Friday, September 15, 2017

Topeka Momentum 2022 Receives Outstanding Coverage From Local Newspaper



By Kat Lapersonerie, Administrative Assistant

Over the years, our team has seen many of our clients invest significant time and energy into their strategy launch. We’ve consistently seen our clients cultivate positive relationships with media partners, government officials, institutions and corporations in the effort of successfully marketing their community economic and development strategies.

Communities such as Des Moines, who since 2011 has partnered with top leaders in the Central Iowa region on their Capital Crossroads initiative, have had highly successful campaigns. In 2010, Birmingham launched a comprehensive five-year economic development strategy by the name of Blueprint Birmingham. Other communities like Watertown, South Dakota have been praised by their local media for their H20-20 visioning process. Their initiative has been recognized as “perhaps the most intensive citizen-driven effort ever developed in South Dakota” by the Watertown Public Opinion newspaper.

Market Street’s recently completed process in Topeka, Kansas has also received great coverage from the local newspaper, The Topeka Capital-Journal. But on Sunday August 6, the community and the newspaper took things to the next level with an outstanding 30-page special section that highlights the community’s Momentum 2022 strategy and the programs, initiatives, and people that will work to make Topeka-Shawnee County a more successful and prosperous place.

The strength of the Momentum 2022 strategy and the media coverage can be attributed to visionary community and staff leadership. A volunteer Steering Committee chaired by Shawnee County Commissioner Shelly Buhler, Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast, and Bartlett & West CEO Keith Warta. The Committee was comprised of dynamic leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, including the publisher of The Topeka Capital-Journal, Zach Ahrens. With the aid of his team, Matt Pivarnik, who is the President and CEO of the Topeka Chamber and Go Topeka, has worked closely and tirelessly with The Topeka Capital-Journal and others to ensure that Momentum 2022 is well-publicized as the blueprint for the community’s future. Based on this coverage we would say they are well on their way!

To view all articles on Momentum 22 visit: cjonline.com/momentum2022



A sampling of some of the articles from Momentum 2022 here:

· Collaborate for a strong community: Despite challenges, Topeka residents see city moving in positive direction

· Live chat: Covering all the bases of Momentum 2022 in Topeka, Shawnee County

· Grow a diverse economy: Tracking metrics will help Topeka leaders determine the right path

· Young professionals leave Topeka to pursue career, come back to work and live


Ref: 08/17/2017

District Revitalization Versus Stabilization

By Alex Pearlstein, Vice President

Imagine you had a job where the more successful you were, the more you were criticized. If you accomplished your assigned mission and had the metrics to prove it, but suddenly the rules of the game changed in midstream. Such is the fate of the local economic developer charged with revitalizing underinvested commercial districts. The more success he or she has, the greater the likelihood of a backlash under the guise of the “g” word: gentrification – a process as old as cities themselves. No less a source than The Onion has satirized on this trend. In the article “Decaying City Just Wants to Skip to Part Where It Gets Revitalized Restaurant Scene,” pretend residents wanted “the city’s accelerated revitalization process to then stop just before they are priced out of their current apartments.”

There is no way in the course of one blog to fully summarize or address the thousands of column inches dedicated to the “g” word issue, especially as there has yet to be a definitive study as to its real effects. However, as housing affordability challenges have come to the fore in destination communities and mid-priced cities alike, there must be an honest conversation in the economic/community development world about the long-term goals of urban revitalization. This is especially true as cities like Detroit and Birmingham (where I now live) are seeing a backlash against reinvestment in high-profile districts. These are cities that have spent billions of dollars trying to catalyze this self-same revitalization. 

In Birmingham, the same city government that funded the new and renovated parks and minor league baseball stadium that spurred reinvestment is now empaneling (without supportive data) an “anti-displacement” task force. The reality in Birmingham – like in Detroit – is that only a very small fraction of the city is seeing reinvestment. Well over 90 percent of these communities is still suffering from high poverty and crime rates, underperforming schools, vacancies and blight, and widespread depopulation. 

