3 Cities Where Job Growth Is Happening

There were significantly fewer jobs added to the U.S. economy in March 2017, just 98,000, the smallest increase since May 2016.  While the unemployment rate is 4.5 percent, underemployment continues to plague Americans, hovering around 14 percent in 2017.  But there are a few bright spots where some people are getting back to work.

Beckley, W.Va.

The loss of 127,000 mining jobs has devastated the Appalachian region, but Beckley, W.Va., is proving that there’s employment opportunities post-coal.
Over the last 12 months, Beckley reduced its unemployment rate by 2.5 percent, the largest year-over-year decrease nationwide, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Beckley is relying on strategic partnerships between development agencies, schools and businesses to create jobs. One such initiative, the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, provides relevant employment training in forestry, agribusiness and manufacturing and funnels workers directly into jobs upon completion — often without the need to submit a resume.
WorkForce West Virginia, a state-run agency, also has a branch in Beckley. Paid, on-the-job training in high-growth fields like welding, electrical engineering and diesel technology is available to unemployed coal workers and displaced homemakers entering the workforce for the first time.
“It’s like the old saying: ‘As one door closes, another one opens.’ As a state, we have to work together to identify those doors and open them,” says Dr. John Deskins, director of West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research.

Ames, Iowa

Higher education does more than just improve one’s employment prospects. It’s also a job creator.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Ames, Iowa, has lowest unemployment rate in the nation: 2.1 percent. It’s held this designation 12 times in the past 24 months.
The key to Ames’s workforce boom? A longstanding employer.
What cant be understated in the Ames region is the presence of a large number of public sector employment opportunities with the presence of Iowa State University, where there has been considerable [job] growth over the last 36 months,says Dan Culhane, CEO of the Ames Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Commission.
Fueling the college’s employment numbers is a 40 percent increase in enrollment during the past decade.
Culhane predicts this enrollment surge will cool within the next few years. To counteract it, the city is creating an internship program that will serve as an employment pipeline to retain recent university grads. It’s also making long-term investments by connecting industry leaders with local school districts to introduce students to employment opportunities in Ames.

Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City successfully conquered homelessness, and now it’s doing the same for unemployment.
Tied with Denver for lowest unemployment rate in a city with more than 1 million residents (3.2 percent), Salt Lake City is taking a creative approach to jobs. Literally.
When Mayor Jackie Biskupski took office in January 2016, she elevated the city’s economic development division to its own department, creating an umbrella over business development, redevelopment, and interestingly enough, the arts council.
Generally you dont think of arts as economic development, but it is. People want to live in cool places,says City Economic Development Director Lara Fritts. As part of its Cultural Core Action Plan, the city is incorporating public art into all development projects, creating jobs for local artists. Salt Lake City’s investment in arts and culture is paying off — the city was recently named the top U.S. city for millennials. And statewide, Utah is experiencing impressive growth in creative jobs: 3.7 percent compared to 2.9 percent in the other sectors.
What the Unemployment Rate Does — and Doesn’t — Say About the Economy, Pew Research Center
Tech Jobs Are Thriving Nationwide — Up 7.3 million, USA Today
Series: Coal Is Dying — Coal Country Doesn’t Have to: Creating the Post-Coal Economy in Appalachia, Fast Company
Factors for Enabling the Creative Economy, World Economic Forum

Upstanders: Homes For Everyone

Faced with a growing homeless population, Utah changed the way it provides shelter to those on the streets. Under Lloyd Pendleton’s leadership, the state has reduced its chronic homeless population by 91 percent.
Upstanders is a collection of short stories celebrating ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities produced by Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran. These stories of humanity remind us that we all have the power to make a difference.

