Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cost of Taking a Bite out of Crime

By Kathy Young, Director of Operations.  

Last month my colleague Matt Tarleton and I attended a lunch and learn event sponsored by our partners at the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) and hosted by one of our clients, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce. Over the course of an hour or so, we – along with a diverse group of chamber leaders from throughout Georgia – were brought up to speed on criminal justice reform at the state level. Specifically, the guest speakers focused on making the business case for reform, and connecting local leaders back to policy initiatives currently taking place in Georgia and elsewhere in the nation. 

Given the dire state of local and state budgets, the call to analyze publicly funded efforts from every angle including efficiency, return on investment, and potential fallout from drastic cuts – is at a fever pitch. The decisions are hard enough without having defensible data. Fortunately, the folks at the Pew Center on the States have put together some excellent resources to inform this particular debate. Some interesting statistics were featured during the discussion, including:

• In the last 20 years state corrections spending has jumped more than $40 billion. 
• Corrections is the second fastest growing state budget category behind Medicaid. 
• One in every 100 adults is now behind bars.

While our session featured a report from the Chair of the Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, there were also a number of highlights from what other states are doing to balance public safety needs with cost containment. There has been a good bit of work in the past six months, ranging from Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s announcement of a new public safety initiative to the sometimes controversial expansionof power being wielded in local drug courts.

Public safety systems at the local level and policy decisions at the regional and state level have a tremendous impact on a community’s attractiveness and competitive position. Tackling the myriad of complicated factors that are part of this issue head-on is never easy, but going in armed with good data and a solid business case can help balance the emotional reaction that naturally comes with the territory.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Recommended Reading: American Manufacturing

By Matt Tarleton, Project Manager.

If you watched the President’s State of the Union address on Tuesday and have been following the major newspapers in 2012, then you’re probably asking yourself “Is manufacturing cool again?” That’s right folks, it seems like the light bulb is back on. More value in goods-production than financial derivatives? Say it ain’t so! Sarcasm aside, there’s been some good reading this week related to American manufacturing. I’ve listed three articles below with a few quotes from each. 

“Making it in America,” The Atlantic, January/February 2012 Issue

(Note: Yes, the title is certainly a rip off of Andrew Liveris’ Make It In America: The Case for Reinventing the Economy. )

“I came to realize, though, that Maddie represents a large population: people who, for whatever reason, are not going to be able to leave the workforce long enough to get the skills they need. Luke doesn’t have children, and his parents could afford to support him while he was in school. Those with the right ability and circumstances will, most likely, make the right adjustments, get the right skills, and eventually thrive. But I fear that those who are challenged now will only fall further behind. To solve all the problems that keep people from acquiring skills would require tackling the toughest issues our country faces: a broken educational system, teen pregnancy, drug use, racial discrimination, a fractured political culture.”

Read more: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/01/making-it-in-america/8844/?single_page=true

“Apple, America, and a Squeezed Middle Class,” New York Times, January 21st, 2012

“We shouldn’t be criticized for using Chinese workers,” a current Apple executive said. “The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

“One former executive described how the company (Apple) relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight. A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. “The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.” 

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/business/apple-america-and-a-squeezed-middle-class.html

“Hello Haiti: Mt. Olive Meets Creole,” News and Observer, January 22nd, 2012

How the Haitian migration to Mount Olive began has become a sort of legend. Each Haitian loves to tell it, and slightly exaggerate with each telling. At its most basic, the story goes like this: A single Haitian worked at the Butterball plant in Mount Olive in late summer 2010. He heard his boss complaining about having to replace a dozen or so workers quickly because of problems with their work permits. The Haitian worker volunteered to solicit new employees. He called a friend in Miami, who then called a few friends. Two days later, two vans packed with eager Haitian men arrived at Butterball. A hiring supervisor eventually offered jobs to all of them. 

Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/01/22/1796338/haitians-flock-to-mount-olive.html

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Video Game Industry to Piracy: You’re a Threat?

By Evan D. Robertson, Project Associate.

These last two decades have been somewhat of a conundrum for the media sector. Music publishing (read: the entire music industry), the movie business, and print media have been faced with two trends which completely undermine their value proposition: piracy and digital media. To combat piracy, the media industry has turned to the federal court system to prosecute individuals who have stolen the industry’s intellectual property and distributed it to the public for free. More recently, the industry’s attempt to thwart piracy was housed within their flagship legislations the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act. Both bills were dismantled within a day after a conglomeration of technology heavy weights staged a simple, but very effective internet campaign against the bill. For now, the industry’s piracy problem remains a concern. The media industry could use a few pointers from the interactive entertainment industry in how to effectively manage the piracy problem.

