Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Changing Face of Retail

By Stephanie Allen, Project Assistant

This year I bought all of my Christmas presents online. All of them. I am a person who LOVES Christmas shopping. Some of my favorite memories are of Christmas shopping in Woodstock, NY, where all the little shops had hot cider and cookies, where there were carolers and pine boughs and often snow, and where you could find all sorts of unique gifts from local artisans and crafters. Back in the early 2000s, I never dreamed of Christmas shopping online. I bought a few textbooks online and a CD or two, but now I buy almost everything online from books to dog food to paper towels to handmade pottery, used records and vintage clothes. I’ve even used a few different apps for same-day grocery delivery.

Why would Christmas be any different? To be honest, buying online takes much of the joy out of Christmas shopping for me. But, it’s just SO convenient. And, as far as the rest of the year goes, I don’t even feel like I’m missing anything—I prefer to shop online. Apparently I’m not alone. This year Black Friday online sales were up 21.6% over the same day last year. According to the census bureau, online sales for the third quarter of 2016 were up 15.7% from the third quarter 2015. And, retail foot traffic is declining. In 2013, total retail foot traffic in November and December was down to 17.6 billion from over 30 billion in 2010.

All of these online sales have lead to a changing physical landscape in cities and suburbs across the country. There is less demand for retail space. Suburban shopping centers have been especially hard hit. From 2010 to 2015, more than a dozen shopping malls closed. In 2015, 15% of the nation’s 1,200 malls were between 30 and 50% vacant. And, currently, more than 60 malls across the country are considered on the brink of death. As we continue to make more and more of our purchases online, we will likely see fewer brick and mortar retail operations. 

But, that’s not the only change we’ll see. We’re making fewer driving trips for shopping and while that may mean low occupancy rates for retail parking lots or less traffic in retail shopping centers, it also means an increase in freight traffic. According to a recent U.S. Department of Transportation study, our online shopping will be a major contributor to a 45% increase in freight traffic by 2040. It also means an increase in residential neighborhood traffic by delivery men. Yesterday, the mailman brought packages to my door, as did the UPS guy, the FedEx guy, and the OnTrac guy. 

Our communities will need to plan for these changes. We’ll need to make room on our roads for more freight traffic and perhaps make attempts to divert some of that traffic to other modes. We’ll need to make plans for dying malls and empty strip malls as well as their expansive parking lots. And, until drone delivery becomes more commonplace and/or driverless vehicles become part of our freight delivery system, we’re going to need more drivers and more warehouse workers and fewer retail employees.

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Ghost of Manufacturing Past

By Evan Robertson, Senior Project Associate

I have fond memories of the excitement building up to the holiday season. As a child, it was as if the entire world was building up to a particular day or set of days where humanity slowed down, however briefly, for a moment. As an adult, you discover that there are a lot of people responsible for creating this air of mysticism around the holiday season. Retail employees and, increasingly, delivery drivers are the front face of the entire operation. 

What we typically don’t think about however is the cadre of individuals who were directly involved in the production of what we give or receive. Whether it is a new smartwatch or new gadget, there were a lot of hands that went in to making it. That may not be the case for much longer, especially if the product is stamped with the words “Made in the USA”. Increasingly manufacturers are turning towards automation to solve production issues and lower labor costs. We as economic development professionals have long talked about the new, automated face of manufacturing. But, you never really grasp the concept without experiencing it or seeing it first had. 

By happenstance I recently came across a video that perfectly exhibits the new face of American manufacturing. The video was release by Valve, a video game developer and digital distribution company. Valve hosts a popular video game marketplace called Steam® and recently decided to dip its toe into computer hardware with a video game controller aptly named “Steam® Controller.” A video game company entering the hardware market isn’t a huge story I’ll admit. But what struck me is that the company chose to produce their controller right here in the United States. What also struck me is how few people are actually involved in making the controller. From packaging to quality control, there is little human intervention in the production process. 

