Wednesday, February 27, 2013

THINC SPACE opens in Waco

By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow.  

Baylor University and the Greater Waco Chamber are partnering to implement several action items from the Next Level Strategy developed with Market Street Services with the opening of THINC SPACEdowntown.

Chris McGowan, the Chamber’s urban development director, said the 8,500 sq. ft. facility will house start-up businesses created by Baylor and area college students and other new ventures requiring flexible space and a collaborative atmosphere for growth.

“With a nationally ranked entrepreneurship program at Baylor and the Chamber aspiring to populate the city’s resurgent downtown with new businesses in the creative sector, the project is a win-win opportunity for our university and colleges and the Chamber,” McGowan said.

“Our vision is to become the creative start-up capital of Texas and this facility will help put us on the map,” he said.

Market Street called for a partnership with Baylor to start-up one permanent student-owned business annually, McGowan said. Another action step in the plan was to create an incubator/co-working space downtown. “We’re accomplishing both with THINC SPACE,” he said.

The Waco Tribune Herald reported on February 16, that the initial businesses at THINC SPACE are coming from the Accelerated Ventures program in the Hankamer Business School at Baylor where students create real companies and sell real products. The Baylor Angel Network provides $5,000 for each company and other donors supply about $150,000 to the program each year.

“We also expect to attract students and graduates of other area colleges to THINC SPACE,” McGowan said, citing the game and interactive media design and culinary arts programs at Texas State Technical College and the visual and performing arts programs at McLennan Community College.

The Chamber will also market THINC SPACE to entrepreneurs not affiliated with the area’s academic institutions.

McGowan said Market Street alerted the Chamber to the NEXT Innovation Center in Greenville, SC as a best practice example of the new generation of business incubators and it became an inspiration for THINC SPACE. “We visited Greenville on an InterCity Visit in 2011 and came back determined to do something similar,” McGowan said.

“THINC SPACE is part incubator, part community gathering place, and part professional support network for creative start-ups,” McGowan said. “It has already created quite a buzz on campus and around town and will be yet another community asset that will help us attract talent that can live anywhere.”

Friday, February 22, 2013


By J. Mac Holladay, founder and CEO.  

I have just returned from Charleston, South Carolina. I lived there for 10 years serving as the Chamber Executive and then the Director of the South Carolina Development Board (now the Department of Commerce). People who visit Charleston today cannot believe the transformation that has taken place there over the past thirty plus years. When I moved there “we were too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.” East Bay Street was boarded up with only one freight-forwarding office and fast food restaurant open. Over all these years, there has been one constant, one force for continuing positive change: Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. Now serving his tenth consecutive term, he has as much passion and vision as he had in 1975 when he was first elected. As I visited with him last Friday and we talked about the many projects that I had the pleasure of working with him on and his current priorities, I thought about where the public sector leadership is coming from today. It is coming from the nation’s Mayors. 

As Market Street continues to work across the country we see the difference great Mayors make. Mayor Sly James is doing great things in Kansas City from the passage of a new bond issue for major roadway improvements to reorganizing the City’s economic development programs. Mayor Todd Strange has brought great attitude and support for the public education in Montgomery, Alabama and is lead supporter of “Imagine A Greater Montgomery.” Three Mayors in Oklahoma City supported and led their transformational MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) programs. Kirk Watson, Will Wynn, and Lee Leffingwell have all been top supporters of Opportunity Austin in their role as Mayor of Austin over these past 10+ years. Mayor Paul Soglin of Madison, Wisconsin has made it much easier for companies and citizens to get needed city data by his data policies. The list goes on and on.

Written long ago, House Speaker Tip O’Neill told us that “all politics is local.” So is all economic development. Great Mayors make a difference. Joe Riley and Charleston are living proof.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Innovation in the Local Economy: A How-to Guide

By Evan D. Robertson, Project Associate. 

It’s around 6:49 p.m. on a Monday in Midtown Atlanta. Stephen Fleming of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute is on stage interviewing Jermaine Dupri, founder and CEO of So So Def Records. It’s an odd combination, but since its Atlanta’s Start-Up Rally 2013, I go with it. For the last hour and a half, entrepreneurs in Atlanta’s startup scene have been getting on stage answering one simple question: why Atlanta? 

