Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dissecting Graduation Rates: Achievement Gaps in Georgia’s Schools

By Matthew Tarleton, Senior Manager, Research and Projects.

Good news from our home state last week: Georgia’s graduation rate increased by 1.8 percentage points between 2012 and 2013. The bad news: the state is probably still in the bottom five in terms of high school graduation. Although all states have yet to report graduation rates for 2013, last year the state’s graduation rate only exceeded that of Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and the District of Columbia.

Clearly Georgia still has a long way to go. This is no surprise, and not the focus of this blog entry.

Rather, I want to focus on something positive underlying the overall graduation rate and its increase from 2012 to 2013. Data from the Georgia Department of Education show that much of the improvement in the state’s graduation rate can be attributed to a reduction in achievement gaps between white students and minorities.

Education has long been referred to as “the great equalizer.” There is an abundance of evidence showing the relationship between education attainment and income. There is also an abundance of evidence showing the relationship between education and a variety of other outcomes that we expend tremendous government resources attempting to address: health outcomes, crime, and unemployment among them. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for a high school dropout was $24,492 in 2011 as compared to $33,904 for a high school graduate. The unemployment rate for dropouts in the same year was 14.1% as compared to 9.4% for graduates. According to the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network (NDPC/N), a dropout will earn roughly $200,000 less than a graduate in their lifetime. Meanwhile, 82% of prisoners in the United States are high school dropouts. Given the influence of educational attainment, closing the achievement gap may have the single greatest impact on a variety of observed racial/ethnic disparities in such outcomes.

So what exactly happened in Georgia between 2012 and 2013? In 2012, the achievement gap between white students (graduation rate of 78.0%) and black students (61.8%) stood at 16.2%. This was the 27th largest achievement gap among 47 states with comparable data. In 2013, that gap declined to 14.6% as black students experienced more significant improvements in their graduation rates (+2.5%) relative to their white counterparts (+0.9%). The achievement gap between white students and Hispanic students also declined. In 2012, the state’s white-Hispanic achievement gap of 18.2% was the 38th largest achievement gap out of the same aforementioned 47 states. Between 2012 and 2013, the white-Hispanic achievement gap contracted by 2.6 percentage points to 16.5%. Only seven states in the country have a larger minority population as a share of all residents (in other words, only seven have a smaller non-Hispanic white population as a share of all residents). Given its relatively large minority population, continued reductions in achievement gaps can have a tremendous impact on raising the state’s graduation rate relative to its peers.

Researchers have studied the factors that contribute to achievement gaps for decades, with a wide variety of explanations emerging. Some point to underlying differences in socioeconomics for different races and ethnicities, with socioeconomic disadvantages potentially reflecting comparatively limited access to educational resources. Higher rates of single-parent households among blacks and Hispanics have also emerged as a common explanation, with such rates reflecting less time for parental involvement. This issue is compounded for many English Language Learners who not only start at a lower level of English language knowledge but also may lack English-speaking parents at home that are capable of helping students with homework. Other studies have pointed out reinforcing factors that compound the problem over time; low-performing school districts may attract less qualified educators and depress home prices, creating a cycle that exacerbates existing problems. There are many other explanations, both environmental and structural, but there does seem to be consensus that achievement gaps measured by test scores emerge at very early ages, emphasizing the importance of early childhood education and equal access to such early education.

While some state policies can have a significant impact on achievement gaps – perhaps most notably the investment in and promotion of equal access to early childhood education – much of the improvement that we see in statewide outcomes are a result of efforts implemented at the local level. We are frequently working with communities to identify appropriate programs, policies, and initiatives that can support these goals, in Georgia and nationwide. Using the same data from the Georgia Department of Education, I wanted to examine how some of client communities have performed in recent years. Having worked in nearly 20 communities throughout the state, an exhaustive analysis would make for a mighty long blog post. So at the risk of being accused of playing favorites, I am just going to focus on a few here.

We are currently working in Macon-Bibb, where the Bibb County School System has been characterized by a graduation rate near 50% in recent years. In 2012, just 52.3% of students graduated. The data released last week showed a tremendous improvement: the graduation rate rose by 8.8 percentage points to 61.1%. The achievement gap between blacks and whites in the district declined from 13.8 percentage points to 8.6 percentage points. This is an impressive improvement and one that the community will hopefully sustain through hard work and commitment. You can see our research findings and view the community’s “One Macon!” strategy in full when it is released next month by visiting the project website. Without question, there will be a heavy emphasis on improving student outcomes; residents identified low graduation rates as the community’s greatest challenge.

We have also completed work in a number of Metro Atlanta communities in recent years, including but not limited to Cobb and Gwinnett Counties. Achievement gaps between white and black students, and white and Hispanic students, have declined substantially in both communities.

Down in Columbus-Muscogee, the graduation rate for all students surged by 5.3 percentage points from 67.5% to 72.8%, bringing the system above the statewide average. The white-Hispanic achievement gap has improved, but the white-black achievement gap has widened despite a strong surge in the black graduation rate (3.7 percentage points) that simply failed to keep pace with an even larger surge in the white graduation rate (6.4 percentage points).

While there are some great success stories across the state, there hasn’t been much for the entire state to applaud in terms of education for quite some time. Make no mistake – Georgians should not be proud of a statewide graduation rate of 71.5%. But we can find some comfort in knowing that observed improvement sin graduation rates this year have come largely from improvements in reducing our achievement gaps.

And of course, if you are a Georgia community and interested in knowing how your district(s) performed in recent years, give us a call.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


By J. Mac Holladay, founder and CEO.

I remember it like it was yesterday when we took the ferry to Robben Island. In 2008, we went to Africa for the first time. In Capetown, I knew that we wanted to see the prison where Mandela and so many others were held for so long. Mandela’s clan name was Madiva, but he was known by the name his first teacher gave him. She called him Nelson. Then, we knew only a small amount about the history of the nation. We knew nothing about Robben Island.

