Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Nuggets of wisdom, interest, and of possible value

By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow

What better way to end 2014 than by scanning the clippings file and tagged emails in search of nuggets of wisdom, interest, and of possible value. Here are five random but thought provoking quotes you can use right away to make the case for making your city a great city: 
  1. On the importance of investing in arts, culture, transit and the like, my associate Alex Pearlstein shared this quote by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi from a City Lab piece by Richard Florida—

    “When we make investments in arts and culture and sports and recreation, in vibrant public spaces, and even great public transit, those are hard-nosed economic development decisions.”

  2. On higher minimum wages, the states aren't waiting on Congress to act. Twenty-one states are set to raise minimum wages in 2015 benefiting more than 3.1 million workers. CBS News puts the increased earnings into perspective—

    “Those wage increases should translate into more than $838 million in new economic growth, according to EPI, as workers spend more money.”

    Meanwhile, Paul Krugman makes the case that we can pay fast-food workers higher wages. In a Business Insider interview he said—

    “When the minimum wage is as low as it is in the United States, there is hardly any cost in raising it. Almost all minimum wage workers in the United States are employed in non-tradable industries—production can’t move to China. We can raise these wages without losing a lot of jobs.”

  3. On pinpricks of change that enrich city life. When I was president of the Chamber in Chattanooga, a local IBM executive and future City Councilman, Dave Crockett, attended the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio where countries adopted a blueprint for sustainable development. He came back singing the praises of one of the leaders he met at the conference, Jaime Lerner, the mayor of Curitiba, Brazil.

    An October 22 article in Next City tells about Lerner’s book, Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating Pinpricks of Change That Enrich City Life and it’s packed with low-cost, low-impact solutions to problems not unlike those he advanced in Curitiba in the 1970s and ‘80s.

    I've made it a practice of saving mentions of Lerner over the years and here is the latest clip from my Jaime Lerner file—

    “We make the mistake of saying that something is not worth it if there is no proof to it. In fact, our obsession with measurable results has killed many a good idea. If only cities had fewer peddlers of complexity and more philosophers!”

  4. On does design matter? James Howard Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere is a critique of the post-World War II built environment in America that led to everyplace looking like no place in particular. So what would our cities and suburbs look like and how much better would they work if we built as if design matters?

    Darius Sollohub, director of the New Jersey School of Architecture at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, writes about the importance of good design in transportation in Intransition magazine—

    “Does design matter? Of course it does. When design succeeds, it can boost the economy and provide a distinct style recognizable to future generations. And when we design exceedingly well, we build classics that deflect the wrecking ball to become timeless.”

  5. On finding a place to park. Baylor University in Waco, Texas opened its new on-campus, riverfront football stadium in September to much acclaim. The only criticism of the 45,000-seat stadium was that only 2,500 on-site parking spaces were available. Fans could park on campus and downtown and walk or ride shuttles to the game.

    “I was wanting to show you pictures of massive traffic problems, but there were none,” said Police Chief Brent Stroman.” As expected, the inventory of parking in downtown and on campus was more than enough to accommodate the capacity crowd. The Baylor-Waco experience is just the latest example that parking is not the problem it’s made out to be. Project for Public Spaces says, “The hang-up on parking is an indicator that a community has no broader vision for itself.”

    The current obsession with parking is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving livable cities and towns, because it usually runs counter to what should be our paramount concern: creating places where people enjoy spending time. As long as the myth persists that economic prosperity depends on parking, local governments will continue to waste public money and distort the public planning process.” 
On behalf of everyone at Market Street, here’s to a prosperous 2015! We look forward to following your successes in the new year, and encourage you to follow us on Twitter for the latest thought-provoking community and economic development quotes, news, best practices, and innovations.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Growing Threat of Economic Immobility

By Ryan Regan, Project Associate. 

I recently finished reading the book Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-first Century, which as the name suggests, looks at how our quality of life can be significantly impacted by the place we live. Even though the book was written a decade ago, I couldn’t help but think that it could have been written yesterday. The book covers a number of topics that all center on the issue of economic segregation in major metropolitan areas. Put simply, economic segregation is the degree to which people of similar social class and financial well-being live amongst people like them, while disassociating themselves from all others. The authors highlight that where we live shapes our lives and future outcomes in ways that often go unnoticed. The very neighborhood that we live in can determine our access to job opportunities, access to public services (especially education), air quality, public transportation options, and a host of other basic life necessities. Urban sprawl has only exacerbated the opposite realities that face urban and suburban families when it comes to access to these aspects of everyday life. The book draws attention to the growing disparity between the rich and the poor and the resulting contraction of the middle class in the United States. Sound familiar?

Fast forward ten years later and income inequality and the associated threat to the “American Dream” are still public policy issues that command the attention of economists, urban planners, and politicians alike. There is plenty of research on the topic of economic mobility (that is, the ability to move up the income ladder), but little quantitative research in the way of comparing economic mobility across metro areas. A group of researchers from Harvard and UC-Berkeley changed that with a new study released earlier this year, and the results of their research are sobering for many major metropolitan areas. The joint Equality of Opportunity Project looks at the geographic dispersion of economic mobility in the United States, especially as it relates to children. Researchers looked at the income records of millions of children and their parents over time in order to project the likelihood that a child born into a family in the bottom quintile of the national income distribution would eventually be able to rise to the top quintile in their adult years. Their key findings show significant geographic variance in intergenerational economic mobility. The factors that were cited as positively correlating to upward mobility were 1) less income inequality, 2) better primary schools, 3) greater social capital, 4) greater stability in the family structure, and 5) less residential segregation.

