Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Advancing a Community’s Vision: Civic Capacity and Successful Implementation

By Matthew Tarleton, Vice President

As we all know, there is no “secret sauce” in the world of community improvement. There isn’t a common recipe for great communities. But there are often common ingredients, and civic capacity is clearly one of them.

Two years ago, I wrote a piece for the Market Street Report about civic capacity; specifically, what I had witnessed in my time working with residents of Watertown, South Dakota. That blog was written just a few weeks after the completion of the H20-20 visioning process for the community. It was already clear at that time, as noted in the entry, that “The citizens of Watertown have demonstrated an interest and willingness in not only defining their vision but also participating in the implementation of their vision on a scale that every community, regardless of size or location, should envy.” It concluded by noting that “…Watertown, South Dakota is a reminder that – while dollars are always critical – there is no substitute for civic capacity and we should never underestimate its value or importance in building the successful communities we desire.”

Here we are roughly two years later in Watertown. What the community has accomplished in this relatively short period of time is nothing short of remarkable. In a matter of 24 months they have accomplished more than many communities do in decades.

The City has started construction on a new $24 million multi-purpose facility.

The school system launched a Parent University to help promote parental engagement inside and outside the classroom.

A middle college was established at Watertown High School.

The City launched a portal allowing residents to report concerns that need City attention.

The community has come together to launch new events such as the Family Zoofari at Bramble Park Zoo, a Homecoming 5K, and the Rumble on the Ranch “mud run.”

An angel fund initially capitalized at $750,000 was developed to support local startups.

The Watertown Development Corporation helped advance the shovel-ready certification of two industrial parks.

Plans have been developed to improve alleyways in Uptown Watertown and expand recreational facilities for youth and adults including new softball fields, sheets of ice, and improved bike trails.

Volunteers launched Watertown Clean & Green and Litter Bit Better, community beautification projects that engage hundreds of volunteers on a regular basis in litter prevention and removal efforts, while promoting recycling awareness and utilization.

Volunteers launched other community beautification initiatives, including regular flower plantings and monthly contests that promote resident upkeep of private properties.

New signage has been developed and installed along with new landscaping to improve the appearance of the community at its main entry points and gateways.

Local artists have been engaged to create a series of public art works throughout town.

And the Watertown Community Foundation has helped coordinate it all, lending administrative and staff support when necessary, and providing the right balance of structure and freedom to help volunteers maximize their impact.

This just scratches the surface of what Watertown has accomplished through implementation of its vision plan. And remember, all of this has come to fruition in just two years. The list above illustrates the collaborative nature of the community’s approach to realizing its collective vision. The school system, the City, the Community Foundation, the Development Company, volunteers of all ages, and even the local zoo are all among the many participants that have embraced the community’s collective vision, taken ownership for achieving it, and become active participants in making it a reality. The commitment of this collaborative team that involved hundreds of community leaders and passionate volunteers has reaffirmed that Watertown’s civic capacity is, more than ever, truly enviable.

So what can other communities learn from Watertown? Well, again, there is no secret sauce; what has worked for Watertown in its implementation efforts may not be viable, appropriate, or successful in other communities. Its recipe will not be your community’s recipe. Nonetheless, there are certain ingredients that good communities should seek to include in their recipes – common ingredients that are found in the “sauces” of many great communities. Yes, I can tell that my inner chef is getting carried away with this analogy. On to the lessons, of which these are just a few:

1. Ask your residents’ opinions. This is obvious. A vision must be rooted in what residents want from their community. Some communities are scared by the accountability that comes from asking thousands of residents what they want and need. Embrace this accountability. Give every resident the opportunity to share their opinion. Watertown did so, promoting the online survey and community forums using a variety of non-traditional tactics from digital billboard advertisements to paper flyers at grocery check-out lanes.

2. Don’t just ask them their opinions. Provide them with ways to get involved. Give them opportunities to get their hands dirty. Committees are a logical place to start, but at the end of the day, those committees need to take action. They need a vision plan that gives them the chance to personally impact the community. Plant some trees. Organize an event. Coordinate a meeting. Adopt a classroom. Pick up litter. More than 600 residents (from a town of just 22,000) attended the public rollout of the vision plan, and all were encouraged to sign up as volunteers to support the portion of the plan that interested them most.