Now we do. It had been a leper colony before it was a prison. The island is a bleak place with a white limestone mine in the middle. All the prisoners were required to work there. Their eyes were not protected as sunglasses were not allowed and many went nearly blind. It was back breaking, monotonous work.

The prison itself was a stark and cold place. All the cells were 8 feet by 7 feet. A mat on the floor served as the bed. There was a small window with bars for the only light. All of the guides on Robben Island are former prisoners, ours was named Kgosto. As with most, he was convicted of treason.

In all of my wildest dreams, I can not imagine being caged there in one place for over 20 years. Mandela read, he studied, he thought, and he prepared all those years for what was to come. A chance to move his country, and this world, forward in a way no one imagined.

As Bishop Tutu made clear in his great book No Future without Forgiveness, South Africa faced enormous challenges. The way forward was by no means assured. So Mandela walks out after 27 years of confinement and says – “We are all South Africans” and then he proved it every day as the country’s first elected President. In his inaugural address in May 9, 1994 he said “Never, never, and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.”

One of our rich experiences in Capetown was to eat dinner at a home, now a small restaurant in Langa Township, which was not too long ago a ghetto where no whites could go. The owner’s name is Shelia who raised her family there and, since there are no mortgages in South Africa, had built her home one room at a time. This is economic development at the core.

Yes, there is yet much to do in South Africa, but it has come so far that none of us in America can even understand where it was and what Mandela meant to everyone there.

I have been fortunate to travel the world, no place has ever affected me like South Africa. Mandela is the reason. He was a man really beyond description, a giant of a man, and one that all of us in this work have been blessed by his leadership and his love of country and its people – all of them. What a lesson to learn. Thank you, Madiva.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Film: Beyond Job Creation

By Jonathan Miller, Project Associate. 

I have written a couple blog posts on the film industry and focused on the efficacy of incentives. It is difficult to see a definitive correlation between incentives and the multiplier effect for both jobs and earnings. However, Georgia has fully embraced the film and entertainment sector through its incentive policy, and unlike other states, such as North Carolina, the incentives law does not have a sunset provision. The sunset provision in North Carolina (incentives terminate at the end of 2014) is already impacting the business. According to a film producer, “Films and shows that are being planned 18 and 24 months out are not looking at North Carolina because they don't know what is going to happen 18 months from now.” The certainty of the incentives in Georgia is supportive of local investments in film infrastructure, and it’s pretty incredible to witness.

I recently toured Fayette County and had the opportunity to drive over to Senoia, Georgia. Located adjacent to Peachtree City, Senoia is where most notably the TV show “The Walking Dead” is filmed. The filming activity and the popularity of the show has given rise to a cottage tourism industry complete with walking tours, trolley tours, and smartphone applications. Perhaps the most noticeable effect of the filming presence is the investment that has been made in the downtown area. Senoia Enterprises, a development company with close ties to Raleigh Studios, has rehabbed many of the buildings and stores on Main Street and created a charming streetscape that is used as a back lot for production. New homes are also being built with the look and feel of brownstones so they can be used for recreating scenes that take place in New York City, Chicago, or Philadelphia. Other homes have the feel of Savannah and Charleston. Such follow-on investment increases the visibility of the industry and has truly revolutionized Senoia.

I give this example to provide another glimpse into the film and entertainment sector to highlight the positive economic development effects that are not captured by job creation figures. Pinewood Studios, a well-known British studio company, is building a large studio complex in Fayette County (the property was annexed into Fayetteville in March). The studio has already booked a large budget production and will begin filming in January. The studio will not only have sound stages, but there will be an onsite Home Depot that will provide lumber and hardware to production companies at Pinewood and also other nearby studios (such as Senoia and Tyler Perry’s studio in Atlanta. The sales tax that will be generated from the endeavor will flow to the local jurisdictions, augmenting local budgets. The Pinewood facility will also have an educational component so that productions will have access to a skilled workforce. Again, it’s these “extras” that embody the ongoing impact of such projects.

Much of the argument against film incentives revolves around the transiency of both the filming process and the film workforce. From an economic development perspective the goal is to capture as much local investment and job creation as possible. Tying film production to your geography is the critical element as it works to sustain local investment. In Senoia, the investment in downtown sustains a relationship between the town, fans, and the studio. In Fayette County, the campus setting for not only production, but vendors and training as well, adds to the long-term value that the investment will bring to the community. While tax incentives may create the environment for being competitive for film, it’s often the fixed investment that will pay off in the long run.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On being thankful!

By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow

The news that some big retailers will be opening on Thanksgiving Day this year and that there may be a shortage of turkeys has me thinking about this great American holiday and how it came to be sacrosanct in our culture.

I mean, is there anything more American than turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, green bean casserole and baked pies—pumpkin, apple, cherry and pecan?

Actually, about the only thing on today’s Thanksgiving menu that the Pilgrims enjoyed in 1621 was the turkey and it was not the “centerpiece” of the meal according to More likely goose or duck was the wildfowl of choice and there was pumpkin, squash, Indian corn and nuts gathered from the forest.

Not even the date is historical. President George Washington proclaimed Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a national day of thanksgiving. Other presidents did likewise, from time to time, until President Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving a national, annual holiday with a specific date, the last Thursday in November.

All was well for 75 years until President Franklin Roosevelt, at the behest of retailers seeking to extend the Christmas shopping season, moved the date to the second-to-last Thursday which is said to have divided the country with some states following FDR’s proclamation, others celebrating on the traditional date and Colorado and Texas deciding to honor both dates! In 1941, Congress passed a law declaring that Thanksgiving would occur on the fourth Thursday of November where it has been celebrated ever since.

One thing hasn’t changed, however, and that is Thanksgiving Day is a time to gather together—with family and friends and as a grateful nation—to give thanks for our many blessings.

On this Thanksgiving, my associates and I at Market Street Services are thankful for the work local and state chambers are doing to strengthen our nation’s economy and important initiatives to improve the lives of all people.

