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The Connecticut Urban Legal Initiative (CULI), an organization at the University of Connecticut School of Law which employs law students in providing legal services to nonprofit groups engaged in reducing urban decline, recently received a $100,000 federal grant to help revitalize Hartford, Conn. The grant, combined with other contributions, is being used to finance CULI’s work with the Regional Economic Development Council (REDC), a recently formed regional task force conceived by U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., to stimulate economic development in the greater Hartford area. What differentiates this latest effort from the numerous organizations already involved in the ongoing saga of Hartford’s economic revitalization efforts is its uniquely coordinated approach. The effort is specifically engineered to create a combined offensive — a coordinated effort between community groups, labor organizations and government agencies on both the state and federal level — to tackle economic development. The 11-member REDC, which brings together select officials from state and local organizations — including the state Department of Labor, The Connecticut Policy and Economic Council, and several heads of local labor unions, is tied to a federal pilot project. The idea behind the project was to create a federal office capable of mobilizing to assist communities severely affected by job layoffs in a capacity similar to that employed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in dealing with regions devastated by natural disaster. The federal agency would work in conjunction with a locally staffed task force in order to provide a coordinated, one-stop access to the many levels of federal and state aid available to communities impacted by job loss. A similar model has been successfully applied by the U.S. Department of Defense in assisting communities affected by military base closings. Based on federal legislation introduced by Larson last year, the federal pilot project is being coordinated through the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment. Although Larson failed to get the legislation enacted, the pilot program was initiated through executive order from the White House. The program was introduced in Hartford specifically to deal with the large-scale layoffs announced by United Technologies Corporation last year. According to William Breetz, CULI’s executive director and an adjunct professor of law at UConn, the work that CULI does is performed solely by law students. The first task the students performed for the regional task force was to set it up as a nonprofit corporation. CULI’s main role in the revitalization effort will be to perform staffing functions for the regional task force and to serve as a liaison to federal agencies. “At the university, part of our job will be to focus on the policy implications of how to make these various diffuse organizations and public funding for economic relief all part of a unified system,” said Breetz. One of the goals Breetz hopes to accomplish with CULI is to combine interdisciplinary resources within the university’s various professional schools and departments in order to tackle important issues like urban revitalization. The sort of cooperative momentum that Breetz would like to see among the university’s resources has proved elusive to the motley assortment of organizations currently engaged in revitalizing Hartford. A 1999 “Civic Capacity” study authorized by the MetroHartford Millennium Project concluded that there was an overabundance of separate civic organizations in Hartford engaged in uncoordinated efforts. The report recommended consolidation of several of the groups in order to facilitate efficiency and lessen the redundancy of their operations. Most of the organizations failed to heed the recommendation. Two of the major organizations involved, the MetroHartford Chamber of Commerce and the Capitol Region Growth Council, however, are currently engaged in a landmark consolidation effort. According to Breetz, a good deal of the regional task force’s energy will be directed toward helping make a proposed technology park development a reality. The park has been proposed at Rentschler Field, a property owned and being developed by United Technologies.

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