The video game industry’s approach to combat piracy is integrated right into its business model: you can only access content on a specific machine built by one of three companies (Nintendo, Sony, or Microsoft). This would be akin to only being able to listen to your favorite record on a Sony/BMI manufactured I-Pod.  This control has also given the industry the opportunity to further innovate its products creating new forms of control.  For example, video game producers are adding in additional downloadable content that can only be retrieved with a security code that ships with the game. The holiday hit Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the first to utilize this feature. Producers intentionally shipped the game with 10 percent of its content missing.  Once purchased, consumers can go online and use the game code to unlock its missing content. This is akin to using a similar code to purchase the special features section on a DVD. With these new measures of content control, the interactive entertainment industry effectively incentivizes users to purchase its original content while, at the same time, reduce the likelihood that their content will be pirated. The traditional media business could do well to create similar incentives for its users.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Remembering Dr. King through Service

By Ranada Robinson, Senior Project Associate. 

Yesterday, I celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day through a day of service along with thousands of others across the country. In Atlanta alone, over 2,500 volunteers signed up to work on projects coordinated by Hands on Atlanta, resulting in probably 10,000 hours of service in one day. How amazing collective action can be!

My sorority chapter collaborated with four projects yesterday—two were in conjunction with Hands on Atlanta. Some of our chapter members worked alongside middle school students in our mentoring program at the Wheat Street Garden Urban Forest. The one I worked with from 9 am to 1:30 pm was at Zion Hill Community Development Corporation in East Point, GA. Together, we painted, tiled a formerly carpeted floor, and reorganized the clothes they sell in their “Z Boutique.” Zion Hill CDC has several worthwhile programs, including a housing program for chronically homeless women aged 55 and over, a rental and utility assistance program, and a secondhand clothing shop where women in need can receive clothing at no cost and where community members can come in and purchase clothes as a means of supporting the organization (and finding great deals on gently used clothing). Still other members of my chapter assisted with an NAACP-sponsored parade and program and with beautification efforts at an elementary school in College Park, GA.

Nonprofit organizations are definitely important pieces to the community development puzzles, and it was my honor to spend my day helping one that does so much right in my own backyard. Communities are greater when people get together and help those in need. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best:

All I'm saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we're caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

-December 18, 1963 at Western Michigan University on “Social Justice”

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Good things in Georgia

By Christa Tinsley Spaht, Project Manager

We’re constantly digging through best practices and successful programs to see what communities, regions, and states are doing effectively to drive a competitive workforce, business environment, and quality of life. Sometimes I get so caught up in keeping track of what is going on across the nation and world in community and economic development that I miss the exciting things—large and small—happening in my own backyard. While Georgia’s stumbles along in its recovery from the recession, there are some really creative and effective public and private community-level efforts that are pushing communities, businesses, and young workers to be more successful. I’ve highlighted a few of my favorites that I’ve stumbled across in the past few months.

Plugging in At-Risk Talent: 12 For Life, Carroll County
Led by Southwire, one of the largest electrical wire manufacturers in the U.S., this partnership with Carroll County School System focuses on high schoolers at risk for dropping out. This program mixes up the school day with traditional classroom time and then time on the factory floor at a Southwire facility where students work, receive on-the-job training, and are coached on job and life skills. Oh, and the kids get paid too! Read the recent Georgia Public Broadcasting story on the program.  With a goal to see 175 high schoolers through to graduation in its first five years, Southwire has already helped 275 graduates in four years. Since the launch of 12 for Life, the school district’s graduation rate has gone up 10 percentage points and its on-time graduation rate for the poorest students has jumped up 22 percentage points. Southwire has a long history of leading Carroll County's proactive initiatives, including a leading role in the development of Carroll Tomorrow, a result of a Market Street-led process with the community in 2000.

Giving Startups a Head Start: Flashpoint, Georgia Institute for Technology
Flashpoint is an aggressive four-month “process accelerator” for a carefully-selected group of technology startup teams, giving the startups access to mentors, investors, and shared space in Technology Square. After months of coaching and development, the teams pitch their ideas to an auditorium full of investors and other experts. Upon graduation, the chosen startups also may grab investments of between $15,000 and $25,000 from the $1 million Flashpoint Investment Fund, backed by local angel investors.