Dupri is asked the same, his response is classic, “I didn’t know any better.” He then goes on to discuss the finer intricacies of starting a Hip-Hop record label somewhere other than Los Angeles. Even with a number one album, Dupri had trouble breaking into Hip-Hop’s musical hierarchy. His records just weren’t getting promoted. He then hit the nail on the head regarding Atlanta’s startup culture. 

Dupri was deejaying for Delta’s Pre-Grammy Party in Los Angeles where he met the airline’s C-level executives. For the nearly 20 years that So So Def has been in Atlanta, this was the first time that Dupri was asked to host a Delta event – a firm headquartered out of Atlanta – let alone meet any of its executives. Not a single private event or corporate party. As Dupri pointed out, it took an event in another city to bring them together. While Atlanta has many large corporate headquarters, they usually either aren’t interested in small startups or have to rely on decisions from their corporate offices based outside of Atlanta, precluding them from easily interacting with nascent firms. The lack of autonomy degrades the ability of startups and their established brethren to quickly form relationships. 

Conditions in Atlanta are, however, improving. Over the last hour and a half the theme has been that Atlanta is embracing a collaborative approach to fostering startups. Hypepotamus, a startup itself dedicated to connecting other startups and young entrepreneurs, the Atlanta Tech Village, a co-working space, and the Advanced Technology Development Center, a technology incubator, enhance the capacity of corporate sponsors and smaller, less established startup businesses to communicate and collaborate. As each entrepreneur gets on stage, a theme becomes clear. You don’t need to be in Silicon Valley to start a business. Atlanta has the collaborative community. Venture capital will come to you. Implicit in this argument is that Atlanta has been able to replicate the Silicon Valley model. This, however, rubs me the wrong way. 

If you follow the history of information technology it is easy to stop at Silicon Valley and call it quits. Yes, the Valley has been a host to many innovations in information technology. But, if you want the full picture and greater appreciation for the information technology revolution, you have to end your search in New Jersey. Murray Hill, New Jersey, or more specifically Bell Laboratories. Bell Labs was the most prolific innovation center in America and will likely hold this title for the foreseeable future. Yes, technology firms now-a-days may produce more patents than Bell Labs in its heyday, but the quality of the innovations at Bell Labs were worthy of a Nobel Prize ¬– seven to be precise. The innovations they produced through the 1930s and late 1980s would birth the information technology revolution of the 1990s and 2000s. 

Jon Gertner’s book The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation details the complete genesis of information technology innovation throughout the Labs’ storied history. Gertner follows the Lab’s most innovative scientists, and tells how the major inventions at the Lab took place. Most happened through the combination of luck, happenstance, epiphany, meticulous calculation, raw creative thinking power, and a cadre of engineers and technologists who were dedicated to translating ideas and scientific discoveries into useable technologies, bringing these inventions into our homes. Bell Labs produced disruptive innovation on a massive scale. What did the Labs produce? Quite simply, every technology Silicon Valley is predicated on: 

• Transistor (1947) 
• Satellite Communications (1956-1959) 
• Cellular Communications (1947-1978) 
• Advances in Fiber Optics* (1976) 
• Solar Cells (1954) 
• Laser (1958) 
• Digital Transmission and Switching (1962) 
• Unix Operating System (1969-72) 
• C Programming Language (1969-72) 
• Information Theory (1948) 

Bell Lab’s scientists were beyond innovators, they were prescient. They knew exactly where the information technology revolution was headed. Bell Lab’s scientist Claude Shannon, who won the first Kyoto Prize in 1985 in basic sciences (an equivalent to the Nobel Prize which doesn’t grant an award in mathematics), was talking about the “internet of things” in 1947. During the rest of his career and in later life, Shannon envisioned a world of computer AI, computers talking to computers, and technology supplanting human labor. The concepts young entrepreneurs are commercializing today are an extension of the insight that stemmed from Bell Labs. 

So, why isn’t this story told? And, more importantly, what can as economic developers learn from Bell Labs? 

For the former, Bell Labs isn’t a great story because it lacks sex appeal. Bell Labs was a subsidiary of AT&T which during that time had a monopoly on telecommunications. This was an important factor in the Lab’s success. Scientists and researchers didn’t have to worry about funding because AT&T had a steady stream of predictable revenue to fund the Lab. More importantly, Bell Labs’ scientists had a dedicated problem to solve: improve the quality and reliability of AT&T’s network. As Mervin Kelly, the Labs’ Research Director, stated “It must do the job better, or cheaper, or both.”** Without the worry of competition, a real problem to solve, and America’s most innovative scientists, Bell Labs were able to take a very long view on technology, to discover the innovations that weren’t the most obvious, whose solutions took decades to discern. 

