Friday, June 28, 2013

It’s Happening in Possibility City

By Jonathan Miller, Project Associate.

I recently had the chance to visit Louisville, KY to get a sense for the city and the economic development being spearheaded by the Greater Louisville Partnership (GLI). The moment I arrived at the Atlanta MARTA station, I knew things were happening in Louisville. The first sign I saw once I got off the train was an advertisement for Bourbon Country, inviting me to come to the city. Even though I was already on my way, the invite was still very enticing. Got to love traveling to the bourbon capital of the world for work!

Bourbon is not just a drink in Louisville. The spirit represents a heritage, but is by no means living in the past. New craft distilleries, such as the newly announced Peerless Distilling Co., are popping up in Louisville, complementing many of the older and well-established distillers. By choosing to locate in the city, these establishments are adding more stops to the Urban Bourbon Trail, an extension of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Establishments that have the prestige of being on the trail offer at least 50 different bourbons to thirsty trailblazers. Tasting and distilling are only two of activities around bourbon. Suppliers of distilling equipment, such as copper stills, also call Louisville home. The increasing craft distillery ecosystem is also manifest in the Distilled Spirits Epicenter, which offers classes for aspiring distillers and in conjunction with Flavorman (a local beverage development company), the Epicenter offers pre-production, flavor development, and bottling capabilities to new entrepreneur distillers. 

The spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship is also alive and well in sectors beyond bourbon. One of Louisville’s key clusters is the Lifelong Wellness and Aging cluster. Home to headquarters of key players in home health and aging services, such as Humana and Atria, the city is well-positioned for the new economic realities that will emerge as the American population ages. Specific aging technology is being accelerated through the Innovate LTC accelerator, which is a part of Nucleus, the University of Louisville’s economic development and technology commercialization arm. Other key parts of the entrepreneurial ecosystem include Enterprise CORP, a branded segment of GLI, which works with both early and late-stage startups to help find appropriate buckets of funding and acquire the right talent. The demand for services from the entrepreneurial community is apparent as the city went from zero accelerators to five in less than three years. Further, the city was recently ranked as the third-best city for young entrepreneurs by Under30CEO behind Austin and San Francisco…that’s not bad company! 

Speaking of companies, Louisville is home to major divisons of some of the most recognized and iconic American manufacturing and logistics companies. The manufacturing sector, anchored by Ford Motor Company, Raytheon, and the GE Appliance Park, is on the upswing with employment in computer and electronic manufacturing, electrical equipment and appliance manufacturing, and transportation equipment manufacturing showing positive gains in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The University of Louisville is also a player in the manufacturing sector as it is a flagship university for 3-D printing and additive manufacturing. We toured the Rapid Prototyping Center and my mind was blown – what’s next, printing human organs? Oh, wait, they are doing that too. 

The presence of UPS Worldport, the largest automated package handling facility in the world, underscores the central location of Louisville (80 percent of the world is accessible within 48 hours from Louisville ). Turning over 130 aircraft daily, Worldport also proves to be strategic to other companies with strong logistical needs in areas such as e-commerce, re-commerce, and rapid return and repair. Major companies like Amazon, Geek Squad, and Zappos all have signiifcant warehouse facilities nearby. Importantly, UPS is not just moving packages, but they are making investments in the regional workforce. Through the Metropolitan College program, UPS is paying tuition for employees in their Next Day Air operations for pursuing degrees at University of Louisville and Jefferson County Technical College. Even if the degree doesn’t lead to additional opportunities at UPS, through it partners, the company will help place graduates in other businesses. Other large companies such as Humana are also leveraging the Metropolitan College for their employees. Workforce investment is coming not just from public dollars, but the private sector is stepping up. 

The importance of a skilled and competitive workforce is not lost on GLI or on the greater business community. Workforce, as we were told numerous times, is economic development. From a Market Street perspective, no truer words have been spoken. Whether it’s convening reunions of expatriate Lousivillians in other markets, connecting interns to local employers, acquainting newcomers with all the city has to offer, supporting international talent retention and acquisition, incorporating career academies into public schools, or seeking to increase the number of adults with a secondary degree (55,000 more degrees by 2020), GLI and its partners are waging a competitive and aggressive campaign for talented people. 