At the core of the debate over urban reinvestment is the question of who benefits: existing residents or those who start new businesses, work at those businesses, and become new residents. Because history has shown that these two groups are typically not the same. I have yet to see a district “Brookyn-ization” that has successfully navigated this issue; if a case study exists, I’m not aware of it. 

In fact, cities churn; they just do. Neighborhoods rise and fall, residents and businesses move out and others move in; that’s just the effect of the free market. As such, what I’m referring to in this post is government’s role in the revitalization process. You can retroactively try to engender affordability, as a local researcher just described for Atlanta, or proactively implement measures favoring existing residents.

The conundrum becomes, do you presuppose that reinvestment will occur (even in places that have not seen revitalization for decades) and build in anti-displacement policies on the front end or wait until reinvestment occurs and reactively implement resident protections? The challenge becomes that preemptive anti-displacement policies increase the cost of investing in neighborhoods that may not have any appeal for private dollars (hence the need for revitalization incentives). And pro-affordability measures require a tremendous public outlay in an era of ever-diminishing budgets. This is why I find the whole issue so frustrating; cities are forced to simultaneously catalyze investment and prevent against its impacts.

I think a more logical process is to differentiate between neighborhood REVITALIZATION and STABILIZATION and implement policies accordingly. In essence, these are “place” versus “people” strategies. For the sake of argument, let’s say revitalization leads to greater neighborhood desirability and higher housing costs and that current residents are at a disadvantage to benefit from these changes because they have 1) lower incomes and 2) a less robust skill set for higher-wage jobs that would raise their incomes. In this scenario, enabling existing residents to capture the benefits of their revitalizing neighborhood without implementing anti-displacement policies requires upskilling them for more lucrative employment. In some cases, this is a GENERATIONAL process; the lifecycle of a commercial district exists in months and years.

So I propose that governments assess – somewhat akin to a zoning process – what commercial districts and adjacent neighborhoods warrant the revitalization versus the stabilization designation. Revitalization zones would implement place-based strategies such as destination amenity development, investment tax credits, forgivable small business loans, streetscaping and other aesthetic improvements, and additional tactics that have demonstrated results in spurring reinvestment. Property values and taxes, rents, and other market-driven metrics will not be mitigated and district revitalization will be allowed to proceed unhindered. While displacement may occur, the tax-base enhancements, destination appeal, and talent attraction benefits of the district will not be challenged.

Stabilization zones will receive more nuanced attention consistent with holistic programs such as HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods initiative, which is “designed to catalyze critical improvements in neighborhood assets, including vacant property, housing, services and schools.” Efforts will focus less on attraction of outside investment and more on uplifting the prospects of existing district residents.

Whether or not the revitalization vs. stabilization designation is politically palatable would remain to be seen. It might be more viable in some communities rather than others. But absent major innovations in reinvestment policy or workforce training, I don’t see a diminishing of the “g” word’s divisive impacts on urban areas and economies.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Implementing Amidst Skepticism

In 2013, Market Street Services was retained by a collaborative group of leaders and organizations in Macon-Bibb County, Georgia to facilitate a community and economic development strategic planning process. This process came to be known as One Macon.


It didn’t take long for public education to emerge in the public input phase as the community’s greatest competitive challenge and its most divisive issue. As our Competitive Assessment noted:

“When asked about the biggest challenges in Macon-Bibb, one input participant said, ‘1A and 1B are race and education.’ This sentiment succinctly summarizes a clear picture that emerged throughout the input process: the K-12 education system is one of the largest and most important challenges in Macon-Bibb, and the issue is inseparable from larger issues of race and class. In the eyes of many input participants, Macon-Bibb’s K-12 education system is better described as two systems divided along racial and socioeconomic lines. According to focus group participants, one is private, predominantly white, and performing at a high level; the other is public, predominantly black, and badly struggling.”