7 States Making Bold Criminal Justice Reforms

No other sitting Commander in Chief, including Ronald Reagan, who took office in 1981 when prison populations spiked upward rapidly, or George W. Bush, the hang-’em-high leader who presided over 152 executions as Texas governor, had ever set foot inside a federal penitentiary. But last month, President Barack Obama stepped behind bars — hinting that he’s conscious of the legacy he’ll leave and is eyeing criminal justice reform as his next issue to tackle.
“When they describe their youth and their childhood, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different than the mistakes I made,” Obama said after speaking to six nonviolent offenders at El Reno prison, about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City. “The difference is they did not have the kinds of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.” He added, “It’s not normal. It’s not what happens in other countries. What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. What is normal is young people making mistakes.”
As bipartisan momentum grows in Washington, D.C., reform efforts are also sweeping the nation, many led by conservative governors. Here’s the latest innovations to come out of our country’s statehouses:
Everything’s bigger in Texas, including its correctional facilities. That is, until recently. Starting in 2007, Gov. Rick Perry, Bush’s successor in a “tough on crime” state and now a Republican presidential candidate, led the conservative state in reining in the size of its prison populations. Texas focused on expanding treatment programs and diverting offenders through probation and parole. In 2011, three juvenile facilities were closed, halving the number of incarcerated youth in the state. Cuts continued in 2013, when legislators reduced the corrections budget by $97 million, a clear sign they intended to scale back the system’s capacity. Two prisons near Dallas mired in scandal and operated by Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest for-profit prison company, looked to be on the chopping block. When Sen. John Whitimire, the longest-serving legislator, called for the closure of the prisons built during his watch, the decision seemed final. Through the budget process, both were defunded.
Obama didn’t selected El Reno prison for his visit at random. He picked the institution because half of its inmates are behind bars for drug offenses — the same proportion for the country as a whole. Utah faced the same situation. While crime fell for two decades, the state’s prison population increased without bound: From 2004 to 2013, the number of inmates grew by 18 percent, six times faster than the national average. This March, Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, signed a comprehensive reform package (developed by a commission of state and local officials) that reclassified all first- and second-time drug possession violations as misdemeanors, instead of felonies. Along with creating new guidelines for parole violations and adding “re-entry specialists” to smooth the transition from prison, the Beehive State’s new law is expected to eliminate the 2,700 projected incarcerations and save the public $500 million over the next 20 years.
Alabama has one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates, jailing more than 30,000 people in a system designed to hold only 12,000 prisoners — leading officials to call it a “time bomb waiting to explode.” Almost a quarter of newly admitted inmates were thrown into overcrowded cells because they violated the terms of their parole or probation. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, half of those cases were for “minor technical violations,” such as missed appointments, unpaid fines, moving to a new home without permission or losing a job, “that did not result in a new offense.” A law signed in 2010 by Gov. Robert Riley limited incarceration for those who committed an administrative error but didn’t break any laws. The alternatives saved the southern state an estimated $18 million.
The signs are so commonplace you might not notice them: “Drug-Free School Zones.” In fine print, they’ll inform you that selling drugs within 1,000 feet of school property, a public park, a housing project or a youth center in Indiana is a Class A felony, automatically upping the recommended sentence to 20 to 50 years in prison. The creation of these areas were one of the government’s first salvos in the War on Drugs, passed by Congress in 1970, more than a decade before Ronald Reagan escalated the battle. Indiana’s reform began in 2007 in an unlikely way: bills in each chamber of the legislature initially set out to expand the drug-free zone to include bus stops and churches. Kelsey Kauffman, a professor at DePauw University, tasked her students with evaluating the law’s effectiveness. Over an eight-year campaign, they presented their findings — that more than 75 percent of the defendants affected by the zones were black — to multiple Senate committees. By 2013, new legislation cut the zones in half, limiting them to a 500-foot radius. A bill last year sought to scale them back even further to 250 feet, but political maneuvering killed the attempt.
Smack in the middle of America’s heartland, the Cornhusker State became the first conservative state in four decades to repeal capital punishment this May. Nebraska’s nonpartisan, unicameral legislature defied Gov. Pete Ricketts, a fierce advocate for the death penalty, with a 30-to-19 vote, just barely enough to overturn a veto. Liberals and conservatives alike believed the death penalty was inefficient, costly and immoral. “Today we are doing something that transcends me, that transcends this Legislature, that transcends this state,” Sen. Ernie Chambers, an independent from Omaha, said before the vote. “We are talking about human dignity.” Along with Washington, D.C., Nebraska joined 17 other states in banning capital punishment.
The federal welfare overhaul in 1996, passed by Rep. Newt Gingrich’s Republican stronghold in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, revoked the ability of felons convicted of drug offenses to receive welfare benefits. The lifetime disqualification from food stamps seemed so vengeful and contrary to public safety that 19 states have chosen to opt out of the provision entirely and 24 states created exceptions, according to a tally by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline blog. Barring someone from benefits “increases the odds they will commit new crimes by virtue of the fact that you’re creating a significant financial obstacle,” says Marc Mauer, the executive director of The Sentencing Project. A grassroots push, particularly by religious leaders in St. Louis and Kansas City, united lawmakers in values-based support and won the governor’s signature.
Once a person’s made contact with the criminal justice system, it’s hard to allude its grasp. A criminal record follows you into every job interview. It’s a red flag on every background check for a new apartment or a loan. That’s the case — even if a person isn’t a felon who spent years in the pen or if a judge dismisses the case or a jury agrees the accused is innocent. With prodding from the Georgia Justice Project and others, legislators overhauled the state’s burdensome and limited expungement law. On the day the law went into effect, one-third of Georgia’s population had a record expunged. Bolstered by the success, Georgia Justice Project convinced Gov. Nathan Deal to issue an executive order to “ban the box” asking criminal history questions on state employment applications this February — the first state in the Deep South to change its hiring policy.