And we are especially thankful to our clients for the opportunity you have given us to work with you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Friend from Long Ago

By J. Mac Holladay

I had come home to Memphis from five years as a U.S. Naval Aviator. I had been all over Asia, including Vietnam. I was hired by Dave Cooley, the strong and visionary head of the Memphis Chamber. My dad said it was the organization that was making a difference. 

I was the low man on the staff chart. They called me the Director of Special Projects. That meant that I was assigned any and all tasks that none of the key staff wanted to do. So when Memphis faced a seriously controversial school desegregation order in the fall of 1972 and Mr. Cooley decided we had to lead, not follow, I got the call.

We wrote a grant request from the U.S. Department of Justice to help us peacefully desegregate all of Memphis' public schools. With the help of our U.S. Senator, Howard Baker, we got the grant.

So we created IMPACT - Involved Memphis Parents Assisting Children and Teachers. Our core committee was headed by a Methodist minister named Jim Holmes. It was a diverse, dedicated group of citizens. I was the Executive Director. The intensity, the danger, and the importance of what we were doing made those six months before the buses rolled some of the most interesting and exciting of my career. Every child got to school safely that January morning in 1973.

One man captured what happened and its importance at the time. His name is John Egerton. He graduated from the University of Kentucky, served in Army, and in 1965 moved to Nashville to work for Southern Education Reporting Service. John reported on civil rights as it unfolded and later wrote ten books about integration in the South and was the co-creator of the documentary A Child Shall Lead Them, which is about the desegregation of Nashville's schools.

While it is less well known than many of his books, he also wrote a short history of our work in Memphis. It is titled "Promise of Promise," which he wrote for the Southern Regional Council. Memphis was the first major city in the South to peacefully desegregate its schools in 1972-73. John told the story of our people, our strategy, our tactics, and our success. It made me proud to be a part of the story.

John Egerton died on Thursday at his home in Nashville. While he later wrote about food and the connection of social justice with our Southern culture, I know what he cared about the most. He wanted the South to be better than it was, and he knew we had to do it together. Thanks John. I, and many others, will miss you and not forget what you wrote all those years ago.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Future of a Car Reliant City

I grew up in suburban Florida where mass transportation and a walkable community were outlandish topics so Atlanta, comparatively, is a transportation mecca. Not to say that Atlanta doesn’t have work to do. Like many other cities, Atlanta is faced with setbacks that are up to the city leaders to address. After the initial implosion of TSPLOST the dreams of Atlanta becoming a city that doesn’t depend as much on their cars seemed doomed. A year and a half later, there’s been a lot of rumblings around town lately about Atlanta’s transportation “issue” and ways the City is trying approach it and prove that it – in certain areas – is an alternative commute-friendly place. Below are some examples of how Atlanta is trying to incorporate new and old ideas into its transportation infrastructure.

I’m sure everyone is well aware of Atlanta’s traffic woes but significant strides are being taken to offer other options to residents. Progress has been most noticeably evident over the past couple years in areas like Midtown and parts of Downtown. To solidify that statement, the City of Atlanta was recently awarded a bronze level “Walk-Friendly” honor. The “gold level” wasn’t achieved but at least it means the City is making progress and hopefully will continue to work on its walkable options. With more walkability comes positive attributes like less car reliance, healthier communities, supporting local business, more green space, etc. Supporting efforts include the newly paved bike paths around Atlanta and, of course, the always popular and one of my personal favorites – the Beltline.

Another effort to help with transportation that has been getting a ton of press is the streetcar that’s currently being built downtown. Atlanta is looking to its past for inspiration and currently constructing a 2.6 mile path from Downtown to the Martin Luther King Jr. historic district, which is located about a mile away. The streetcar will be the first modern line in Atlanta and hopes to reach North Atlanta in the coming years. The “past” is referenced here because back in the day – before cars – Atlanta was reliant on streetcars as the main source of transportation. Now – due to congestion issues and lack of transportation options downtown – the City has decided to bring back the streetcars to provide a more efficient system and hopefully put an ease to traffic.

Atlanta Streets Alive! is another program that the City is backing – allowing people to get out and just be social. The streets are closed for four hours in a participating neighborhood and the whole objective is to encourage people to take part in outdoor fun by walking or biking. According to the Streets Alive! website the three goals they strive for are to celebrate neighborhoods, expose attendees to outdoor fun, and to encourage people to take the streets by foot or bike.

While Atlanta still has to overcome a lot of obstacles to truly become a walkable city with a plethora of transportation options, progress is happening. It might not be as swift as many may like but as the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Crisis

By J. Mac Holladay, founder and CEO.

I have just returned from two weeks in Spain and Portugal. The trip was another Washington and Lee University Alumni College experience starting in Barcelona and ending in Lisbon. My wife and I extended our trip in Madrid by several days.

The overwhelming feeling I got throughout the trip is the difficult state of the economy in both countries. What we have termed The Great Recession, they call The Crisis. And for them, it is NOT over.

Spain’s official unemployment rate is 26% with little prospects of it coming down anytime soon. That is coupled with a 63% labor force participation rate (the same as the US). While Spain’s exports are increasing, only 4% of the nation’s firms export and many of them are not consistent exporters. The rising Euro threatens this strategy as many of its top customers are in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. One hopeful sign is that over 75,000 Spaniards have received micro-loans (up to 25K euros) from 2008 to 2011 in order to start small businesses. Another hopeful sign for both countries is a recent rise in consumer confidence. Portugal’s confidence index rose 22 points to 55 in the third quarter, Spain’s by 8 points to 56 – confidence in Germany (92) remains notably higher. It was evident too that Portugal has not recovered from The Crisis with countless empty buildings in Lisbon. The tourism sector is providing the majority of new jobs. Many of them are low paying.

It is clear that basic services are being neglected. There is graffiti everywhere, even on some national monuments. That was particularly true in Portugal. When we arrived in Madrid, the street cleaners were on strike and the city was filthy. Even the Plaza Mayor was littered with trash. Neither visitors nor the citizenry will accept that situation for long.