The “Bottom 10” list of metros that were singled out as having the lowest chances of upward mobility are concentrated in the Midwest or Southeast. While that by itself may not be that surprising, the composition of the list did stick out to me. Half of the metros are ranked in the top 50 of the Milken Institute’s 2013 List of Best-Performing Cities, so it’s not like these are all floundering cities with stagnant economies. Nevertheless, the list should serve as an eye-opener for these communities. Economic immobility and the disparity between upper and lower income classes are serious issues that threaten the competitiveness of these major metro areas.

The need to address the issue of economic mobility in the Southern metros in the Bottom 10 is only further heightened when you consider just how rapidly these metros are growing. Between 2003 and 2013, the Raleigh MSA grew by 36.6%, the Charlotte MSA grew by 29.9%, the Atlanta MSA grew by 17.8%, and the Jacksonville MSA grew by 16.7%. These rates are well above the 8.9% national growth that occurred over the same time period. In fact, population growth projections from the United Nations Population Division estimate that Charlotte and Raleigh will be the two fastest growing urban areas in the country over the next fifteen years. Rapid population growth rates and low rates of economic mobility aren’t a good mix. Improving economic mobility, while still accommodating population growth, is a challenge that Southern metros are collectively confronting and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Durham, NC-based Manpower Development Corporation, Inc. (MDC) is a non-profit organization that does a lot of research on the topics of educational attainment and economic opportunity in the South. Since 1996, they have published their “State of the South” report to draw attention to some of the issues that Southern cities still face as the region adapts to a shifting economy and workforce. Their most recent State of the South report was released just last month, and it focuses almost entirely on the growing threat of economic mobility in the region, including a case study of Charlotte, NC. As the MDC folks put it, Southern communities need to create an “infrastructure of opportunity that consists of a clear and deliberate set of pathways and supports that connect youth and young adults to educational credentials and economic opportunity.” We at Market Street Services couldn’t agree more. The link between educational attainment and economic opportunity is undeniable. According to a report by the Milken Institute on the effect of educational attainment on regional economic prosperity, adding just one extra year of schooling to the average educational attainment among employed workers with at least a high school diploma can result in an increase in real wages per worker of 17.8 percent. [i] Any effort to improve educational outcomes also needs to embrace the impact that early childhood education has on lifelong learning goals and economic mobility. A growing body of research demonstrates the link between household income and cognitive and non-cognitive skills in children and adolescents across various age groups. Children from households in the top income quintile are far more likely to score in the top third on key cognitive ability tests than their peers from less affluent backgrounds. The gap between the two is overwhelming with almost half of the children in the most well off households scoring in the top third on cognitive skills tests, while only 1 in 7 children from the poorest families are able to accomplish the same feat. [ii]

Improving the economic mobility of residents in major Southern metro areas (and elsewhere) will be the preeminent challenge that these places face when competing for jobs and talent. It is clear that there is no quick fix to this problem, but like most things related to community economic development, the road to future prosperity for these metro areas will go through the classrooms of young people who will help shape the region’s future.

[i] DelVol, Ross C. et al. “A Matter of Degrees: The Effect of Educational Attainment on Regional Economic Prosperity.” The Milken Institute. February 2013.
[ii] Reeves, Richard V. “Early Childhood Achievement Gaps and Social Mobility.” The Brookings Institution. September 2013.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What’s Going On?

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager. 

The events in Ferguson, MO, New York City, and Beavercreek, OH in the news, on social media, and the subsequent protests have captured my attention – I’ve been almost addicted to reading news updates and thought pieces. The issue of the abuse of power by those who are charged to serve and protect and the issue of race in America have been in the forefront of my mind lately, not just because I’m black, but because I’m the mother of a black child who will one day become a black man. Reading article after article, watching news stations, seeing people of all colors and ages protesting the lack of indictments all over the country in all these cases, and listening to NPR just makes me want to belt out Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?

Why does this matter to economic and community development? One of the common issues that arises when I’m collecting public input in client communities is a concern that leadership doesn’t adequately reflect the diversity present in those communities, whether it is race and ethnicity, age dynamics, sexual preferences, income levels, etc. According to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation’s Soul of the Community Project, one of the most important factors that makes a community a desirable place to live is openness—and the perception of residents that they can be a part of networks and feel safe and secure and hopeful in a place. When people feel represented and safe, they are more connected to their communities. When they feel more connected to their communities, they are more likely to be civically engaged. When more people are civically engaged, communities have a better chance of retaining their talent, developing leaders who represent a wider array of that community’s constituents, and eventually providing more opportunities for more people to increase the community’s overall wealth.