3. There is no substitute for passion. You can’t force residents to care about their community or commit volunteer hours to a project for which they have little concern. But it is far too easy to allow those at the opposite end of the spectrum – those that are passionate, ready, willing, and able – to go unnoticed and unutilized. You can’t manufacture passion in people, but you can accidentally suppress it. Try to find the passion. Look beyond the “usual suspects.” While many of the “usual suspects” – the community’s most active citizens and community leaders – were engaged in the H20-20 planning process and remain involved in its implementation, the community found that hundreds of other residents were passionate about various components of the plan. And the community was smart enough to leverage that. And that’s how you get 350 volunteers to show up in 45 degree weather to pick up trash.

4. Don’t be na├»ve – volunteers can’t do it all. There is an important role for paid staff and I’m not talking about the chamber of commerce executive, the United Way president, or the city manager. Successful communities recognize that, at the most basic level, volunteers will need paid staff support to help them coordinate their efforts, achieve their objectives, and communicate effectively with each other and the community. This often comes in the form of a volunteer coordinator or a “community vision coordinator.” The Watertown Community Foundation has provided this support when needed, but Watertown is often fortunate to have many volunteer leaders that have devoted significant time to coordinating meetings, communicating with other volunteers, and planning certain initiatives. Most communities do not have this level of engagement, and most volunteers cannot be expected to provide more than a few hours of their time each month.

5. Don’t worry about who gets credit. As Mac Holladay always says “It’s a team sport!” This is selfless work. “We” means the community, not your organization, your board of directors, or your staff. Successful communities are characterized by collaboration and cooperation to degrees that these words are the norm and not something to be achieved. There was a never question of what “we” meant in Watertown.

6. Stay positive and celebrate your accomplishments. Give each other a pat on the back. Have a party. Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are making a difference. Those who benefit from your endeavors rarely know who to thank. Community leaders and active volunteers deserve positive reinforcement. What you are doing matters. Building a better community is a noble endeavor. There is no failure. There are accomplishments and things yet to be accomplished. This is the mindset that I observed in Watertown.

7. Talk to the media. We have witnessed some hostile and downright strange relationships between well-intentioned client organizations and media outlets in some communities. If this sounds like you, you might be thinking “I’ve tried. It’s hopeless.” Try to start from a point of common-ground: we are both here, in this community, doing what we do, because we care about it. Good media partners should help you communicate with your community while also maintaining their impartiality. You shouldn’t expect them to give you a pulpit. But, know that they are in the business of telling their community’s story. And you are in the business of actively shaping that story. Watertown and the volunteers leading the H20-20 implementation effort have excellent media partners in the Watertown Public Opinion, KELO TV, and a local radio station, KXLG. Guest editorials in the newspaper and regular segments on the radio station provide a direct means of communicating with residents, giving them continuous updates on progress and informing them about ways to get involved (see number 2).

Watertown is a place that many of our clients, large and small, can learn from as they begin implementing their own vision plans. I’m curious what other lessons have been learned by community leaders out there. How have you tapped into your community’s civic capacity? Tell me.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Immigration as a Growth Strategy

By Ryan Regan, Project Associate. 

Immigration reform was set to be a hotly debated political topic again this year, but it now looks like meaningful legislation is unlikely to materialize. Ignoring the political theatrics of the topic for a minute, it’s worth considering the role that immigrants play in a community through the lens of community and economic development. Immigrants make significant social, cultural, political, and economic contributions to the United States that, in my opinion, are underappreciated thanks to common misconceptions about the immigrant population. Did you know that according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 American Community Survey, 28.2% of foreign-born adults ages 25 years and over in the United States have a Bachelor’s degree or higher? This educational attainment rate is not far off from the 30.0% rate for native-born U.S. citizens. The foreign-born population also boasts a lower rate of unemployment and a higher labor force participation rate than their native-born peers in the United States. Immigrants with low-skills pursue low-skill occupations that complement their existing skillset, and thus, they fill critical occupational gaps in the economy that are less sought after by native-born workers. Immigrants are also well-represented in skilled occupations, especially in research and development fields that have far-reaching global impacts. In 2013, immigrants were more concentrated in high-skill occupations related to computers, mathematics, architecture, engineering, and life and physical sciences than native-born U.S. workers.[1]

Communities across the country, especially those dealing with dwindling populations, are recognizing the benefits that immigrants bring to their communities. Below are just some of the communities that are rolling out the welcome mat and incorporating immigrant-friendly policies into their broader growth strategies.

Detroit, MI: Global Detroit is a non-profit organization funded in part by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce that identifies and implements initiatives that make the City of Detroit a more welcoming place for immigrants. Some of these initiatives include; an online database that allows immigrants to search for local providers of immigrant integration services, and an entrepreneurship training and development program that focuses on tapping into entrepreneurial talent in low-income, minority, and immigrant neighborhoods. Global Detroit was birthed out of a 2010 study that documented the tremendous impact that immigrants have on the Detroit community. This study made a series of strategic recommendations to make Detroit more immigrant-friendly, and as of 2014, over $7 million has been raised to put these recommendations into action. 