There is no question that the most powerful person in Europe is not in Spain or Portugal but in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel has assumed a position of leadership by default in protecting the European Union and its currency. We should not forget that our financial meltdown is what began this terrible cycle. While we have serious and continuing problems in many parts of the country, nothing compares to the suffering and difficulty I saw in Spain and Portugal.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Engineering at All Ages

By Ranada Robinson.

Although my son is only one year old, I find myself thinking about his educational options at least once a day. And not just where he will go for pre-K, but for elementary, middle, and high school as well. I can’t help it. When I purchased my house years ago, I wasn’t thinking anything about public school districts, and now that I have a child, I’m wondering if I will need to cross my fingers and toes that we will win a charter school lottery or if I should take out a loan so that I can afford private school. I am a data wonk and look at school performance for clients on a regular basis, so of course, I took a look at the statistics for the schools we’re zoned for, and frankly, they appear scary.

Two weeks ago, I traveled to Greenville, South Carolina, with my colleague Christa Tinsley Spaht for a familiarization tour. There are several gems in this charming city, including their NEXT program (and its NEXT Innovation Center), the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (ICAR), and a bustling downtown full of yummy restaurants and activities for all ages. But what caught my eye was the AJ Whittenberg Elementary School. This “School of Engineering” opened in Fall 2010 and has a school-wide engineering curriculum and has engineering labs throughout – even the structure itself will be used to teach students about the importance of conservation and recycling. The students – who range from four-year-old Kindergarten to fifth grade – participate in regular hands-on experiential learning and engineering and science are incorporated across all subjects. It’s a former scientist’s dream! Best of all, it’s part of the downtown redevelopment effort and is a public school – not a magnet or charter school. The school is open to anyone in Greenville County on a first-come, first-served basis, and students do not have to meet any special criteria or win any lotteries to attend. I was in awe and left wondering if I can find a reason for Market Street to open an office in Greenville so that I can enroll my son there.

I’ve seen several examples of career academies as alternative high school models across the country, especially in communities that have clearly identified their targets and want to make sure they’re preparing homegrown talent for future jobs. I’ve also seen examples of middle school specializations. However, it’s not every day that we see communities start so early in the talent pipeline exposing children to STEM – engineering in particular – so wholly. So of course when I got back to our office, I did a little research to find out who else is engaging their elementary students at this level. Here is a sample of what I found:

The Sioux Falls School District, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has its Lowell Math, Science, and Technology Elementary School; Rosa Parks Global Studies/World Language Elementary School; and Eugene Field A+, which integrates fine arts into all instruction.

In Hartford, Connecticut, Capitol Regional Education Council Schools has its Academy of Aerospace and Engineering Elementary, which starts at the Pre-K level. The curriculum provides children with opportunities to conduct investigations, use the scientific method to solve problems, and gather information.

The Martha and Josh Morriss Mathematics and Engineering Elementary in Texarkana, Texas, works with Texas A&M University’s Texarkana College of Arts and Sciences and Education and College of Engineering. The facility is an important part of this school’s educational experience as well. Within their STEM learning pipeline, which includes middle school and high school, they offer a robotics program and there is a robotic competition at each educational level, including the FIRST LEGO League for grades 4 through 8.

The New York Times featured this article, “Studying Engineering before They Can Spell It,” in 2010, and the description of first grade students in New Jersey figuring out how to help a farmer keep rabbits out of his garden excited me. It is easy to see how this foundation can be built upon throughout their educational journeys and transformed into tangible careers that the kids can visualize and feel confident about. There are many organizations out there designing curricula, such as the Museum of Science in Boston and their Engineering is Elementary (EiE) program and partners of the National Science Foundation, and wanting to work with districts to develop engineering elementary schools, such as the American Society for Engineering Education.

I would love to talk to my son in a couple of years over dinner about his latest experiment. It’s never too early to expose kids to problem solving and critical thinking and even social skills including collaboration. Communities who embrace curricula that include such interactive and practical learning will surely reap the benefits in the long run.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Chicken Little vs. Pollyanna

By Alex Pearlstein

When the subject of strategic planning comes up in a community, business leaders, public officials, and the media have a number of options in terms of how to spin the process. The area (be it city, county, or region) can approach it from a position of strength, as in, “We are seeing such success and achieving so many great things, we want to make sure we continue this momentum through proactive planning.” Or they could take a more pragmatic approach, “Things have not been going the way we’d like; our economy is faltering, our young people are leaving, and we have to do something now to turn this community around.” Or they could navigate a middle path with a little bit of “sky is falling” Chicken Little tempered by a dash of rose-colored-glasses Pollyanna.

What brings this balance to mind is an article from this month’s Cleveland Magazine in which the author wishes some in government and the media would be more realistic about how they portray each “next big thing” to be proposed in the city. Past history has shown that most projects that promised to be the catalyst to finally reverse the city’s fortunes have been more smoke than fire, more bluster than muster. Breathlessly touting every shiny new building or park or redevelopment initiative risks alienating a wary, we’ve-seen-this-before population before the project even has a chance to gain traction.

On the other side of the coin, constantly touting a community’s strengths and successes can create a sense of complacency in an electorate that might prevent it from supporting a truly beneficial project or initiative because they think that things are fine the way they are. Or that progress will continue without the need for new investment because of how awesome we are. “Companies come to us, we don’t need to pay them to come here (with incentives) or beg people to come (via talent marketing).” Unfortunately, communities that stand still and don’t continuously focus on how to improve and become more competitive are the ones that get passed by.

That middle approach – equal parts measurable reality and defensible boosterism – is probably the best path to tread. Above all, perspective is important. If a community’s population understands how competitive the economic development world is these days, they would probably be more likely to support, 1) a project to make them better, or 2) a project to keep them better. Even if there’s a cost related to public money or a one-time tax increase.

