Thursday, August 30, 2012

The rise of the urban university

By Christa Tinsley Spaht, Project Manager.

Most colleges are back in session for the fall semester (if that’s what you call 81°F and 71% humidity), this weekend thousands of SEC and ACC football fans will descend on Atlanta for the Chik-fil-A Kickoff Game. As an undergraduate at University of Georgia, I have witnessed the all-consuming power of SEC football and how it can grip a town for days on end. Still, the Kickoff Game’s impact on Atlanta is a far cry from what Athens, Georgia experienced when hosting Auburn fans.

This is why, frankly, I was thrilled to attend graduate school at an urban university, at Georgia State University. I needed a setting where I could balance school work and a professional job without the distractions of strange fraternity traditions stopping traffic or having to wade across a quad littered with empty SoCo bottles for a Saturday session at the library. What was once sort of charming and part of the college experience when I was 20, I no longer had patience for.

In just about every community we work in, I hear something to the extent of, “That used to be thought of more as a ‘commuter school,’” about its local four-year public college or university. But now this campus—a branch of a major campus, or a standalone institution—is growing rapidly in programs, enrollment, and physical plant.

As populations are shifting more and more to metro areas and as the model of higher education changes, schools that were once “commuter schools” with a few majors play an increasingly vital role in the human capital potential of cities and regions. Unlike the secluded land grant or flagship institution out in a rural or college town setting, the urban university is pushed up against the very businesses and organizations that will employ its students. These schools have to respond to a more diverse student population and a business community that needs educated employees and needs them now. Many are busting at the seams in mid- to high-density areas, eating up real estate as quickly as they can for classroom space, faculty offices, student learning and social centers, and housing.

While they may not have two hundred years of loyal, dedicated alumni (among those, state legislators and decision makers), massive endowments, and the powerful athletics programs (and the crazed fans and automatic media exposure that accompany football and basketball) that the more established universities have, urban universities (whether research-focused or not) have an incredible opportunity to partner in meaningful ways with the people who will be hiring and promoting their graduates. The bureaucracies of a major institution governed by a state body are still there, to be sure, but the need to adapt to the changing worlds of education, global talent demands, and cities with fewer resources put these metro institutions in a position to be higher education pioneers and forge new partnerships that flagship universities may not have the flexibility or the desire to facilitate.

Some of the recent success stories I’ve seen in communities we’ve worked in over the past couple of years include Peter Kiewit Institute at University of Nebraska–Omaha, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, and Auburn University–Montgomery. I’m looking forward to watching what the future holds for these institutions, and—more importantly—the impact their graduates will have on the vibrancy and growth of their cities. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Takeaways from SEDC in Myrtle Beach

By Matt Tarleton, Project Manager.

A few weeks ago, Alex Pearlstein and I attended the Southern Economic Development Council’s (SEDC) annual conference in Myrtle Beach. We had the opportunity to visit with many past and current clients, and our very own Mac Holladay was designated as an Honorary Life Member! Aside from the recognition for Mac, the quality socializing, and the lovely scenery, the conference was one of the most informative I’ve attended in recent years. At times, I feel like I’ve left a conference and haven’t gained any new insights, information about best practices, or sound advice from experienced practitioners. That definitely wasn’t the case at SEDC; it was a very worthwhile trip. A few takeaways from the various sessions are highlighted below.

The Dealmaker’s Role in the Establishment of High Performance Regional Entrepreneurial Networks

The opening keynote by Ted Zoller, Fellow at the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation and Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina, went far beyond the increasingly tired discussion of the role of networks in supporting entrepreneurship and small business growth. Dr. Zoller reviewed his “Dealmaker’s Algorithm,” a network mapping exercise based on years of research that seeks to identify the “dealmakers” in twelve major metropolitan areas in the United States. In short, Dr. Zoller’s research examines a variety of indicators of individuals (board positions, personal investment data from corporate filings, executive positions, etc.) to identify serial entrepreneurs and serial investors in each metropolitan area, and then map their numerous connections. His research has highlighted the role of the hyper-connected “dealmakers” that bring together innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors. Dr. Zoller found that in Silicon Valley, nearly 99 percent of all identified serial entrepreneurs and investors are connected through professional linkages. In the Research Triangle Park, only 60 percent of similar individuals are connected. Dr. Zoller implies that identifying these dealmakers and then increasing the connections between them is a critical step in ensuring that a region effectively commercializes new innovations and breeds successful companies.

