Thursday, March 28, 2013

Hancock County, Mississippi Implementation Gains Momentum

By Alex Pearlstein, Director of Projects. 

Hancock County, Mississippi is situated on the Gulf Coast about an hour’s drive east of New Orleans. It is a beautiful place with a proud history that became a preferred location for second-home owners from New Orleans and other areas. It is home to the mammoth Stennis Space Center, a government city formerly charged with testing engines for the space shuttle program that is now evolving into new functions. The eclectic city of Bay St. Louis gained renowned as an artist’s colony and tourist destination. Then, in 2005, everything changed. Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall at the mouth of the Pearl River in western Hancock County and proceeded inland, leaving a trail of destruction in its path that the Gulf Coast is still recovering from to this day. 

Hundreds of millions of dollars flowed into Hancock County and other Gulf Coast communities to rebuild infrastructure, housing, commercial and government buildings, hospitals, and a whole range of other essential facilities and services. Building off the years-long momentum from hurricane-recovery efforts, the Hancock County Development Commission (HCDC) – the area’s principal economic development organization – contracted with Market Street Services in 2011 to facilitate a planning process that eventually evolved into the Hancock Tomorrow strategy. Even then, Hancock was demonstrating its resiliency with its population approaching pre-Katrina levels and its economy diversifying into more of a services-based model. However, Hancock County’s quality of life amenities had not caught up to its robust complement of employers, infrastructure, and federal facilities. Stakeholders reported that the County had a difficult time retaining and attracting young professionals, Stennis employees, second-home buyers, and tourists looking for a critical mass of amenities similar to the larger regions of New Orleans and Gulfport/Biloxi. 

After months of research and public input, the project’s Steering Committee approved a strategy with four principal goal areas: Economic Vitality, Community of Choice, 21st Century Workforce, and Visionary Leadership. Each goal addressed a different component of Hancock’s competitive position and attractiveness as a place to live, work, and visit. Work groups were created to implement each of Hancock Tomorrow’s four goal areas. Our client reports that the spirit of collective purpose that took hold in Hancock after Katrina has slowly but surely begun to return to the County’s leaders and citizens. After taking time to “learn how to play together” again, County and city stakeholders have come together and tackled a number of key strategic priorities. Though implementation began a little over a year ago, Hancock County, the HCDC, and the men and women working to put Hancock Tomorrow into action already have a growing list of accomplishments that they can point to as an indication that the strategy has taken hold and is building momentum. Among these early victories are: 

• Coordination of county leaders to address the insufficiency of hotel accommodations, which has resulted in the funding for and the receipt of 3 RFQ’s for an in depth county-wide hotel development feasibility study;
• Development of a relocation package marketing Hancock County to prospective new residents and corporate HR directors; 
• Launching of a County-wide Adopt-a-Highway program; 
• Planting of numerous trees and foliage along the beach and development of scenic byways amenities; 
• Creation of an “environmental court” that is going after owners of derelict and unsightly properties; 
• Development of an 11th-grade student leadership program; 
• Provision of free training to local small business people and entrepreneurs; 
• Beginning an ambassador training program for front-line tourism workers; 
• Increasing cooperation among local mayors and the County Board of Supervisors; 
• Developing a long-range workforce development vision and strategy for Hancock, including provision of soft-skills training; 
• Operating the newly opened Infinity Science Center just outside of Stennis; 
• And many others. 

Our client reports that much activity has been generated simply from local residents coming together and working collectively on issues that are important to the County’s future. New connections are being made, new partnerships launched, and new awareness is being built about all that is taking place to move Hancock forward. The community is a shining example of building strength and resolve from adversity and sustaining that energy for transformative efforts beyond simply recovering from disaster to imagining a Hancock that exceeds people’s hopes and expectations for what the County can become.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What Makes Greater Columbus So Great?

By Jonathan Miller, Project Associate.

According to an article published in 2011, approximately 2.7 million people, living in 54 communities, reside in a place named for Christopher Columbus (a special ‘thank you’ to The Business Journals for being one step ahead of me on that one). While these places may have a common bond, there is no doubt that each is on its own trajectory and blazing its own path. However, the Columbus that I want to focus on is the one located on the Georgia-Alabama line.
I recently had the privilege of traveling to Columbus and visiting with the staff of the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce. First, the people I met at the Chamber were wonderful hosts and are unparalleled in their professionalism. Second, while in Columbus, I was reminded that there is a great deal of work occurring “behind the curtain.” The orchestration of member services, marketing, public relations, young professionals, educational outreach, governmental affairs, military affairs, recruitment, and retention – all in support the singular goal of making Columbus the greatest region for business as possible – is a truly impressive feat.

