Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Building Civic Capacity: Lessons from Watertown, South Dakota

By Matt Tarleton, Project Manager.  

In a paper for the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change, Susan Saegart, a professor at the City University of New York, defines community building as an approach which emphasizes, among other things, “communities working together to identify and solve their problems… sustained stakeholder engagement (and) development of a sense of common purpose and an action agenda.”* Dr. Saegart notes that civic capacity, or community capacity (used interchangeably), is a specific byproduct, albeit a largely intangible one, of community building. Dr. Robert Chaskin, Deputy Dean for Strategic Initiatives at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, defines community capacity;“the interaction of human, organizational and social capital existing within a given community that can be leveraged to solve collective problems and improve or maintain the well-being of a given community. It may operate through informal social processes and/or organized efforts by individuals, organizations, and the networks of associations among them and between them and the broader systems of which the community is part.”**

I could devote this entire blog entry to the countless definitions of community building, community capacity, and civic capacity that exist in the community development literature. But at the end of that blog, I still couldn't tell you which one is the best or most accurate definition. Civic capacity – or whatever you want to call it – is one of those “you know it when you see it” kind of things.

Over the course of the last year, I can say with confidence that I’ve seen and experienced civic capacity at its pinnacle. 

Watertown, South Dakota.

Midway through 2012, Market Street began working with a group of residents in Watertown – the H20-20 Steering Committee – to develop a new vision plan for the community. This group of residents came together in 2011 to initiate the next phase of visioning for Watertown, a town with great success in implementing previous vision plans in recent decades. While we received support from many great organizations in the community throughout the process, our client was not a single organization. It was a group of dedicated citizens. The committee involved many new, young leaders in Watertown, including a high school senior. In my five years at Market Street, I can’t recall another high school student, or college student for that matter, being included on a steering committee. Considering the opinions, needs, and wants of bright, young residents – all processes could benefit from that! 

Our challenge in Watertown, as with any community visioning process, was to ensure that all citizens, businesses, and community institutions were empowered to share their opinion about the community’s preferred future. A vision plan that isn’t grounded in resident input and community consensus will receive little support come implementation.

While our team personally spoke with roughly two hundred individuals in person during our initial trips to Watertown, it was crucial that we provide all 21,000+ residents of Watertown an opportunity to share their vision. An online survey was developed and the H20-20 steering committee took on the task of promoting it in August. The committee members spread the word via email, communicating with any and all individuals that they were able to contact. Coworkers were emailed, along with distribution lists for nearly every community organization in town – the Watertown Community Foundation, the Chamber of Commerce, the Redlin Art Center, the Watertown Police Department…you name ‘em, they helped promote it. Even the community’s secondary and post-secondary institutions emailed all students and faculty, imploring them to take the survey. Committee members conducted interviews on local radio stations. Op-eds were written in the City’s newspaper. A page promoting the process and the survey was included in every utility bill mailed that month. Cashiers at grocery stores gave customers the same information at checkout lines. An electronic billboard was leased on the City’s main highway to promote the survey.

The result: 2,219 responses from a community with just over 21,000 residents. As a share of total population, Watertown’s response rate shattered Market Street’s record for resident engagement in a community survey. Once we compiled all open-ended comments, we were left with a document that was 525 pages long.

Fast forward a few months to January, 2013. The H20-20 Steering Committee is ready to reveal the product of many months work: Watertown’s Vision for 2020 (the final Vision Plan, including a summary of all findings and all recommendations, is available for download here). In planning the big reveal, the H20-20 Steering Committee knew that thousands of residents had taken the time to share their input, and they wanted to honor that time and effort with a public celebration. This past Thursday, January 24th, the H20-20 Steering Committee hosted a Public Rollout Party at Lake Area Technical Institute, the community’s world class technical college that has been repeatedly named one of the top five technical colleges in the United States by the Aspen Institute. More than 600 residents attended the event to hear about the many initiatives included in the Vision Plan. Hundreds of residents have signed up and committed to serve on one of many committees that will coordinate and guide the implementation of the Vision Plan’s various recommendations. Hundreds more signed up as volunteers for specific initiatives that piqued their interest – initiatives related to community beatification, the arts, recreation, events, and many others.

