Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hancock County, MS: From Katrina to Success

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

On this day ten years ago, a book entitled August 29: Katrina was released. It was a look into the havoc wreaked on the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina. 

What you may not know is that Hancock County, MS, home of Stennis Space Center, was ground zero for Katrina, which was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. Katrina’s storm surge all but wiped out the Clermont Harbor, Waveland, and Bay St. Louis communities in Hancock County.

August 29: Katrina was written by Bob Pittman and Ashley Edwards, two gentlemen who have contributed greatly to economic development in Mississippi. Bob Pittman is a media mogul who also served as the CEO of the Mississippi Economic Council from 1968 to 1998. Ashley Edwards is currently the CEO of the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission. During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Ashley served as Deputy Director then later, Executive Director of the Mississippi Office of Recovery.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of interviewing Ashley to hear his perspective of Hancock County’s post-Katrina economic development efforts. His perspective is particularly intriguing because as well as being a key leader in rebuilding the Mississippi communities that were damaged, Ashley and his family were victims of the storm.

As leaders charted their course of recovery, their first priority, of course, was meeting basic survival needs. Ashley noted that there were many tasks that had to be completed, even before housing recovery and economic development grants could be extended, including rebuilding the roads, rebuilding the schools, re-laying water and sewer lines, and reconnecting utilities. "For that first year, our focus was entirely putting back the robust infrastructure that's necessary to support habitation,” said Ashley of the initial stages of the recovery process. Another major priority during these initial months was ensuring that infrastructure was replaced in such a way that it would be stronger and more durable should another Katrina-like storm happen again. Despite the stigma that comes with pursuing economic development after such destruction, Ashley is now able to assure potential and existing businesses that the county is in a significantly less vulnerable position now and is prepared for any future incidents.

Ashley points to two key factors behind their success: the ability of community leaders and stakeholders to work together to focus on recovery and the fact that there was a focus on developing long-term strategies even as leaders addressed short-term needs. Leaders never lost sight of the importance of knowing where they were going after all the short-term needs had been met. According to Ashley, “…while we were very much still in response phase, [Mississippi] was also putting a lot of investment in making sure that we were preparing ourselves for the long-term recovery that had to happen.”

The first strategy that the county implemented was the Hancock County Long-Term Recovery Plan, which was published in early 2006 and was done in conjunction with a number of experts, the state of Mississippi, the federal government, and Hancock County officials and stakeholders. Then in 2010 and 2011, Market Street Services had the opportunity to work with the Hancock County Development Commission (now the Port and Harbor Commission), the Hancock County Chamber and other partners to develop an Economic Development Strategy. I was the lead researcher on that project, and it was then that I was able to see beyond the pictures and news articles and see firsthand how this community was working together through its challenges.

When I asked Ashley about how this strategy helped with their efforts, he said, “I think the greatest value that something like that can have is that it puts people in a position in which they're thinking about the future in the terms of process and actionable items.” Getting the right people at the table to talk about where the county needed to go and how it would get there made all the difference in the world. “That component of 'how are we going to get there?' is something that created an ecosystem in Hancock County that was very important for the situation we were in post-Katrina.” Partnerships and teamwork continue to be paramount to economic development, and that was surely the case in Hancock County.

Now, after a decade since Hurricane Katrina destroyed the physical features of Hancock County, it is clearly evident that the storm did not destroy the tenacity and determination of its residents and business community. As residents were focusing on reestablishing their lives, businesses were also working to rebuild and were committed to staying in Hancock County. In fact, according to Ashley, “In Hancock County Port Bienville Industrial Park, all of the industries that made it through the storm were back up and operating within 30 days post-Katrina. In some cases, they were back up and operating without even the basic infrastructure that fed their raw materials. We still had rail bridges that were completely out. We still had situations where you didn't have road access coming into some of those areas. So, it is astounding to see how quickly that started to come back after the fact, but, make no mistake about it, in some ways it is a true American success story because there was every reason for Hancock County not to make it through Katrina and yet it did and has actually come back on the back side much stronger than it was even in 2005.”