This only reinforces my experience at a KIA plant in West Point, Georgia a few years ago as well as numerous other manufacturing facilities I’ve had the opportunity to tour. Machines are everywhere, humans only dot the production line. As we debate and devise new approaches to revive manufacturing in the United States and attempt to bring back jobs lost during globalization, it is important to realize that cost above all else will determine the extent of the manufacturing sector’s capability to create jobs here in the United States. This is to say that reshoring manufacturing jobs here in America from China will not be a one for one trade. A U.S.-located Foxconn factory will not in any way resemble a China based Foxconn facility. If we are successful in bringing back manufacturing to the United States, who knows, the next iPhone you give or receive as a gift may not have ever touched a human hand.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Infrastructure Watch: It Begins

By Evan D. Robertson

Ah, post-election America: news breaks by the second, television is rapidly approaching peak pundit, and prognosticators are well, prognosticating. The central question on everyone’s mind is this: “what exactly does an America with Donald J. Trump at the helm look like?” It is anyone’s guess. Minus a few campaign positions declared during the election it is tough to know for certain where the executive branch will stand on any given issue. Take economic development for example: Trump recently reached a $7 million deal with Carrier to keep jobs in Indianapolis in which Carrier promises to keep approximately 800 jobs in Indiana. Next time you settle down to strike a deal with a prospect, you just might find the President, the Vice President, or a federal representative at the table alongside you. Like I said, no one can say for certain what America will look like over the coming years. One thing I am certain about, however, is that this nation will be talking about, and hopefully building, infrastructure. 

During the Thanksgiving Day holiday, I had the opportunity to read a recently published book by Rosabeth Moss Kanter entitled Move: How to Rebuild and Reinvent America’s Infrastructure. In the book the Harvard Business School professor, whom Mac quotes with regularity, painstakingly details the issues and opportunities embedded in America’s current infrastructure landscape. As I made my way through the book, I began to wonder whether America is going to get its future infrastructure investment right. What types of infrastructure are we going to invest in? Will it be intelligent infrastructure or more of the same concrete and steel roads, bridges, and pipes of yesteryear? Is America about to make a $1 trillion blunder? 

Take roads for instance. American cities have a deep and tenuous relationship with large federal infrastructure projects. The need for a federal highway system was often used as a guise for “urban renewal” which in most cases describe the process by which whole neighborhoods (usually poor) were destroyed in order to make way for new highways. It is no coincidence that many city centers throughout the nation have a highway either running directly through their downtown areas or somewhere nearby. It is interesting too to see numerous cities now trying to heal the old wounds wrought by the federal highway system. The most famous example is Boston’s Big Dig, a $15 billion project that relocated Interstate 93, which once ran through the heart of Boston’s downtown area, underground. Atlanta too has proposed its own solution called “The Stitch” aimed at building over the central highway artery that currently divides numerous communities throughout Atlanta’s Midtown and Downtown areas. Cities are just now mending the wounds of infrastructure built decades upon decades ago.

At the same time, entrepreneurs are rapidly developing new service delivery models and automating cars. Innovations which may obviate the need for significant road investment or, at the very least, alter the type of transportation investment required to secure America’s future competitiveness. As a regular patron of Uber, the company is making a strong case for ditching the car and exclusively using public transit and ridesharing services to get around. In the next 5 to 10 years, folks may begin to drive less and utilize ridesharing services more. In the next 15 to 25 years, car ownership might be viewed as unessential to American life, once again relegated to those privileged few who enjoy driving for recreation. Given the amount of money car companies are investing in autonomous technologies and artificial intelligence, we may not be driving at all. 

In an increasingly interconnected world, if America spends $1 trillion dollars on concrete and steel to build its infrastructure then America has wasted $1 trillion dollars. If a road doesn’t provide real time analytics on usage, self-identify potholes, respond appropriately to an accident (such guiding traffic around the accident by automatically closing lanes), or provide the baseline connectivity required for cars to operate autonomously, then our infrastructure dollars were poorly spent. If our drinking water infrastructure is unable to detect a water main break or leaks in the system, then we will have misappropriated $1 trillion dollars. If our transportation network does not provide seamless interaction between all modes of transportation (road, rail, public transit, and in some cases sea), then forgoing the investment may have proven a more effective use of our tax dollars. Tomorrow’s infrastructure should look markedly different than it does now, it should incorporate all the innovations that have been developed and are still developing in our technology-driven era. If we get this wrong, our future competitiveness on the global stage will assuredly suffer.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Election Raises Stakes for Native-Born Workforce

By Alex Pearlstein, Vice President

Regardless of your politics, it can be assumed that the results of last week’s election will likely not lead to an increase in foreign immigration to the U.S., and might have the opposite effect. For regions like Dayton, Detroit, St. Louis, and other places with little to no domestic inmigration that have launched talent initiatives targeting immigrants and refugees, this is going to make implementing these programs more difficult, or at least less viable for labor force replenishment.