Next Generation Supply Networks and Logistics Panel

Randy Mullet, Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs at Con-way Inc., and Deborah Butler, EVP of Planning and Chief Information Officer at Norfolk Southern shared their thoughts on the future of transportation and logistics in the coming decades. While the two at times seemed to be highlighting the future virtues of one mode (trucking for Con-way and rail for Norfolk Southern) at the expense of the other, the two both agreed, not surprisingly, that additional federal investment in transportation networks was critical to the nation’s future competitiveness. Some alarming information was shared regarding potential future congestion on our nation’s interstate system in 2040; for example, it was suggested that in 2040 levels of congestion along Interstate 20 in rural areas between Atlanta and Birmingham would be as high as current levels along the Interstate 75/Interstate 85 connector in the heart of Atlanta today. Although it wasn’t clear what defined a “community” (incorporated area, county, metropolitan area?), Mr. Mullet noted that only 20 percent of communities are served by some mode of freight transportation other than truck (rail, water, or air). And for all the emphasis that is placed on the role of intermodal transportation, it was noted that if intermodal shipments currently hold just a 1.5 percent market share.

Talent Development in the South

Mike Wiggins, EVP of Human Resources at Southwire discussed the company’s remarkable partnership with the Carroll County School System – the 12 for Life program (which my colleague Christa Spaht has previously blogged about). The program targets students with a high risk of dropping out and provides them with the opportunity to work at a Southwire manufacturing plant that was built for and is entirely operated by students in the program. Students earn above minimum wage for their labors and are enrolled in a supportive program that provides mentorship and guidance to help them complete their studies while working in one of four daily shifts at the Southwire facility. Since 2007, 422 students have completed the program; its success has been recognized by the Obama administration on multiple occasions. Additional information on the program as well as video with student testimonials can be found at the following links:

Site Location – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Ed McCallum from McCallum Sweeney Consulting and Mike Mullis from J.M. Mullis Inc. shared their thoughts on the “good, the bad, and the ugly” that they’ve seen and experienced in their years as site location consultants. It was likely the most informative, engaging, and humorous session at the conference. Some truly awful stories were shared about practitioners making basic mistakes when hosting a prospective company or site location team (from “We’re going to have to wrap this meeting up by 4:00; union laws won’t let me go any later” to “You’re paying for lunch, right?”). But there were also some great insights shared on their process. Ed McCallum emphasized that practitioners should call a site location consultant multiple times when responding to an RFI; he cited numerous reasons for calling him, all of which would help establish a connection (acknowledging receipt of the RFI, calling with questions, calling to notify that the requested information was delivered, following up to see if they have any additional questions about the community and/or site, etc.). Mike emphasized that their team always turns to existing businesses in a community being considered for a specific project to gauge how responsive the community is to their needs. They often ask three questions:

  1. What has the community done to address challenges and present opportunities?
  2. What’s your impression of the public education system and how does education and training interface and communicate with the business community?
  3. How competitive is your operation relative to other sites you operate?

The first question underscores the need for focused business retention and expansion outreach efforts, and the direct impact that they can have on communities’ viability for new investments. Mike noted that the lack of an existing business outreach program was, in his mind, one of two “unacceptable practices” for a community. The other “unacceptable practice” mentioned by Mike: a belief that incentives are all that matters. While many have outstanding existing business programs, I wish every practitioner in the Southeast had a chance to hear those words first hand.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

In the Year 2000…..

By Ellen Cutter, Director of Research.

For fans of The Conan O’Brien Show, you know the sketch series “In the year 2000” where Conan and a celebrity guest make predictions for what will happen in the future. A few examples:

  • “Everyone on earth will become flesh-eating zombies. When the flesh is all gone, they will be dirt-eating zombies. Hence after that, some will reluctantly go to the Olive Garden.”
  • “Microsoft will go out of business and Bill Gates will be bankrupt after the disastrous release of their latest product Windows Kevin Costner.”
Well, as it turns out, they ripped off the idea from the French. Earlier this week, a friend sent me this link from the Public Domain Review – a blog that showcases unusual historic works online. The post shows a series of futuristic pictures produced between 1899 and 1910 depicting what France would be like in the year 2000. The pictures were used in all sorts of ways, some were made for the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, and others were post cards or enclosures in cigar boxes. You can see that with some they got right, including predicting the RV, while with others...well, they just make you scratch your head.

