What do handgun violence reduction and small business development have in common? Both are top priorities for the city, according to Mayor A C Wharton.
A few months ago, Wharton committed a $4.8 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies toward those goals. He established an Innovation Delivery Team charged with developing new and creative ways to take guns out of the hands of youth and transform blighted commercial properties into thriving new businesses.
Doug McGowen, a retired commanding officer of Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Millington, was named director of the team, and he's currently looking for nine others to serve as project managers and in various other roles.
The team had their kick-off meeting with Wharton and city division directors last week, and work will soon begin on developing ways to solve problems of violence and blight. They're also seeking solutions from the public, and any ideas may be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Bianca Phillips
Flyer: Why were those two areas chosen?
McGowen: We've done a good job of reducing violent crime by nearly 40 percent over the last two years. But the one area under violent crime that has not seen a decrease is the number of youth involved in handgun violence.
With economic development and the small business side, we've done a really good job at attracting some major business here. We have Electrolux and Mitsubishi coming in. Pinnacle Airlines moved downtown, and there's Bass Pro Shops [moving into the Pyramid]. But with small business growth, we haven't seen quite as large an increase, especially in some of our neighborhoods that have been suffering from blight and crime.
How will your work differ from what the police do?
It's not simply a police issue. It's not simply an education issue. We're going to bring together faith-based groups, law enforcement, the judicial system, and the educational system. Everybody has a piece of this, so our approach is going to be first to find out everything that's already going on in the city aimed at reducing handgun violence. We'll find out what's working and what's not working.
Won't there always be some level of handgun violence?
If I reduce handgun violence by 0.1 percent, I can say I've achieved success. But we're not going to do that. We're going to set a very specific target for reduction.
We have to narrow down what demographics and in what areas we're going to do that. As we develop those targets, we have to talk to everyone who's involved. And that means we have to talk to young kids who are involved in this type of behavior, and we have to talk to people who live and work with them every day.
Only then will we put together some innovative solutions and roll out initiatives aimed at the issue. I have to have those launched by May 30th. We don't want to duplicate work that anyone's already doing. We want to contribute and be complementary to the work that's already going on.
Will the small business component be about education or incentives?
I'm not going to commit to what the actual initiatives will be, but there's a lot of that kind of good work already going on. From small business owners to people who want to start a small business, we want to know what are your hurdles to being successful.
While small business is our focus, we certainly won't exclude opportunities where we can grow a somewhat larger business or a medium-sized business.
What won't the team be doing?
We are not a replacement for anybody else's work. We're not going to take over the police department's role and what they do for public safety. We're also not just a think tank that will generate ideas in isolation and drop them on someone's desk.
We are charged with coming up with innovative new approaches. We're not going to try the same old things in the same exact ways. But we may look to borrow ideas that have been proven in other municipalities.