What can economic development stakeholders learn from Bell Labs? 

Spontaneity, we must first and foremost design our communities to enhance spontaneous interactions. Many of Bell Labs’ systemic ideas were produced by happenstance, random interaction between scientists that led to insight and new ways of looking at a problem. 

Secondly, spontaneity is useless unless the interaction is interdisciplinary. No preaching to the choir. While a team of people invented the transistor (really two people, and a jealous manager), the transistor was dependent upon technologies that came from other disciplines. Chemists and metallurgists were needed to produce elements so pure that that they were able to control the amount and position of any impurity. By impurity, I mean a single atom. The transistor was the culmination of many other innovations developed at the Lab. 

Thirdly, both talent and place matter. Bell Labs’ Murray Hill location was designed for both flexibility and increased interaction. Need more lab space? Knock out a wall. Can’t solve a problem? Walk down the long hallway corridors to lunch, overhear conversations of other scientists and engineers. The building itself was designed with knowledge transfer in mind. It also helps to have the best scientists in the world to develop and exchange this information. 

Lastly, and the most difficult of all, innovation systems need time. Time to think, time to ponder, and, most importantly, time to fail. It is not so easy to see how we can create this environment in modern America, an economy where business success relies on a steady stream of innovation to drive quarterly results. AT&T, as a regulated monopoly, was able to finance failure. It was able to bear the brunt of costly mistakes and missteps, in many respects it functioned as a national laboratory. Given our bias towards quarterly results and young startups that require early results in order to proceed, it is unclear to me how our entrepreneurial and startup culture will produce disruptive innovation on the magnitude and scale of Bell Labs. 

The story of Bell Labs is the story of our modern information technology infrastructure. Everything the computer touches, every online interaction, and even the computer itself was founded upon the Labs ideas produced at Bell Labs. The Googles, the Intels, the Apples, and the Amazons of today’s technology world are based upon technologies developed at Bell Labs. In a harsh economic reality in which our leaders openly declare innovation as the way out of our Great Recession, we would do well to look at the success of Bell Labs which produced the infrastructure that drives our economy today. What we need is a game changer, Bell Labs produced not one, but many. 

*The actual optical fiber was discovered at Corning Incorporated, a specialty glass manufacturer. Bell Laboratories expanded upon their invention. Other facilities outside of Murray Hill were also highly responsible for fiber optic development, Bell Lab facilities in Norcross, Georgia is a notable example. 

**Gertner, Jon. The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation. New York: Penguin, 2012. Print.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Starting Up Then Heading Out

By Alex Pearlstein, Director of Projects. 

It would not be a stretch to say that nearly every community of size in the U.S. now has some type of program to seed, nurture, and grow start-up enterprises. Whether the program is coordinated by a public entity, an economic development corporation, a higher-educational institution, or some type of public-private hybrid entity, the basic premise is the nearly always the same. Provide an environment (typically a physical space) where innovators with a new business idea can launch their enterprise while taking advantage of low-cost rent and shared utilities/services. Many of today’s incubators take things a step further by serving as “accelerators” with on-site expertise, entrepreneurs-in-residence, and other young companies present to provide advice and counsel on how to build a business to scale and gain market share. Still others provide seed capital and follow-on funding for promising start-ups. 

All this is well and good, but a recent relocation of a Pittsburgh-based start-up to Austin, Texashighlighted the danger of these incubation/acceleration models. Namely that your community not only needs the capacity to launch companies but also keep them in town. This is when the non-tech hub cities and regions really run up against the oftentimes overwhelming competitive advantages of talent- and capital-rich areas like Silicon Valley, Boston, D.C., Seattle, Austin, New York/New Jersey, etc. It’s one thing to get a start-up off the ground and another to navigate the treacherous waters of sustainability. A growing enterprise requires reams of capital and a robust supply of skilled talent to compete in sectors where they’re often facing major multi-national corporations in the battle for market penetration. An example here in Des Moines is the electronic-payments company Dwolla. Dwolla’s founder Ben Milne is trying to grow the company in Des Moines despite long odds and calls from many experts and potential investors to relocate to the “Coasts.” Despite this pressure, he’s gone on record as saying, “If Dwolla fails, it’s not because we’re in Des Moines. It’s because we didn’t execute.” Can Dwolla win out over giants like PayPal, major corporate banks, and other well-funded competitors and build a lasting company here? Time will tell. I hope Milne pulls it off because it will make a definitive statement about the ability of emerging tech regions to counter the currently-gospel attitude that building a major tech company outside “the Valley” is a fruitless exercise. 