Flashpoint has focused its previous accelerator cycles on Georgia Tech faculty and students, but plans to expand to accept corporation-sponsored startup ideas for disruptive technologies. Flashpoint, launched in 2010, is the brainchild of Georgia Tech’s strategic plan innovation task force, inspired by Silicon Valley’s Y Combinator accelerator, to address challenges with early-stage capital for local firms. Check out the Atlanta Business Chronicle for an overview of the 16 teams from the most recent cycle that pitched their developed ideas at Flashpoint Demo Day this week.

Family-Friendly Entrepreneurship: Bean Work Play Café, Decatur
Co-working spaces have been cropping up in cities with rapidly-growing groups of independent or remote workers. Co-working spaces are basically communal spaces that are a step up from coffee shops, with many of the amenities of an incubator (conference rooms, printers, work rooms). Bean Work Play Café in Decatur (just outside of Atlanta) is the child-friendly version of this trend. This co-working business is tailored to work-at-home, self-employed, or just-need-to-get-out-of-the-office-today parents, with the typical trappings of a co-working space—meeting and events spaces, office tools, memberships—as well as play-based childcare on demand (incorporating the Reggio Emilia method, which I know nothing about).  

Planning Ahead of Sprawl: The Center for Community Preservation and Planning, Newton County
People think I’m crazy when I say I love I-20, the east-west interstate that cuts through Atlanta, but once you get east of the metro core there are so many beautiful historic downtowns just off the interstate. Case in point: Covington, Oxford, and Social Circle, all about 30 miles east of Atlanta in Newton County. (You’ve probably seen Covington on TV  and didn’t even realize it.)

A far outlying suburb of Atlanta, Newton was a rural setting sprinkled with small towns that saw its way of life about to be seriously impacted by the sprawl of metro Atlanta. In 1999, Brookings Institute’s Christopher Leinberger called 28-county metro Atlanta the “fastest growing human settlement in history” and by 2005 Newton County, on the fringe of the metro, was the eighth-fastest growing county in the U.S.  Proactive and detailed planning was necessary to ensure that as the metro area inevitably crept into Newton County, the resulting growth and development would reflect the long-term vision and deliberate planning of community members and leaders.

Enter the Center Facilitating Community Preservation and Planning, a foundation-funded meeting space for discussion about Newton’s future. The conversations at the Center led to the creation of the county’s Leadership Collaborative, a public-private group that put together a thoughtful comprehensive plan to “allocate density” by preserving what the community holds dear—historic and scenic corridors, rural areas, schools—and advancing other areas where the county can best benefit from Atlanta’s suburban growth—home-grown jobs, mixed-use development for better transportation access.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tactical Urbanism

By: Evan D. Robertson, Project Associate. 

Let’s face it, our urban spaces are plagued by lifeless streets with a dearth of entertainment, shopping, public space, or any sort of potential for activity. Since the dawn of suburbanization, urban America has suffered from wholesale disinvestment and planning that was too auto-centric. Atlanta is a prime example of planning centered on the automobile. While the city has excellent urban environs, they exist only in nodes. This is to say that if you wanted to move from one great urban space to another, you must get in your car and drive. To walk from one activity center to another will leave you winded and wondering how you could go from vibrant, active place to a dearth of life in so few steps. The question for our future built space is one that entails reimagining, and reclaiming, them from design that, while proven functional over the last 50 years, no longer suits the needs or demands we now place on America’s urban environments. 

Park(ing) Day is one such movement aimed at reclaiming and recreating parking spaces that dominate our built environment. The idea is simple, turn a local parking space into a park. Take a fistful of quarters; in-kind donations of sod, shrubberies, and assortment of plants; chairs and maybe a Frisbee or two and arrange these objects in an attractive fashion in any ordinary parking space, preferably one near a semi-active street. This simple act has a transformative effect on almost everyone walking by. Pedestrians will give a quick double take to see what is going on, others will stop and inquire about what you are doing, as well as to verify its legality. If you’ve brought chairs, some will sit and chat usually asking at some point in the conversation “Why can’t we do this every day?” The important part is what was dead, lifeless urban space is transformed, albeit only for a day, into an attractive destination for passers-by, a break from monotony. 

