National Innovation Group Launching in South Bend

8, February 2018
National Innovation Group Launches in South Bend

Calling for new leadership to jumpstart “civic entrepreneurship” and job creation because Washington is “broken,” a national group of mayors, nonprofit and labor leaders, and business executives will convene its first meeting here Wednesday in a former Studebaker Corp. building.

Accelerator for America, a group seeking nonprofit status and led by Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, will provide grants in the form of capital, mentorship and networking to accelerate innovative ideas — by local governments, nonprofits and businesses — that have the most potential to be replicated or scaled elsewhere.

Why launch such a group in “flyover country,” the derisive term that some use for the Midwest? Garcetti said South Bend is a great example of a city doing innovative things. He also hatched the idea with the help of Mayor Pete Buttigieg during meetings the two had in May at a U.S. Conference of Mayors event in Washington, a day after Buttigieg visited Garcetti in Los Angeles. Both Democratic mayors, vocal critics of Republican President Donald Trump, have been mentioned as potential presidential candidates in 2020.

Garcetti said Buttigieg played a larger role than anyone else in helping him craft the idea.

“We’re kind of birds of a feather who found each other,” Garcetti told The Tribune in a phone interview Monday. “We had the same generational frustration about the pace of things. We want to provide the networking and support to accelerate how you get there in six to 12 months instead of two to five years."

While noting intense partisanship had paralyzed Washington before Trump’s election, Garcetti said Trump has "exacerbated" the problem. Trump campaigned on a pledge to create $1 trillion for public works projects, but since his election one year ago Tuesday, nothing has materialized, he said.

Garcetti noted that on the same night Trump won election, Los Angeles County voters approved a ballot initiative creating a half-cent sales tax that will generate $120 billion over four decades to enhance and expand the area’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus and rail network. He hopes Accelerator for America, based in Los Angeles with a small staff that will travel often, will provide networking and educational support to other metro areas interested in such ballot initiatives, along with smaller-scale projects.

Garcetti will chair the group’s advisory council and his longtime aide, Rick Jacobs, will serve as CEO. Ideas must win support from at least one advisory council member to receive funding. The group is starting with about $1 million in private donations, half of which comes from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters union.

Garcetti, who said his wife is from the Indianapolis area and once lived in South Bend, said he will fly in Tuesday. The group’s Wednesday morning meeting won’t be open to the public or news media, but its members plan to take reporters’ questions afterward in the former Studebaker Corp. Building 113 that entrepreneur Kevin Smith is redeveloping.

Joining Garcetti and Buttigieg on the advisory council will be three other Democratic mayors: Megan Barry of Nashville, Steve Benjamin of Columbia, S.C. and Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio. The council also includes Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink; James T. Callahan, general president, International Union of Operating Engineers; Cheryl Dorsey, president, Echoing Green; Michael Dubin, founder and CEO, Dollar Shave Club; Cyrus Habib, lieutenant governor, Washington state; Bruce Katz, Centennial Scholar, the Brookings Institution; Doug McCarron, general president, United Brotherhood of Carpenters; Swati Mylavarapu, CEO, Incite.org; Chamath Palihapitiya, founder and CEO, Social Capital LP; and Rob Slimp, president and CEO, HNTB Corp.

The group plans a second meeting in Columbia, S.C. in February.