Many American cities have already come out and pledged to remain sanctuaries for immigrants, but this would largely serve those already in the country. Regions that currently count on influxes of foreign migrants to satisfy employer demands in one or more industries – or those aspiring to better tap this source of labor – will have to identify alternative means to provide a competitive complement of available workers.

An unanticipated impact of the election could therefore be a new primacy on domestic talent attraction and tapping into local workforce development pipelines. Regions like Atlanta, which imports the vast majority of its workers from foreign and domestic markets, will have to replace its complement of international talent with native-born and local labor pools. This will make the competition for footloose talent even more intense and create pressure to invest greater and greater amounts in talent marketing and prospecting.

Decreases in availability of foreign-born labor will also raise the stakes for pre-K to 20 training systems and institutions. This will be due to declining international student populations and applicant pools and also a pure numbers game that is already being seen in cities across the country: more jobs are available than there is talent to fill them. An alphabet soup of programs and “cradle-to-career” coalitions is already in place to ensure students are being trained for college and careers in local demand. Complementing these are initiatives to make regions more competitive for talent by enhancing quality of place amenities. Companies will need to redouble efforts to develop relationships and connections to training providers to expose students to career opportunities and hire them for available positions.

All this is to say that current talent strategies will need to be reassessed and potentially adjusted based on new migration realities. Communities would be wise to devise proactive solutions to labor force capacity issues and reach out to partners across the full education and workforce continuum to design and implement effective programs and processes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How much does who you know depend on what they do?

By Matt DeVeau, Project Manager

In the course of facilitating community and economic development planning work around the country, one notices certain themes that are remarkably consistent from place to place. For instance, we commonly hear from executives and human resources professionals that it is difficult to get school-aged children in their community interested in a career in manufacturing. The story tends to the same in places large and small, in communities with a strong “blue collar” history and in service-based economies where manufacturing makes up a relatively small slice of employment.

I was thinking about this topic the other day in the process of developing a strategy and decided I would ask someone who works in manufacturing about how they got their start in the business. Then it hit me…

Wait, do I actually know anyone who works in manufacturing?!?

I thought for a moment and realized that, yes, I do but they are all professional contacts whom I have met through my work in community and economic development. Among my personal contacts, I couldn’t think of a single friend or family member who works in the sector. So next I did a nerdy thing that probably explains why my pool of friends isn’t bigger: I made a spreadsheet for fun.

I pulled up a list of every four-digit NAICS business sector and started placing tick marks next the sectors in which someone in my social circle works. To keep things manageable, I came up with a few conditions:
  • I had to be close to 100 percent sure about where someone worked in order to classify them.
  • I looked only at the roughly 160 personal contacts stored in my phone. Going through social media profiles of friends may have yielded better results but would have been too cumbersome through user interfaces.
  • I assumed that everyone worked in their parent company’s main line of business (not a narrowly focused business unit that might be classified in a different subsector) and I only classified people into “Management of Companies and Enterprises” if I knew their job was in a corporate headquarters operation for a large firm with many locations.

I ended up sorting 85 friends and family members into 32 business sectors. I’ve shown the top 10 sectors in the following table. 

Looking at the table, I can clearly see the impact of the social networks I formed through my education. From my time in Western Washington University’s journalism program, I have multiple friends in public relations (5418). From Georgia Tech, I know landscape architects and civil engineers (5413) and people who work for community development nonprofits (8133). (I also know a lot of public school teachers for some reason.)

But, there are no manufacturing sectors represented in that top 10 – or anywhere on my list for that matter. Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise. My friends are mostly: 1) people who attended college with me, 2) people who attended college with my wife, or 3) people who are in a relationship with someone from those categories. Most are doing something related to our areas of study, none of which line up well with a career in manufacturing.

