Thursday, August 27, 2015

Who Gets The Credit?

By Mike Gaymon,GACCE, Senior Advisor

Assessments are essential for sustainability whether it is for a company in the private sector, a not for profit organization, or a public entity.  Having conducted nearly 200 assessments for states, communities and regions these are in " the wheel house" of Market Street Services.

These assessments drill down pretty deep into the strengths and weaknesses of a community. Every community has both. The more forward thinking communities realize that without a thorough assessment, change will come, but it may be by default and not by design. Often, when strengths are identified there are plenty of folks standing by to take the credit.  But when weaknesses (liabilities) are identified, sometimes we hear the word "they" instead of "we".  Maybe it is just human nature but most people identify with winners and want to be around success. 

It's not so much about where the community actually is currently, but about where are they going be in the future. How can they take advantage of the strengths and strategically minimize weaknesses in order to make changes that result in positive outcomes?

Community and economic development is a team sport: it takes many players on the field to properly execute a strategy. Working together is a necessity.

Regardless of the size of the community or the amount of weaknesses or strengths, it's amazing what happens if you don't care who gets the credit!

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Road Ahead

By J. Mac Holladay, Founder and CEO

Years ago I wrote many “chamber commentaries” for the Charleston News and Courier. I covered many issues particularly education reform, governance, and economic development. As I prepared to leave Charleston to begin work as the Director of the State Development Board, I wrote this final column. Please note that the date I wrote this was July 29th, 1985.

“The Lowcountry has endured a great deal. 

It has a rich history of success and failure, prosperity and poverty. 

In some ways our community faces another important crossroad. 

The past twenty years have been tremendous in terms of growth and development. 

The economy across this nation is changing…we are part of a world economy. 

We must understand our opportunities and assets in terms of reality, not fantasy. 

Education is the only thing that unlocks the future for individuals and communities.

Our work has only just begun…

There is one element that is the key to these issues and countless others unnamed.

That one necessity is leadership…leadership knows no color, no age, no sex; it only understands results.

 It relates only to people, for it’s through people that this happens.  

Nothing happens by accident; people make things happen. 

The road ahead is exciting and frightening. It can lead one way or another. 

The Trident must choose its course.”

J. Mac Holladay
Chamber Commentary
The News and Courier/The Evening Post
July 29, 1985

It is amazing to realize how many things have changed over the years, but the things that make great communities remain constant. Understanding the core issues is as vital in 2015 as it were 30 years ago.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

ACCE in Montreal

By Kathy Young, Principal, COO

This week, the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE) is gathered in Montreal, Quebec for the 101st annual meeting of the organization. For four days, ACCE members from around the U.S., Canada, and with guests from other countries, will discuss the most pressing trends and issues facing chambers and communities today. As the national economic development sponsor, our team is here to participate and present alongside our clients during the workshops and special sessions.

Now two days in to the conference, we’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with clients, meet chamber professionals new to their communities, and share our perspective about the value of holistic community and economic development strategies. Yesterday, our CEO, J. Mac Holladay was joined by Michael Huber (President and CEO, Indy Chamber) and John Seymour (President and CEO, Decatur-Morgan County Chamber) to discuss how important quality of place continues to be, every day, and during times of crisis. Decatur has steadily transformed over the past few years, working within a consensus One Vision. One Voice. Strategy. The Indy Chamber turned a difficult situation into a positive spotlight this past year with their #IndyWelcomesAll campaign.

Having the beautiful city of Montreal as the backdrop for a quality of place conversation provided great context for the discussion. Predominantly French-speaking and centered by a downtown that blends a thriving arts district, the narrow lanes of Old Montreal, and contemporary architecture, the friendly city wears its host status well. Nationally, Canada has the highest per-capita rate of immigration in the world, and Montreal’s culture reflects this diversity and welcoming spirit.

The many intriguing sessions provide insight into workforce issues, young professional programming, and regional branding, among many others. Our Vice President, Matt Tarleton, alongside Dr. Garrett Harper (V.P., Research, The Research Center, Nashville Area Chamber), and Christy Bertolo (Member Resource Specialist, Columbus Chamber of Commerce), will explore methods of increasing revenue and developing new partnership using research and data analysis. David Brown, President of Greater Omaha Chamber (awarded ACCE Chamber of the Year last night) was one of several speakers that shared lessons about creating a regional collaborative brand (if you haven’t seen the award-winning We Don’t Coast campaign, check it out).