What started as a resident-led visioning initiative evolved into a resident-defined vision and what is sure to be a resident-led implementation effort. Brad Johnson, a columnist for the Watertown Public Opinion, opined in his column on January 26th that the H20-20 visioning process is “perhaps the most intensive citizen-driven effort ever developed in South Dakota” and that “the enthusiasm for improving this city is unlike anything I’ve witnessed.” The citizens of Watertown have demonstrated an interest and willingness in not only defining their vision but also participating in the implementation of their vision on a scale that every community, regardless of size or location, should envy.

While many of our clients immediately turn to fundraising (and rightfully so) in the weeks immediately following the completion of a strategic planning process, Watertown, South Dakota is a reminder that – while dollars are always critical – there is no substitute for civic capacity and we should never underestimate its value or importance in building the successful communities we desire.

*Saegert, Susan. Community Building and Civic Capacity. CUNY Graduate Center for the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change.
**Chaskin, Robert J.  Defining Community Capacity: A Framework and Implications from a Comprehensive Community Initiative.  Paper presented at the Urban Affairs Association Annual Meeting, Fort Worth, April 22-25, 1998.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Recapping GBPI's Conference on Education and Workforce Solutions for Georgia

Earlier today, the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute (GBPI) held its annual policy conference at the Loudermilk Center in downtown Atlanta. The conference, titled The Future of Georgia: Education and Workforce Solutions that Move Georgia Forward, featured speakers and panel discussions focusing on strategies to ensure a pipeline of young talent for Georgia’s businesses. The event included speeches from Alan Essig, the Executive Director of GBPI and Tom Cunningham, Vice President and Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, in addition to a keynote address from Dianne Fodell, Program Director of IBM’s University Programs. Also featured at the conference were two panel discussions, moderated by Market Street CEO J. Mac Holladay and Craig Lesser of Pendelton Consulting, respectively. The following is a “play-by-play” of these panel discussions, as told by three Market Street staffers: Senior Research Associate Ranada Robinson and Project Associates Jonathan Miller and Evan Robertson. 

Making Investments from Cradle to Career 
• Drew Scheberle, Senior Vice-President, Education and Talent, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce 
• Dr. Cameron Joan Martindale, Senior Vice President for Community Development, Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce 
• Brandy Lawrence, Ounce of Prevention, Educare Early Learning Effort 
Moderator: J. Mac Holladay, CCE, PCED, LM, HLM | Market Street 

Market Street CEO J. Mac Holladay

9:42 Montgomery: Alabama’s state budget has been in decline since 2009. There is a partnership between the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce and Montgomery Public Schools designed to keep kids from dropping out of high school and to grow the labor force. Imagine a Greater Montgomery. – Evan 

9:44: Montgomery: “Champion Public Education and Build a Competitive Workforce:” 80 percent children of color, 75 percent on free/reduced lunch. Fantastic magnet schools, but traditional schools were in disrepair. Most fluent families sent their kids to private school. Business community was demanding improvements in public education. – Evan 

9:46: Montgomery: Building trust between the schools and leadership was difficult. Turning point came whens schools said “if you really want to help we have 16 schools that need to be cleaned up in three weeks.” Chamber started a school facilities cleanup program, we now go to 54 campuses across the school district doing the three P’s: Planting, pruning, painting. Business leaders are digging holes and planting flowers. Proved business community cares about schools and students. – Evan 

9:46: When the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce began its quest to partner with Montgomery Public Schools, the business community had major credibility issues to overcome before the schools would welcome them in. They proved that they care about the schools and the students by starting the School Facilities Clean Up. Over one hundred business leaders and volunteers showed up to the schools to plant, prune, and paint to get the schools prepared for a new school year. They have now done this four years in a row, and over 1,000 community volunteers participate. – Ranada 

9:50: Dr. Cameron Joan Martindale, Senior Vice President for Community Development at the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce just said that their business targets informed the creation of career academies. Students from the business/finance academy began their own credit union! A quote from the Mayor of Montgomery: “So goes education, so goes Montgomery.” – Jonathan 

9:55: 93% graduated from high school or matriculated into the next grade. – Evan 

9:57: “So goes education, so goes Montgomery,” is Mayor Todd Strange’s mantra. – Ranada 