Dayton, OH: Dayton was highlighted in a TIME magazine article last year as being perhaps the gold standard of immigrant-friendly communities. The Welcome Dayton Plan is a community plan that was unanimously adopted by the city commission in 2011 to fully brand Dayton as an “immigrant-friendly city.” The plan resulted in numerous proactive measures to make the city more immigrant-friendly. These measures range from a directive by the local Police Chief to be more lenient in checking the immigration status of witnesses of crimes or those suspected of minor criminal offenses, to embracing the World Cup-esque Dayton World Soccer Games that is enjoyed by 600+ Daytonian children and adults from all corners of the world. As a result, Dayton’s immigrant population grew by 40% from 2011 to 2012 alone, and the city received special recognition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for being one of seven “Enterprising Cities” for the support systems they put in place for immigrant entrepreneurs. 

St. Louis, MO: The St. Louis Mosaic Project is an initiative that began in 2012 after regional economic development partners – including former Market Street client, the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce– recognized that increasing the city’s foreign-born population could greatly impact job creation efforts in the region. At the time, St. Louis ranked second to last out of the 20 most populous metros in the country in its share of immigrant population, but the St. Louis Mosaic Project aspires for the city to be the fastest growing U.S. metro for immigrants by 2020. The St. Louis Mosaic Project’s website serves as a support network of sorts where foreign-born professionals, women, entrepreneurs, students, and yes, even soccer fans are provided with opportunities to share positive experiences with each other about being an immigrant in St. Louis. The social capital that the St. Louis Mosaic Project fosters through these supportive immigrant networks is invaluable to community development. It is often these social bonds that encourage residents to make a community their “home.”

Sioux Falls, SD: The state of South Dakota experiences approximately 500 refugee arrivals every year, and the Lutheran Social Services Center for New Americas helps to resettle the vast majority in Sioux Falls (389 in 2013).[2] In addition to the LSS Center for New Americas, the Sioux Falls Diversity Council, the Multi-Cultural Center of Sioux Falls, and the Sioux Falls Arts Council also provide important support services and outreach to immigrants. The Sioux Falls Arts Council’s newest cultural plan includes strategies to engage the immigrant community by harnessing the cultural influences they bring to Sioux Falls. These community organizations are symbolic of the broader community’s support for their new residents. This sentiment was echoed in a recent article in which Mayor Mike Huether stated, “Right now, we truly are embracing diversity in Sioux Falls at an all new level. We are reaping the rewards that come with it.”[3]

Market Street is familiar with this Midwestern region, having worked on the Future Sioux Falls economic strategy in 2010. The strategy was part of the broader Forward Sioux Falls 2011-2016 joint venture between the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and the Sioux Falls Development Foundation. This partnership has been so successful in marketing the region and funding community economic development efforts that it too resulted in Sioux Falls being recognized as an “Enterprising City” by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Market Street is working in Sioux Falls once again this year on a strategy that will focus on planning for the long-term sustainability of the Sioux Falls metro’s workforce.  

As you can see, whether it’s discouraging police harassment, fostering immigrant social networks, supporting immigrant entrepreneurs, or embracing the power of the game of soccer, communities across the country are getting creative in how they incorporate immigrants into their long-term community goals. Visit Welcoming America to learn more about some of these communities and others that are leading local efforts to embrace immigration as a growth strategy. This national grassroots organization partners with cities and counties across the country to share resources and best practices on supporting local immigration growth.

Immigrants come to the United States because they see an opportunity to improve their own lives and those of their families. Forward-thinking communities are starting to view these immigrants in similarly opportunistic terms, and kudos to them for doing so.

[1]“Foreign-Born Workers: Labor Force Characteristics-2013” Bureau of Labor Statistics news release, May 22, 2014. 
[2] Weinstein, Dorene. “Befriending Sioux Falls refugees.” Argus Leader, October 4, 2014.
[3] Harriman, Peter. “Sioux Falls embraces its changing look.” Argus Leader, November 11, 2014.  

Friday, February 6, 2015

Wanted: Millennials

By Katie Thomas, Project Associate.

In nearly every community we work in, the challenge with workforce dynamics and millennials inevitably comes up when talking to employers. Millennials are one of the most studied, sought-after, and resented generations in modern day. There are countless reports, surveys, and articles about millennials, and they have been called everything from lazy and entitled to innovative and brilliant. Millennials are quickly taking over the workplace; the Census projects that millennials will make up about half of the workforce by 2020, and by 2025, they are expected to account for three fourths. 

