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.