Perspective is everything nowadays. So towing that fine line between over-negativity and hyper-positivity could potentially make the difference between winning local support for a project or fighting a losing battle.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Survey of Surveys

By Evan Robertson

If there is one underlying philosophy that drives Market Street’s approach to every project, it is this: every community is wholly different. Each and every community we’ve worked in has their own concerns, internal capacity, assets, and critics. Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a diverse set of communities over my years at Market Street, ranging from Watertown, SD (pop: 27,442) to the Metro Atlanta, GA (pop: 5.3 million). And while each and every community is unique in its own respect, there are pervading themes that crop up during public input. For instance, I’ve yet to facilitate a focus group of workforce development professionals who feel that they’ve completely addressed their talent pipeline. While the underlying issues are completely different, along with the assets and capacity to overcome those challenges, the common concern still exists.

Market Street conducts a ton of surveys. Over the past two years alone we’ve handled well over 8,000 responses to community surveys we’ve conducted throughout the country – these responses have immeasurably contributed to strategies that encapsulate the community’s vision and, ultimately, lead to successful implementation. These surveys, when combine; provide a rather unique picture of the types of strengths a community identifies as well as their perceived challenges. Below are two quick graphics that combine over 8,000 open-ended response questions to two survey questions we ask in nearly every community. Words that appear larger were utilized more frequently in open-ended responses than those that appear smaller.

What is your community’s greatest strength?

Source: Market Street Services
Number of Responses: 8,103

The preceding graphic takes over 8,103 responses that we’ve received to an open ended question we ask in a variety of formats, but it boils down to: What is your community’s greatest strength? By far, the most dominate response: people. Those individuals that comprise the community add to its distinct flare, and contribute positively towards the overall health and social fabric – further instilling a strong sense of place within the survey respondent – are most frequently stated as its greatest strength. Simply put, people make the place – which is encapsulated in the next most dominant response: community. Finally, geographic location is also a popular response. This is stated in a variety of formats ranging from proximity to a large metropolitan area (i.e. a small town with big city amenities) to interstate access. Other less frequent, but no less important strengths include quality education systems (schools), low cost of living (cost), economic opportunities, and workforce quality. 

What is your community’s greatest challenge?

Source: Market Street Services
Number of Responses: 7,965

As you can see, there is less agreement between respondents over the greatest challenge their communities face: each community is distinct. While some stand out, they are less predominant. Lack is a common response, usually tied to opportunity, jobs, diversity, and quality education institutions (be they higher education or K-12). Interestingly, People as well as Community make an appearance as key challenges – responses usually pertain to individuals resistant to change. Just as individuals positively shape the community so too can others detract. Because many community members intuitively draw the connection between education and continued economic success, Education and Schools are also often cited challenges.[1]

While the aggregated surveys show some similarity between key strengths and challenges frequently cited by stakeholders in an assortment of communities over the past two years, the approach to leveraging their strengths and addressing their challenges are exclusive, each requiring individualized strategies that tailor to the community’s internal capacity and shared vision for change - solving a community’s K-12 education challenges, for instance, requires distinct strategies and underlying best practices to inform successful implementation. Our client communities may share common themes, but each is unique.

[1] If you’ve looked at our client map, you’ve realized we’ve facilitated many projects in the Atlanta area. It goes without saying that the region’s primary concern is transportation. It appears as large as it does due to our body of work in metro Atlanta rather than being a common trait all communities face. Some of the communities we work in have an average commute time of ten to fifteen minutes. In Atlanta, that’s enough time to get you on the interstate, if you are lucky.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Taking on the ‘Skills Crisis’ at the Local Level

By Matt DeVeau, Project Associate.

At Market Street, we talk a lot about looming workforce skill shortages and education delivery systems that are struggling to produce even adequate results, let alone world-class outcomes. Many of our client communities are dealing with one of these issues and some have the unenviable task of facing both. So pervasive are these issues that it’s only natural to – on occasion – become desensitized to them. But inevitably, a new study or report will be released that quickly brings the true gravity of the situation back to the forefront. Such was the case this week when the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an international economic organization of 34 developed nations, released its “Skills Outlook 2013.” Now it can be said again, in no uncertain terms: the United States is facing a mounting talent crisis.

OECD surveyed approximately 166,000 individuals aged 16 to 65 in 24 countries and sub-national regions to assess proficiency in three areas: literacy, numeracy (mathematics), and problem solving in technology-rich environments. The full results are available in a massive 466-page report, but this article from The New York Times does a good job of summarizing the key issues.

On the whole, the United States fared poorly in the assessment, but there is one sliver of data that stands out as the most alarming: performance broken down by 10-year age groups. Among the oldest age group comprised of people aged 55 to 65, the United States performs well in literacy on average, ranking fourth behind Japan, Slovakia, and England/Northern Ireland (Figure 1). But among the youngest age group, 16 to 24 year-olds, things are markedly different. The United States is well below average, ranking fifth worst (Figure 2).

Source: OECD, results include only OECD nations and sub-nations, with England and Northern Ireland treated as a single entity

So what happened? It’s not the case that younger Americans are less literate. In fact, they score higher than their older counterparts. Instead, the decline is a relative one – other nations have had more success in improving literacy through successive generations. In Finland, the oldest age cohort produced average literacy scores, but younger Finns rank second behind only Japan. In Korea, the difference is even more pronounced: older Koreans rank fourth worst, younger Koreans rank fourth best. And though older adults in the United States did not score as well on numeracy (mathematics), the trend is similar. Americans aged 16 to 24 actually had the lowest numeracy proficiency among 22 nations and sub-nations. The world isn’t just gaining on the United States – they’ve already passed us.

A study such as this raises many questions, and according to Anthony P. Carnevale of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, the first one is: “If we’re so dumb, why are we so rich?” In The Times article, he provides his answer:

“Our economic advantage has been having high skill levels at the top, being big, being more flexible than the other economies, and being able to attract other countries’ most skilled labor. But that advantage is slipping.”

I agree with Carnevale, particularly on that last point. So logically, the next question should be, “What can be done to fix this?” Here, the answer is more complicated, so instead of offering an incomplete set of prescriptive solutions, I’ll touch briefly on how this work can get done.