Hancock County is thriving, and it continues to attract businesses, investments, and jobs. Hancock County, MS is still the home of Stennis Space Center, where NASA tests rockets. The county’s largest employers are Jindal Tubular, Lockheed Martin Space, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Naval Research Lab, and DAK Americas, which recently announced its expansion in Port Bienville Industrial Park. Hancock County was chosen over Charleston, SC for DAK Americas’ new plant that will make 230 million pounds of polyester staple fibers.

The Port and Harbor Commission also landed Petroleum Helicopters Inc. and EmberClear Corp. Workforce development remains a priority, and the county works with the Mississippi Polymer Institute, the outreach arm of the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials at the University of Southern Mississippi. Its many partnerships and economic development wins are evidence that Hancock County is here to stay.

Although the county’s story could fill an encyclopedia, it is my hope that highlighting Hancock County’s amazing story will serve as strong advice to communities that have experienced natural disasters and other large-scale obstacles. The Hancock County recovery story is one that inspires and reminds us of the enormous capacity of humans to overcome even the most incredible odds. In the coming weeks, we will provide another glimpse into Hancock County’s current profile and share more of my interview of Ashley Edwards.

For more information about the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission, please visit Please stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of the Hancock County Economic Development Post-Katrina series.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sorry Candidates, Climate Change Is Not a Hoax

By Jim Vaughan, Senior Fellow

When the U.S. Senate votes 98-1 that “climate change is real and not a hoax,” and the Pope issues an Encyclical Letter on the topic of man-made climate change, one might assume that the issue is settled.

But as TV sports analyst and prognosticator Lee Corso says, “Not so fast!”

As long as there are political points to be made from challenging the science of climate change, there’s a good chance that the subject will be front and center in the presidential campaign.

Here are some examples of what I mean.

The top candidate in the polls for the Republican nomination for president said, flat out, “I’m not a believer in man-made global warming.”

This in spite of scientific consensus—Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

Another candidate, arguing against America taking leadership action on climate change, said, “One nation, acting alone, can make no difference at all.” (See Katie Couric’s Yahoo! interview at 33:10.)

David Roberts, writing for, challenged the position that America can make no difference. “One nation, acting alone can make a difference, by doing something that's worth doing anyway. And refusing to do it would be a gross abdication of moral leadership.”

A third candidate worries that action on climate change will make America a harder place to create jobs. “We're not going to pursue policies that will do absolutely nothing to change our climate.”

In response, Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate’s Future Tense, said action on climate change would in fact lead to jobs growth. “The growth of renewable energy is already a huge job creator in the United States,” he said.

Candidates (and their followers) who deny climate change do so at their peril because they ignore—or worse, prevent—the benefits that would accrue to our economy. For example—

Siemens is committed to cut its global carbon footprint in half by 2020 and to make its global operations carbon neutral by 2030. The company will eliminate a vast majority of its carbon emissions, while also supporting projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions outside of Siemens, known as carbon offsets. Its net CO2 emissions will be zero. Imagine the return on investing in a smaller carbon footprint and how net zero CO2 emissions can help address climate change.

Employment in the solar sector grew by more than 20 percent, and it is now adding jobs at a rate that exceeds the oil and gas industry, and there are twice as many solar workers as coal miners. Imagine the return on investing in solar and how solar can help address climate change.

Google signed a 20-year agreement to buy half of the energy produced at a soon-to-be refurbished wind energy facility to power the company’s sprawling Googleplex headquarters. Imagine the return on investing in wind and how wind can help address climate change.

Apple is accelerating efforts to build an electric car, designating it internally as a “committed project” and setting a target ship date for 2019. Imagine the return on investing in electric vehicles and how electric vehicles can help address climate change.

LED lighting is a new industry category that will enable consumers to help reduce energy consumption. predicts that by 2027, LED lighting could save the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 1000-megawatt power plants and result in a total savings of more than $30 billion at today's electricity prices. Imagine the return on investing in LED lighting and how LED lighting can help address climate change.

LEED[i] buildings are responsible for diverting over 80 million tons of waste from landfills. Compared to the average commercial building, LEED Gold buildings in the General Services Administration’s portfolio consume a quarter less energy and generate 34% lower greenhouse gas emissions. Imagine the return on investing in LEED buildings and how LEED can help address climate change.