I’ve had my eye on these cases and others for many months now, and before the most recent events in the court cases, some interesting facts were published about Ferguson and its elected officials and other public servants. According to CNN, two-thirds of Ferguson’s population is black, and its mayor, police chief, and five of six city council members are white. Only three of the 53 officers on the police force there are black. With these dynamics—no matter why they came to be this way—it’s no wonder that the residents feel unheard and unrepresented. A couple of months later, USA Today published an article discussing arrest disparities across the nation uncovered using data from the FBI. In their review of the data, they determined that “at least 70 departments scattered from Connecticut to California arrested black people at a rate 10 times higher than people who are not black.” Amidst all the concerns that stem from groups of people, how can this particular disparity be addressed? President Obama released his plan to strengthen community policing earlier this week, and it includes promoting a community-oriented policing model. So what is that? Below are a few best practices of cities trying to restore the faith that citizens have in their safety and security.

Taking citizen complaints to foster trust and create checks and balances: San Francisco voters supported the creation of an Office of Citizen Complaints in the 1980s, and it still exists today and has increased staff capacity over the years.[1] The agency investigates every complaint that comes in about officers acting in a position of authority. The Office can make recommendations to the Chief of Police or go directly to the Police Commission in more serious cases. The Office strives to be a tool for the police department to improve public safety and efficiency while also ensuring that the public feels it has an outlet. It is important to note here that there exists tension between the police department and the Office as well as some tension among the public, who sometimes thinks the Office isn’t doing enough.

Developing relationships with youth and providing services early on: Here in Atlanta, the police department has the Police Athletic League (PAL) youth program that is a partnership between Atlanta police officers and Atlanta businesses to “use sports, education, and recreation to connect police and local youth.” The program exposes local kids to the city’s many activities and creates positive interactions to help them become productive citizens as they grow up.

Preventing crime by engaging citizens through understanding and training: In Cary, NC, residents are able to enroll in a 12-week Citizens Police Academy, where they learn about the operations of the Cary Police Department, including patrol procedures, the recruitment and selection process for new officers, and other items that citizens might not normally be aware of. The city also has the Citizens Assisting Police program, which consists of volunteers who do not carry weapons and cannot make arrests but who are able to help with security at public events and assist their fellow citizens with minor but necessary needs like car seat installation.

Proactively listening to citizens before major incidents happen: The police department in Minneapolis, MN has developed a Chief’s Citizens Advisory Council. The council includes both police department personnel and community members to identify and address pertinent issues concerning public safety, particularly pertaining to “community outreach and engagement; recruitment, hiring and promotions; training and development; and accountability.” The goal is to “help build a police department that provides exceptional police and public safety services, embraces a culture of respect, reflects the diversity of the people of Minneapolis and is committed to building relationships in the community.”

Retraining existing police officers: Yesterday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the NYPD will be retraining approximately 22,000 officers through a three-day tactics training course that will focus on topics such as “deescalating situations and interacting with people who are mentally ill.” This retraining is an effort to begin changing the relationship between police and the community and building trust.

Ensuring that police are members of the communities they serve: Boston Police Department requires city residency prior to hiring new officers, and one city leader would like to consider a requirement for officers to have lived in the city for three years. There are other cities (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia that have similar residency requirements), and others (D.C. and Detroit) that don’t require residency but offer incentives to encourage officers to reside where they work. I would love to see an analysis done to determine if police officers are more effective and less likely to abuse power if they are policing their own community.

One more best practice is rigorously screening and evaluating new police trainees. Of course, all police departments I’ve read about say that they physically and psychologically screen and assess their recruits. This process needs to be evaluated further to ensure that future police officers don’t have biases against various groups of people and that they have no inherent fears or negative views about groups that would change their approach in any situation.

In this turbulent time in our nation, it is vital that we develop and implement long-term solutions. In economic development, this is particularly important because diversity is here to stay, and communities that have embraced and even celebrate diversity are also communities who have or are building strong workforces. But none of these or any other programs will ever be effective if we don’t begin to cultivate and build respect for all human lives, no matter their color, culture, or any other difference. As our CEO J. Mac Holladay says from time to time—tolerance is not the answer because it still implies that who is being tolerated is unpleasant or disliked. It bothers me to the core when I hear people dream of a colorless society—it will never be possible to “not see color.” But if we as a nation ever join together to truly celebrate how colorful we are and seek to see each color for its individual beauty while also enjoying the rainbow as a whole, maybe we won’t have such disturbing and polarizing issues such as those we’ve seen this year, and #blacklivesmatter won’t be a trending topic on Twitter. Answers to such complex issues aren’t easy ones, but with thoughtful conversations, citizen engagement, proactive policy designs, fair enforcement of the laws stemming from those policies, and an underlying spirit of acknowledging that all lives matter, change can be made over time.

[1] Interviews: Best Practices in Community Policing.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Can we still do big things?

By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow.

The news that the U.S. and China have set goals to cut net greenhouse gas emissions and increase the production of energy from clean sources should be welcomed across the globe — especially after the dire warning from the United Nations that climate change may soon be “irreversible.”
  • For our part, President Obama announced an ambitious 2025 target to cut U.S. climate pollution by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels.
  • China’s President Xi Jinping said his country would increase the non-fossil fuel share of all energy to around 20 percent by 2030.
One would think the agreement would silence critics who have opposed U.S. action on climate change unless and until other countries also agree to act (so much for American leadership). But now the two biggest climate polluters in the world have agreed to act. The U.S. and China account for more than a third of global carbon dioxide emissions.

