40 percent, wages were up by 20 percent, and the local unemployment rate had fallen from 10.2 to 4.2 percent. And most notably, the hole left in the local economy by the closure of Art Metal – a victim of the labor strife – was filled by the arrival of Cummins, which today is the area’s largest industrial employer.

This example of collaboration between sectors to confront a complicated problem was recently profiled by The Intersector Project, an initiative based in New York City that studies how problems get solved – or outcomes improved – when partners from numerous sectors work together. Forty years later, it still represents a best practice for communities in similar situations to follow.

And the need for collaboration between sectors to address complex issues has only increased in recent years due to resource constraints and other pressures. In Jamestown, a more recent example of this collaborative bent – one also highlighted by The Intersector Project – is the effort to revitalize city neighborhoods.

The causes of neighborhood blight and decline in any city – weak market conditions produced by population loss, suburbanization, changes within households, and a waning sense of community pride – are numerous and tend to develop gradually. That means they can only be addressed by a wide range of initiatives that pull together the resources and skills of numerous partners, including individual property owners, government agencies, local businesses, and not-for-profit organizations.

The latest example of this was discussed at a City Council work session last Monday, where Director of Development Vince DeJoy talked about MyGov, a software system being considered for use by the city to improve enforcement of housing codes. Besides bolstering the administrative end of code enforcement at City Hall, the system is also designed for greater public engagement by making it easier for residents to report code violations and track the status of code complaints on individual properties. By instituting this system and making code enforcement a more transparent process with simplified information sharing between residents and city officials, the city is laying groundwork for enhanced neighbor-to-neighbor collaborations and better communications between neighbors and City Hall, all of which should lead to more effective enforcement of city codes and improved housing conditions.

But that will be just one of many parts moving simultaneously to revitalize neighborhoods. Other collaborative pieces already in place and expanding include the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation’s Renaissance Block Challenge, which brings together committed property owners, local funders, and businesses to help rally pride on key blocks through exterior home improvements; the GROW Jamestown activities to promote gardening and landscaping; and the new partnership between the Chautauqua County Land Bank, the City of Jamestown, and neighborhood organizations to identify problem properties and leverage resources to demolish them or put them in better hands.

Cross-sector collaborations have strong roots in Jamestown, and more will be needed to ensure that Jamestown has the capacity to be resilient in the face of new and ongoing challenges it will confront in the next five years and over the next 500 years. Recognizing that these efforts take commitment, patience, and time is a crucial part of the civic problem-solving process.

To read the full case study of Jamestown’s labor-management collaboration, visit www.intersector.com. And to learn more about ongoing neighborhood revitalization projects in Jamestown, visit www.jamestownrenaissance.org.

Renaissance Reflections is a biweekly feature with news and views from the front lines of Jamestown’s revitalization.