This is The Big Sort phenomenon to a certain degree – the idea popularized by Bill Bishop and Robert Cushing in their 2008 book. The idea is that Americans have “sorted themselves geographically, economically, and politically into like-minded communities over the last three decades,” and it now comes up around every big general election.

Beyond electoral politics, I think the “sorting” concept has interesting implications for community and economic development – too many to list here in fact. But, I wonder what would happen if we developed a social network visualization that somehow incorporated data covering the business sector in which each individual worked. I would assume that we would see a correlation between clusters of social connections and business sectors – most people probably have friends from work, at a minimum. But, might we see that certain sectors of the economy are fairly “isolated” from one another in terms of how connected their workers are to one another? Put another way, might data suggest that one of the reasons students are reluctant to consider careers in manufacturing is because their parents don’t know anyone in that field? I don’t know the answer, but it’s the type of thing I hope we can find out as new data analysis tools and techniques are applied to community and economic development.

Monday, November 7, 2016

K-12 Innovation

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

In December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Recently, Market Street staff participated in a webinar hosted by Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives entitled “K-12 Innovation and Accountability,” which featured three panelists who discussed their professional experiences in transitioning to the new ESSA standards. According to Alliance for Excellent Education, the following features set ESSA apart from NCLB:
  • All students must be on a path to postsecondary education, and states have flexibility to design an accountability system that supports this
  • States set their own ambitious goals and short-term measures of progress
  • The Accountability System includes an indicator of “school quality or student success”
  • Interventions for low-performing schools are locally-tailored in consultation with teachers, stakeholders, etc., rather than federally prescribed
The focus of the webinar was on what chambers can do to help states improve education policy and outcomes. In our work, we’ve seen (and encouraged) more and more chambers and EDOs doing more in the workforce development space and helping to create and make stronger the link between what schools are including in academic curriculum and special programs and what businesses need. Christopher Shearer, the Education Program Officer at the Hewlett Foundation encourages chambers to do the following to help states:
  • Use their convening power to host stakeholder meetings for local education agency leadership and regional business leaders
  • Ask state leaders if the state plan includes a career readiness indicator
  • Discuss potential collaboration opportunities for work-based learning, internships for students, externships for teachers, guest speaking, mentorship, and job shadowing
  • Be open to other ways state officials might be able to include the business community in implementation
A few of the notable programs that were mentioned during the webinar were the Louisiana Jump Start initiative, described by Liz Smith, the Director of Policy and Research at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, and the L.A. Compact, described by David Rattray, Executive Vice President of Education and Workforce Development at the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. 

Jump Start – Jump Start Louisiana was rolled out in 2014 by state superintendent John White as a way to “restore the dignity” of career and technical education and to recognize that earning an undergraduate degree is not the only path to the middle class. Starting with the Class of 2018, there are two high school diploma pathways: (1) TOPS University, for students who want to attend college after graduation, prepares students to qualify for a TOPS scholarship, and (2) Jump Start Pathway, for students interested in college and/or career, which allows students to earn industry credentials that will help them attain entry-level employment after graduation and continue their education at a community or technical college. There are also opportunities for teachers, including externships, training for industry credentials, access to industry experts in any business sector in which they are interested anywhere in the United States, and stipends from the Louisiana Department of Education to develop course materials.

L.A. Compact – The L.A. Compact was first introduced in 2010 as a commitment by a broad range of community partners to focus on increasing graduation rates, ensuring that students are prepared for college, and providing more meaningful career opportunities to students. The partners included City officials, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Greater Los Angeles, the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and 11 colleges and universities in the Los Angeles area. The Compact later won an Investing in Innovation Fund grant from the U.S. Department of Education for its proposal entitled “L.A.’s Bold Competition – Turning Around and Operating Its Low-Performing Schools.” Since then, the initiative has developed into a collective impact initiative with goals, workgroups focused on major components of those goals, and measurement tracking. 

As the nation moves into transitioning to implementation of ESSA, this is an opportune time for the business community to become more engaged in the workforce pipeline—understanding that starting early by making sure Pre-K – 12 programs are strong and will prepare students for their eventual careers or for continued higher education only helps to support businesses in the long-term. Talent has become and will remain the #1 issue for economic development, and teamwork across community partners will be vital to the betterment of our children and future working adults.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Who’s Voting?