About Columbus: Vital Stats

• Name: Columbus, Georgia-Alabama Metropolitan Statistical Area
• Population (2011): 297,181
• Per capita income (2011): $38,653
• Percent white (2011): 52.3 percent
• Percent bachelor’s degree or higher (age 25+)(2011): 22.6 percent
• Major Employers: Fort Benning, TSYS, Columbus Regional Healthcare, AFLAC, Kia Motors Manufacturing

What makes Columbus so great? 
There are many things that make Columbus great, but these three jumped out:

The Chattahoochee is more than just a passive amenity. On Memorial Day weekend in 2013, Columbus will officially open the longest urban whitewater course in the world. The course flows through the heart of Columbus and will take rafters on a 2.5-mile journey of class I to class IV rapids. If you prefer activities on terra firma that don’t require a helmet, the Riverwalk, is a 13-mile paved trail along the river that goes from Uptown Columbus to Fort Benning. Investing in infrastructure and leveraging a natural asset in a number of different ways makes Columbus great.

Fort Benning is at the table. Fort Benning, the facility where all infantry and armor soldiers train, is a key development asset as it directly supports a wide array of contractors, attracts out-of-towners for graduations, and catalyzes a ripple effect through local spending. The future of Columbus is very much tied to the future of Fort Benning. As such, the Chamber and the fort’s command structure work together on a range of issues, including local education, policy issues, and future development. The fact that the ex-garrison commander of Fort Benning, Gary Jones, leads the Chamber’s military affairs department speaks to the importance of the facility and its role in the region. Engaging Fort Benning makes Columbus great.

Economic development is done regionally. States across the nation are finding it harder and harder to support economic development. As such, more is being asked of local communities. In Columbus, economic development is spearheaded by the Valley Partnership, which brings companies to counties in both Georgia and Alabama. Further, by working regionally, the Valley Partnership is able to leverage a diverse array of buildings and sites. The cooperative mentality can also be seen as the region is home to two unified governments – Columbus-Muscogee and Cusseta-Chattahoochee - and was one of the few in Georgia to pass a one-cent sales tax for transportation last July. Acknowledging economic activity trumps political borders and constantly working together makes Columbus great.

To chronicle all of great things about Columbus would certainly take up too much space, and you probably would gloss over.

Why should others look to Columbus?

If there is one reason to tune into what is going on in Columbus, it’s because of a simple indicator that tells so much: per capita income (PCI). In economic development, PCI is one of the most important benchmarks as it gives insight to overall wellbeing. The PCI in Columbus has been increasing at an incredible rate. Between 2001 and 2011 (latest available data), per capita income in Columbus increased 49.8 percent, a difference of almost $13,000 per person. This was the second-highest rate of change of all MSAs in Georgia. Compared to other MSAs across the country, Columbus’ annual growth rate ranks it in the top 10 percent (30 out of 370 MSAs). In 2001, residents of Columbus had a PCI equal to 88 percent of the state average, in 2011, the PCI equaled 107 percent of the state average. That swing (19 percentage points) is the largest increase of Georgia MSAs against the state average.

This is why Columbus is great!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Thoughts Following Mac Holladay’s Closing Presentation at Georgia Tech’s Basic Economic Development

  Matt DeVeau, Project Associate.

Members of the Market Street team tend to spend a lot of time on the road. That’s a natural result of having worked in more than 150 communities in 32 states, but it’s only part of the story. Our CEO and Founder, J. Mac Holladay, and other team members are also frequent presenters at a variety of events, including economic development conferences and classes. In the past year alone, Market Street has been represented at events in Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin, to name a few.

Today, Mr. Holladay delivered another presentation to a large group of economic developers, but this one was a bit closer to home - about four or five blocks from the Market Street home office, depending on which route one chooses to walk. He delivered the closing address at the Basic Economic Development Course held at the Global Learning Center in Georgia Tech’s Tech Square development.

“GT BEDC,” as it’s commonly known, provides its attendees with an introductory overview of all aspects of the economic development business, from site selection and workforce development to quality placemaking and beyond. In its 46 years of existence, it has produced more than 2,900 graduates, myself included. This year, more than 60 economic development professionals attended the four-day course. They heard from a roster of presenters that featured some of the finest minds in the business, including Mr. Holladay and Market Street’s Director of Research Ellen Cutter.