All of these components and many more are coalescing at an important point in time. As GLI begins to think about economic development over the next five years, it will be important to ensure that leaders from these diverse assets are reading form the same playbook and executing the same plays. Communicating wins and being honest about community challenges must take priority over clinging to the status quo. After all, the confident grittiness (and healthy irreverence) that has propelled the city to this point is underlying the push to elevate the community to compete at the highest level. Rather than tying themselves exclusively to bourbon, horse racing, or another singularity, there is widespread belief that if you can think of it, it should and will happen in Louisville. Welcome to Possibility City.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Policy a Day Will Keep Obesity Away

By Ranada Robinson, Senior Research Associate.

I have read several articles related to obesity this week. The week started with the announcement that obesity has been deemed a disease by the American Medical Association and the reemergence of an old report by the CDC that Mississippi had the highest prevalence of obesity in the country in 2011. Then I ran across a policy brief by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation titled Making the Connection: Linking Policies that Prevent Hunger and Childhood Obesity. 

Several news outlets are interviewing doctors about the implications of classifying obesity as a disease—one of the main ones is that this classification will encourage policy interventions to help make healthy food options more accessible. There are several communities that have already started addressing obesity and promoting healthy lifestyles. Here are a few of them: 

State of Wisconsin: Through the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection’sAmeriCorps Farm to School Program, students learn about and eat state-grown produce. They participate in taste-testing, farm field trips, gardening activities, and cooking demonstrations. This policy has made it possible to for officials to support local farmers as well as battle childhood obesity. 

St. Petersburg, Florida: Mayor Rick Baker launched a program called Play ‘N’ Close to Home, which seeks to ensure that there is a public playground within walking distance of every neighborhood. So far, the city has added 11 playgrounds and has plans to provide even more. 

Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Because the Parish has areas without parks that are easily accessible, officials are employing mobile playgrounds, which look a lot like ice cream trucks but will bring a play area with activities and special programming for children. 

Alexandria, Virginia: This community has city-run farmers’ markets, which encourage residents to purchase and consume locally grown produce. 

Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota: Vending machines in four transit bus stations are stocked with healthier food and beverage products, and the prices for the those items have been reduced. This has resulted in more healthy purchases. 

State of Colorado: The Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, signed an executive order to continue the No Kid Hungry Colorado campaign, which was initiated by the former Governor, Bill Ritter. The state has a comprehensive plan to end childhood hunger by 2015, and employs programs such as free breakfast for low-income students and works with partners to implement programs such as USDA Summer Meals program, which provides free, healthy meals throughout the summer to families who need them. 

Healthier communities lead to healthier, happier, more productive residents and workers. There are several ways communities can encourage healthier lifestyles, including making sure children to build good habits early on.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Austin Envy?

By Alex Pearlstein, Director of Projects.

I recently celebrated my tenth anniversary at Market Street. The very first project I ever worked on when I began at the firm in 2003 was the Greater Austin Economic Development Strategy. It hadn’t even been branded Opportunity Austin yet. Recently, I managed the development of the third Opportunity Austin strategy, set to begin implementation next year. In between have been another full strategy and two mid-course strategic assessments. I’ve spent a lot of time in Austin, but seemingly discover something new every time I visit. 

It is interesting that the title of a recent Forbes piece extolling the virtues of the city is “Austin Envy.” Quite often at Market Street we feel our clients have a slight affliction of this type. Regardless of the community’s size, they almost always want to be benchmarked against Austin for their competitive assessment. In many cases, we try to gently steer them in other directions. It’s hard to be an Austin – and even Austin wasn’t always Austin! The recipe takes some pretty choice and unique ingredients, a lot of time on the stove, serious TLC from the chefs, and a dash of luck tossed in for good measure. 