Far From Finished: Utah’s 5-Step Plan to Continue Helping the Homeless

Utah is entering the final stretch of its 10-year plan to end homelessness, but that doesn’t mean the state’s work is over.
The number of chronically homeless individuals has dropped from 1,932 in 2005 to 539 last year. If numbers continue to decline this year, the state will reach what’s known as a “functional zero,” meaning that Utah will have housed all the chronically homeless who will accept it and have the capacity to shelter the rest. Just like the “functional zero” economists use to calculate unemployment doesn’t include the baseline of people switching jobs, Utah won’t include in their data the minority who refuse housing, says Lloyd Pendleton, the state’s homelessness czar. “We can’t force them into housing. That’s called jail,” he notes.
Despite the Beehive State’s success, a larger population always teeters precariously on the brink. Utah’s total homeless population has grown 12.5 percent — from 11,275 to 12,685 — over the last decade. These individuals will need somewhere to stay when a landlord evicts them, when parents scream that they’re not wanted or when an abusive spouse makes them fear for their safety. So achieving functional zero doesn’t mean that Utah’s homeless shelters can close up shop tomorrow.
“We’ve demonstrated [Housing First] works. We have achieved remarkable results. Now we’ve really got to amplify and fortify our existing service delivery,” says Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, Salt Lake City’s emergency shelter.
What steps will the state’s task force take to address the broader issues surrounding homelessness?
Part 1: Utah Set the Ambitious Goal to End Homelessness in 2015. It’s Closer Than Ever
Part 2: 13 Images of Resilient Utah Residents Who Survived Being Homeless
Part 3: The Compassionate Utah Official Who Believes in Housing First, Asking Questions Later

Meet the Courageous Man Who Has Housed 1,393 Chronically Homeless Individuals in Utah