Where am I going with this?  Skilled Work, Without the Worker, an article published this week in The New York Times, provides a look into the future of manufacturing and logistics – two fields that will increasingly use robotics to boost productivity. It includes several photos, some of which seem as absurd or surprising as many from France at the turn of the century. But, that's the future and it's where we are headed. It’s a great read and the implications, especially for the workforce, are huge. This is a must read for economic developers.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

There’s an App for That

By Ranada Robinson, Senior Project Associate.

In today’s smartphone dependent world, there’s an iPhone and Android “app” for everything from Facebook to the post office, from games to meeting facilitation. Now, economic developers have an application specifically for their data needs. Earlier this month, the U.S. Census Bureau rolled out a free Android mobile app (the iOS version is coming soon) that allows users to quickly gain information from the Census, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In its first phase of three, the app provides access to the latest data for 16 indicators, including several that Market Street keeps track of: unemployment rate, homeownership rate, new residential sales, and personal income. The coolest feature for this researcher is that users can set alerts to be notified when indicators are updated. Users are also able to view graphs illustrating historical trends for the indicators.

Future phases will include statistics from the consumer and producer price indices as well as population statistics. I’m hoping that at least state level data will be available in the future, if not for metro areas. In either case, I’m happy to see our federal government making steps to make data more easily accessible to American citizens. With smartphone access, if an indicator is updated the same day as a presentation, researchers can be in the know without opening and logging on to their laptops. This app is sure to become one of my favorites.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Present and Future of Measuring Walkability

By Matt DeVeau, Project Associate.

Earlier this year, Slate published a fascinating four-part series on walking in America, examining the activity’s decline and slow re-integration into modern life. The third installment focused on Walk Score, the free online tool that measures the “walkability of locations around the world.”

At the time I didn’t give the piece much thought. I’ve used the Walk Score in the past, but primarily for fun. For example, I recently checked out how various addresses that are important to my life ranked on its scale of 0 to 100. Market Street’s offices in Midtown Atlanta came in at a “very walkable” 78. My apartment a mile up the road is a “walker’s paradise” with a score of 92. The average of the eight houses or apartments I have called home since 2005: A robust 85.1. Not a bad way to kill five minutes.

But a post last week on The Atlantic Cities got me thinking about the issue again. As the piece mentions, Walk Score is an amazing tool that is still a work in progress. The software is currently good at measuring how far an address is from various types of businesses and amenities, but it is still largely blind to what an individual would actually encounter walking in an area. For instance, a supermarket might be just across the street, but if that street is an eight-lane highway, walking might not be the way to go.

There are efforts, of course, to improve this. The article in The Atlantic Cities mentions one, Walk Appeal, which attempts to gauge the quality of a walk based on the surrounding urban design environment. The Slate piece also touches on Walk Score’s efforts to improve its own methodology with a beta product called Street Smart Walk Score, which accounts for factors like block lengths and the frequency of intersections. One planner Slate interviewed even wondered:

Is someone working on a computer algorithm that will study every Street View photo in the country and assign a universally-respected "design score"?

That might sound a bit far-fetched, but consider that in 2006, Walk Score didn’t even exist. Today, it shows more than 6 million scores daily on more than 15,000 sites that use its services. What might such a service be capable of in 2018? What might Google, the company responsible for those Street View images, do in this arena?

These questions are fascinating for those of us interested in urban design, but this discussion is relevant in the community and economic development field as well. I often hear that communities are increasingly interested in providing “walkable places” as a means to promote growth and attract talent. There is some evidence to suggest that this strategy has merit. Market demand for walkable communities is growing and a recent study from Brookings indicates that such areas perform better economically. Young people are also driving less and walking, biking, and using transit in greater numbers.

I count myself among the latter group. My wife and I own a car, but we both walk to work most days, and we run many errands on foot as well. Our motivation for doing so is not based on a high-minded ideal but rather fairly straightforward self-interest: compared to a car-focused life style, walking is cheap. Really cheap, actually, even when accounting for the rent premium in a neighborhood like Midtown Atlanta, a major employment and residential center.

I’m biased, but I believe that investing in walkable places will be important for communities seeking to maintain a competitive edge. If this is the case, then it would certainly make sense to compare walkability – which can be a subjective quality – over a wide variety of places in a standardized fashion. Walk Score does this now for free. And as the software advances (or something new comes along to compete with it), the measurements will become even more accurate and meaningful. That’s an exciting thought.