Yet, why do just an 8’ by 12’ space? Why not a city street or block? Atlanta Streets Alive and The Better Block campaign are both efforts to re-conceptualize the city street. Atlanta Streets Alive mimics theciclovia (translates to “bike path”) in Bogotá, Columbia. Atlanta Streets Alive holds an annual event in the summer where they shutdown a city street for use as a physical activity center. Individuals can skate, bike, take a yoga class, dance or do whatever they are in the mood to do. The purpose: to take back the street from the automobile while promoting more active lifestyles. In contrast, the Better Blockcampaign encourages complete streets, streets where walking, biking, and driving are all encouraged. The campaign is a “living” charrette where community members are actively engaged in the temporary revitalization of their street. The community identifies an area with good pedestrian form, but lacks activity. After the block is identified, a group of volunteers and local business leaders transform the area: installing street lights, greenery, bike lanes, patio furniture, public art, street vendors, and pop-up shops so as to reanimate the block. The goal: to conceive a livable street. 

The Next Generation of New Urbanists defines all of these urban experiments as "Tactical Urbanism." It is a movement of small scale, temporary urban change that seeks to prove what urban spaces could be like if the right type of permanent investment was used to reinvigorate fading urban areas. Moreover, tactical urbanism is a way in which local governments, with a relatively low cost investment, can “experiment” with urban revitalization. To really see what works, and what doesn’t long before immense sums of monies are invested.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New Year’s Thoughts

By Matt Tarleton, Project Manager. 

Ahhh, the New Year. Can you feel the optimism? According to a recent AP poll, 62 percent of Americans are optimistic about what 2012 will bring for the country, while 78 percent are optimistic about what the New Year will bring for their family. However, only 36 percent believe that their household’s financial situation will improve in the year to come. That pretty much sums up the current state of economic recovery; no expectation for improvement in household finances yet that still translates into optimism. 
That being said, here are a few scattered thoughts as we enter the New Year. 

Pay close attention to wages

Between the third quarters of 2010 and 2011, real (inflation-adjusted) wages in nonfarm business sectors declined by 2.2 percent. When adjusted for inflation, there has been no wage growth in nonfarm sectors since the Great Recession began in the fourth quarter of 2007. Many households can adjust to temporary wage stagnation or loss with relative ease, but longer-term wage stagnation can have dire consequences on consumer debt, investment rates, poverty levels, homeownership, and demand for social services, among countless other impacts.

2012 Outlook

In the final months of 2011, the majority of economists revised their forecasts for 2012 downward. In November, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia quarterly survey of economic forecasters predicted 2012 unemployment to average 8.8 percent, up from their 8.6 percent prediction in August. These same economists are predicting a net gain of 1,478,000 jobs (just over 123,000 per month) in 2012. With this level of growth, the United States would still be more than 4 million jobs shy of pre-recession employment levels in 2007. The Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia predicts that the state of Georgia will only add 18,000 net new jobs in 2012, just over one percent of the aforementioned employment gain forecasted for the United States, and recouping just five percent of the roughly 360,000 jobs lost in the state of Georgia since the onset of the Great Recession. Dr. Roger Tutterow, Professor at Mercer University, is a bit more optimistic of Georgia’s outlook, forecasting 30,000 net new jobs in Metro Atlanta alone in 2012.

A good end to 2011 for North Carolina

While North Carolina has also endured a relatively slow recovery, the state experienced a number of positive developments in December, highlighted by multiple expansions of existing businesses as well as Chiquita’s announcement that it would relocate its global headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte.

  • Chiquita’s relocation will bring roughly 375 jobs by 2014, including management and R&D functions.

  • Hitachi Metals will expand its China Grove plant located outside Charlotte and double its workforce, creating 65 new jobs paying an average annual wage of $43,000.

  • American Roller Bearing will create 231 jobs during a five-year expansion of its Morganton plant.

  • The establishment of a new Bosch dishwasher line will support the addition of 100 new jobs at BSH Home Appliances facility in New Bern. The company will also add 30 new positions at a customer service call center located in the New Bern facility.

  • Pete Dawson Co., a food-service wholesaler/distributor, will expand its operations in the state in 2012, opening a new facility in Statesville that will add roughly 50 jobs at an annual wage of $47,500.

  • UPM Raflatac, a manufacturer of paper label stock will expand its manufacturing operations in Henderson County, creating 50 new jobs above the county’s average wage.