Lloyd Pendleton is the most efficient man in Utah. By the hour, he ticks off small achievements in a pocket planner, marking progress toward long-term goals. His mind routinely calculates volumes and outputs; he thinks in returns on investments. When Pendleton speaks, you begin to suspect he’s just sifted through a file cabinet’s worth of data. But then, he tosses in one of his signature colorful aphorisms, and you realize, nope, that’s just Lloyd.
After retiring from high-ranking positions at Ford Motors and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Pendleton began a second career in Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, a seemingly unglamorous government job in Salt Lake City. “I retired on a Friday and went to work with the state on Monday,” he says. As a pet project of sorts, Pendleton set an ambitious goal: To functionally eliminate chronic homelessness across Utah within 10 years. Nine years later, as Utah’s homelessness czar, he’s on track to reach that milestone by year’s end.
“He gets things done” is how his colleague Liz Buehler, Salt Lake City’s homelessness coordinator, describes her state counterpart.
Raised on a ranch at the far western edge of Utah, Pendleton’s early experience working the land gave him a dogged work ethic and a quiet-the-bells directness. He admits he once thought street people panhandled because they were lazy. “I used to tell the homeless to get a job, because that’s all I thought they needed,” he recalls.
But later, through the Mormon Church, he was tasked with restructuring struggling food pantries, emergency shelters and other charities across the country. After working directly with the homeless, including a year on-site at Utah’s largest shelter The Road Home (then known as the Travelers Aid Society), Pendleton had a “major paradigm shift.” Viewing the homeless as his brothers and sisters, he realized that when they suffered, so did the entire community. “We’re all connected,” he now says.
Pendleton’s years of bolstering charities earned him credibility from many nonprofit executive directors. When they knew he was considering retirement, several service providers and then-Gov. Jon Huntsman began lobbying the L.D.S. Church to “loan” Pendleton out to head up the state’s nascent homelessness task force.  The church agreed, and Pendleton did the job part-time for two years before committing to being its full-time director in 2006. “We got Lloyd involved before he realized,” one executive director says.
Described by one Salt Lake City social worker as a “voracious reader and researcher,” Pendleton started by signing up for conferences on the latest strategies. While at one in Chicago in 2003, he learned about the 10-year plans to end homelessness taking shape around the country, and he heard the buzz about an innovative idea called “Housing First.” Two years later, after a conference in Las Vegas, Pendleton started chatting up a fellow passenger on the airport shuttle: Sam Tsemberis, considered the originator of the “Housing First” model.
Tsemberis explained how Pathways to Housing (the organization he founded in New York City in 1992) threw out drug tests and waiting lists — the old trappings of getting someone “housing ready.” Instead, the homeless were moved into apartments in Manhattan and Westchester County, N.Y., within two weeks. “You’re curing the housing problem first. You cure the person later,” Tsemberis explained. After its first five years, 88 percent of tenants had stayed in the program’s housing — double the rate for the city’s step-by-step rehab programs. “Recovery starts when you have something you care about, a place where you can go,” he added. Pendleton took an instant liking to Tsemberis and together, they convinced Utah lawmakers and foundations to take a chance on “Housing First.”
Just because it worked in New York City, however, didn’t mean the program would be a fit for Utah. During one tense early meeting, a contractor worried about his reputation almost backed out of building 100 units. As Pendleton listened, a thought came to him: why not test a small pilot program consisting of 25 of the toughest, most distressed people? The idea partially came from a truism he learned on the ranch while chopping kindling for their wood-burning stove: “Chop the big end of the log first.” In other words, if you can house the most chronically homeless, you can house anybody.
The task force gathered the best case managers, convinced landlords across the city to participate and handed over keys to 17 people. “I felt the sweat on my forehead, and I know others did too,” recalls Matt Minkevitch, the executive director of The Road Home, a Salt Lake City shelter. “You’d give each other a casual smile and say, ‘We’ll work through it, okay?’ But they couldn’t hear your stomach growling, hear you praying under your breath,… and just hoping, hoping that you don’t hurt people and damage all these important programs.”
The first night, Pendleton recounts, one man placed all his belongings on the bed and curled up on the floor to sleep. The following few nights, he dozed outside, near a dumpster. Finally, after several days, he moved in and slept on the bed. Housing isn’t “rehabilitation,” Pendleton noted, “because so many of them were never habilitated to begin with. You are creating new lives for them.” With the exception of one person who died, all the tenants remained in housing 21 months later.
Pendleton isn’t striving for prestige or fame in solving an ill that blights much of urban America. He just likes ideas that work, and he wants to see them take root, regardless of who sows the first seed. “Housing First” isn’t unique to the Beehive State, but Pendleton’s precise methods are a primary reason why Utah’s rates of chronic homelessness are so low. The fingerprints of his orderly approach can be spotted all over the 10-year plan: its clear articulation of vision, its far-reaching collaboration and its experimental pilot projects.
According to Pendleton, every action must answer this question: Does this help the homeless into housing or not? “If you don’t have a crystal-clear vision about the homeless situation, then you just muddle along. You get poor results. You’re not getting people housed,” he says.
For Utah to solve such an intractable social problem, it also had to find support beyond the traditional partnerships. Pendleton’s résumé helped win the involvement of the business community and the L.D.S. Church, one of the most influential forces in the region. Their monetary contributions and participation in programs like job placement meant even “more and more people carrying the load with the county, city and state,” Pendleton tells the Deseret News. And once the strategy had been distilled, all those agencies focused their individual expertise on a specific aspect of the problem.
Despite playing different instruments, “We have been pretty much on the same sheet of music in the symphony,” Pendleton says of the collaboration.
To meet the goal Pendleton first dreamed of a decade ago, Utah still needs to house approximately 539 chronically homeless and 200 homeless veterans, according to the latest comprehensive report — far fewer than the 1,932 chronically homeless on the streets when he first started.
Pretty good for an “encore career,” don’t you think?
Part 1: Utah Set the Ambitious Goal to End Homelessness in 2015. It’s Closer Than Ever
Part 2: 13 Images of Resilient Utah Residents Who Survived Being Homeless
Part 4: Far From Finished: Utah’s 5-Step Plan to Continue Helping the Homeless