First, the ingredients. State capital. Major research university with over 50,000 smart kids. Beautiful scenery, rivers, and lakes. A live music culture that started small but morphed into a multi-media juggernaut (Austin City Limits, South-by-Southwest). Transformative leaders like George Kozmetsky, Pike Powers, and Gary Farmer. The time on the stove is necessary for a local music scene to evolve into a global new media extravaganza. For a critical mass of “cool stuff” to be developed and nurtured. To seed a semiconductor sector that grows a multi-dimensional technology economy. To protect greenspace. To build trails. To construct high-rise condos and office towers. To build an entrepreneurial “ecosystem” that ranks among the country’s most dynamic. To become a known destination to attract top companies from across the country and world. Yadda yadda yadda. That’s why it’s tough to “become” Austin. But what I tell communities that aspire to be more “Austin-esque” is that you have to start somewhere. Do something great and then keep doing it day after day, month after month, year after year. You might not eventually become an Austin, but you’ll become a heck of a good You. 

The work of the “chefs” should not be discounted. Austinites of all stripes and lengths of residence LOVE the place and are passionate about its future. They’re progressive. They provide resources for their community to grow. They sweat the small stuff, obsessing about the details of public space, green energy and sustainability, building materials and design, recreation spaces, inclusiveness, etc. It all adds up; but you can’t get to critical mass without going atom by atom. 

It should also be noted that the City of Austin and its metro are not necessarily cut from the same cloth. The cities and counties outside Austin proper are much different than the core city and offer the types of suburban housing choices, affordability, schools, big-box retail, and other amenities that people in just about any community are looking for. The City of Austin couldn’t be what it is without a region that can absorb the exponential growth the community has experienced. And oh, by the way, that growth has led to traffic congestion, cost of living increases, consumption of greenspace, and other issues that many Austinites fear is compromising the greatness of their city. 

As for the “dash of luck?” Who knows – maybe it really has been all good genes and smart rearing. Or maybe it will take luck to keep Austin weird and wonderful as the inexorable forces of growth continue. We’ll watch the stove and keep you posted.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Big Roads: Lessons for Community and Economic Developers

By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow.  

The Big Roads by Earl Swift—billed as the untold story of the engineers, visionaries and trailblazers who created the American Superhighways—is a must-read for community and economic developers.

The book traces the development of a national system of roads—beginning with the good roads advocates who proposed the Lincoln Highway, Dixie Highway and other long-distance “paved” roads.

The Big Roads would be little more than a textbook except for the biographical narrative around three men who at different periods helped shape the highways’ creation.

• Carl Fisher, race car driver, car dealer and owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, helped make the Lincoln Highway a “real road” and later organized the Dixie Highway to encourage travel from the Midwest through the south to Florida where he was developing Miami Beach;
• Thomas MacDonald, an engineer from Iowa who helped devise the nation’s first national highway system as the nation’s top highway official under seven presidents from Wilson to Eisenhower; and
• Frank Turner, an engineer from Texas who led road-building projects in Alaska and the Philippines before becoming a MacDonald protégé in Washington where he helped win Congressional funding to construct the Interstate program.

While Fisher got the ball rolling for cross-country highways, it was MacDonald who delivered on the dream. MacDonald orchestrated the state-federal road building partnership that continues today and he mapped and won approval for the National System of Interstate Highways nine years before the “father of the Interstate System,” Dwight Eisenhower, was inaugurated in 1953.

The third member of the triumvirate, Turner, moved the interstates “from conceptual network into the concrete and steel octopus that now spans the continent,” Swift writes. He was a 40-year veteran of the Bureau of Public Roads before becoming federal highway administrator under President Nixon.

It was during the 1970s that things began to get dicey for Turner and the road builders and here begins the lessons for community and economic developers. A freeway revolt was beginning in the cities and while the mileage under dispute was small, the affected percentage of the population was not. The issues were the environment, neighborhoods, parks, historic places and structures, and demand for transit as an alternative to urban interstates.

“Turner was a man beleaguered,” Swift writes. “He’d spent his entire adult life with the bureau and now much of his work and hopes for the future were coming undone.”

He struck back as economic developers have done from time to time when their single focus on attracting new companies has been challenged, characterizing the revolt as the “carpings of a few dedicated critics” who were “blinded by their desire to discredit” the program.

In 1972, with the highway interests losing its fights in holdout cities and being second-guessed on decisions he felt the industry alone possessed the expertise to make, Turner retired. In 1983, the Federal Highway Administration named a building at its research campus in McLean, Virginia, for Frank Turner.