10:07: Drew Scheberle is talking about the education initiatives ongoing in Austin: FAFSA Saturdays (not awareness about aid, helping families fill out the forms), increasing post-secondary matriculation, and holding school districts accountable with progress reports. – Jonathan 

10:13: Drew Scheberle says that technology is changing the classroom and that curriculums need to reflect skills like programming that will be in demand. Also, increasing education performance is all based on data. If it doesn’t exist, find ways to count it! – Jonathan 

10:20: Educare: Started on a very small scale. Take what we were learning about brain science, and build a best practice. – Evan 

10:22: First Educare building opened in 2000. Narrow achievement gap in a specific part of the city, in a specific part of the population (at risk). – Evan 

10:24: Educare is based on partnership, program, place, and platform for policy change. Continual improvement and innovation, continue to learn and grow based on education. 

10:27: Educare is a program to provide an early childhood model that focuses on ensuring school readiness in children most at risk for academic failure. Dosage and duration (focus on service intensity and duration) matter! Effective educational practices and well qualified staff, embedded professional development, family engagement, and leadership. – Evan 

10:35: Educare: disparities in vocabulary are clearly evident in children by 18 months and can be detected as early as 9 months! – Jonathan 

10:36: Educare: Important study findings. School Readiness: Early entry matters, one year olds enrolled in the program can reach the national mean for school readiness by the time they enter Kindergarten. – Evan 

10:43: One of the questions to the panel was “How do we cut across so many jurisdictions to create comprehensive education solutions?” Mac Holladay responded that there has to be business demand that cuts across the jurisdictions and a greater desire to affect change than protect turf. – Ranada 

10:50: Mac Holladay quote: “If it’s not measured, it doesn’t matter.” – Ranada 

Making the Case for Education Investments to Meet Georgia’s Business Needs Panelists: 
• John Barge, Georgia State School Superintendent 
• Al Hodge, CEO, Rome Chamber of Commerce 
• Mike Wiggins, Executive Vice President Human Resources, Southwire 
Moderator: Craig Lesser, Managing Partner, Pendleton Consulting

(Left to right): Georgia State School Superintendent John Barge, South Executive Vice President of Human Resources Mike Wiggins, and Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Al Hodge

11:13: “What is Southwire doing?” If there is anyone here who doesn’t know the country is in a jam, they are under a rock. Thirty years ago we said that we (Southwire) wouldn’t hire anyone without a high school diploma. We created a program called 12 for life. Created a real manufacturing plant staffed by at risk kids. 429 students graduated. Still a tough sale outside of Carroll County, GA. – Evan 

11:16: Education has changed because of technology. Over a million students drop out without a diploma. Overwhelming majority quit high school because it is boring and irrelevant to what they do. How do we make education relevant? Every high school student enters with career pathway. Why do I need to know this? When will I ever use this? Career pathways can help answer that. – Evan 

11:18: Partners like Georgia Power help us to make education relevant. – Evan 

11:21: Each school system have their own DNA, communities have their own DNA and challenges. Concept can be replicated and doable. Need to open up more apprenticeship model. Student can see a defined career pathway that leads to work; they are much more likely to stay in school. – Evan 

11:24: How do we make sure we are consistent? Key to our success is a real partnership between business and education that we put together in Carroll County. Real skin in the game, 50-50 Southwire -Boards of Education. Meet every three weeks, partnership goes to State Superintendent’s office. – Evan 

11:27: Georgia State Superintendent John Barge is recalling a school he visited in Mitchell County (southwest Georgia). The high school is predominantly high poverty and minority students. Teachers have taken it on themselves to not let those attributes define success. Graduation at the school is above the state average. Why? School days in Georgia have to be 360 minutes, teachers in Mitchell County teach for 440 minutes, without extra pay! Teachers also hold community meetings in the community, hand deliver report cards, and open the school on Saturdays as needed. That’s dedication! – Jonathan


For more information about GBPI, visit http://gbpi.org/

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Success Depends on What You Measure

By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow.  

Jay Bookman, a columnist and blogger at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, has raised an interesting question that should have economic and community developers and state policy makers redefining their strategies for growth.