Utah Set the Ambitious Goal to End Homelessness in 2015. It’s Closer Than Ever

Crystal Spencer desperately needed a home for her three little girls. A single mother in her thirties, Spencer had lost her job at a Utah gas station and, in the twilight of the Great Recession, couldn’t find work elsewhere. Notices stacked up from her landlord, utility companies and bank.
“It was overwhelming. I just couldn’t keep up,” Spencer recalls. “I moved out because I knew I couldn’t do it.” She loaded her daughters — just babies at the time — into the back of her Dodge Durango and went to The Road Home, an emergency shelter just west of downtown Salt Lake City. As Utah’s largest shelter, its interior consists of a stripped-down dormitory. Plastic-covered mattresses on bunk beds can sleep more than 200 men each night, and its bathroom stalls, as a safety measure, don’t have doors. Spencer’s family had the small privilege of staying in a room closed off from the main beds, but she said it was “very uncomfortable” not having any privacy. Fearful of who was coming in and out the shelter, she never let her girls wander from her side.
In any number of American cities, Spencer would be required to jump through bureaucratic hoops — prove you’re sober, get a job, never miss a meeting — before her family would receive assistance. But in Utah, “Housing First,” an initiative to place the homeless into supportive housing without any prerequisites, now prevails. Because of it, Spencer quickly moved to a two-bedroom apartment at Palmer Court, an old hotel renovated into 200 units and opened by The Road Home in 2009. In the 13 months since, she’s caught up on all her debts and is on a waiting list for a Section 8 housing voucher. She decorated the apartment with framed pictures of her daughters — Sandra, 4, a nimble athlete fond of doing handstands on the living room recliner; Sierra, 2, a gregarious dancer and singer; and Phoenix, 1, a quiet observer — and the paintings they made at the on-site Head Start classroom.
“It was very difficult being homeless…[My kids] didn’t really understand what was going on. They still don’t,” Spencer says. “Right now, I am trying to go forward with my life, so I can move out and get a place of my own. The only thing I see myself doing is taking care of my kids. Hopefully, in my own house.”
Utah’s initiative isn’t just for hardworking moms like Spencer: it’s helping veterans haunted by war, the mentally ill, alcoholics and drug addicts. “Homelessness itself turns out to be a big barrier to all kinds of things, whether it is trying to get a job or trying to get an education or stop a drug addiction,” Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy at The National Alliance To End Homelessness, tells Mic.
As the decade-long plan initiated by then-Gov. Jon Huntsman wraps up this year, the Beehive State’s “Housing First” program has already reduced chronic homelessness (those with deeper disabling conditions, like substance abuse or schizophrenia, who had been on the streets for a year or longer or four times within three years) by 72 percent and is on track to end it altogether by this time next year.
Media coverage ranging from The New Yorker to The Daily Show has pointed out that “Housing First” is a no-brainer. In reality, however, it’s been a herculean task 10 years in the making.
When the plan rolled out in 2005, Utah counted 1,932 chronically homeless adults. These individuals composed only 14 percent of the state’s total homeless population, but they were consuming the majority of agencies’ scarce resources. For instance, The Road Home found that the small group of chronically homeless used 60 percent of the shelter’s beds, according to executive director Matt Minkevitch. “Once we saw that, we really wanted to move forward.”
In Utah, a homeless person relying on shelters and soup kitchens costs the community $19,200, while the expenses of permanent housing and case management run just $7,800. For some, the price of law enforcement and medical expenses is astounding: One chronically homeless individual in Salt Lake City, for example, racked up $563,000 in emergency room charges in 2010; another had hospital bills that almost topped $1 million over three years.
Liz Buehler, Salt Lake City’s homeless services coordinator since 2013, says the state jumped into action when service providers realized they couldn’t rely on “diminishing resources” from the federal government. “If you put someone in a house, it’s half the cost of that person receiving services in the shelter. So why not put them in housing?” Buehler asks. “It’s not only giving them security, you can also help more people.”
Housing First’s backers are quick to note that they’re not giving away apartments for free: the new tenants have to abide by lease agreements (a handful have been evicted) and contribute $50 or 30 percent of their income to rent each month (whichever amount is greater).
For every 10 chronically homeless people housed through the program, eight are still in rapid rehousing units and one has moved on to other stable housing.
Minkevitch, a former hotel manager who migrated to the nonprofit sector to help “the weariest of travelers” at The Road Home, says the state’s success has taken even the most experienced caseworkers by surprise. “I know people who have been in this field for years, in this line of work for like 20 years, and as they were talking about clients, their eyes would light up like at Christmas,” he says. “They’d just laugh like it was the funniest, most beautiful joke, sitting here right under our nose all this time: we’d always known if a person has a home, they’re not homeless.”
Part 2: 13 Images of Resilient Utah Residents Who Survived Being Homeless
Part 3: The Compassionate Utah Official Who Believes in Housing First, Asking Questions Later
Part 4: Far From Finished: Utah’s 5-Step Plan to Continue Helping the Homeless

