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Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council may take on poverty as a regional issue

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A six-county agency has taken the first step to trying a different approach to help needy Tampa Bay neighborhoods.

The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council unanimously voted Monday to have staff members discuss strategies with a representative of the Rutgers University Business School and its Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. It is unclear when officials are expected to come back to the council with a report or recommendations.

“It’s exciting,” said former Pinellas County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd. Todd, who serves on the TBRPC, said she had asked that the center’s representative, Lyneir Richardson, come to speak to the group.

The TBRPC brings together representatives of six counties — Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, Citrus and Manatee — and municipalities within those counties. The group is responsible for coordinating planning for the community’s future and for sharing solutions among the member governments.

That directive makes the TBRPC the obvious choice to oversee a more global and coordinated look at solving problems in needy communities.

“There are a lot of folks who can use this kind of help,” Todd said. “I think if we put our brains together, we can do a lot.”

Ultimately, Todd said, she would like to see the TBRPC partner with Rutgers to help coordinate efforts to combat poverty and improve neighborhoods in the Tampa Bay area. The coordination would be data-driven, she said. A baseline would be established for each sector. That way, improvements could be tracked. Participation, as Todd views it, would be voluntary.

Todd said she decided to contact the Rutgers group because it offered something different in strategies and had been awarded a national grant to work in urban areas around the country. Unlike other agencies or companies who want money in return for recommendations, the Rutgers group has its own. And Richardson said Rutgers will help communities find grants and other funds to help accomplish their goals.

The Rutgers Center for Urban Entrepreneurship combines data and other scholarly work with private money, governments and nonprofits to help revitalize communities and bring economic growth to poverty-stricken areas. The center also concentrates on educating and otherwise helping individuals who want to form their own businesses to help develop local wealth.

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