Citing Georgia’s success in producing the kind of regulatory and tax environment that business leaders say they need to grow and prosper, Bookman asks what the state has to show for it.

“Our state and local business tax burden ranks eighth lowest in the country, according to a 2012 analysis by Ernst & Young,” Bookman said. And since 2001, Site Selection magazine has never ranked Georgia out of the top 10 for business climate.

But Georgia’s unemployment rate of 8.5 percent is “significantly higher than the 7.8 percent national average and the ninth highest rate in the country, tied with Mississippi,” Bookman notes. In terms of per capita income, Georgia ranked 25th in 2001 and had declined to 39th in 2011. And Georgia had the 17th highest poverty rate in the country in 2001. “By 2011 it had the nation’s sixth highest poverty rate,” Bookman writes. “We are slipping and slipping fast.”

With lowering the unemployment rate, raising incomes and addressing the high rate of poverty being obvious priorities for the state, Bookman opines that the State Legislature will likely approve state funding for a new football stadium for the Atlanta Falcons, and balk at renewing a hospital tax that will keep “tens of thousands of poor Georgians covered by Medicaid.”

(Subsequent to Bookman’s post, the State Senate extended the tax on hospitals aimed at filling a Medicaid shortfall. And other observers say the stadium may not have the public support needed to win over legislators who are balking to act.)

But whether Bookman is right that state leaders will opt for football over health care, he is right to ask if the state’s economic development strategy is achieving its goals. And the answer depends on what you choose to measure.

Market Street Services was founded on the belief that economic development is about improving the lives of people. The plans we develop with our client communities include actionable and measurable strategies to attract jobs and investment; to prepare and recruit the skilled workforce businesses and institutions need to prosper; and to advance sustainable and livable communities.

During my career as local chamber executive, I made the case for business-friendly policies, for tax and cash incentives to land new businesses, and even to build a new stadium. But we also supported additional funding for public education, programs to alleviate hunger and poverty, and initiatives to redevelop declining and underserved neighborhoods.

Economic developers and their public and private sector partners almost always measure the success of their programs in terms on jobs created, new companies attracted, taxes generated from the new investment, and even from new stadiums being built. But what about counting the economic benefits derived from expanding health care and other programs to improve the lives of people?

In my state of Texas, Governor Rick Perry, an outspoken advocate for using state incentives to attract new companies, has said the state will reject another form of incentives, the federal funds available to states to expand Medicaid. This, in spite of the fact that the incentives—$85 billion from the Affordable Care Act—will provide Medicare coverage to more than half of the 6 million Texas residents currently without health coverage.

Why is it that using tax money to help finance a new stadium is almost always celebrated as an economic development success while providing health care through Medicare is derided as welfare?

Jay Bookman gets it. It depends on what you choose to measure.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Project Photon: A Very Brief Case Study

By Christa Tinsley Spaht, Project Manager.

As the Market Street team was wrapping up a project with the Greater Omaha Chamber in October of last year, the Chamber’s economic development arm—the Greater Omaha Economic Development Partnership—announced the location of a $200 million Fidelity Investments data center in Papillion, south of the City of Omaha. Code named “Project Photon” in internal and public discussions, a broad team of players moved this project along for 18 months before the big announcement in October. 

Last month the Omaha World-Herald ran a story outlining the process to secure “Project Photon” that goes beyond the typical 10,000-foot-view press release listing specs and thanks. Many communities have not mastered the balanced art of seamless regional and state collaboration, aggressive and indefatigable recruiting, local target sector champions, and a detail-oriented eye for the little touches that can make a site selector or executive swoon—or at least keep them from experiencing nausea!

Here are just a few takeaways from the Project Photon process, from the perspective of the Partnership:
  • Meetings with Fidelity representatives and site location executives were held at Gallup headquarters in downtown Omaha along the Missouri River, a location that showcases the metro’s corporate, natural, recreational, entertainment, and development strengths. Fidelity reps also requested that each meeting over the course of the courtship begin with a screening of the Chamber’s “This is Omaha” video.

  • The Partnership was able to offer three sites across its four-county region for consideration. The prospects first visited the sites on their own, without metro cheerleaders guiding the tour. The prospects also had private meetings with other data center operations in the region to get the real scoop on what it’s like to run that type of operation in Greater Omaha. 

