Local Governments: Sustainable Infrastructure Funding Can Attract New Residents and Spur Economic Development

By Jessyca Henderson, Esq., Owner, The Law Office of Jessyca L. Henderson LLC

July 22, 2022

Many local governments, especially in rural areas, are struggling to not only serve, but to keep their populations. As their populations dwindle, so do the tax dollars that support local government. Attracting new business (and younger generations) to more rural counties and towns takes strong social and political will, but an infusion of federal dollars and focus on sustainable infrastructure could help these communities stimulate growth and benefit from economic development – while also addressing the climate crisis through innovations in transportation and the built environment.

Meanwhile, COVID has changed the way we work, and where we work.  A historically high number of remote workers could live virtually anywhere in the country and intend to remain at home. With rising housing and transportation costs, big-city residents looking for small-town housing and living expenses may be ideal future residents (and taxpayers) who want what smaller communities have to offer.

But many small towns are also in a state of crisis, with businesses shuttered and populations continuing to shrink. How can they fill the gap and attract these new residents, their tax dollars, and their spending potential?  Infrastructure spending (including telecommunications, transportation, and energy-efficient buildings) may be part of the answer — and the federal government is offering an infusion of cash to make that happen for struggling communities.

In February 2022, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg met with Governors to discuss implementation of The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).  The IIJA presents opportunities for direct funding of local community projects, as well as public private partnerships that can address current economic and environmental challenges for local governments.  Combined with funds currently available under the American Rescue Plan Act, this means hundreds of billions in funding available to rebuild infrastructure at the state and local level. Related to sustainability, the IIJA has provisions for smart cities, electric vehicle charging, resilience, and more.

Another key to providing the lifeblood for struggling rural and small municipalities is communications infrastructure. IIJA funding for broadband, a key ingredient in attracting remote workers and new businesses, is larger historically than all previous broadband grant programs, combined.

Not every “build it and they will come” will take root and grow, but the new infrastructure funding will enable many counties and towns to improve their communities and add some jobs – or even turn the corner on local or regional economic development.   Most towns and counties have municipal features like parks and libraries, public squares and ample commercial real estate, single family homes and available lots for the development of affordable housing and mixed-use development. As states begin to apply for and deploy the resources available through the various federal funding streams, these are all project types ripe for renewal, local leadership, and the creative will to build.

Jessyca Henderson, Esq., AIA, CPHC, NOMA, CSI is an attorney and architect based in Maryland, providing legal services related to sustainable design, building science, and environment. www.jlhlawoffice.com

AIA Document E204™–2017, Sustainable Projects Exhibit, has been developed for use on a wide variety of sustainable projects. Learn more here.

AIA Contract Documents has provided this article for general informational purposes only. The information provided is not legal opinion or legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. This article is also not intended to provide guidance as to how project parties should interpret their specific contracts or resolve contract disputes, as those decisions will need to be made in consultation with legal counsel, insurance counsel, and other professionals, and based upon a multitude of factors.