Despite Living Behind Bars, These Moms Read Nightly Bedtime Stories to Their Children

In Utah’s State Prison, almost half of the 700 women currently incarcerated have children, according to Department of Corrections data.

To help these moms connect with their kids, the Bedtime Stories program allows them to meet with volunteers to read and record stories for their children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Forty-five women at the Timpanogos Women’s Correctional Facility (who haven’t been convicted of child-related crimes) participate in the program, mailing CD recordings of beloved children’s books each month, according to Corrections spokeswoman Brooke Adams.

The recordings are reviewed and copied to CDs by volunteers and mailed with the corresponding books by the United Way of Utah County, which operates the Bedtime Stories program. The program has been in operation for about 12 years and has helped parents like inmate Maria King reach her children, 6-year-old Aston and 8 year-old Blaze, who were adopted by her parents after she was convicted of drug possession. King is serving a term of up to five years but has not seen her children for the last two.

For King’s children, according to her mother Kim Abney, the books are a way to stay connected to their mom.

“They love it. They get to hear her voice and they listen to them every night,” Abney says. “It makes me happy that they get (the books), but it makes me sad because of the situation we’re all in.”

The program first began as a Brigham Young University student’s service project for her Mormon church Young Women’s group, receiving a $100,000 grant from the United Way and the Ashton Family Foundation.

For inmates like Debra Samples, who is serving time for up to five years on a theft conviction, the program symbolizes hope. Samples said the monthly meetings giving her something to look forward to as she gets to select something to read to her 7-year-old grandson.

“Hi Damyen! This is grandma. Grandma loves you so very, very much,” she says into the digital recording before reading the holiday-themed book, “Santa’s Magical Cookies.”

The program may not make up for missed time, but it allows inmates like King and Samples to be a part of the parenting ritual of tucking children in from miles away.

MORE: Born in Prison Herself, She’s Helping Women Break the Incarceration Cycle

For New Americans Struggling with Paperwork, These College Students Are Helping Tackle It

Melanie Domenech Rodríguez, a multi-cultural psychology teacher at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, came up with an innovative way for her students to gain some hands-on experience with the topics they discussed in class: Every Tuesday night, students volunteer to help local refugees and immigrants at an employment and citizenship clinic they created.
Rodríguez and others initially trained the students, but now they run the clinic themselves.
Antonia Keller, a student coordinator, tells Lis Stewart of HJNews, “It’s been really exciting for me and really rewarding to meet all the people that move to Cache Valley. I think it really enriches the valley and makes it a better place to have people from all different backgrounds and experiences here.”
Keller and the other students help immigrants craft resumes, fill out job applications and complete the paperwork required for the naturalization test. While there are other organizations in the community that help immigrants study for the test, no one else was helping them handle the paperwork. “It’s really intensive,” Keller says, “and really a kind of big bureaucratic thing to tackle on your own.”
The clinic has been successful enough that Utah State students will continue to run it in the spring, surely resulting in more insights like the one college student Alecc Quezada had about how privileged he is to have grown up in the United States. “I knew that to become a citizen you had to take a test, and I knew what resumes and what jobs required, but it’s so much easier knowing the language especially and having that cultural background,” he says.
MORE: For More Than 100 Years, This House Has Been Welcoming New Americans

Which States Are Tops in the Open Data Movement?