Monday, August 13, 2012

BRT to the Rescue

By Matthew Tester, Project Associate.

After the painful affair that was the transportation sales tax referendum in Metro Atlanta, I’m looking far and wide for good news in the transportation realm. I need to know that somewhere out there political gridlock isn’t as bad as what clogs our streets every day. I need to believe solutions are out there. More than that, I need to know that my pet transit option, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), is getting traction somewhere in the world.

Enter Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel is talking the talk about implementation of “Gold Standard” BRT on key routes through the city. Unlike half-hearted BRT efforts that are essentially regular city buses painted with fancy graphics, Gold Standard BRT has the capacity to change minds about bus transit. According to BRT Chicago, a consortium of public and private backers, the City has now committed to three new BRT routes in town, and Mayor Emanuel has stated that such projects in the city will have “dedicated bus lanes, signal preemption, pre-paid boarding or on-board fare verification, multiple entry and exit points on the buses, limited stops, and at-grade boarding” – all hallmark features of Gold Standard BRT. It seems that the Central Loop (East-West) BRT line through the city’s core commercial district is the first real test of Emanuel’s commitment to Gold Standard BRT; the project has received $24.6 million from the FTA and $7.3 million in local TIF funds.

Whether Chicago goes all-in or not, it’s high time we had an American example of premium BRT implementation. The continued proliferation of “BRT” systems in our country that lack the essential features of BRT – such as those in Atlanta, NYC, and LA – will ultimately lead the public and policymakers to conflate BRT with regular bus service. And the more that happens, the less likely it is that this affordable, attractive, and capable transit mode will get a chance to prove its worth.

To learn a more about Gold Standard BRT, check out these links:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Live From Louisville! Notes from the ACCE Annual Meeting

By Kathy Young, Director of Operations.

This week, J. Mac Holladay and three of Market Street’s staff (myself, Ellen Cutter, and Christa Tinsley Spaht) will be spending time with chamber of commerce professionals from throughout the nation at the American Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) annual meeting. As ACCE’s national economic development sponsor, we look forward to this opportunity to see clients and friends, and to learn from the nation’s most accomplished and passionate economic developers, including Market Street’s CEO, who has been a supporter of ACCE for 30 year. Some highlights from my first morning follow.

Economic Development and State Budgets

Market Street kicked the morning off with an enlightening presentation by our CEO, who was joined by two fellow ACCE veterans, Mark Eagan (President and CEO of the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber) and Jay Chesshir (President and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber).

Mac provided a review of national trends and recent decisions being made at the state level that are bringing to light some dire future scenarios we all have ahead of us. Mark and Jay shared the realities from their states – some good, and some less so. In the coming days, we’ll be sharing more information from the presentation, but in the meantime, take note of this incredibly powerful – and brave – recent statement from Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

“How much less do we think would be good for our country? How much less education would be good for our children? How many fewer college degrees would make our state or our country more competitive? How much less research and development would be good for the innovation economy that we have an obligation and the responsibility, a duty and an imperative, to embrace? How many fewer hungry Maryland kids can we afford to feed? Progress is a choice: we decide whether to make the tough choices necessary to invest in our shared future and move forward together. Or we can be the first generation of Marylanders to give our children a lesser quality of life with fewer opportunities.”

Innovative Community Marketing

Cynthia Reid, VP of Marketing and Communications with the Greater Oklahoma Chamber of Commerce shared with everyone the value of research-based, competitive benchmark community driven marketing strategies. One key point reiterated by Cynthia and Roy Williams, CEO for the Chamber, was the importance of setting aside resources or least having a plan to take advantage of unexpected opportunities (e.g., first time in NBA finals).

Another point that hit home for me was Cynthia’s suggestion to not just market what you are, but to market what you aren’t. Her message went into further detail, but what really resonated with me was the applicability of this message for emerging communities that don’t have as many resources as some of their high capacity competitors. This message underlies much of what our team does in every community we work in – don’t try to be something you’re not, be authentic, and market what makes your community special.

Stay tuned for additional blogs next week, when we’ll recap more from the meeting, including what’s sure to be a great presentation tomorrow morning on “Winning the Talent War.” Market Street’s Director of Research Ellen Cutter and Project Manager Christa Tinsley Spaht will be joined by Brad Lacy, President and CEO of the Conway (AR) Area Chamber of Commerce, and Mary Bontrager, Executive Vice President of Workforce Development for the Greater Des Moines Partnership.