In a July 15, 2011 New York Times review of The Big Roads, Tom Vanderbilt writes,

“In the end, the view ahead is not as bright as that in the rearview; where congested roads would once be treated with the short-term inoculation of more lanes, a state highway official says, ‘We don’t have enough money for that approach anymore.’ Cities now look to tear down urban highways, not build new ones.

“The road of the future, as first envisioned in 1912 and brought to fruition decades later, is carrying the usual strains of middle age; the nips and tucks are giving way to full reconstructive surgery, all paid for with a series of maxed-out credit cards (the federal fuel tax hasn’t been raised, even to keep pace with inflation, since 1993, and has been increasingly eroded by improvements in fuel economy).

“The future, it seems, is getting away from us, even as we keep asking, with a plaintive cry from the back seat: ‘Are we there yet?’”

And the questions remain—for community and economic developers and for the cities and regions where they work:

• How to move people quickly, safely and affordably to places they want to go?
• How to preserve parks, historic places and neighborhoods?
• How to address the unintended consequences of growth?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Daytime Population Makes its Triumphant Return

By Matt DeVeau, Project Associate.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released a new batch of data that I came across via a post on The Atlantic Cities titled: “The Most Important Population Statistic That Hardly Ever Gets Talked About.” Sure, that’s a click-bait headline, but I must say I agree. The statistic in question commuter-adjusted population estimates – otherwise known as “daytime population.” The reason it doesn’t get brought up much is because the most recent national data on the topic came from the 2000 Census. 

That changed recently when the Census Bureau released new commuter-adjusted population data based on 5-year American Community Survey 5-year data from 2006 to 2010. The ACS asked respondents about their place of work and residence, which the Census Bureau used to calculate daytime population estimates.

This data opens up a range of possibilities to explore, but I’ll limit myself to three quick thoughts. 

First, this is why you don’t kill the American Community Survey. Like, seriously. 

Second, as Emily Badger of The Atlantic Cities points out, this macro-look at how populations move throughout the day provides important context to discussions about regional transportation infrastructure investments. This is by no means a substitute for more sophisticated transportation modeling efforts, but data like this can help frame the issue in an easily understandable way. 

Finally, I decided to take a quick dive into the data to revisit a post of mine from earlier this year related to a Brookings Institution report on job decentralization. To quickly recap, the study analyzed how far away jobs were from the central business district of the nation’s 100 largest metro areas. Atlanta, home of Market Street, was essentially the most “decentralized” job market, according to Brookings. In my post, I noted that much of the growth on the periphery of the region was driven by retail and health care – two population-sensitive sectors – while the jobs near the region’s core tended to be higher paying. 

So what does the daytime population data say about the metro Atlanta? Of the 28 counties in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta Metropolitan Statistical Area only one has a daytime population that grows as a result of commuting. That county is Fulton – the region’s center that is home to most of the City of Atlanta. Fulton County has a resident population of 886,982 according to the ACS data. But during the day, its population swells to 1,256,406 as a result of commuting – a 41.6 percent increase. All other counties in the metro area experienced a daytime population decline due to commuting. This trend was pronounced in counties such as Cherokee (-20.4 percent) and Paulding (-28.4) that have a lot of people but few jobs, but even counties with large economies such as Cobb, DeKalb, and Gwinnett saw single-digit percentage declines in their daytime populations. 

The ACS also provided an employment-to-residence ratio that measures the total number of workers working in an area to the total number of workers living in the area – rough indication of a county’s jobs-workers balance. Of all sub-state-level jurisdictions in the United States with at least 50,000 residents, only two had a ratio higher than Fulton’s mark of 1.86 – Washington, D.C. and Manhattan. As a percentage of the region as a whole, Fulton has 17.3 percent of metro Atlanta’s people but 32.6 percent of its jobs. 

This is not to say that Fulton’s status as a commuting magnet negates anything in the Brookings report. Counties in Georgia tend to be small, but because of its unique shape, many Fulton employment centers such as Sandy Springs and Alpharetta are further than 10 miles from downtown Atlanta. And certainly, the region is a sprawling place in all senses of the word. But more and more, I’m thinking that Atlanta’s decentralized job market is primarily a product of where people live as opposed to some sort of polycentrism that differs radically from other American metro areas.