While it’s a little comforting knowing that your business community isn’t the only one facing this challenge, the task of successfully overcoming it still remains very real. There’s the old adage that a tree that does not bend with the wind will break. In the fierce competition to attract the best and brightest to replace employees nearing retirement, past recruitment strategies and traditional work environments may have to change in order to recruit and retain talent. 

The December 2014 Duke University/CFO Magazine Global Business Outlook Survey stated that approximately 60 percent of the U.S. chief financial officers surveyed reported that their firms have not made any changes in an effort to attract millennials. Of those that had made changes to appeal to the millennials, 21 percent adopted flexible work hours, 17 percent allowed work from home, 16 percent increased training, 13 percent implemented a new mentoring program, and 10 percent had altered the corporate culture. 

Every aspect that may appeal to millennials in a workplace won’t work in every business sector, so some companies modify certain aspects that do work with their business model to increase their attractiveness to millennials. Below are a few companies, some of which have landed on Best Companies to Work for and Best Workplaces lists, and examples of the actions they have taken to attracting workers.

  • NetApp is a large, international provider of data management and storage. The company provides an environment that encourages personal and professional development. NetApp provides tuition reimbursement and averages 56 hours of annual training for full-time salaried employees. Also, they have a program, NetApp University, that provides additional professional, technical, sales, and management development courses and mentorship opportunities for employees to continue to learn new things and feel challenged.

  • USAA allows employees to work flexible hours and/or remotely. Approximately 25 percent of employees take advantage of the opportunity to work compressed schedules, varying start- and stop-times, and remotely. There were an average of 56 applicants per job opening and the total voluntary turnover rate was 8 percent for the previous year. Nationally, the annual quit rate for companies in finance and insurance was 13.5 percent in 2013.

  • Zappos implemented a “skills set” system to replace annual raises. The company developed a program with around 20 skills that employees could acquire, and once mastered, would receive a small pay increase. The transparency enables its employees to have more control over their pay and challenges the employees to develop new and useful skills that benefit both the employee and the company.

  • The information technology company, Squarespace, which specializes in website design and development, provides stock options for every employee to receive shares of the company. The work environment is a “no door” workplace, casual dress attire, stocked kitchen for employees, and a flexible work schedule that enables employees to get the work done wherever and in whatever time period they need. The company averages over 100 applicants per job opening.

  • Allied Wallet, a payment processing company headquarter in Los Angeles, shows its appreciation for employees by handing out gift cards or cash each month to top performers. When surveyed, 96 percent of employees reported that managers recognize and appreciate the good work and extra effort put forth by employees.

  • At the grocery store, Wegmans, the majority of the jobs are low-skilled with minimal education requirements and pay hourly wages, yet the company has created an environment where each employee feels part of a family. Employees reported that managers encourage people to maintain a work/life balance and are able to take time off for work, show appreciation of each employee through handwritten thank you notes and gift cards, and hosts employee appreciation festivities. Wegmans boasts an incredibly low turnover rate at 3.6 percent. In comparison, companies with business activities in retail trade averaged a 29.4 percent turnover rate in 2013.
  • The Container Store’s efforts to create a great atmosphere for employers includes a wellness room, a lending library, and a variety of celebrations, including adopting February 14th as “National We Love Our Employees Day” where the company showers employees with love in the form of balloons, treats, and notes of appreciation. Roughly 40 percent of new hires come from employee referrals.

  • In Indianapolis at Roche Diagnostics, employees participate in company sponsored sports teams for rec-leagues that include basketball and softball, among others, and there is a comradery among its employees. They also have an on-site garden available for employees to use while at work to grow produce.
  • Snagajob’s office includes an indoor soccer venue, an outdoor volleyball court, a fitness center, and breakfast for employees. Additionally, it hosts outings for employees which have included a trip to the Washington Nationals game, go-kart racing, and a wine tour.

Providing an attractive total package not only helps employers to get more applicants, it also cuts down on the costly training expenses incurred by companies that have high turnover by creating an environment where employees feel like family, are challenged, and receive appreciation, which contributes to the reduction in the percentage of employees that quit working for the company. Flexibility, appreciation, a collaborative environment, and opportunities to advance and develop skills are all among some of the cited workplace characteristics desired by the next generation of workers. The challenge for employers will be to adopt policies that will be competitive against other companies through whichever avenue is most compatible with their business activities to remain competitive in an evolving work environment.