While relocation of promising new start-ups is a risk that incubators/accelerators in non-tech-hub communities will always face, it shouldn’t stop them from trying to develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem that can one day reach critical mass. As with so many economic development strategies these days, slow and steady wins the race. Keep identifying and cultivating new sources of start-up capital; keep working to build a labor force with the skills needed to support growing technology companies; keep providing networking and mentoring opportunities for entrepreneurs; keep fostering a quality of life with appeal to tech workers and investors. In other words, keep striving every day to be better than the day before. These days, there really is no other alternative. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things: Midwest Pride and BLS Numbers

By Ellen Cutter, Director of Research.  

Last month, The Business Journals called to our attention the fact that only a handful of metros have reached pre-recession employment levels. Of the nation’s 102 largest metro areas, only 14 have registered any sort of a net gain. Market Street client, metro Austin ranked #1 in private sector job growth at 7.5% (45,800 jobs created) and ACCE 2013 conference host Oklahoma City came it at #4 (3.5%, 16,100 jobs created). Overall, 10 of the 14 metros are located in, you guessed it, the South. 

Of course! 
I’m a near lifelong Midwesterner, and in economic development circles I have taken a fair share of ribbing from Southern colleagues who do not understand my unabashed love for and defense of the Midwest. We have the Cubs, Rust-Belty cool old buildings, better transportation options, and, as theWall Street Journal reported last year, a comparable cost of doing business. What’s not to love? (Don’t say snow, because some of us like that too, you know). 
I was curious about how the Midwest’s competitive position would look if all MSAs were examined, not just the largest. Using The Business Journals research as a starting point, I did a little more digging in the BLS numbers and found that many of the Midwest’s smaller metros are recovering economically. More specifically, I looked at both (1) total non-farm employment and (2) private sector employment changes for the last year (December 2011 – December 2012, the most recent month available) and since the onset of the Great Recession (November 2007). Here are my personal top-five highlights: 

  • Bismarck, ND: In 2009, we facilitated a community vision plan for Mandan, the second largest city in the Bismarck MSA. For those of you who have not had a chance to travel to the Dakotas: go! Bismarck itself is a very dynamic region, and with the stimulus the oil and gas boom has weathered the Great Recession with hardly a blip. 
Private sector employment: since Nov ’07, # 3 of 366 metros nationwide (+14.2% or 6,898 jobs), 1-year, #16 (+4.8% or 2,535 jobs)

  • Springfield, IL: Illinois’ capital city, Springfield has one of highest concentrations of government employment in the country, due to a relatively shallow pool of private sector jobs. Its leaders have been working on ways to diversify the economy and, as the BLS figures show, the private sector has recovered from the recession’s losses. While the metro took a hit over the last year, its longer term performance since the recession puts it in the top quintile of U.S. metros.
Private sector employment: since Nov ’07, #55 (+1.2% or 1,013 jobs), 1-year, #316 (-0.6% or -418 jobs).

  • Sioux Falls, SD: Sioux Falls is one of those places that you have to see to believe. It is way cooler and more diverse than most people not familiar with the region would guess. It is a health care powerhouse but maintains a relatively diversified economy and steady population growth. The state’s tax structure provides a significant competitive advantage. 
Private sector employment: since Nov ’07, #28 (3.4% or +4,147 jobs), 1-year, #109 (+2.4%  or 3,005 jobs)

  • Springfield, MO: Springfield is a great city with some impressive assets, including its revitalizing downtown area. In 2010 we helped facilitate an economic development strategic plan for their Chamber. While overall employment is just shy of where it was at pre-recession, one-year total non-farm job growth has been notable signaling confidence and investment in the market.
Total non-farm employment: since Nov ’07, #93 (-0.2% or -500 jobs), 1-year, #50 (+3.1% or 6,000 jobs)

  • Manhattan, KS: While private sector employment has not yet reached pre-recession levels in the Manhattan metro area, overall employment has thanks to large public-sector institutions like Kansas State University and Fort Riley. This small metro located west of Kansas City is a top five MSA for 1-year total non-farm job growth. Who knew?
Private sector employment: since Nov ’07, #225 (-5.3% or -1,971 jobs) , 1-year, #146 (+1.8% or 623 jobs)

Total non-farm employment: since Nov ’07, #35(+2.7% or 1,514 jobs), 1-year, #5 (+5% or 2,914 jobs)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Nothing Left To Chance

By Matthew Tester, Project Manager. 