The reality is, we are not alone in addressing the problem. The European Union committed last month to cut its emissions 40 percent by 2030. And there are indications that the world’s next-biggest emitter—India—might be feeling the pressure. As reported by the Associated Press on Nov. 12, a former India official said, “the international community will now expect India to make some firm commitments.”

So it would appear that there is momentum on the side of acting to reverse climate change. The New York Times went so far as to say the announcement “has fundamentally shifted the global politics on climate change.”

But as Lee Corso would say on ESPN’s College Game Day, “not so fast.”

Opponents immediately slammed the climate deal. One said it would “ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs” and another called the agreement “hollow, not believable (and) a non-binding charade.” The bottom line, they said in a variety of ways, “Our economy can’t take a war on coal that will increase the squeeze on middle-class families and struggling miners."

Really? America can’t take action on what may be the biggest economic and environmental challenge of our time? Opponents to the far-reaching agreement apparently believe that the only way forward is to keep doing what we’ve been doing.

News this month from three iconic businesses suggests otherwise. 1) A retailer with declining market share, is reinventing itself by capitalizing on its vast real estate holdings; 2) The manufacturer of the best selling truck in America is changing the very material from which the vehicle is made “to get a jump on its rivals in the pickup wars;” and 3) Another car maker is introducing an emissions-free vehicle that runs on fuel that is not readily available and will initially be more expensive than gas.
  • Sears, Roebuck and Co.— on a long, slow contraction since 1989 when it was America’s largest retailer—is closing stores and leasing space in some stores to other retailers in an effort to turn the chain into a leaner, focused and more profitable company that one day may be better known as a real estate firm.

    The Miami Herald
    reported on Nov. 10 that Sears would redevelop its 12.3-acre site at a suburban Miami mall into the Esplanade at Aventura, “an open-air village featuring retail, restaurants, offices and a hotel.” The existing 192,000 square foot Sears store will be replaced with a smaller-format store at just 20,000 square feet.

    Who wants another Sears store? But what American city wouldn’t welcome a contemporary, open-air shopping and entertainment village on the site of one of its underperforming stores?
  • Ford Motor Co. is betting its future on its most fuel-efficient pickup ever, the aluminum-body F-150. The new design saves up to 700 pounds and Ford is shooting for a 20 percent increase in fuel economy.

    New government rules require Ford and other manufacturers to achieve a fleet average of 54.5 miles a gallon by 2025. Since Ford’s F-series pickups have been the best-selling trucks in America for 37 consecutive years, buyer acceptance of the lighter and more efficient F-150 can help the company reach the mileage goal.

    “Is this a risk? Yes,” William Clay Ford Jr., the automaker’s executive chairman said. “But it’s a risk worth taking.”

    One could say the new truck is the result of the government regulation. But with 850 new jobs and a $359 million renovation of the company’s Rouge assembly complex in Dearborn, “job-killing regulations” is a label that won’t stick.
  • Toyota Motor Corp. is entering the unproven but potentially lucrative market for emissions-free, hydrogen-powered vehicles. The company announced on Nov. 18, that it would begin selling fuel cell cars in Japan on Dec. 15 and in the U.S. and Europe in mid-2015.

    “Besides the relatively high cost, buyers will have to contend with finding fuel,” the Associated Press reported. “Only a few dozen hydrogen filling stations have been built worldwide, though governments are subsidizing the construction of more.”

    “Asked if it's a risk, Yoshikazu Tanaka, deputy chief engineer for Toyota's next generation vehicle development, said yes, but Toyota views it as a challenge. Likening it to a chicken and egg situation, he said if you say it's too risky and don't move forward with production, the number of filling stations will never grow. Toyota faced a similar scenario with its gasoline-electric hybrid, the Prius, which now sells in big numbers."
Can we still do big things?

The cry from climate change deniers and opponents of the US-China agreement suggests that we can only address big global challenges and new opportunities if we don’t have to change the way we are doing business today.

Fortunately, companies like Sears, Ford and Toyota—and large and small firms in the cities and regions where Market Street Services is working—are proving that we still can do big things. And in the process, proving that we can create good jobs that pay living wages, guarantee a quality education for our children, and provide affordable health care and housing for everybody.

Politicians and other critics are free to oppose the fight against climate change. But their excuse can’t be because it will kill jobs and hurt the economy. In fact, there’s nothing like a big challenge to bring about a better future. Just ask the shopper at the Esplanade, the guy driving that new Ford truck and the first owners of the emissions-free, hydrogen-powered Toyota.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Crowdfunding for Communities

By Katie Bass, Project Associate.

Lately I’ve been doing some research on crowdfunding, and it is an exciting time for entrepreneurs, investors, and communities everywhere with all the new online platforms and the passage of the JOBS Act in 2012. Every time I start reading a story about a project that was crowdfunded in a community, I stumble upon another one and another one - the projects are all so innovative and inspiring that I get lost down a rabbit hole. While crowdfunding for entrepreneurs and charities have been in use for a while through sites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and FundMe, lately I’ve been interested in the way that communities are using crowdfunding to target civic-backed projects. Cities large and small are turning to crowdfunding as a way to close the gap in budget shortages. In other cities, residents have grown impatient with unfunded or underfunded projects and have used crowdfunding to finance these local projects.