Ideally, the information in this OECD report and other studies would set off alarm bells that would lead to a concerted, nation-wide effort to improve education. I don’t think it’s overly cynical to say that this will not happen. As I write, the federal government has been shut down for 11 days, and the short- to medium-term prospects for any kind of significant legislative action are dim. Things are not necessarily better at the state level, either. The vast majority of states cut funding for education in the wake of the Great Recession, and seven states have cut per-pupil spending by more than 15 percent.

But while the federal government can set high-level policies and states frequently determine curriculums and funding formulas, primary and secondary education still remains largely under local control. This is the level at which concerned parties can have the biggest impact. Many of Market Street’s client communities from around the country have taken bold steps to improve educational delivery systems and outcomes and, ultimately, create a more skilled workforce. One notable example is Nashville. Since 1998, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has supported high-quality candidates for the community’s board of education through its SuccessPAC political action committee. Various public, private, and non-profit leaders in the community have also coordinated their efforts through Alignment Nashville, a 501(c)(3) formed in 2004 to positively impact public school success, children’s health, and the success of the community as a whole.

These initiatives are not easy to implement. School board elections can be contentious, and being involved in them requires conviction and courage on the part of the community’s business leaders. The members of Alignment Nashville’s 23 distinct committees put in long hours in pursuit of strategic goals. But as the latest OECD data indicates, this hard work is vital. A handful of local initiatives cannot by themselves improve the United States’ top-line skills proficiency, but they can help secure a community’s competitive future. And if nothing else, the represent what is possible at the moment. This is the work that can be done, so it is the work that should be done.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Leveraging HBCUs to Impact a Community

By Ranada Robinson, Senior Research Associate.

Two weeks ago, I was afforded the opportunity to attend the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Community Economic Development Conference hosted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (US HUD) and the HBCU Community Development Action Coalition here in Atlanta. The conference focused on educating attendees on what HBCUs are currently doing to move forward community development, what opportunities are available, and other strategic tips on how to maximize HBCU influence in communities that are often blighted, low-income, and even crime-ridden. I was especially interested and enthused to attend this conference because it fuses some of the major passions of my life—economic development, black communities, and my beloved HBCUs.

I am a graduate of an HBCU—Tougaloo College in Mississippi, and I have family members, including my mom, who graduated from Jackson State University and Alcorn State University, also in Mississippi. HBCUs have always held a special place in my heart. I grew up attending JSU football games, where I was mesmerized by the Sonic Boom of the South (Jackson State’s award-winning band). I attended summer camp multiple summers at both Jackson State and Alcorn, where I spent time receiving standardized test preparation, enrichment in math and science, and connecting with other black scholars from around the state. I came into my own as a student at Tougaloo, and I have never regretted my choice.
HBCUs have been the places where African American students could receive a well-rounded post-secondary education when other opportunities were not available. HBCUs provide not only a cultural experience but a fundamental opportunity to obtain the necessary educational foundations required in a world that relies on skills and knowledge. As “anchor institutions,” HBCUs are not just student centers—they  have traditionally provided much needed services to their surrounding communities, including recreational opportunities, training opportunities for non-traditional students, and even senior care and early education services. During the Civil Rights Movement, many HBCUs served as safe havens and provided meeting places for leaders,Freedom Riders, and the like.

When I hear people ask what value HBCUs have in today’s world, several statistics come to mind: according to Thurgood Marshall College Fund, although HBCUs represent only three percent of the nation’s institutions of higher learning, they graduate nearly 20 percent of African Americans who earn undergraduate degrees. Additionally, HBCUs graduate more than half of African American professionals, including 80 percent of African American judges, 70 percent of African American dentists and physicians, 50 percent of African American engineers, and 50 percent of African American public school teachers. HBCU are indeed still necessary because workforce development is still imperative, and HBCUs are getting the job done – on meager budgets. According to Dr. Julianne Malveaux, former president of Bennett College, the combined endowments of all HBCUs equal less than ten percent of Harvard University’s endowment.  The impact that HBCUs have, along with the established influence they have in black communities, make them viable partners for cities and regions around the nation. Making sure HBCU leaders are at the table when strategizing community-wide plans is imperative because they have established relationships and rapport with constituencies that may be otherwise untapped or underutilized.

At the conference, I heard from college presidents as well as community development corporation directors about their current community and economic development strategies. Here are a few of the efforts HBCUs are employing to better the communities near their campuses around the country.

Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD – Morgan Community Mile – The university reached out to more than 50 Northeast Baltimore neighborhood associations around its campus and developed a plan to improve the quality of life within a 12-square-mile area  that is home to more than100,000 residents. Priorities addressed in the strategic effort include increasing health and safety on and off campus, providing additional educational and youth development opportunities within the neighborhoods, increasing economic and business opportunities, and continuing to create better relationships between the university and citizens. The school has also acquired land in a blighted area near campus and are developing three academic buildings, including a center for its Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management, slated to be completed in summer 2014. The other two buildings will be a behavioral and social sciences building and a school of community health. The development has been instrumental in improving the area, which includes a troubled shopping mall, Northwood Plaza.

Rust College, Holly Springs, MS – Home Ownership Program – Rust College’s Community Development Corporation seeks to transform the low-income rural area near campus into a vibrant, self-sustaining community. To do this, they have begun constructing environmentally conscious homes with US HUD grant funding – to date, they have completed 11 of these homes. In addition, they have worked closely with the city to ensure that the area has nice streets, electricity, and water. The college provides new homeowners with education, counseling programs, and financial literacy classes.

Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem , NC – Enterprise Center and Simon’s Green Acre Community Garden – WSSU’s S.G. Atkins Community Development Corporation has two ventures positively impacting its surrounding community. The Enterprise Center, which is housed in the redeveloped former Boys & Girls Club building in a blighted corridor, provides business development opportunities for small businesses and focuses on educating business owners on conservation and energy efficiency. The incubator is full and has a waiting list of entrepreneurs interested in moving in. A win-win for the university and for the community, students have been hired by member businesses over the summer, and one student was even hired full time. The Center has won an Economic Development Administration Award from the U.S. Department of Commerce.  Simon’s Green Acre is a community garden created to address the status of the community as a food desert. Through this effort, WSSU students, faculty, staff, and community residents work to provide fresh produce and improve health outcomes –in just the past two years, the garden has produced 15,000 pounds of produce. The university offers hands-on learning opportunities to students and residents in sustainable horticulture and therapeutic gardening.