Suffice it to say, there are dozens and dozens of great learning opportunities packed into these four days, and the social gatherings provide the reminder that the chamber of commerce world is a close-knit community of people who respect and value each other and the peer-to-peer opportunities that this conference and organization provide. I’m always impressed by the mentoring and encouragement that trumps the competitive environment that you would naturally expect to find at such a gathering.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

One Path Among Others Not Taken

By Jim Vaughn, Senior Advisor

After reading the good news from Washington that the Senate approved a highway bill on a vote of 91-4 (the bad news is the stopgap measure will finance federal highway and transportation projects only for three months!), I came across these interesting approaches from the states— 

Iowa DOT chief Paul Trombino said nobody is going to pay to rebuild the state’s roads. It’s not affordable. Iowans will have to figure out which roads “we really want to keep” and let the others “deteriorate and go away.” 

Converting 83 miles of roads from paved to unpaved is an unintended consequence of prosperity in Texas. The affected roads have been so heavily damaged by truck activity related to oil and natural gas exploration that they have become safety hazards, said TxDOT Deputy Executive Director John Barton. 

So what if Iowa and Texas are on to something? What if we can’t afford a lot of the roads we’ve got? What if the best solution is to plow them under? And what if we change our priorities on building and rebuilding our roads and highways? 

Of course we have to repair and build roads because we chose to build car-dependent cities back in the 1960s. But did we? University of Virginia historian Peter Norton says “the car-dominated city wasn’t the inevitable path of progress, but one path among others not taken.” 

In her excellent Washington Post Wonkblog post, The Myth of the American Love Affair With Cars, Emily Badger quotes Norton to tell the history that has been lost about how automobiles came to own the road: 

Americans’ love affair with the car “is one of the biggest public relations coups of all time,” Norton said. “It’s always treated as folk wisdom, as an organic growth from society. [But] everyone forgets it was invented as a public relations campaign.” 

This “love affair” was coined, in fact, during a 1961 episode of a weekly hour-long television program called the DuPont Show of the Week (sponsored, incidentally, by DuPont, which owned a 23 percent stake in General Motors at the time). The program, titled “Merrily We Roll Along,” was promoted by DuPont as “the story of America’s love affair with the automobile.” 

The show aired at a time when cars were facing steep criticism, as plans for the new interstate system threatened to destroy or disrupt neighborhoods in many U.S. cities. Highways were on their way to remaking Detroit, Cincinnati and St. Louis. Interstate 95 would ultimately raze entire black neighborhoods in Miami. In Washington, a grassroots group called the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis was protesting “white men’s roads thru black men’s homes.”

In New York, urbanist hero Jane Jacobs had gone to battle against a proposed road through Washington Square in Greenwich Village that would have replaced a public park with a thoroughfare for speeding cars. 

The “love affair” story, Norton says, was a response to all this protest, and it successfully helped seed two ideas that have been entrenched ever since: that we’re bound to cars by something stronger than need, and that people who challenge that bond are just turning up their noses at their fellow Americans. 

In the half century since then, we have largely rebuilt American communities to accommodate this love, retrofitting cities to make space for cars, bulldozing old buildings so that we can park them, constructing new communities where it’s not possible to get around without them. 

This isn’t to say that there aren’t people who love their cars. The phenomenon of sports cars, weekend cars and collector cars is real. So, too, is the allure for many people of road trips, scenic highways or weekend drives through the country. Rather, the story Norton disputes, which he has written about in the book “Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City,” is the history that says that we’ve built car-dependent cities and suburbs because that’s what Americans wanted, the story that says all our surface parking lots and spaghetti interchanges are a pure product of American preferences. 

Now, about 86 percent of Americans get to work every day in a private car – a statistic that’s often interpreted to mean that the vast majority of us chose to travel that way. 

This conclusion conflates preferences with constrained options. “I actually drive most of the way to work,” Norton admits. “I do it because the choices stink.” To extract from today’s ubiquitous parking garages, drive-through restaurants and busy roads a preference for cars ignores all the ways that public policy, industry influence and economic incentives have shaped our travel behavior. 

“If you locked me in a 7-Eleven for a week, and then after the end of the week unlocked the door and you studied my diet over the previous seven days, then concluded that I prefer highly processed, packaged foods to fresh fruits and vegetables, I would say your study is flawed,” Norton says. 

We make the same mistake, he says, with the history we tell of the car. And this popular story of that past makes it hard for us to envision alternative futures before us. 

So in three months, when the stopgap highway bill expires, what are we going to do about our transportation infrastructure? 

If Norton was right—that the car-dominated city wasn’t the inevitable path of progress, but one path among others not taken—it stands to reason that continuing to build and rebuild freeways and highways is but one path today. 

Imagine passing a long-term, balanced and sustainable transportation bill that leads to significant public and private investment in cities designed for people and not just for cars. That’s a bill that could result in a real love affair: an American love affair with cities.