  • A nowhere-near-complete list of some of the partners involved in securing the win were the Chamber and Partnership, City of Papillion, Sarpy County, utility companies, Governor Dave Heineman’s office, a state senator, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, the Nebraska Department of Revenue and the state tax commissioner, and even the Nebraska Humane Society. At times multiple partners had to work in sync and very, very quickly to execute major decisions like rezoning, legislation, utility rate structures, incentives packages, and removing a deer carcass from a potential site for the data center before the prospects visited (that would be where the Humane Society stepped in).
Fidelity objectively assessed Greater Omaha as a potential location among many others for their new operation, but at the same time they wanted to be wooed—not just by incentives and prepared sites, but by the idea of the region as a high-quality, attractive community in which to live and invest. The significance of good relationships with the governor and a regional approach is also clear from the Partnership’s tactics and the corporate decision makers’ preferences.

While of course the article doesn’t delve into the day-to-day ins and outs of a deal that took a year and a half for the Partnership to close or point out what Greater Omaha’s short-listed competitor regions pulled together, there are some valuable lessons learned in the hard work of the Partnership.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Health Care, Medical Schools, and Economic Development

By Ranada Robinson, Senior Research Associate.  

Over the last couple of years, health care has become a major area of interest for me—not just because of ObamaCare and all of its controversy but for many personal reasons: a new child, aging parents, an aunt with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and another aunt with cancer. These life events plus the constant reminder that there are impending doctor and nurse shortages through articles such as this New York Times article and reports such as this study published recently by the Association of American Medical Colleges only reinforces to me the importance of including health care in conversations about economic development.

In weighing the competitiveness of client communities, we here at Market Street evaluate data indicators that quantify health care access, such as doctors per capita and percent of citizens who are uninsured. Health care from the demand perspective is not always clearly tied to economic development, but think about it—health outcomes affect worker productivity as well as infrastructure needs. Communities have to have healthy people to keep moving forward.

Here are three clients who are working diligently to increase health care access and meet future demand by increasing the number of homegrown doctors they produce.

Jackson, MS: The University of Mississippi Medical Center is expanding its medical school, located in my hometown of Jackson, MS with a new $63 million building that will allow for an additional 30 to 40 students per class. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones broke ground on the building earlier this month. 

Austin, TX: Slated to open in 2016, plans for a research-intensive medical school affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin and a teaching hospital are underway after voters approved a property tax increase in November. The new tax will also supplement the activities of Central Health, an entity that provides a health care safety net for the underserved, as well as go toward medical school patient services.

Joplin, MO: Still in the trenches of their quest for a medical school, Joplin stakeholders have built a strong case for locating a medical school in the region and pitched it to an unnamed university this month. Joplin, an interesting place to watch as it has overcome the odds to restore what a 2011 tornado took from them, already has a strong health care foundation, and a medical school would be a welcome and fruitful addition. 

Health care needs will continue to grow over the coming years—is your community prepared?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Creatively Funding Creative Entrepreneurship

By Jonathan Miller, Project Associate. 

If there is one thing that I am not, it is artistic. I learned that I was not artistic in elementary school when the only part of the student mural (a seascape) I was allowed to paint was the sea slug… that’s really just an oval. Though I was never destined to be an artist, I can appreciate art and its importance in making places interesting and visually vibrant. One of the greatest public art installations that I have visited isCloud Gate in Chicago (aka “the bean”). Not only is it cool to look at, but it is a central space that draws crowds. Creating these kinds of spaces is beneficial because it stimulates interaction of people with art. However, one of the more intriguing points of collision between art and the public is when it meets entrepreneurship. 

In 2011, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) began its Our Town grant program. The program provides funding (ranging from $25,000 to $200,000) for “creative placemaking projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful, and sustainable places with the arts at their core.” The program requires 1:1 non-federal matches and a partnership between a nonprofit and a local government entity. Since 2011, the program has invested more than $11 million in projects located in all 50 states. 

Better yet, the program has a funding category for creative entrepreneurship. Exactly $1 million has been awarded to creative entrepreneurship projects. These types of projects seek to integrate business principles with creative endeavors. Such projects are also taking place in the public eye, adding to the vibrancy of public spaces and streets. 