It is easy to understand why some communities are less aggressive than others with their economic development efforts – they’ve never had to work for it. Serendipity has dropped a whale of an economic engine in their midst – be it a research university, a major employer, or some boon of geography or climate that brings an endless stream of trade or tourists. Growth and prosperity abound. Jobs grow, income ticks up, schools thrive, campaigns get funded, and amenities appear. The whale and the bounty it brings become interwoven in the community’s identity, and its presence is taken for granted. The community seems invincible. 

Then, over time, laziness, arrogance, or some combination of the two creeps in. To paraphrase a popular quote, they were born on third base but think they hit a triple. When disaster strikes – the whale shrinks or disappears – there is no plan in place to keep the community moving forward. 

Northwest Arkansas would be forgiven it were one of those places. Walmart – one of capitalism’s great success stories – began and remains headquartered in the region, along with two other major multinational firms – Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt. Together, these firms comprise a magnet for suppliers, talent, and investment that few communities could hope to rival. The Northwest Arkansas region has thrived with their presence, enjoying many of the positive trends mentioned above. Community and economic development has required little encouragement and the area prospered for years without a coordinated comprehensive regional economic development effort.* 

With such a recipe for complacency, it is a welcome surprise to see just how completely this region has embraced proactive economic development in recent years. Not only do they have a plan, they have put the people and resources in place to see it implemented. Following a Market Street-led strategy process in 2010-2011, the Northwest Arkansas Council has emerged as a force for economic development, serving as the lead implementer of the Regional Development Strategy. From a staff of one, it has grown to a seven-person professional staff, and also presides over a number of goal area councils taking the lead on implementing portions of the plan. 

The region’s hard work is evident in the breadth of new initiatives and accomplishments it can boast: 

• The Northwest Arkansas Council has completed a complete re-branding and website overhaul; 

• Goal area councils, which engage the broader community, have been launched; 

• EnergizeNWA (, a regional initiative to promote healthy lifestyles, was seeded with a $400,000 donation from a regional partner organization; 

• GraduateNWA (, a joint effort of several organizations and chambers of commerce, was launched to increase the number of people in the region with college degrees; 

• The first Northwest Arkansas Diversity Summit was held in November 2012; 

• Bonds for high priority transportation projects were approved by voters; and 

• A program funding internships for college students at local small businesses was launched 

It is refreshing to watch this kind implementation activity even while the “whales” of Northwest Arkansas continue to thrive. The area’s leaders have realized that chance favors the prepared, and are refusing to rest on the assumption that the status quo will hold. Too many communities have learned the hard way that it will not. 

* - There were many local chambers and EDOs in the region carrying out proactive economic development programming at varying degrees, but no formally coordinated, regional effort was present. Northwest Arkansas is characterized by multiple cities – Fayetteville, Bentonville, Rogers, Lowell, Springdale, Bella Vista, Siloam Springs – with no single jurisdiction being the dominant economic engine. As such, regionalism is critical but also difficult.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Setting Big Goals and Keeping Score

 By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow.  

The presentation of the Lombardi Trophy to the Baltimore Ravens football team following the Super Bowl on February 3, reminded me of one of Vince Lombardi’s best-known quotes. “If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”

At Market Street Services, we believe that Coach Lombardi’s words apply to the work we do with our client communities. If the goals and strategies are important enough to adopt, then it is imperative that we keep score as they are implemented.

Several years ago, on a visit to New York City, I noticed a sign in the subway that announced a goal to plant and care for one million trees in the city before 2017. It is one of 127 separate initiatives inPlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York adopted in 2007.

An organization, Million Trees NYC, was established to achieve the goal. Partners and sponsors signed on, volunteers were recruited and the initiative caught fire. 