By Katie Thomas, Project Associate

The 2016 election has certainly been one for the books. This week marked the last presidential debate in what has been considered one of the most divisive elections thus far. Given some of the topics and polarized views, and being the data nerd that I am, I thought it would be interesting to take a quick look at who will likely be voting in this year’s election and ultimately deciding who our next president will be. 

Turns out, this year’s electorate will be the most diverse one yet in terms of age, race, and ethnicity. According to the Pew Research Center, roughly one-third of eligible voters this year will be Hispanic, African American, Asian, or another racial or ethnic minority. Additionally, as of April of this year, the number of millennials that are of voting age is nearly equal to that of the Baby Boomer generation (69.2 million compared to 69.7 million).

Yet, despite population dynamics and the electorate becoming more diverse, the percentage of eligible voters that are actually voting is another story, and parties on both side of the aisle are concerned about voter turnout. The following headlines from various news sources reflect the uncertainty surrounding this year’s election.

Historically, voter turnout has varied significantly among the different age groups, races, and ethnicities. Although millennials will soon account for the largest share of the eligible voters, they trail every other generation when it comes to voter turnout rates. Less than half of millennials eligible to vote in 2012 reported voting, while nearly 70 percent of Boomers voters turned up. Likewise, according to U.S. Census Bureau, 66.2 percent of black eligible voters and 64.1 percent of white, non-Hispanic eligible voters cast voters. However, voter turnout rates were lower among Asians and Hispanics; only 48 percent of Hispanics and 47.3 percent of Asian eligible voters reported voting in 2012. 

Across the U.S., the District of Columbia, Mississippi, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Massachusetts had the highest turnout rates in 2012 according to the Census Bureau. Voter turnout among the five ranged from 75.9 percent to 70.8 percent. Meanwhile, West Virginia, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas had the lowest, with roughly half of the total voting-age population having reported voting in 2012 in each state. Such a wide range of turnout rates among the states raises even more uncertainly about the electoral votes, certain battleground states, and what to expect November 8th. 

Beyond differences in opinions on topics and stances on issues, the ultimate outcome of the election will come down to who shows up at the polls to cast their vote. Obviously, the goal is for all voters to cast their vote in every election, but historically, this has yet to happen. Hopefully, turnout rates continue on their upward trend for this year’s election. Either way, for better or worse, this election will be over in a few weeks and we can hopefully all more forward as one.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Living at Work

By Stephanie Allen, Project Assistant

By now, we’re all more than familiar with the “live, work, play” refrain. But, a new trend on corporate campuses gives this idea a 21st century twist—or maybe it’s more accurate to call it a 19th century twist. 

As housing becomes more and more of an obstacle to attracting the best talent in some of the nation’s major markets, corporate employers have begun to add housing to their amenity-rich campuses. Facebook’s Menlo Park campus recently added almost 400 units of housing. Presumably, many of these employees already eat at one of the campus’s eleven establishments, relax in the plaza with free beer, work out at the on-campus gym or exercise on the climbing wall. So, they already work there and play there. Why not live there?

It’s an interesting move, but it’s not a new one—not exactly. In the 19th century, the US saw a number of “company towns” pop up surrounding large, industrial operations. Think Pullman, Illinois; Hershey, Pennsylvania; Oneida, New York; Kohler, Wisconsin. Company towns provided jobs, healthcare, schools, housing, markets, libraries, and even churches. They were designed to meet practically all of the needs of their employees.

Corporate campuses already chockfull of amenities that are now adding housing seek to do much of the same. It’s another perk like ping-pong tables, onsite haircuts, and doggie daycare. As recruitment for top talent gets more and more competitive, this is just one more perk to up the ante.

It’s not just corporate campuses that are investing in this living at work concept.

There are a few private developers who are adding residential units to their office parks too. The Davis Companies will add 271 residences along with high-end food service, indoor/outdoor collaboration areas, and a fitness center to a traditional Class A master-planned office park in Burlington, MA. The nearly 60 year-old Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, which is home to more than 200 companies, is planning a new 100-acre mixed-use development in the heart of the Park with restaurants, apartments, and shopping. Bike and walking paths will connect the new development with the existing office buildings and labs. 