The following project descriptions, drawn from the grant program website, are great examples of the types of projects that are being funded and how they intend to make a difference. 


The City of Stone Mountain, Georgia, is a community of 12,000 about 16 miles from downtown Atlanta and located adjacent to a 3,200-acre state park, Stone Mountain Park, which receives seven million visitors annually. 

ART Station, a major arts not-for-profit in Stone Mountain for more than 25 years, is partnering with the City of Stone Mountain on the Stone Mountain Arts Incubator program (SMart, Inc.) to nurture the city's creativity and turn it into an arts destination. SMart, Inc. provides technical assistance, marketing training, and space for artists to create, exhibit, sell, and share their work with residents and visitors to the city. The program consists of eight artist studios and five art galleries refurbished by local building owners to bring economic development and creative activity to its struggling downtown district. Additional project partners include DeKalb County, Stone Mountain Park, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and the Stone Mountain Visitors Center. 


In 2010, the City of New Haven launched an innovative pilot program called Project Storefronts. In cooperation with business counselors and property owners, the program enables individual artists, not-for-profits, or teams of creative workers to set up 90-day businesses in vacant storefronts in New Haven's Ninth Square Historic District. 

Support from the Arts Endowment will help expand the award-winning Project Storefronts pilot, an initiative of the City of New Haven's Office of Economic Development, Department of Cultural Affairs, Artspace New Haven, and private property owners. Artists and arts organizations will receive financial and business counseling to help launch or expand a creative business in the retail-deprived Ninth Square. Meanwhile, artist programming and events will raise the profile of the creative businesses, continuing to attract new visitors to the Ninth Square Historic District. Project Storefronts will result in the opening of previously shuttered storefronts with creative businesses, increasing foot traffic, attracting new residents to the area, and growing the local creative economy that accounts for seven percent of New Haven's workforce. New Haven has a population of 129,700. 

* * * 

I provide these examples because they underscore a very important lesson about entrepreneurship: not all entrepreneurs are made in the mold of Mark Zuckerberg. Tailoring entrepreneurship programs and policies to different types of startups is important to not only stimulate diversification within the entrepreneur community, but also because a singular profile may deter someone who doesn’t “fit the profile” from pursuing their idea. Further, these types of project are the intersection of the public, art, and business, something that is a win-win-win for local communities.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Home in ‘College Football’s Capital City’

By Matt DeVeau, Project Associate.  

I recently realized that I’m an Atlanta resident.

Strange as that may sound there’s a good explanation. I moved here 3 1/2 years ago to attend school, and therefor adopted a “just passing through” approach to my relationship with the city. But nearly 20 months have passed since I graduated, my wife and I both have jobs we love, and we’re thinking about buying a house somewhere in town. So, yeah, it’s probably time to remove the “temporary” label.

This realization then got me thinking about what makes Atlanta a desirable place to live, beyond just career opportunities. In the words of the Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community Project, what makes Atlanta “sticky” for me? Among other things, I thought of perhaps its most appealing cultural offering to a person such as myself – college football.

Atlanta has been called College Football’s Capital City, and there is ample evidence to support this claim. (And abundant opportunity for the city to further leverage it as a coordinated marketing opportunity!) Geographically, the city is positioned at the confluence of the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast Conferences – two of the five major college football leagues within the top division of the NCAA. Since 1994, it has played host to the championship game of the Southeastern Conference (SEC), by far the sport’s best conference with arguably its most fervent fans. It is also home to the season-opening Chick-fil-A Classic and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, which was a sellout for the 16th consecutive year this past December. And on January 28, after a long process, dignitaries will break ground on the new home for the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown near the Georgia Dome.

I think of these things as “social offerings” – things like entertainment venues and places to meet – which the Knight Foundation identified as one of the three main qualities, along with aesthetics and openness of opportunity, that attach people to place. While not exactly a physical meeting place, they nevertheless provide a social framework with which to grow closer to Atlanta. But to me, the intangible value that college football brings to Atlanta runs deeper. A brief examination of the city’s roads and front porches reveals why.

