“You’re going to Jordan? Why?” is a question I was often asked in the months leading up to my trip. Why would a municipal employee from Hooksett, New Hampshire be traveling to the Middle East? In a word, the answer is “partnerships”. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Jordan with Hooksett’s Town Administrator, Dr. Dean E. Shankle, as part of a municipal exchange for the United States Agency for International Development/Jordan Local Enterprise Support project (USAID LENS).
USAID LENS promotes cross-sector collaboration within communities to foster micro and small enterprises (MSEs). This project supports multiple underserved Jordanian communities, with a special focus on women and youth, by providing technical support, promoting public-private partnerships and offering grants that support MSEs and local economic development (LED). Dr. Shankle and I were selected to represent Hooksett, and travel as municipal practitioners to form ongoing partnerships with two Jordanian municipalities, Naour and Amriyah. Representatives also traveled from Pocatello, Idaho and Normal, Illinois, who were paired with other municipalities in the region. The goal of these partnerships is to share international best practices and project ideas for local economic development. It’s hard to imagine that our New England town of 14,000 people would have much in common with a Jordanian municipality, but once we started engaging and discussing our experiences, we realized that we face very similar challenges in LED. Issues like lack of funding and staff, tax disincentives, and need for legal and regulatory changes appear to be challenges for municipalities everywhere.
Meeting with the mayor of Naour
Sharing common ground on challenges led to discussing strategies utilized to work around them. While some municipalities may face barriers at a different scale, sharing our experiences and strategies can still help each other navigate these challenges and provide fresh perspectives on projects. Dr. Shankle and I shared project examples from Hooksett where staff from the municipality, state and private businesses collaborated to support the local economy. Cross-sector collaboration on these projects enabled Hooksett and partners to overcome typical challenges to LED. Naour and Amriyah are currently engaging the private sector to discuss potential initiatives and partnerships. We encouraged both municipalities to additionally consider regional partnerships in their initiatives, as this approach can aid in challenges with limited resources and infrastructure. Ultimately the trip successfully established a relationship between Hooksett and the Jordanian municipalities and highlighted the importance of municipal and cross-sector partnerships, especially as a tool in overcoming barriers. Though the trip is over, our relationships with Naour and Amriyah are just beginning. Over the coming year we will continue to communicate and collaborate with the municipalities as their LED projects progress, and share the wonderful experiences that we had in their country.