And, WeWork, the recognized leader in the co-working space movement, is also getting in the game. Known for their artsy, glassed-in, community-encouraging co-working spaces with month-to-month leases and as much coffee, tea, and beer as you can drink, WeWork launched a new live-work concept last year, WeLive. The first location, in New York City, has 200 residential units above seven floors of co-working space. They call it a “community-driven living concept.” You can rent co-working space downstairs and community-driven living space upstairs.

Personally, I’m not sure I’d want to live at work. But, I work from home so perhaps that’s really not so different.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The New Face of for-profit Education

By Evan Robertson, Senior Project Associate

With mounting student debt and rising default rates, the U.S. Department of Education took significant steps to curtail what they viewed as one source of the problem: for-profit colleges. By restricting student loans to for-profit education institutions, many were forced to either close their doors or quickly curtail expansion plans. The case against for-profit colleges are many: for starters they tend to be far more expensive than their community college brethren and tend to be far less proactive in formulating new programs to align with business needs – when it comes to building a sustainable pipeline of talent, they are simply not at the table. The strong action against for-profit colleges would lead one to believe that the Department of Education has judged the for-profit education model as deeply flawed. It is curious, then, to come across this headline “Federal Student Loans Expand to Cover Some Coding Boot Camps.”

Coding boot camps have risen all across the country. Here in Atlanta there are many, ranging from General Assembly, a New York-based coding academy in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market to the Greenville based The Iron Yard. At many of these boot camps, tuition can be exorbitant. An immersive four-month course can easily run in excess of $10,000 dollars. Cheaper than tuition at a four-year university, more expensive than a two-year degree program at a community college. For those looking for a career change in a short amount of time coding academies can be an attractive option. Yet, they still suffer from the dubious placement rate practices that many for-profit colleges have used to inflate their numbers – most notably counting internship positions, excluding students kicked out of the program, and hiring students directly to work at their organization. 

Why might the Department of Education view coding academies positively while demonizing the practices of for-profit colleges? Coding boot camps have done well to align themselves with industry standards – many of their founders have deep roots to the very industry they are supporting. Moreover, the Department of Education is covering its bases – in order to qualify coding academies must partner with a traditional community college or university. Coding academies are new, reflecting the ever changing tech environment they serve. Only time will tell if coding academies are an effective means to addressing workforce sustainability in the nation’s technology sector or are plagued with the same ills as the very education model the Department of Education is trying to curtail.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Music to Macon’s Ears

By Alex Pearlstein, Principal and Vice President

Have you ever been on a cross-country (or cross-state) drive playing “radio roulette” every time you enter the airspace of a new community looking for something decent to listen to? (Note: I don’t have satellite radio and my CD player is broken, but still…) 

Then, every once in a while you come into a town that has a station playing awesome stuff; the disappointment is palpable when you lose the signal. Well, I’m happy to report that the city I live in, Macon, Georgia, now has one of those stations – no worry about driving out of its airspace. It’s called The Creek FM, a for-profit venture from three local Macon entrepreneurs. This is pretty rare in that most eclectic stations playing non-mainstream formats are not-for-profits that get money from multiple sources to survive. The Creek is a purposeful attempt to put American roots music on the radio and offer hyper-local, community-focused programming serving Macon and not Faceless Corporate Interests at HQ. Caveat: if this isn’t your type of music, you’d be less excited than I was upon The Creek’s debut.

So why is this news in an economic development blog? A couple reasons: First, music is deeply engrained in the fabric and culture of Macon, Georgia. A recent Washington Post profile detailed some of this history and opportunities for tourists to experience it first-hand. Second, I think economic development should be about identifying, capturing, and leveraging the niches that make your community unique; Macon truly can stake a claim to music as an economic driver. As evidence, there are multiple live music clubs here, the CVB’s slogan incorporates music, music tourism companies are able to stay in business, we have a killer annual music festival called Bragg Jam, and a cool new project is rescuing the world-famous former studios of Capricorn Records and turning it into a mixed-use development with a music incubator run by Mercer University. A VERY progressive local economic development organization – New Town Macon – is behind the Capricorn project, compiles a CD of local artists and is doing tons of cool stuff related to parks, bike/ped systems, events, and other capacity building.