There are several crowdfunding websites that specifically target community-based projects that focus on civic improvements, such as Only governmental entities, neighborhood groups, and certain nonprofits are allowed to fundraise on their website. The Kansas City-based company has had success, one Kansas City neighborhood raised enough money to supplement the cost of a new playground that couldn’t be fully funded through the city’s budget. Uruut, an Atlanta-based company, is another fundraising platform for community projects. The Ashford Park Education Foundation recently used this site to raise over $100,000 to renovate and construct an outdoor classroom and amphitheater in Brookhaven, Georgia.

In New York, a community raised over $5,000 on Ioby for an urban, student farm in the middle of Central Brooklyn that is used as a living classroom for the local schools. The students can take produce home to their families and the remaining produce is sold at a student-run farm stand. The project didn’t cost much and was low on the city’s priority list, yet through crowdfunding, the community was able to raise the money and it has subsequently made a positive impact on local residents.

In Rhode Island, the small town of Central Falls had to declare bankruptcy in 2011. With a small budget and little funding, the Director of Planning and Economic Development turned to crowdfunding on Citizinvestor to purchase trash and recycling cans for the city’s park. They raised over $10,000 dollars and found that people wanted to pay for things where they could see direct results, by cleaning up the park, they could see exactly where their money went. Also, they knew the realities of the city’s financial limitations.

Crowdfunding for civic-backed projects may not be right for every community. It requires residents and stakeholders to be committed and attached to their community enough to open up their wallets, beyond taxes, and some taxpayers may be concerned that the government is simply double dipping into their pockets. Transparency is always necessary when it comes to where the government is spending as well as ensuring the realities of budgeting are clear. It’s doubtful that crowdfunding could be used to pay for the salary of an municipal employee, but it could be used to pay for a community garden or neighborhood park – both are relatively less expensive and are typically lower on the municipality’s priority list.

There is a growing trend of people desiring to invest in their communities and improve them, whether it’s to clean up the parks, have a community garden, create a bikeshare program, or simply to add some art to brighten up the neighborhood. Residents enjoy seeing where the money they donate goes and also having the power to influence which community projects obtains funding. This sense of community pride is being seen in cities across the nation. It’s important to remember that although there can be many obstacles that can delay or prevent a project from getting funded through traditional sources, crowdfunding offers a valuable alternative to finance civic-backed projects and make positive changes in your community.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Beethoven Concert That Never Was

By Evan Robertson, Senior Project Associate.

There is only one place in the city of Atlanta that I hold sacred: The Woodruff Arts Center, or, more specifically, Atlanta Symphony Hall. There is no other place in the city, or the region, that triggers an immediate relaxation response. No matter what is happening, how bad the week or year is going, I know with full confidence that I can sit down in those plushy red seats and be enveloped in music. The oboe’s 440 A is a signal that I am to be transported away from the world for the next few hours.[1] After the concert is finished, I am almost always in a completely different mindset than when I walked in. The experience is transformational.

Fast forward to August: My boss sends out an email asking if anyone would like tickets to a few upcoming symphony concerts: Beethoven’s 9th is on the list. My immediate response and I wish I was paraphrasing: “I Call Beethoven!”

For a little background: I attend symphony concerts for a very specific experience. For some works, the entirety of what I want to hear lasts a minute, potentially more. Sometimes it’s one or two cords – for me those cords make the piece, make the whole experience worth it. For Beethoven’s 9th, it occurs in just the first thirty seconds – right before the orchestral round finishes and the symphony joins together, the composition strikes a chord that is, arguably, a few hundred years ahead of its time. It’s a sound I could only imagine being created through a synthesizer. To imagine that the Beethoven was almost completely deaf while writing the piece is mind boggling. In no simple terms, hearing this piece would have been the defining part of October – it would have been a memory that stuck with me throughout my life.

You can imagine mixture of emotions then, which covered a few of the stages of grief, when I came across this on the Symphony’s Facebook page (pro tip: terrible use of social media):

After searching for news articles, I discovered the lockout was officially international news. To me the argument is fairly simple; at its core is management’s desire to maintain a financially sustainable orchestra. As for the artists, they want higher compensation for a level of ability that takes a lifetime to acquire, and many sacrifices along the way, higher wages to that will attract the world’s best players, and artistic control over the orchestra –an orchestra’s size and player quality is directly related to the quality of music it produces. Both sides are on solid footing: any debt laden organization will eventually collapse and any organization that can’t provide its very discerning customers with a top-level experience will also collapse, albeit more slowly. The trouble is, both sides I feel, ignore some larger trends which bear thought.

In our line of work, we constantly talk about building amenities and places where people want to live. It’s the whole “live first, work second” mentality. At Market Street, quality of place is synonymous with sustainable workforce. Businesses and corporations understand this too; they frequently leverage the amenities within their region to attract talent. Case in point, AT&T is graciously flying my brother out to Dallas, all expenses paid, so that he might take a position with them. You can bet they’ll be showing off their corporate headquarters, you can also bet they’ll be showing off Dallas too. Simply put, with companies ever mindful of amenity development, one wonders whether they will become more selective of the types of philanthropic investments they make. And to the topic at hand, is a symphony orchestra something a millennial seeks out in a community? Will it influence their location decision?