In the 2011-12 school year, the graduation rate in all Bibb County Schools was 52.3 percent. This was the fifth-worst rate among the state’s 179 traditional school districts and 17.5 percentage points below the state average for all systems (69.7). On the ACT, a national standardized test for college admissions, Bibb County students scored an average of 17.3 in the 2010-11 school year, nearly four points lower than the national average (21.1). Furthermore, while others made progress, the average score in Bibb County Schools dropped by 1.1 points between the 2005-06 and 2010-11 school years.

The leadership of the One Macon process, embodied by a Steering Committee of community leaders, quickly prioritized education in the strategic planning process; “Schools” accompanied “Jobs” and “Places” as one of the three pillars of the One Macon strategy. Throughout 2013, the Steering Committee reviewed a series of best practices and potential recommendations, and ultimately determined that The Leader in Me, a leadership program targeting elementary schools (and subsequently middle schools), was an appropriate fit for Macon-Bibb County. The program and its early success stories – notably A.B. Combs Elementary in Raleigh, North Carolina – have been well-documented, and the program is now being implemented in more than 3,000 public, private, and charter schools around the world. To help secure funding, establish a pilot of The Leader in Me program, and advance a series of other collaborative education initiatives, the One Macon strategy called for the establishment of a new Business Education Partnership (BEP).

Fast forward to October 2014. Roughly six months after the One Macon strategic planning process concluded, the first meeting of the new Business Education Partnership (BEP) was held. Decades of failed partnerships and false starts – many predicated upon a lack of trust rooted in the aforementioned “white flight” from the public school system – resulted in an aura of skepticism about the intentions and viability of a Business Education Partnership in 2014. On that day in October 2014, the Business Education Partnership discussed a series of values to uphold (candor, mutual respect, courage to discuss difficult conversations, and commitment to action, among others), and a set of characteristics that they wanted to avoid (fear of conflict, defensive dialogue, and lack of accountability, among others). 

Fast forward another three years. The Business Education Partnership and the One Macon initiative have successfully launched the Leader in Me in multiple elementary and middle schools throughout the community, supported by a $2.1 million campaign to fully fund implementation across all 27 elementary and middle schools. In April of this year, the Griffith Family Foundation made the largest donation to date – a $250,000 contribution to support expansion of the program in the years ahead. The program has just begun its third year in two elementary schools that served as the initial pilot programs – Sonny Carter and Burdell-Hunt Elementary – while others are entering their second year. Students, parents, teachers, and administrators have all noted the impact in just one or two years of implementation. The program is often frequently cited for its impacts on student’s commitment to their coursework, communication habits, and leadership attributes, which manifest themselves in a variety of outcomes. Student suspensions at the two pilot schools were cut in half in just the first year of implementation, dropping from 352 incidents to 168. 

You can read more about Macon-Bibb’s Leader in Me implementation progress here: https://macontheleaderinme.com/

The program’s implementation, the Business Education Partnership (BEP), and the entire One Macon strategic planning and implementation process would not have been possible without the vision and leadership of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, and the One Macon Steering Committee. Numerous chambers of commerce around the country have led successful efforts to launch The Leader in Me in the community’s school system; the Decatur-Morgan County (AL) Chamber of Commerce helped advance the first district-wide implementation of The Leader in Me in the world. Many other chambers were inspired by the remarks delivered by Leader in Me students at the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) Annual Convention in Raleigh, North Carolina in 2009. ACCE is a great resource for other chambers looking to learn how their peers have led these successful initiatives, as are your peers in Macon-Bibb, Decatur-Morgan County, and others around the country.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Nuclear Energy: A Crystal Ball into the Future Talent Shortage?


By: Evan Robertson, Senior Project Associate

Nuclear energy has always been a thing of fascination for me. Growing up, my father, who makes sure communities across the Southeast can safely evacuate their population in case of a nuclear meltdown like Fukushima, would casually tell us what went wrong at Chernobyl or Three Mile Island around the dinner table. This lecture also came with a basic lesson in the intricacies of nuclear power generation. So, whenever I come across any headline with “nuclear” in the title it is an automatic must read. Yesterday this title popped up on my newsfeed: “South Carolina May Spend 60 Years Paying for Nukes Never Built.”[1] An odd headline since just a few years ago pundits were claiming that a “nuclear renaissance” was soon to occur in the United States.