I had the privilege of attending Mr. Holladay’s presentation that concluded a few moments ago. His remarks were essentially an extended version of one of our core philosophies: economic development is holistic and is a “team sport” that requires the involvement of all groups from within a community to be done right. Mr. Holladay interwove this theme throughout his presentation, which focused on economic development as a profession, the current economic realities in which we work, emerging trends and issues that are affecting the business, and strategies and case studies that detail successful implementations from around the country.

It’s not possible to fully summarize the presentation in this space – this is holistic economic and community development, after all. But one important highlight was the discussion of how communities are measuring success, a topic that has previously been raised in this space. The recent run of success in Austin, Texas is by now widely known throughout the economic development community. But Austin’s story is about more than just increasing jobs and wages. In its latest five-year economic development strategy, Opportunity Austin 3.0, the community’s leaders broadened their measures of success to include the items shown below in a graphic that I clipped from today’s presentation. Austin now tracks things like the poverty rate, the percentage of commuters who drive alone, and direct to college enrollment alongside employment and capital investment figures. That diverse range of metrics, shown together on one slide, is in many ways representative of the presentation as a whole – economic development professionals need to look at the whole picture and work hard to improve it. That is a message that our team hopes to travel many more miles to share.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Fiber Houses of Kansas City

By Evan Robertson, Project Associate. 

Nearly seven years after “google” became a transitive verb in the Oxford English Dictionary, Google (the company) is fashioning a new noun. Springing up around the Kansas City area are “fiber houses,” single-family houses that provide entrepreneurs inexpensive access to Google’s ultra-speed internet infrastructure being built throughout the Kansas City area. 

The idea was initiated by local Kansas City developer Ben Barreth who opened up a house in Kansas City, Kansas’s Hanover Heights neighborhood. Tech company founders can stay at the house, rent-free, for up to three months, gaining access to 800Mbps internet speeds – the internet speed at my office is around 6Mbps. In exchange, Kansas City builds a vibrant startup culture. This isn’t just an anomaly either, Brad Feld (author of Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your Cityand tech entrepreneur out of Boulder, CO) teamed up with the Kauffman Foundation to hold “Feld’s KC Fiber House Competition.” Think business plan competition where the reward is a free place to stay for a year instead of the usual cash prize. Both efforts are an attempt to foster a rich entrepreneurial culture around, arguably, the most significant infrastructure investment we’ve seen in the last two decades. 

Barreth and Feld’s investment into the Kansas City area, in the Hannover Heights neighborhood specifically, is part of a much bigger movement – dubbed the Kansas City Startup Village – that transcends state boundaries. The Village is “an entrepreneur-led, organic grassroots initiative helping to bolster the Kansas City entrepreneur and startup scene by creating a concentrated and collaborative community of startups.” The Village seeks businesses and entrepreneurs who wish to locate (or relocate) their businesses into the cities’ designated “fiberhoods.” Interestingly, the Village makes no distinction between locating on the Missouri or Kansas side of the border as it hugs both sides of the state line. On the Missouri side, the Village includes the neighborhoods of West Plaza North and West Plaza South. On the Kansas side, you have the Hanover Heights and Frank Rushton neighborhoods. Both sides of the line offer what these tech entrepreneurs care most about: ultra-speed internet. 

The Kansas City Startup Village is not an effort to connect disparate Missouri and Kansas entrepreneurs together in some coordinated fashion. As Feld’s book on startup communities points out, entrepreneurs just don’t care about imaginary political boundaries. What they do care about, especially in Kansas City, is super-fast Internet access and how they can leverage it to make a great company. They care about community – their startup community to be specific – and, in the process, blur the dividing line between the states.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Trip Down Memory Lane Leads to Cherokee County

By Ellen Cutter, Director of Research. 

In 2004, I started my master’s program in city and regional planning at Georgia Tech. I had just moved from Oregon, where I served as an AmeriCorps volunteer after college. Besides having some family in the city of Atlanta, I did not know any of the ins and outs of communities ITP, let alone OTP. 

(For the record: that’s local jargon for inside and outside the perimeter – I-285). 

For my first class, our assignment was to break up into groups, perform a data assessment on a metro Atlanta county, and then visit that county for an on-the-ground assessment of land use, housing, population, and economic issues and opportunities. My group was assigned Cherokee County, about an hour north of Atlanta. We visited historic downtown Woodstock, had a dynamite lunch at Williamson Bros. Bar-B-Q, and saw a dizzying number of new subdivisions and strip developments. It was a great time, and we all really liked the feel of Cherokee County. But at the same time, it was clear the county was at a crossroads. 

