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Mayor Alvin Brown, left, and Darnell Smith, Florida Blue North Florida Region market president and chair of the Community Wealth Building Initiative Task Force.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Jan. 21, 201512:00 PM EST

Task force to focus on economic development in Northwest Jacksonville

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

The latest effort to foster economic development in Northwest Jacksonville began Tuesday when the Community Wealth Building Initiative Task Force convened for the first time at City Hall.

Created in November by Mayor Alvin Brown, the 15-member panel of includes representatives from the education, faith, finance, health care, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. City Office of Economic Development staff will assist in evaluating strategies and implementation plans.

“Some of the best talent in Jacksonville is assembled to make an impact on one of the most important causes in Jacksonville,” said Darnell Smith, Florida Blue North Florida Region market president and chair of the task force.

Patterned after a program in Cleveland and inspired by consultation from the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland, the task force is charged with developing strategies to integrate low-income neighborhoods in Northwest Jacksonville into overall economic development.

The city was introduced to the concept by the Interfaith Coalition for Action, Reconciliation and Empowerment, also known as ICARE.

Michelle Barth, Brown’s deputy chief of staff, said when the city and the coalition hosted a daylong roundtable, about 30 stakeholders were expected to participate. But, more than 100 people attended. That led Brown to assemble the task force as a municipal project.

“We are the first city in the country to take this on as a city government,” Barth said.

Areas anticipated to be studied include attracting retail business and restaurants to the area, improving infrastructure and access to public transportation, and supporting development of entrepreneurs.

The mayor said he expects the group to meet at least 12 months and possibly as long as two years.

Legislation for two Northwest Jacksonville economic development projects already has been submitted to City Council.

The mayor’s office has proposed a $400,000 loan and a grant of $183, 587 from the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund to help First Coast No More Homeless Pets build a veterinary clinic at 464 Cassat Ave. The legislation indicates the project would create 47 new jobs, with at least 20 percent of the jobs filled by residents of Northwest Jacksonville.

The other bill proposes a $58,220 grant from the fund to aid construction of a Church’s Chicken restaurant at 1855 Dunn Ave. The restaurant would create 25 full-time and 36 part-time jobs.

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