Of course, a not-so-ancillary benefit of a thriving local music economy (in my humble opinion) is that you become more competitive for young talent. Just look at Austin (writ large) or Athens, Georgia (writ small) or any number of cities that have consistently drawn young people and you’ll probably find good-to-great capacity in the local music scene. It’s not a be-all-end-all – you need much more than a few good clubs to be a talent magnet. (A major public university helps.) But it’s a start.

Certainly, cultivating a successful music economy is extremely tough, especially translating live music into actual jobs. I learned that from working in Memphis and Nashville. Memphis has the music HISTORY but not the music ECONOMY of Nashville. Similar to film, in order to build a music cluster you not only need the performance spaces, but also the full universe of specialized professionals to produce the music, digitize and distribute it, license and promote it, manage bands and songwriters, etc. An army of accountants, lawyers, engineers, marketers, and other jobs with the very particular skills needed to support a music economy is what takes a live music scene and grows it into a thriving employment sector. A music entrepreneurship program doesn’t hurt either. With the proliferation of streaming music sites and new distribution technologies, the entire business of music has been turned on its head. So you better have some folks in town who understand this, or at least what’s needed to be competitive in the new landscape, to stand a chance to sustain a music cluster for the long term.

Which brings us back to Macon. We’ve definitely got a long way to go to take music from “there’s something in our water” to “there’s something in our economy.” But a solid first step is acknowledging that music is a job-creator and making significant, sustained investments in developing a music-based economy for the region. Some in Macon whisper that “old money” at times holds Macon back from reaching its full potential. Hopefully, long-standing Maconites will be okay with music talent and some tattoos and pierced noses frequenting our streets. If they’ve got cash in their pockets from their cool new jobs, I can’t imagine anyone will much care what color their hair is.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


By J Mac Holladay, President, CEO and Founder

Last month, I had a particularly tough travel week. I had six flights over a seven day period. In the middle of that poorly planned timeframe, I reached a milestone. I have now flown over 2 million miles on Delta Airlines. I don’t remember that very first flight, but it was probably sometime in 1972 when I started in this work at the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce. 

Two million miles – enough to fly around the world at the equator more than 83 times. I have been very fortunate to travel the world both professionally and for pleasure. As a former naval Aviator, I am always aware of the type of aircraft I am flying in. There have been many from tiny twin engine propeller driven aircraft to giant 747s and 777’s. 

Oh, all the places I have been. They are from the smallest cities with air service like Watertown, South Dakota to capitols of the world like Johannesburg, South Africa, Tokyo, Paris, Quito, and Tel Aviv, Israel. 

I have been to almost every state in our country over all these years. Some great places like Austin, I have visited over and over for many years. I often say that every town is different. Not only is that true, but their airports are as well. The worst among the large airports is Minneapolis/St. Paul with an awful layout, no complete internal train or people mover system, and a full mile from the high end Delta gate to the last commuter flight gate. Northwest Arkansas and Lake Charles, Louisiana are among the best small airports. 

Decades ago, the airlines were required to serve communities of all sizes. They had to ask permission to abandon a route. Whether it was Macon, Georgia or Grand Island, Nebraska, they had regular air service. Once the FAA’s wings were clipped during the Reagan Administration, it has been a “free for all.” Communities have had to fight (and pay for) every seat with many now having no service at all. Who would have believed that we only have four primary airlines left in the United States? 

The cancellations and delays over all these years are too numerous to mention with the thousands of flight I have taken. At the same time, Delta has always gotten me there safely. Most of the time I have gotten to wherever I was going on time or just a bit late. 

Long ago, before the current SkyMiles program was around, I was a Delta Flying Colonel. We got special treatment and recognition on every flight. Back in the day, everyone dressed up to get on an airplane. Today, I still wear a sport coat on every flight. Now, I see people on every flight who appear to have come to airport after working in the yard or just getting out of bed.

One day, I will slow down and fly much less than I have these past 40 years or so, but not just yet. Maybe a few hundred thousand more miles to go……

Friday, September 2, 2016

ACCE Takeaways

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

Last month, I attended the ACCE Annual Convention in beautiful Savannah, GA. I had an enjoyable time with my Market Street colleagues, past and present clients, and with new friends who could trade stories of community efforts or data trends with me. My favorite part of the convention were the workshops. Here are some highlights of two of the most enlightening and engaging ones.