What happened to the nascent renaissance? A combination of factors prevented it from becoming more than a declarative statement. The rise of cheap natural gas and cost-competitive clean energy technologies like wind and solar are two primary reasons. Both have called into question the high front-end and continuing operational costs of nuclear power. But the decline of the nuclear power industry in the United States is further compounded by another important period in American history: Three Mile Island. As a result of the partial meltdown, Three Mile Island put a halt to nuclear power plant construction and when it kicked back into gear, new construction faced immense public opposition. As a result, the technical expertise developed during the post-war “Atoms for Peace” movement subsided as new construction of nuclear power plants came to a virtual standstill. Flash forward to today and the results of curtailed talent development within the industry is taking its toll.

According to the article, Scana Corporation and Santee Cooper decided to mothball the V.C. Summer project – an AP1000 nuclear power plant designed by Westinghouse. Westinghouse, a Toshiba company, declared bankruptcy in 2017 due, in part, because the company’s newly designed AP1000 reactor had never been built before. The newness of the design and understandable regulatory hurdles led to cost overruns. But a lack of talent was also cited as a key concern as stated by the New York Times, “Not only was the design new, but, because nuclear construction had been dormant for so long, American companies also lacked the equipment and expertise needed to make some of the biggest components and construct the projects.”[2] This statement in March 29, 2017 came just six years after the Nuclear Energy Institute – an industry trade group – warned that more than a third of the nuclear industry’s workforce could retire by 2016. The Institute projected that 25,000 skilled nuclear industry workers would be needed to sustain and grow the sector by 2015.[3]

Indeed, looking at employment figures for the nuclear electric power generation (NAICS 221113) sector reveals that retirements along with utilities decommissioning outdated plants have had an impact on total employment within the sector. From 2006 to 2016, employment within the nuclear power generation sector declined by 18.9 percent. In 2016, there were 12,000 fewer nuclear power generation jobs compared to 2006. This data is likely a conservative estimate since it does not account for construction and engineering jobs attached to building and designing nuclear power plants.  

Nuclear Energy Employment, 2006-2016
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Nuclear energy looks to be in a precarious position in the United States. With only one new plant under construction, the nuclear renaissance predicted some years ago is not likely to materialize. In the big picture, one wonders whether nuclear power is a figurative canary in the coal mine for other business sectors soon to be impacted by Baby Boom retirements. Compounded with under-investment, workforce sustainability issues could undermine the health and wellness of entire sectors of the economy. Simply put, a lack of technical expertise, skilled talent, and knowledge exchange between new and retiring workers were contributing factors to cost overruns in new nuclear plant construction – today’s U.S. nuclear energy sector simply didn’t have the experience and know-how needed to foresee engineering and construction challenges or proactively deal with them in a cost-effective manner when they arose.

This is an unsettling lesson nuclear energy in the United States has to offer to other business sectors throughout the economy. Underinvested talent development combined with baby boom retirements can hasten creative destruction, eliminating entire business sectors at worst and significantly curtailing their growth at best.



[1] Doan, Lynn and Chediak, Mark. “South Carolina May Spend 60 Years Paying for Nukes Never Built.” Bloomberg. August 1st, 2017.
[2] Cardwell, Diane and Soble, Jonathan. “Westinghouse Files for Bankruptcy, in Blow to Nuclear Power.” New York Times. March 29th, 2017.
[3] Nuclear Energy Institute. “Help Wanted 25,000 Skilled Workers.” Summer 2011. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

How far do your wages go?