Five years into the program, a counter on the organization’s website indicates that more than 640,000trees have been planted! It’s a good chance that more trees have been planted because Million Trees NYC is keeping score.

One of the big goals in the Next Level Strategy Market Street developed for the Greater Waco Chamber was to “Realize a billion dollar decade of development downtown.” And while it seemed quite ambitious when adopted, the Chamber’s regular reports on progress toward the goal have contributed to its acceptance.

Projects advanced by the Chamber and its public and private sector partners now total $530 million. And more is on the way. The Waco Tribune Herald reported on February 4, that five “pocket subdivisions” are underway downtown and in its close-in neighborhoods. Each is targeting young professionals and empty nesters. And on February 5, the paper reported that the City of Waco is seeking a master developer to turn 16 acres of downtown riverfront land into a mixed-use complex.

I am convinced that many were motivated to invest in downtown Waco because the Chamber proclaimed this a “billion dollar decade” and because it is keeping score.

The Austin Chamber, another Market Street client, has documented success from its first Opportunity Austin programs including a 30% increase in college enrollment after implementing the region’s first college enrollment initiative. There have been 13,000 Central Texas high school students in attendance at the Chamber’s Skill Point/College Career Expo. And seen an increase of college-ready students in Austin schools from 38% to 55%.

Going forward, the Opportunity Austin 3.0 plan promises “72,000 regional jobs and increase regional payroll by $2.9 billion.”

Market Street developed a set of metrics to measure success in these critical categories: Total Private Employment, Average Annual Wages, Per Capita Income, Poverty Rate, Child Poverty Rate, Educational Attainment, Commuters Who Drive Alone, and Congestion Index. There is a good chance that the goals will be achieved because the Chamber is keeping score.

What do New York, Waco and Austin have in common? They are setting big goals and keeping score.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Where Form Precedes Function: The FAFSA

By Christa Tinsley Spaht, Project Manager.

Perhaps, like me, you spent part of your holidays reading the lengthy and heartbreaking New York Times article “For Poor, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall.” The story tracks three gifted, ambitious, and low-income students—Melissa, Bianca, and Angelica—from Galveston, Texas from their high school graduations through the fits and starts of their higher education experiences. At the end of four years, none of the young women have a college degree to show for the debt, stress, hard work, and disappointments they endured.

Myriad studies referenced throughout the article dig up some disturbing trends that this trio lived out: 
  • “Fewer than 30 percent of students in the bottom quarter of incomes even enroll in a four-year school. And among that group, fewer than half graduate.”
  • “The affluent enjoy an advocacy edge: parents are quicker to intervene when their children need help, while low-income families often feel intimidated and defer to school officials.”
  • “Low-income students finish college less often than affluent peers even when they outscore them on skills tests. Only 26 percent of eighth graders with below-average incomes but above-average scores go on to earn bachelor’s degrees, compared with 30 percent of students with subpar performances but more money.”
These discouraging statistics and trends could terrify even the greatest optimist—as long-term earnings potential is increasingly linked to post-secondary educational attainment, as college tuition skyrockets, as states are tying higher education funding to completion rates, and as the gap between income levels grows, how do we “fix” this?

What stood out to the most to me was that one of the biggest hurdles Angelica couldn’t overcome was gaining access to the extensive financial resources available to her as low-income, first-generation, and post-hurricane disaster-impacted student. Just filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) correctly was a daunting task. It will cost her and take many extra years to repay the loans she took out but wouldn’t have needed had her family’s income been reported accurately.

This is an area where one focused strategy—helping teens and families fill out that formidable FAFSA—can have a major impact in students’ preparation for and success in college. The Austin Chamber’s College Ready Now program has been tackling FAFSA for years through Financial Aid Saturdays across the region.

Another deliberate regional approach to college preparedness is the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP) Pathways to Success, a major initiative outlined in CVEP’s Economic Blueprint and implemented through the Career Pathways Initiative. (Market Street partnered with CVEP in 2009 to develop the five-year Economic Blueprint for the Coachella Valley region of southern California.) Check out a great interview by The Desert Sun this week with Cristina Gregorio, student support services coordinator for Pathways to Success. The hard and unglamorous work of getting those forms filled out accurately has paid off in a big way, largely due to having a plan, business and civic buy-in, engaged partners (especially those interacting with parents), and some serious performance metrics.