Little did I know, at about the same time, Market Street was facilitating an economic strategic plan for the county. And when I was hired by Market Street a year later, I caught up on the Cherokee work. Growth pressures were central to that process. Knowing that Cherokee would catch the wave of Metro Atlanta growth, how did residents want their communities to grow? 

Cherokee County was attracting educated, middle-class and affluent families to its communities, but its job base was not keeping pace. Local jobs were concentrated in lower-paying service sectors, leaving a high proportion (65%) of residents to face long commute times to work out-of-county. The process focused in on job creation in Cherokee County, doing more to assist small businesses and establishing target sectors, while also supporting workforce and quality of life initiatives that are critical to building strong community. 

In the last decade, the Cherokee Office of Economic Development has grown into a dynamic organization with impressive board and staff leadership. Its website is sleek, well-organized, packed with good information, and (hugely important) up to date. In addition to targeted business recruitment, Cherokee has established a business retention and expansion program and expanded small business development programming in partnership with the local chamber. The results show. Within the community, great things are also taking shape. Its school district boasts the highest average SAT scores in the state and Northside Hospital is investing $280 million in new facilities. 

All the while, the Office of Economic Development has operated on a spartan budget. The county is currently reaching out to its cities for funding support to aid in marketing efforts and to hire an additional staff person. The OED has certainly proved itself, and I hope the county is successful in bringing city partners to the table. 

You can catch up with Cherokee County Office of Economic Development by checking out its 2012 Annual Report.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Two Roads to Revitalization

By Matt DeVeau, Research Associate.  

It was the early 1990s and the first two installments of the Mighty Ducks trilogy were all the rage. I was a preteen at the time, living with my family in the Kansas City area. To satisfy my newfound fascination with hockey and anything associated with it, my Mom would occasionally take me ice skating. On Sundays, she would chauffer me from our church in downtown Kansas City, MO to Crown Center, a 1960s mixed-use development with an outdoor skating rink.

These days, I remember those trips much less for the skating than I do for what we encountered on the way there. Our route would take us down Main Street, passing through areas that at the time could have been described as underutilized. We moved away in 1996, and for more than 15 years, this was how I remembered the heart of the region – deserted and uninviting.

My parents recently moved back to Kansas City, which finally gave me a reason to go back for a visit. I was amazed to discover that those lifeless streets from my childhood have been transformed into two vibrant neighborhoods. Where once there were parking lots and vacant land, now there is the Power & Light District –a new development teeming with restaurants, bars, a movie theater, and so forth. About a mile south in the Crossroads, formerly abandoned old warehouses have been transformed into galleries and lofts, and the storefronts are alive with activity. Taken together, these transformations are fascinating, not just for their results but for the two radically different processes that led to their creation.

Power & Light is a massive mixed-use development that came about through a public-private partnership between the city, State of Missouri, and a private developer, The Cordish Company of Baltimore. The city took a “bold risk” and provided $295 million in bond financing toward the district’s $850 million price tag. Construction started in 2006 and roughly coincided with H&R Block’s relocation of its headquarters to a nearby 17-story tower and the development of a new arena, the Spring Center, which was also financed by the city in an effort to lure a professional sports team.

The Crossroads, on the other hand, was revitalized on the smallest of budgets. There doesn’t seem to have been much early media coverage of this event, but Victoria Adams McKennan, a graduate student at Kansas State University, interviewed many of the principals involved for a 2011 research paper. The story plays out in a familiar way: in the 1980s and 90s, artists began transforming the neighborhood’s vacant warehouses into low-cost studios and galleries. As a scene slowly built up, the galleries began to coordinate their events into a single monthly gathering. This was an early version of the wildly popularFirst Friday gatherings that now draw large crowds to the area’s galleries and shops and have helped promote the district to a wider audience.

For cities seeking to breathe new life into ailing neighborhoods, these two approaches demonstrate that there is no one path to urban revitalization. They also offer lessons for the future.

The city’s big bet on Power & Light came at a bad time – just before the Great Recession. The property and sales tax revenues from the Tax Increment Finance set up to service the debt on the bonds has fallen far short of projections, leaving taxpayers to foot the bill. This isn’t an indictment of public-private partnerships in general – sometimes the only way to create meaningful changes is for the public sector to put “skin in the game.” But Kansas City’s experience should serve as a reminder that a community should fully consider the risk of a project and ask the question, “If every revenue projection disappoints, will we still be glad we did this?” As Mayor Sly James said in the Wall Street Journal article, Kansas City made that judgment, and on balance Power & Light has been a positive influence on the city.