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

About a week ago, one of the hot topics in my social media feeds was that “no full-time minimum wage worker can afford a 2-bedroom apartment in any US state.” According to the National low Income Housing Coalition, in some states, including most Northeastern states, Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Virginia, and Washington, workers would need to make over $20 to afford the average two-bedroom apartment. This is an economic development issue because housing availability and affordability are major considerations for the talent that companies desire. Sometimes it seems that these conversations spur debates over how to address the needs of the poorest among us, but that is shortsighted—the ability to obtain affordable and decent housing can be a major hurdle for entry-level workers, including teachers, police officers, and other professions that are paramount to a community, but in many communities those workers have to commute from afar or make other arrangements that they would maybe prefer not to, such as having one or more roommates.


















So as I read through the report, I became interested in the broader question of how far do wages go in communities? So updating the data I gathered a couple of years ago, I re-examined the wage/cost differential, which compares the relative wage of a metro area to the relative cost of living index[1] as published by the Council for Community and Economic Research. This analysis allows us to really examine how competitive a community’s wages are in terms of being able to afford that community’s cost of living.

The following table presents the twenty metros that have the most competitive wages as a percentage of the national average annual wage across all metros compared to the relative cost of living. Consistent with the 2014 analysis, Texas metros and several high-growth Southern (like Austin, Atlanta, Dallas, and Nashville), and Midwest metros (like are on this list. Also consistent with the 2014 analysis, the Bridgeport, Connecticut MSA has a very high cost of living compared to the national average, but it still ranks as favorable because its average annual wage is similarly much higher than the national average, so the average worker can handle the expense of living in this metro.

[1] For this analysis, the primary urban area in the C2ER Cost of Living Index was chosen for comparison in instances where a metropolitan area or division has multiple urban areas represented.


Top 20 Metros with Favorable Wage/Cost Differentials, 2016


Source: Council for Community and Economic Research; Economic Modeling Specialists Intl.

Not surprisingly, the twenty metros with the most concerning differentials are in states known for their high cost of living, like Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York. However, it is interesting to note that two southern communities with lower than average costs of living appear in this list: Auburn, AL (which was in the top 10 in the 2014 data) and Hilton Head, SC. This goes to show that the cost of living on its own does not always tell the full story—but analyses like the housing report or this wage/cost differential allow us to gain context and perspective.

Twenty Metros with the Least Favorable Wage/Cost Differentials, 2016


Source: Council for Community and Economic Research; Economic Modeling Specialists Intl.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Colossal Failure

By J. Mac Holladay, President, CEO, and Founder

Late last week, the Kansas Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto to repeal the radical tax plan passed in 2013. The program was supposed to usher in a flood of new jobs. The promised job growth never came. In fact, Kansas gross domestic product grew only .2 percent last year compared to 1.6 percent nationally. Several surrounding states with stable tax systems have flown by Kansas both in job creation and increased investment.

What did come to the state was a huge deficit in the state budget and drastic cuts to education at all levels. During this failed experiment, state school spending dropped from $4,400 per pupil to $3,800 with the poorest districts suffering the most.

The state had $700 million less revenue in 2014 than the year before, and this March the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the funding for public education is “unconstitutionally low” and must be changed.

As Republican State Senator Dinah Skyes said, “we had to take a vote to say no and say, this is not the right direction.” While every state seeks to be competitive on costs, the Kansas experiment went to the extreme in letting thousands of small businesses pay nothing at all and radically reduce personal income taxes.

Earlier this year, one University President in Kansas asked me, how can I plan anything in this atmosphere? A key component of good tax policy is certainty. Both public and private leaders need to know what is going to happen related to stability and revenue flow. Companies looking to expand or locate want to know that their employees will have excellent educational opportunities for them and their children.

Beyond talent, quality of place is the number one factor in healthy local economies. Our firm has been working in several cities in Kansas recently, all are dedicated to making their place better. In recent years, they have been unable to know what exactly was coming or to get any help from the state. Now, maybe that can change. The Legislature has approved a $1.2 billion revenue increase over the next two years.

Kansas is another clear example, we cannot cut our way to prosperity.