One wonders, then, if large corporate investors will continue to support the fine arts, or shift their investments to the types of arts sought after by the up-and-coming workforce. I’d like to think classical music fits the bill, and at symphony hall, the faces are about as young as I’ve seen. The ASO has made great strides in trying to appeal to this base too. Whether it is concerts featuring music from the popular Final Fantasy series or outdoor concerts in Piedmont Park, the need to attract younger audiences to the symphony is not lost on the organization. ASO’s outreach to up-and-coming musicians in the Atlanta region is also second-to-none. I wonder, however, whether this translates into sustainable ticket sales for classical concerts.

The other macro trend is that music is now ubiquitous. Music is no longer something that needs to be experienced. And, I readily admit, I am extremely selective about the concerts I attend. I could rattle off about 50 or so pieces, and 10 to 15 composers I’d be willing to go see. Anything outside of that, I’m content to stream music. This is not to say that streaming music is a bad thing, I’ve discovered a ton of new music I wouldn’t have otherwise, but it does take the discovery process out of the music. We’ve already heard the piece about to be played – we go to concerts just so we can experience it live. This places any musical group, orchestra or not, in an awkward position – they have to play the hits (i.e. Beethoven’s 9th) or the audience might not show.

The last trend important trend, I’d argue, is that the creative energy that was once behind classical music has gone to other genres. Some of the best classical music I’ve heard in recent years has been either film scores, scores from video games, or from Spotify. This isn’t to denigrate the composition talent that is currently out there, but simply to point out the creative talent is probably messing around with synthesizers.

It’s these pressures and not the current battle over the purse string, that have me most concerned about the future of classical music and, consequently, the future of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The genre needs to evolve, to be more excepting of other instruments and ways of generating sound. Moreover, shifting corporate philanthropic interests or a populous that simply doesn’t care about the genre, has me profoundly worried. It is these, much larger trends that both the ASO and its management have to think about. It’s not about giving a shot-in-the-arm to the ASO, but how do you give a shot-in-the-arm to classical music as a whole. It is the central question of our profession: how do you leverage creative destruction to lead change, rather than be debilitated by it? With any transformational effort, it’s about energy, it’s about talent, and it’s about people.

[1] Symphony orchestras tend to tune to the oboe. The 440 represents the frequency, the A represents the musical note the orchestra tunes to.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Who really benefits from incentives?

By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow.

Now that the latest economic development project-of-the-century has been sited—this one so big it’s called a “gigafactory”—questions are being asked again about who really benefits from the incentives that governments are giving to attract or retain businesses and industries.
Regardless of your position on the subject, it’s a fact that the playing field on which communities compete for jobs and investment tilted toward Nevada when the Silver State gave $1.25 billion in incentives to the electric vehicle manufacturer, Tesla, and Panasonic to make lithium-ion battery cells in Reno.

Tesla may be a good deal for Nevada and for America—only time will tell—but the cost to compete for new projects just went up for every city, county and state including Nevada.

Incentives are nothing new
During my career, incentives have included free land given to companies from up north to come down south, workforce training for employees of new companies, building roads and infrastructure, and abating taxes for up to 10, 15 and now 20 years. But instead of a sweetener to close a deal, incentives today are often the starting point when presenting a community to a prospect.
In my first post on the Market Street blog on December 21, 2012, I wrote about the pushback from a New York Times series on corporate incentives and suggested that it could affect one of the tools in the business recruitment and retention toolbox.

The Times identified 48 companies that received more than $100 million in state grants since 2007. The leader, General Motors, got $1.77 billion through 208 grants for projects in 16 states. Now comes Tesla receiving $1.25 billion for one project in one state!

I could make a case for the Tesla deal based on it being in the national interest that we make cheaper and more efficient batteries for automobiles. Battery powered cars, after all, will help America reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. But the Tesla incentives aren’t based on their value to the nation. Instead, they’re coming from a state to influence the location of the plant.

What’s the return?
After the announcement, Richard Florida, a critic of incentives in the aftermath of the NY. Times series, again made the case that “incentives play little if any role in companies’ location decisions. They are based on more fundamental factors like labor costs, the quality of the workforce, proximity to markets and access to suppliers,” he said.

Florida said companies have “learned to game the process” and that certainly seems plausible in the Tesla case. The company broke ground in June for the plant in Reno even as reports suggest it continued to negotiate with Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas officials for an even better deal for another three months.

While the Times and Florida question whether incentives influence location decisions, a Lincoln Institute of Land Policy report went even further. “There is little evidence that tax incentives are an effective instrument to promote economic development (even as) they cost state and local governments $5 to $10 billion each year in forgone revenue,” the report said.

Questions we should be asking

Can we have a serious, national discussion about who really benefits from the incentives that governments are giving to attract or retain businesses and industries? The questions that should be asked include, 
  • Why are cities and states subsidizing profitable companies with incentives and tax breaks?
  • Do incentives really influence location decisions?
  • If incentives are gravy for businesses receiving them, how can they be stopped?
  • What if incentives are a good deal for the local community but are a zero sum game for the U.S. overall?
  • Is this an issue that should be addressed nationally?
Market Street has helped its client communities develop holistic strategies for sustainable growth and development based on measurable improvements in education and workforce development; a competitive business environment; 21st century transportation and infrastructure; and a superb quality of life.

