2022 GRA Annual Conference Recap

August 05, 2022

Last week, Civic Federation Vice President and Research Director Sarah Wetmore successfully led the Annual Conference of the Governmental Research Association (GRA) in Philadelphia alongside Jeff Hornstein of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia. This was Sarah’s final year serving as President of the GRA, a role in which she excelled despite taking over at the height of the pandemic in 2020. In addition to hosting a virtual conference in 2021, Sarah initiated a strategic planning initiative to strengthen the GRA’s engagement and membership into the future.

The GRA also welcomed their newest trustees to the organization during the conference. Among them is Civic Federation Senior Research Associate Annie McGowan. The Federation looks forward to our continued partnership and leadership in the GRA.

The following summary recaps each of the sessions held at the 2022 GRA Annual Conference.

Strategic Planning Initiative

GRA consultant Rosie Stafford-Smith led the discussion on the future of GRA as an organization. The discussion focused on key components of the GRA, including the benefits it currently offers members and opportunities for membership growth. Rosie presented a roadmap to achieve growth in the GRA’s membership, revenue and impact as a nonpartisan organization. The presentation was followed by a Q&A session led by GRA President Sarah Wetmore and GRA Vice President Shawn Teigen.

The American Rescue Plan Act: Promise and Reality

Moderated by Susie Dudis of the Bureau of Governmental Research in New Orleans, this panel focused on the use of federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds by state and local governments. Speakers included Eric Harkness of the Sycamore Institute, Laura Pontari of The Pew Charitable Trusts (Click here for presentation), Eric Lupher of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan and Sara Mathers of Community Change. Among the major topics of discussion were the difficulty measuring success rates of programs funded by ARPA, the importance of transparency in reporting the use of funds and the overall question of what the best use of these one-time funds is.

How COVID Has Impacted Downtowns – Remote Work, Relocation Incentives and More

Moderated by Erika Rosenberg of CGR this panel featured speakers Kieran Beliza of CGR (Click here for presentation), Paul Matthews of Worcester Regional Research Bureau (Click here for presentation), Kent Swanson of Riverside Investment and Development (Click here for presentation) and Prema Katari Gupta of Central Philadelphia Development (Click here for presentation). Discussion topics included the impact of remote work on downtown areas, the competition for skilled workers and its relationship with remote work opportunities and making in-office work attractive for employees.


Group Discussion: Public Safety and Policing in Our States and Municipalities

Jordan Hyatt of Drexel University presented on key issues around crime and policing across the nation and in Philadelphia, followed by breakout discussions led by Rebecca Mowbray of the Bureau of Governmental Research, Shawn Teigen of the Utah Foundation and Annie McGowan of the Civic Federation. The presentation covered national crime trends and challenges for police departments including mental health, public trust, officer well-being and staffing shortages. Breakout discussions centered around approaches to combat violent crime, police department budget and staffing challenges and the work GRA organizations have been doing in the area of public safety.


Labor Force Participation and other Workforce Issues

Michael Shields of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia moderated the panel featuring Thomas Spencer of the Public Affairs Council of Alabama (Click here for presentation), Taylor Stenley of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and Karin Norington-Reaves of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership. The speakers highlighted the problems with siloed workforce development systems where information is not easily accessible to those looking to join the workforce, the lack of engagement between employers and employees and labor force participation. The discussion also touched on the challenges with measuring success and economic self-sufficiency.


Cannabis Legalization: What’s New?

Moderated by GRA President Sarah Wetmore, this panel featured speakers Jonathan P. Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon University and Pamela Althoff of the Cannabis Business Association of Illinois. They discussed the process of obtaining a cannabis license and regulation problems during COVID. Jonathan Caulkins shared his concerns about the neglect of public health considerations. The panelists also discussed contradictions between federal and state laws which has created a myriad problems for businesses involved.


Skill Share: Legislative Engagement during Polarization

This skill share brought together GRA organizations known for their excellent municipal and statehouse legislative engagement programs to share tips and tricks about engaging legislators on policy change, especially in a time of political polarization. Speakers included Melissa Deslatte of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, LeeAnn Rogers of the Pennsylvania Economy League and Jason Stein of the Wisconsin Policy Forum.


Excursion and Tour of the Delaware River Waterfront

Conference attendees were taken on a tour of the Delaware River Waterfront which extends for six miles. The development project for the waterfront was funded by both private and public funds, with strategic public investment on city-owned land stewarded by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation. The project turned the waterfront from a desolate space to a thriving city attraction. Following the tour, a panel of leaders involved in this redevelopment project discussed funding for these types of projects and the benefits they provide for communities. Panelists included Joe Forkin of the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, Avram Hornik of FCM Hospitality and Marilyn Jordan Taylor of University of Pennsylvania.


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives at GRA Organizations- Continuing the Conversation

Moderator Jeff Hornstein of the Economy league of Greater Philadelphia led a conversation on challenges and opportunities to expanding equity and diversity in the workplace and on organizations’ boards. Speakers included J’nelle Lawrence of the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and Alan Skelton of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board. They spoke about their own experiences within their organizations and ways in which they have addressed and made progress with diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.