* * * *

The 5 Most Important Points of Pope Francis’s Climate Change Encyclical man-made climate change are simple and profound—

1. Climate change is real, and it’s getting worse.

2. Human beings are a major contributor to climate change.

3. Climate change disproportionately affects the poor.

4. We can and must make things better.

5. Individuals can help, but politicians must lead the charge.

Now the Pope has come to America where he challenges us to act on climate change.

Some will cheer while others will be very uncomfortable. But climate change will not go away.

America should lead on this issue. But if it doesn’t, American businesses and cities can.

Addressing climate change is a good thing for the planet, for the people and for our economy.

[i] LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a program of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Future of Work: Androids and Electric Sheep

By Evan D. Robertson, Senior Project Associate

It’s only September and already it is safe to declare 2015 the year of the Luddites. It is though humankind’s collective consciousness stumbled upon a deep concern that automation and robotics could have an immense and lasting impact on the nature of work. In one camp stand individuals who believe that technology and automation will continue to create more jobs than they ultimately destroy. The foundation of their argument is that we will always be crucial for certain business functions. Job growth figures over the last hundred or so years are, of course, on their side. The other camp is decidedly less optimistic about our future in the workplace. The end of work debate is nothing new, Jeremy Rifkin wrote extensively on the subject while John Maynard Keynes wrote an 1930 essay titled “Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren” in which Keynes felt that the sheer power of income earning interest would allow us to dedicate our lives to less monetary focused pursuits. 

For us in the economic development field, automation and robotics generates far more questions than solutions. In terms of workforce development, a software driven world presents significant challenges in determining and projecting what occupations education training institutions should devote crucial, dwindling resources. More “engineers” or “more STEM” workers isn’t necessarily the right answer. After a frank discussion with my friend, who is a network engineer at AT&T, he is certain his current job won’t be around for much longer as software defined networking technology rolls out to the major internet service providers. This is indicative of the new automating technology that is being developed across the country. It is extremely sophisticated and indiscriminant in its ability to replace functions whether it is routinized tasks on the factory floor or, increasingly, specialized skill-sets once thought of as the last bastion of stable employment. Automation is so far reaching because of its audacious goal: to construct a computerized being equal in intelligence to our own. Over the short-term, routinized jobs are certainly the most susceptible. A study out of Oxford University found the following five occupations most susceptible to automation: 

1. Telemarketers 

2. Title Examiners, Abstractors, and Searchers 

3. Sewers, Hand 

4. Mathematical Technicians 

5. Insurance Underwriters 

Indeed, susceptibility of all 702 occupations identified in the study is worth the read. Over the short-term (say the next ten to twenty years) it does give a sense of the occupations that will be completely replaced by current and pending technologies and those that will demonstrate a degree of resiliency. Whether resilient occupations stick around over the long-term is anyone’s guess. Given the sheer amount of unknowns surrounding new technologies, workforce training flexibility is key. Unfortunately, given the structure of our educational system – flexibility is not necessarily its defining characteristic. Nonetheless, workforce retraining and reskilling programs that specifically target displaced workers will be critical to sustain a vibrant economy while technology drastically alters the labor market. 

Workforce development isn’t the only interesting challenge automation and robotics presents to community and economic development professionals. Business retention and expansion (BRE) practices will naturally have to evolve in order to make way for an increasingly technologically sophisticated workplace. This is most clear in manufacturing-focused regional economies throughout the nation. As technology continues to weave its way onto the factory floor, manufacturers’ location requirements will look shockingly similar to a high-tech company.[1] Moreover, automation affords economic development professionals immense opportunities to assist manufacturers in expanding and diversifying their core businesses. For instance, a ball bearings company located in Sweden recently added tiny sensors to their products – allowing them to sell performance data to their customers. Thus, along with providing the initial ball bearing, the manufacturer also sells services to reduce maintenance costs and machine downtime. The future of manufacturing is equal parts producer, tech company, and service provider. This offers immense BRE opportunities to assist local companies in transforming their local economies: whether it is new industrial infrastructure necessary for interconnected industrial devices (aka: the “industrial internet of things”) or linking manufacturers with research and development resources to make their transition into a tech-focused operation. 