Our strategies are framed in terms of “people, prosperity, and place.”

Maybe with the right strategy, you won’t need to offer incentives.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Woman’s Worth

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager. 

Pomp and circumstance. Ceremonial bells. African drums. Processions of bright colors including those representing academic expertise, past historic landmarks. Concert choir selections. I absolutely love pretty much everything about university ceremonies, especially at historically black colleges and universities. So when President Beverly Hogan and Ms. Doris Bridgeman, the Director of Alumni Affairs for Tougaloo College, asked me to serve as a delegate for my alma mater at the Investiture of Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice as the sixth president of Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), I didn’t blink an eye before saying “of course.”

Yesterday, I donned my own gown and hood, and I joined delegates representing many other colleges and universities, Morehouse School of Medicine Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, alumni, students, and other supporters for the Investiture Ceremony. It was a beautiful ceremony with several dignitaries and other woman pioneers on the program. You see, Dr. Rice is not only the first woman president of MSM; she’s the first African American woman to lead any freestanding medical school in the nation as CEO.

As I sat there surrounded by PhDs and MDs and dignitaries, I was blown away and once again inspired by the perseverance of people who have beaten the odds to make amazing and tangible strides. As I listened to women such as Gwendolyn Boyd, the first female president of Alabama State University; Alexis Herman, the 23rd U.S. Secretary of Labor and the first African American to head the U.S. Department of Labor; and Donna Hyland, President and CEO of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, I began to think about how many barriers women have broken and was inspired by their dynamic voices and presence. Always thinking about economic development, I started thinking about how many communities I’ve visited where diversity has been identified as an issue—not just racially or ethnically, but also as it relates to gender.

I won’t spend time in today’s post discussing how only 24 of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies have women as CEOs. Or how full-time working women earn 77 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Or how women are less likely to be self-employed. What I’d like to focus on is the significant progress that has been made over time. Did you know the following facts about women?
  • On average, women (over the age of 25) are more likely to have completed high school than men. This is true for both white[1] women compared to white men and black women compared to black men according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • A higher percentage of women hold associate degrees than men. 
  • A slightly higher percentage of women have earned bachelor’s degrees than men nationwide. However, when race and ethnicity are taken into account, a minimally lower percentage of white women have attained a four-year college degree than white men, while a larger percentage of black women have attained four-year degrees than black men.
  •  Men still lead women in graduate and professional degree attainment. However, a higher percentage of black women have completed post-graduate education than black men.
  •  According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 50 years, immense improvements in educational attainment outcomes have occurred. Between 1962 and 2012, the percentage of women without a high school diploma has decreased by 40.5 percentage points. Over that same time period, the percentage of women who have earned at least a bachelor’s degree has increased by 23.9 percent.
Educational Attainment of Adults Aged 25 and Over, 2012
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
  • Although women are still less likely to be self-employed, women-owned businesses have grown rapidly during recent years. Between 2002 and 2007[2], women-owned businesses grew by 20.1 percent compared to growth in men-owned businesses of 5.5 percent.
  •  Although fewer than five percent of Fortune 500 companies have women as CEOs, it is important to remember that in 1995, there were no female CEOs in the Fortune 500.
Many communities are proactively encouraging the inclusion of women in various areas of the workforce. Several chambers support K-12 programs that expose women to STEM careers and technical careers, are becoming more cognizant of diversity on boards, and are working with area businesses to encourage diversity in the workplace. There is a long way to go to achieve gender equality in the workforce, but progress is being made. Maybe one day, it will be as apparent in everyday life as it can be at special ceremonies.

[1] “White” refers to white, not Hispanic.
[2] The 2012 Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners has not yet been published.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Millennials and the Changing Work Environment

By Evan Robertson, Senior Project Associate.

As economic development professionals, our tools for attracting and retaining the best and brightest young professionals tend to be strongest at the community level. Whether it is downtown revitalization, developing a young professional networking organization within your chamber, or actively reaching out to high school or college graduates from your region, are all extremely important activities for ensuring businesses have an adequate supply of talent as their workforce ages and, consequently, retires. Yet a recent article in the Chamber Executive’s Summer 2014 issue, written by Josh Dukelow, V.P. of Public Policy and Leadership, at the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce and Industry (located in Appleton, Wisconsin for the curious) highlights an important, and arguably overlooked by the profession, part of talent attraction and retention: it’s not just about the community, companies need to reform their business operations internally too.

Within the article, three primary trends are singled out that are impacting millennials decisions on where to live and where to work. Perhaps the most obvious, or rather most well-known, is location. Championed by the likes of Richard Florida, millennials are choosing authentic communities that offer the experiences and opportunities they desire first, and foremost. After their community is selected, it is then that they start looking for employment. Location, and place-based economic development, is where we economic development professionals feel we can have the most impact. Whether it is downtown redevelopment and revitalization, building arts incubators, or promoting tactical urbanism (just to name a few), economic development professionals, along with other public and private partners, can drastically transform the built environment into an authentic community attractive to tomorrow’s workforce.