Like most communities, Atlanta’s vehicles are adorned with stickers and flags identifying the occupants’ preferred team. Its houses and condominiums are similarly draped with flags. But while the color schemes in most cities might be mono- or di- chromatic, it sometimes seems like Atlanta has the entire visual spectrum covered. Local favorites Georgia and Georgia Tech are of course well represented, but so too are southeastern schools like Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, LSU, and Tennessee.

This rich diversity of fandom certainly makes sports bars interesting, and it makes me feel like I am some place important – some place at which people from all over the Southeast have converged. This is, in fact, the case.

In its recent history, Atlanta has been a fast-growing metropolis attracting new residents from all over the country and world, though that trend has slowed in recent times. Out of curiosity, I decided to see how many of these newcomers came from the places near where many of these Southern football schools are located. I analyzed IRS migration data between Atlanta and 74 metro areas* in the nine states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee – that formed the footprint of the SEC during the previous two decades. Between 1992 and 2010, Atlanta received 169,710 net new residents from these Southern metros, with positive net migration in 64 out of 74 instances.

This is obviously a crude metric. It doesn’t capture individuals who migrated to Atlanta from rural, non-metro areas, and it certainly includes a large number of people who don’t care about college football. But it does tell us that Atlanta has been good at attracting people from the college football-obsessed South. It’s not too great a leap to assume that this trend has helped strengthen and diversify the city’s college football scene.

Of course, sports fandom is just one of the things that these new residents bring to Atlanta, and it is nowhere near the most important. But I believe that their (presumed) allegiances – along with the city’s other college football assets – make this a more interesting place to live and, yes, call home.

* - I omitted Miami due to trends in international immigration skewing the data, New Orleans due to major outflow from the area following Hurricane Katrina, and Gainesville, GA due to its immediate proximity to Metro Atlanta.

Friday, January 4, 2013

What Did We Learn This Week? A Peek into Google Trends

By Ellen Cutter, Director of Research.  

After a long maternity leave, I've dusted off the old laptop and am back at work. While I was out, back in October, Google reconceived their Insights tool, merging it with the new and improved Google Trends. If you haven’t checked it out yet be forewarned: you will be diverted into a rabbit hole of procrastination for at least 30 minutes.

Google Trends allows you to explore and manipulate worldwide Google search engine patterns to gain insights into how topics are trending over time and how interests vary by city or region. Let’s look at an example. For the following, I limited my query to searches performed in the United States over the last three years for a variety of topics: fiscal cliff, super bowl, LIBOR, Kardashian, and Hostess. 

What can Google Trends tell us?
  • Compared to the Kardashians, nobody gives a rat’s tail about the LIBOR scandal. However, the vast majority of searches performed for LIBOR were performed in a handful of metros, which also happen to be major financial centers – New York, Charlotte, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Denver, and Chicago. Makes sense.
  • The popularity of searching for news about the fiscal cliff surpassed searches for Kardashian, both spiked in light of the GOP and the White House’s negotiations and the announcement of a Kimye baby on the way. (Yes, I too am disappointed that I know the term “Kimye” –thanks, Huffington Post). Searches related to the Kardashians were highest in southern California, so perhaps interest is waning outside of Hollywood? Not so fast, the entire map is aglow with activity as shown in the map below. A search index of 100 represents peak volumes, and places like Duluth, MN (index= 33), Evansville, IN (31), and Portland, ME (27) all register notable volume. The same cannot be said about the fiscal cliff or LIBOR.
  • Searches for news related to the Super Bowl spike each January/February and had the highest indexed volume in Indianapolis (give it up for the Colts!), Green Bay, smaller metros in Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, and a few other non-franchise cities like Austin and Omaha.
  • As a wild card, I threw in the term “hostess” because of the announced Hostess bankruptcy. While there was a spike in volume around the announcement in December, Google Trends tells me that this trend line is probably a mixed bag of results including not only Hostess brands but also folks likely searching for hostess jobs and those searching the term “hostess with the most-est.”
There are some limitations. I tried to enter in search terms more relevant to Market Street’s line of work, like Opportunity Austin and economic development. Trends are suppressed if there aren’t sufficient search volumes, so my results were somewhat limited. Still, this can be a fascinating way to see what searches people are performing related to your community, both nationwide and globally. It can quickly confirm or deny components of your community’s image and potentially lead your organization to some new marketing strategies. Pretty cool!