In the Crossroads, the forces of gentrification have been so strong that as far back as 2005, real estate prices were already forcing some artists to look elsewhere. Additionally, the organic forces that revitalized the Crossroads are not easily influenced by public policy. Market Street recently had the pleasure of facilitating AdvanceKC –an Economic Development Strategy for the City of Kansas City, MO. As part of that process, our staff conducted focus groups with local arts community stakeholders. The consensus opinion among these stakeholders was that the Crossroads is great because of the lack of influence from the city or traditional planning activity, and most participants wanted to see things remain that way. Any community seeking to catalyze a similar effort will have to strike a balance between supporting the arts and arts districts while also using a light-touch and allowing those communities the freedom to do it on their own.

While the merits of each approach can be discussed and debated, one thing is certain: these transformative efforts have made Kansas City, MO a better place. I’m looking forward to my next visit to my former home.

Friday, March 1, 2013

If You Teach It, They Will Learn

By Ranada Robinson, Senior Research Associate. 

My hometown has been in the news lately because of a battle between Jackson State University and the mayor of Madison, MS, who does not want Jackson State to open its newly announced satellite campus due to fears that it will compete with an already established Tulane satellite campus. This week, the state College Board decided that Jackson State could in fact open its doors in the suburban city. 

This reluctance to welcome new higher educational opportunities was surprising to me since there are communities across the country that have opened their arms to multiple colleges—from their state and even from out of state—to help them increase access to educational attainment. So, I took to the net to research a few examples: 

Gwinnett County, GA: In 1997, the Gwinnett University Center was established as a cluster of satellite locations for various colleges including the University of Georgia, Georgia Perimeter College, Southern Polytechnic State University, and the Medical College of Georgia to meet the county’s need for higher education access. Enrollment growth at the Center and population growth in the County eventually led to the state legislature transforming the University Center into Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) in 2005. As a college within the state university system, GGC has grown from a little more than 100 students five years ago to over 9,000 now. 

Peoria and Mesa, AZ: To reach a goal of enhancing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and to attract more diversified jobs in high technology fields, this Phoenix suburb is working with three universities (Trine University, Huntington University, and the College of St. Scholastica) to open satellite campuses. Mesa, AZ is another suburb with a similar economic development effort: they have negotiated with five liberal arts universities (Benedictine, Albright, Wilkes, Upper Iowa, and Westminster) to set up satellite campuses. 

South Boston, VA: The Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (SVHEC) aims to advance Southern Virginia economically, culturally, and socially, by providing its citizens affordable and accessible educational opportunities through partnerships and regional cooperation. To achieve this mission, the SVHEC offers access to more than 70 degree completion programs, from the associate to Ph.D level, from nine college and university partners: Danville Community College, Southside Virginia Community College, Central Virginia Community College, Commonwealth Graduate Engineering Program (degrees are from one of five Virginia universities), Longwood University, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Old Dominion University, Mary Baldwin College, Averett University, and Virginia Tech, in addition to two coalition partnerships. Between 75 and 100 non-credit courses are offered primarily through target programs to special populations, including children, older adults, and English As Second Language (ESL) Students. Signature programs include the Center of Nursing Excellence, Business of Art and Design, R&D Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Energy Efficiency, and the Innovation Center. 

Since 1986, the program has grown exponentially and now serves over 6,000 students annually. To accommodate this growth, the community raised $3.6 million through a bond referendum and private gifts to purchase and renovate a tobacco warehouse located in the heart of downtown South Boston. An additional $5 million was received through grant awards from local corporate and non-profit partners. 

Everett, WA: The University Center of North Puget Sound is a collaboration between eight universities (Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Hope International University, Saint Martin’s University, The Evergreen State College, University of Washington-Bothell, Washington State University, and Western Washington University) that stemmed from 1997 state legislation to create flexible and innovative higher education options for the tri-county area. The Center provides undergraduate and graduate degrees for residents of North Snohomish, Island, and Skagit counties and offers both online and in-class courses. 

Lake County, IL: The University Center of Lake County is a partnership of 20 Illinois public and private colleges and universities and offers over 100 bachelor’s and advanced degree programs. With nearly 1,500 students, the Center has two campuses and offers online instruction and student services. Most of the Center’s funding is from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. 

Providing increased learning opportunities for today’s current and future workforce is a good thing. In a state where fewer than 20 percent of adults have a college degree, a project that gives residents more options for higher education training is surely an economic development asset.