Langston University, Langston, OK – T.G. Green Park Softball Field and Farmers Market – The Langston University Center for Community Engagement has leveraged US HUG grant funding to revitalize a dilapidated park into an NCAA regulation-size softball field and to construct a 3,600-square-foot Farmers Market. The university and the city both invested in this effort and have a memorandum of understanding that allows the university’s softball team to call the field home while also using it to train local children in intramural sports. The Center also leveraged funding to open a Farmers Market that provides space for local farmer and craftsmen to sell produce and other artisan goods.

These are just examples of how HBCUs are taking their role as anchor institutions in oftentimes low-income communities seriously. HBCUs, like other universities, are pillars in our communities and should be considered strong partners in community and economic development efforts.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Creatively Destroyed: The One Hour Photo and Retraining Workers

By Evan D. Robertson, Project Associate.

A piece of Americana is being destroyed – creatively destroyed. Most of us probably haven’t even taken a moment’s pause to consider the extinction of the entities that once held a predominant place in the nation’s department, grocery, and drug stores. With its banishment, we are approaching a time when a whole generation won’t fully understand why Robin Williams stepped out of his usual comedic roles to star in Mark Romanek’s psychological thriller “One Hour Photo.” I mean, why would you need an intermediary to look at your photos before you upload them to Facebook* – or, conversely, why would you steal someone’s photos when you can anonymously look at them on Instagram?
The one hour photo is a victim of technological change. After all, photos were taken to share with family and friends – it was the “status” update of the 1950s to the very early 2000s. Today, our mobile phones are the cameras. Digitization is the modus operandi.
Yet, this post is not about the passing of an industry lost to technological change. It is about the impact of technological change on our communities and their workers. Creative destruction – whether it is the demise of a one hour photo department or automation replacing workers at a factory – is the natural progression of our continually evolving technological environ. Communities can either be at the forefront of this change or must adjust their local economy and workforce to the shifting economic tides.
Over the last 29 years of my life (i.e. all of it), I’ve developed photos at a store twice – just twice. And it seems that America isn’t as prone to develop their photos at a store either. In 2002, national One Hour Photo (NAICS 812922) employment stood at 11,611 workers. By 2012, total employment stands at just 1,442. An 87.6 percent decline or 10,169 people needing a new line of work. This isn’t an anomaly. Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Nokia, et. al have drastically changed how we take a photo while Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Flickr have drastically altered how we share a photo. Without both evolutions,  I’d argue, speedy film development would still be a thing.
The whole photography industry is reeling from improving mobile phone photo quality, digital cameras, and photo sharing. Employment within the photography sector declined 39.9 percent – 96,845 jobs – over the last decade. Barring some sort of technological change or massive alteration to the sector’s business model (see the first footnote), photography employment is vanishing – it transcends decline. The implications for vanished employment vastly differ from general employment decline – the shift is structural, those workers unable to adjust will almost certainly require retraining to make their skills  valuable in the new economic climate. 

Photography Sector: Employment Dynamics

Source: EMSI
Communities swept up in the changing tides of technology – or business strategy – would do well to first identify the types of occupations facing layoffs. After that, you need to place these occupations into two categories: 1) those that will easily adjust to the changing landscape (i.e. those occupations whose skills will easily transfer), and 2) those who will likely require retraining. If we look at the list below, for example, Parking Lot Attendants, Retail Salespersons, Cashiers, Customer Service Representatives, Office Clerks, and General and Operations Managers could likely transfer to other departments within a store, or find employment within the retail sector.**

On the other hand, Photographers; Photographic Process Workers and Processing Machine Operators; and Mixing and Blending Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders; represent a wholly different challenge – skills within these occupations are highly tied to the photography sector and will likely not translate well to other business sectors. When skills don’t easily to other economic sectors, intervention is needed – community stakeholders must coax out retraining opportunities. For ease, we’ll just focus in on Photographic Process Workers and Processing Machine Operators (Film Developers).

Photography Sector: Top Declining Occupations
Source: EMSI
O-Net – a primary source of occupational information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statics – divides an occupation into its three component requirements: knowledge, skills, and abilities. By comparing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of Film Developers with other occupations, stakeholders can identify occupations with the highest retraining potential. Before you identify which occupations make sense, having a full understanding of the strengths of your local economy will greatly aid identification. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll assume your local economy has a strong semiconductor sector. Film Developers and Semiconductor Processors – workers who manufacturer electronic semiconductors – share many commonalities.

Source: EMSI
In the above graphic displays the knowledge level of Film Developers (knowledge overlap) and Semiconductor Processors (Knowledge Gap). In essence, red represents a gap between Film Developers and Semiconductor Processors. As you can see, Film Developers share some common knowledge sets including Administration and Management, Customer and Personal Service, and Chemistry. Gaps – which can also be seen as retraining opportunities – exist in Engineering and Technology, Public Safety and Security, and the English Language. Improving writing skills, STEM education, and hazardous material handling would assist in retraining Film Developers for employment within the semiconductor manufacturing sector.

Source: EMSI

Film Developers’ skills will also need further honing and improvement. Skill development should be formed in conjunction with local semiconductor employers – skills are intricately tied to place. General skillsets that can be improved in the classroom include reading comprehension, speaking, and social perceptiveness. Equipment maintenance, quality control analysis, and operation monitoring are skills better suited for apprenticeship programs or learning labs that simulate the workplace.