The community and economic development landscape will change considerably in the future. As a profession, we must remain ever vigilant of the technological changes that stand to disrupt not only business models but entire occupational categories. As the nature of work evolves, so too must the community and economic developers’ toolbox. Certain tools will remain important to shaping economic development investment, such as tax incentives, while new tools will need to be developed to more effectively retain and reskill the technologically displaced. Developing and increasing innovation capacity will equally be critical. In the short-term, perhaps a generation long, the employment and economic landscape will likely be challenging and uncertain. As machines take up more of the workload over the long-term, it could free us to dream the extraordinary and accomplish it in short order. Only time will tell. 

[1] Albeit with less demand for hip coffee shops

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Convergence of CVB and EDO Objectives in Destination Marketing

By Matt Tarleton, Principal, Vice President

I was in Portland last week for a couple of days, briefly attending the U.S. Travel Association’s Educational Seminar for Tourism Organizations (ESTO). I was there in part to discuss the role of destination marketing organizations (DMOs, also known as Convention and Visitors Bureaus) in tourism product development, along with fellow panelists from the Asheville CVB and Travel Oregon, as well as moderator Berkeley Young. Tourism product development simply refers to the development of amenities, attractions, or experiences that appeal to potential travelers and tourists. Our conversation was one that could have continued for hours. 

Speaking to a room full of CVB executives and staff members, at times I felt as if I was speaking on behalf of thousands of chamber and economic development professionals as I tried to convey how chambers and economic development organizations are increasingly engaged in similar strategic initiatives and pursuits – including “product development” – but for entirely different reasons and motivations than DMOs/CVBs. 

Let me explain. 

When I entered this line of work almost ten years ago, the conversation in economic development had already started to shift. The days of competing on cost, particularly in the Sun Belt, were gone. The mass exodus of companies seeking lower cost destinations, particularly manufacturers, had dried up. Part of this was due to the “new economy” that so enthralled communities in the mid-late 1990s; it was all about tech – biotech, nanotech, infotech, TECH! What followed this explosive growth in technology development – and subsequent “dot com bubble” bursting – was the recognition that baby boomers were retiring. 

By the mid-2000s it was as if communities were just starting to come to a collective “aha” moment. The quality and availability of talent began to dominate conversations about community competitiveness. What followed, or naturally accompanied this conversation, was a realization that quality of place and talent availability were inextricably linked. Here we are today in 2015 with communities competing as aggressively for workers as they are for companies. 

The communities that are rich with talent are just as focused on workforce sustainability as those with a dearth of talent. 

When we talk about workforce sustainability, we are really speaking about two things: first, talent development (or “growing your own” through education and training) and second, talent attraction and retention. Countless chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, and other entities are investing in talent marketing campaigns. These campaigns are substantively different from the traditional marketing activities of many EDOs; marketing to a company or site selector considering your community as a place to do business is quite different from marketing to an individual considering your community as a place to live. But DMOs have been in the business of marketing to people for much longer. It is their principal mission: marketing a destination and its quality of place. 

And when we talk about quality of place and its development, we are really speaking about something quite simple: building a more attractive set of amenities, experiences, and so forth that appeal to people: existing and potential future residents, travelers and tourists, and others. Destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are increasingly becoming known as destination management organizations. They are actively involved in place-making or place-creating and the aforementioned “product development:” helping develop this more complete set of amenities, attractions, and experiences. Product can be an arena or stadium, an events center or a convention center, a performing arts center, a baseball diamond or soccer field, a trail system, or a new event, festival, or concert. More frequently than not, tourism product equally appeals to existing and potential future residents just as much as it appeals to travelers and tourists. 

Regardless of the community that we work with, DMOs have to “be at the table” as we start community conversations about strategic economic development priorities. This should be obvious given the immense economic impact of the travel and tourism sector in many communities. But today, it is especially important for them to be involved in the conversation given the emphasis that is being placed on workforce sustainability and quality of place. 

We often throw around terms like “collaboration” and “alignment.” While many CVBs or “destination management” functions separated from chambers of commerce in previous decades their strategic initiatives and investments are – at least in my view – becoming more and more similar as the days go by. The only difference is the objective: both are supporting and investing in quality of place (or product development) and place marketing. One does it for tourist attraction; the other does it for talent attraction (and retention). Both do it for economic development.