As more local municipalities join the open data movement, the Center for Data Innovation, a think tank, has assessed which state governments are actually measuring up with the best policies.
A new report ranks states based on progress with open data policies and digital accessibility to data portals. Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma and Utah are the top six states, respectively, in making strides with the open data movement.
The report also finds that 10 states currently maintain open data policies, and all but one offer an open-data portal. (New Hampshire being the exception as the only state with an open-data policy that doesn’t offer complete datasets.) Over the last two years, five states have created new policies while four have amended existing ones. Overall, 24 states offer some form of an open data portal, including some without policies in place.
The rankings were determined based on four categories including the presence of an open-data policy, the quality of the policy, the presence of a open-data portal and the quality of that portal, according to Government Executive.
The report also explores common elements among those states with the most successful open data campaigns, including data being open by default — which includes public, expenditure and legislative records — as well as being released in a non-proprietary format or a machine readable format. A universal format is important in order for nonprofits, businesses and other users to process and translate the datasets. For example, if a state releases data in a PDF or DOC, it may not be considered effective because the format is not machine-readable.
While some states have polices on government transparency, the report points out that often that translates to publishing data on only a few topics, which is a good starting point, but not comprehensive enough.

“While a general transparency portal is a good start, open data portals can help increase transparency and accountability by opening up all government data, non just certain types of records,” the report says.

MORE: To Increase Government Transparency, San Diego Joins the Open Data Movement

The Apps That Connect Utah with Its On-The-Go Citizens

Most of us have probably complained about how the government is out of touch and outdated — both at the state and federal level, especially when it comes to technology.
With technology rapidly changing and advancing every day, it’s pertinent for the government to get tech savvy. After all, this year is the first time that Americans will access the Internet through mobile devices more than through their PC. With 55 percent of Internet activity coming through smartphones or tablets, governments really need to reassess their tech efficiency.
Enter Utah’s state government. Of the handful of states that actually have mobile-friendly websites, Utah is leading the pack by a huge margin.
So what makes the Beehive State so advanced? Well, back in 2009, it became the first state to develop an iPhone app that allowed users to see the licensure status of various professionals in the state. It also worked with Google Glass and created an app that notifies users about incoming trains and light rail as well as other transit-related information.
And that was five years ago. Since then, it has also created apps that provide information based on the user’s current location and one that allows mobile payments, making life a little easier for on-the-go workers.
Up next, Utah is working on how to adapt the new biometric fingerprint scanning feature that will be on the next Apple iPhone.
All of these advances only beg the question as to why other states aren’t implementing the same policies. Well, for many, the worry is that by updating to mobile-friendly websites, they will alienate other groups, particularly those of the older generation or people without access to mobile devices.
In that respect, Utah is lucky. By far, its residents are the youngest in the country: There are 2.8 million under the age of 18, making them much more receptive to anything tech-related. (It’s no surprise that 26 percent of the 1.63 million unique visitors to the state’s website in June accessed it through mobile devices.)
“Our mobile strategy is reaching new population groups that haven’t interacted with government before. That’s why total visits to the state’s websites have grown substantially in the last couple of years,” Dave Fletcher, the state’s chief technology office, tells Governing
Not only is the mobile-friendly website making it easier for citizens, but it’s taking some of the cost pressures off the government. With jobs being cut, the government is becoming more reliant upon technology, and mobile devices are a huge asset.
But it isn’t all smooth-sailing, though. There are always concerns about having to work with developers, managing security and keeping pace with new technology.
However, for Utah, the benefits definitely outweigh these challenges.
Hopefully, by following Utah’s example, other states will start implementing the same technology. In this new age, it’s about the time the government tells its citizens: “yes, there is an app for that.”
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