Friday, May 5, 2017

“Green Collar” Ag Jobs are Viable Urban Career Paths

By Alex Pearlstein, Vice President

Agriculture was once the largest employment sector in the country. That time has long passed, of course, pushed aside by advances in industrial technology and the growth of services linked to ever-expanding urban metropolitan areas. Ag jobs are still prevalent in rural communities, though direct on-farm employment now accounts for about 1.3 percent of the U.S. economy.

Ironically, momentum is building to leverage the ag sector for job creation in the very places that eclipsed the farm lifestyle generations ago: urban cores. While so-called “urban agriculture” has been around a while, its benefits were mostly seen as augmenting local food supplies, reusing dormant, often unsightly vacant land, and providing vulnerable populations with alternatives to dangerous street life. These benefits all still apply; however, the growing prominence of colorfully termed “green collar jobs” – including agriculture – has brought an economic development justification into the mix. This is especially true for locally based wealth-building strategies not tied to traditional economic development pursuits such as corporate attraction or expansion of established firms.

On the vanguard of community wealth building (CWB) strategies tied to green collar jobs is Democracy Collaborative, a non-profit advocating a “new economic system” of shared corporate ownership and management. Their best known acolyte is Evergreen Cooperatives in Cleveland. Among its three worker-owned businesses, Green City Growers is the largest food-production greenhouse in a core urban area in the U.S.

In fact, urban agriculture as economic development is becoming so prevalent that it would be impossible to list every prominent effort being implemented across the country. Instead, I’ll highlight a few green shoots (pun intended) of the movement.

  • Advocacy organization Urban Farming has developed a Coexistence Model that raises awareness about key positive impacts of urban ag. Among these is Job Creation. Urban Farming hosts community workshops to raise awareness about green collar jobs and connects residents to job training opportunities, particularly in green industries. The group has installed several Urban Farming Edible Walls in U.S. cities to provide training and job opportunities through living wall systems.
  • Green Collar Foods is a platform for the urban environment that empowers a select group of local residents with both the agricultural and technological tools to produce specialty crops that yield a financial return, combat “food deserts,” and supplement nutritional gaps. Part of a recently announced initiative in Detroit’s Fitzgerald neighborhood, Green Collar Foods will create an indoor vertical farming campus in the community.
  • Detroit is the city that has most enthusiastically embraced urban agriculture as an economic development model. In fact, a full-fledged urban “agrihood” is launching in the city’s North End, supported by the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative, the most aggressive state-run urban agriculture movement in the country. To plant seeds of food entrepreneurship (pun #2) in the city’s youth, the Detroit Food Academy works with local educators, chefs, and business owners to inspire young Detroiters (ages 13-24) through self-directed entrepreneurial experiences rooted in food.
  • REV Birmingham, a local revitalization agency in Birmingham, Alabama, launched the Urban Food Project to build a robust local food economy while creating healthy food access. The program assists corner store owners in the purchasing, marketing, and selling of fresh produce. The Project also helps farmers plan their crops and create access to new markets by distributing their goods.
  • Findlay Kitchen is an 8,000 square foot, shared-use kitchen space located in the historic Findlay Market district in Cincinnati. The Kitchen is a nonprofit organization that supports new and existing food entrepreneurs by providing affordable access to commercial-grade kitchen equipment and ample storage space. As a food business incubator, the facility partners with external programs and organizations to provide the necessary training, mentorship, and resources to aid business growth.
  • Coordinated coalitions directing local food and urban agriculture systems are also becoming more prevalent. The Atlanta Local Food Initiative is a network focused on building a local food system that enhances human health, promotes environmental renewal, fosters local economies, and links rural and urban communities. The Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Council works to promote a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system within its ten-county region. The Sonoma County Food System Alliance is a county-based coalition striving to improve the local food system through community engagement and collective action.

There are literally dozens if not hundreds more examples of urban agriculture and green collar job efforts being implemented across the country, including many focused on transitioning soldiers into green collar employment after leaving the armed forces. If your community isn’t accruing the multiple benefits of an urban agriculture strategy – job creation, locally produced fresh food, urban revitalization, health and wellness, crime reduction, beautification, etc. – you’re missing out on a really fast-growing trend (final pun).