Source: EMSI
Abilities are enduring attributes of the individual that influence performance*** and are far more difficult to teach in a classroom setting – though not impossible. Abilities can be learned and improved over time by repetition. Finger Dexterity, written expression, and multilimb coordination possess the largest skills gaps between Film Developers and Semiconductor Processors, however, few abilities possess significant gaps.
Don’t possess a vibrant semiconductor sector? Well, you get the gist. If your community has been unfavorably impacted by the changing economic landscape, or simply suffered a large closing or relocation, the steps are fairly simple to follow – albeit tough to implement.

 1. Be Proactive – start – if you haven’t already – the conversation now. Once the event is announced, you’ll be at a disadvantage. Time is critical. A target sector analysis with a robust occupational evaluation  and economic development strategy is a crucial step in improving the turnaround time.

2. Identify the best use of resources – separate occupations between those that the market will sort out – i.e. those with the transferable skills – and those in which retraining is a must.

3. Identify the knowledge, ability, and skill gaps for each targeted occupation – get advice and insight from employers.

4. Work with higher education and Workforce Investment Boards to develop a targeted retraining program – greatly informed by perspective employers’ knowledge and stated demand.

5. Formulate mentorship, internship, or apprenticeship programs for retrained workers – important for “proving” the value of the program to perspective employers.

6. Maintain relationships – this might happen again, so keep the dialogue going.

Identifying skill overlap is time consuming, complex, and requires hefty data lifting. However, informed decisions about worker retraining and retooling can greatly improve the ability of your economy to recover from a mass layoff or significant job loss caused by technological change.  

Of course, workforce development efforts combined with identified targeted business sectors and a holistic economic development strategy will greatly assist retraining efforts.  It is about having the processes and relationships to respond to change. It is about building a resilient local economy.

* - Admittedly, this might be a useful service for Facebook’s denizens. Consider this free business advice – I require a small, five percent stake. You’re welcome.

** I’m leaving out Nonfarm Animal Caretakers, I honestly can’t think of any reason why they would be on the list.  I just keep thinking “petting zoos.”

*** Definition via O-Net.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lights, Camera, Jobs: The Sequel

By Jonathan Miller, Project Associate.

In August of 2011, I wrote a blog post about film incentives and the ability of the sector to grow jobs. I concluded that the jobs numbers were a poor rationale for continued subsidies, especially in Georgia. I also said that if I ran into “Catherine Heigel, Keira Knightley, or Angelina Jolie,” then I would personally sponsor the next piece of incentive legislation. I would like to revisit the former statement with new data and analysis, but I still wholeheartedly stand by the latter.
The discussion revolving around film incentives has waxed and waned in recent years, but there still remains no definitive answer as to the “worth it factor” of these incentives. The competition for feature films is increasing and international destinations such as Australia (“The Great Gatsby”), Canada (“Godzilla”), and the United Kingdom (new installments of “Star Wars”) are rapidly asserting their ability to compete, especially on incentive packages. As Variety reported, the exodus of motion pictures to other shooting locales has prompted the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, to state the loss of such films is an “emergency” and at the top of his political to-do list.
One of the areas of the country that has upped its appeal for filming is the Southeast. As the map below shows, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina are among the states offering the highest tax credits. The map, which ran in the Wall Street Journal, accompanied a piece on North Carolina’s film incentives, which are slated to sunset in 2015. Rep. Mike Hager, the GOP majority whip, is perturbed by the opportunity cost of $70 million and was quoted as saying, “We could have paid more teachers, kept our teacher assistants, given raises to our highway patrol.” It is unclear whether sunset provisions for film incentives are becoming a trend, but states such as Texas, California, and Nevada have increased their overall funding for incentive programs.
Film Tax Credits available by state, 2013

Note: Restrictions on tax incentives vary by state. States differ in the mechanism for paying incentives. Tax incentives may be capped, and also may be limited to specific areas of a film’s budget.
Source: Wall Street Journal, “North Carolina's Film Tax Credits Head for Cutting-Room Floor” via EASE Entetainment Services and Michigan Film Office
In my previous post, I looked at jobs in the motion picture and video sector (NAICS 512) and the onset of incentives programs to see if there were any correlations. The continued loss of jobs in Georgia, even after the beginning of the film incentive program in 2005, was the main takeaway. However, Market Street has recently acquired EMSI, allowing for more in-depth study of different sectors. The following table shows the current status of jobs, earnings, and multipliers for a range of Southern states and California in motion picture and video production (NAICS 512110) and teleproduction and other postproduction services (NAICS 512191).
Impact of the film sector by state, 2013 

Note: LQ is the “location quotient” and measures the concentration of jobs in the state relative to the nation. A score of 1.0 indicates that the employment has the same concentration as the average community. Location quotients above 1.0 indicate more concentration (and conceivable a competitive advantage).
Source: EMSI
The sampling of states presented in the previous chart reveal some interesting insights. First, much of the rationale behind film incentives relies on the multiplier effect as film activity supports local economic activity. The states with the highest job multipliers are California (5.22), Florida (3.35), and Georgia (2.97), indicating these states are seeing film activity translating into more jobs than in other states. In terms of earnings, California (2.96), Florida (2.55), and Texas (2.42) are the states with the largest multiplier effects. Second, states with the highest film incentives tend to have lower jobs and earnings multipliers. Alabama, Missouri, and Oklahoma offer the highest tax credits (35 percent), but are not seeing as much follow-on activity. Plus, the average wages in these states are less than half the national average for the sector. Third, jobs and earnings are only one way of measuring “impact.” State and local tax receipts are another measure of how well incentives pay off, but the data and methodology tend to be inconsistent. However, according to the Tax Foundation, “every independent study has found film tax credits generate less than 30 cents for every $1 of spending.”
Overall, the film incentive debate is still murky. Higher tax credits are not correlated with more jobs or higher multipliers. But on the other hand, some states are seeing growth and economic activity derived from the sector. What we don’t know, and it’s a central question, is whether or not film incentives are the best option, politically and fiscally. Until we can answer that, film incentives are likely to stay around as long as the Fast & Furious franchise… number 7 is being filmed in Atlanta now!