Josh highlights two other millennial workplace trends that are just as important: the untethered desk and flexible schedules. With the advent of mobile technology, millennials are increasingly choosing to work out of the office, selecting coffee shops or co-working spaces over a cubicle. But it is just not a work-from-anywhere attitude that drives millennials; it’s a work-when-ever attitude as well. Whether it is going to mid-day yoga classes or early evening happy hours, Josh points out that millennial workers are willing to work at any hour of the day so long as it can fit within their lifestyle. This doesn’t mean they are less productive, or less dedicated to work, they just don’t want to do the typical nine-to-five. These two trends are solely influenced by individual company practices, granted we can still assist in ensuring they have a wide selection of coffee shops and co-working spaces to go to.

It wasn’t until a recent visit to the Tulsa region, for a community input session that made me realize that, why yes, we can motivate companies to change their internal business practices. I was facilitating a focus group of aerospace professionals; the topic of discussion was workforce. One of the participants casually mentioned that leaders from TYPros, Tulsa’s young professional organization, spoke at their company about the changing workplace demands of young professionals. Instead of focusing solely on what the community must do to attract young professionals for their business, the interaction identified what complementary practices the business itself could do to attract tomorrow’s talent. Honestly, the thought, which seems so simple, had never occurred to me. So, while we are busy transforming downtown areas, ensuring residential neighborhoods have quality schools and diverse building stock, and all those other place-based actions that will prepare a community to be competitive in tomorrow’s highly competitive talent environment, let’s also ensure that local businesses are prepared to compete for millennial talent. While we can’t transform their practices directly, engender change through open dialogue between our community’s young professionals and businesses.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

It Takes Hard Work to Make Positive Impressions

By Katie Bass, Project Associate.

“The key is not the age of the institution but its creativity and its persistence. A single game changer, no matter how transformative or creative, does not an economy reshape. Sustaining the gain means engaging in a continuous process of inquiry and investigation, reinvention and renewal, in which one gain leads to another, and then another, and then another. Successful metros, in other words, never stop. They do not rest on their laurels, they build on their successes.”

The Metropolitan Revolution by Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley

Often communities we work with say that one of their challenges is combating negative perceptions. Those negative perceptions are typically born out of a personal experience or a story of someone else’s experience – ah, the old adage that perception is reality. Shaping a long-lasting, positive impression on a visitor helps to reverse negative connotations of your community because not only do you make a positive impression on the visitor, that visitor passes on their experiences to their friends, coworkers, and perhaps even their blog followers – the impact of a single experience is multiplied much farther than one realizes.

I thought of this because I was in Denver last weekend for a friend’s wedding, and I must say, I was impressed with the Downtown Denver area. We stayed in the area around the 16th Street Mall – a pedestrian-only street, with the exception of the free mall shuttle that continuously drives from one end of the boulevard to the other. Not only was I impressed with the fact that they had efficient, convenient, and free transportation, the whole environment was spotless and felt surprisingly safe for a downtown in a major city. The is because the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District (BID) has committed to a clean and safe Downtown environment by making it a priority and having a year-round, seven-day-a-week schedule to keep up with the maintenance of the 16th Street Mall and its amenities. In addition to the year-round schedule of maintenance, the BID manages a Downtown Ambassador program that serves as a safe and welcoming presence in the area. The members are the eyes and ears of the place and focus on the quality of life aspects – such as panhandling and graffiti – that could diminish a visitor’s experience.
Over the past couple decades, the people in Denver have been making incredible strides to contribute to the area’s economic development success and aren’t looking to slow down any time soon. As Tami Door, President and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership so eloquently put it, “It’s not about the endgame so much as the roadmap. It’s a combination of thousands of tiny goals that project 20 years into the future.” Further making her point, “Some cities look to hit a homerun…we’ve been bunting year and year after year.” The revitalization of the 120-year old Union Station and its recent opening is just another, albeit much larger, project in the long-term commitment to the city’s future. Up next there are plans for rail service to the Denver International Airport within the next few years. The momentum behind these improvements began when the Downtown Denver Partnership, BID, and various other public and private partners, along with the City and County of Denver came together and produced the Denver Downtown Area Plan, which was adopted by the Denver City Council in 2007. Thanks to these and many other collaborations and partnerships, the community has its roadmap and together is continuously making positive changes and working hard to build a better city.

A successful plan for a community requires people that care enough to deliberately and continuously put in the effort to make their community better and that residents and stakeholders all buy-in to the process. Check out an inspiring crowdfunding video from Springfield, MO if you want to see evidence of people who love their community and are intentionally trying to make their home a better place to live. It’s a powerful, honest video and illustrates the pride people have in their community. While you’re on youtube, there’s another video, slightly longer, that I also enjoyed watching recently. This one is a Ted Talk that Jason Roberts did on the Better Block project. The Better Block project is a grassroots effort where caring residents and stakeholders across the U.S. are working together to illustrate the potential that areas in their town have and what they could look like if they were invested in or if ordinances changed to allow for certain businesses. It’s important that economic development efforts successfully leverage such groups, as they are in Denver and many other cities.

It’s all very inspiring, but at the same time, daunting. Economic development efforts are never-ending and require a lot of hard work, but with the right people and vision, a community can make great things happen.