Promoting Business Growth with the Census Business Builder

Three U.S. Census Bureau staff members led this workshop. They walked us through how to use a couple of relatively new tools: the Small Business Edition and Regional Analyst Edition of Census Business Builder. 

  • Census Business Builder: Small Business Edition: This tool was designed to help small business owners access the research they need to make smart decisions when opening a new business or expanding their existing business. A user can search by county, city, ZIP code, or neighborhood (Census tract). After selecting the geography of interest, the user can select from an array of useful data indicators, including demographics of potential customers (population, age dynamics, median household income, educational attainment, etc.) and information on consumer spending (total expenditures on housing, transportation, personal care products and services, etc.). At the city and county levels, economic data (number of other establishments in the sector of interest, number of employees, annual payroll, and total revenue) is also available. The tool is very user-friendly, and is very helpful in this focused context. The fact sheet for this tool can be found here.
  • Census Business Builder: Regional Analyst Edition: This tool was developed specifically with chambers of commerce, regional planners, and economic development professionals in mind. The first awesome feature of this tool is the ability to create customized regions—you may select by city, county, ZIP code, or neighborhood, but you can also build a region of multiple counties. This is particularly useful because the geographies served by some regional chambers do not always line up with the OMB metropolitan statistical area (MSA) delineations. The same data available in the Small Business Edition is available in the Regional Analyst Edition, with some additions such as number of establishments by racial and ethnic group. This tool is, of course, free and can be of great use, particularly to chambers and EDOs that do not subscribe to proprietary data sources. Like the Small Business Edition, the tool is very easy to use. The handouts for this demo can be found here and here.

Inclusive Growth: Policy, Programs, and Progress

This workshop was moderated by Market Street’s CEO J. Mac Holladay and featured two dynamic panelists: Bob Morgan, CCE, President and CEO of the Charlotte (NC) Chamber and Courtney Ross, CEDO of the Nashville (TN) Area Chamber. The workshop’s focus was on the definition of an “inclusive economy,” how chambers can respond to negative actions by elected officials or even influence the political landscape, and how to measure success. Here are a few takeaways from the workshop.

Overview by Mac Holladay: Mac shared some national headlines related to race relations in the past year, including:
  • “Baton Rouge police killings stoke racial tensions.” The Week. 29 July 2016
  • “At Memorial for Charleston Shooting, a Call for ‘Meaningful Action’ on Guns.” The New York Times. 17 June 2016
  • “City of Cleveland issues new policy following Tamir Rice EMS bill.” Fox 8 Cleveland. 12 February 2016
More and more, cities and regions are in the headlines for not so positive occurrences, and it impacts us not just on an emotional level, but also in a community’s ability to attract and maintain its residents and workforce. Mac spoke about his work as a chamber executive in Memphis, TN when he was tasked with helping with the integration of public schools. These social issues are indeed important to economic development, even though it’s not always apparent.

Mac also discussed the changing demographics of the nation, and how important it is to actively bridge the divides between not so diverse chamber leadership and other community decision makers and the growing diversity in communities. He cited the following examples of community initiatives dedicated to fostering diversity and inclusion:

Bob Morgan: Bob spoke about the Charlotte experience, including largely how North Carolina’s controversial HB 2 has impacted the business community. HB 2 blocks cities from allowing transgender individuals to use the public restroom corresponding to their gender identity. The Chamber has done much to embrace diversity of race, gender, age, and other categories, including the following programs:
  • Charlotte Chamber Diversity and Talent Development Fund, which is the Chamber’s initiative to promote diversity and inclusion and develop diverse talent in the community
  • Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report, which actually tracks the changing demographic in Charlotte-Mecklenburg County
  • Diversity Partners and International Chambers, which partners with many organizations in and around Charlotte to work closely together on goals for improving the community
  • Diversity in Charlotte, the Chamber’s publication that features minority-owned business and supplier diversity programs

Courtney Ross: Courtney walked us through the Nashville region’s changing workforce diversity and shared that sometimes it takes a deeper dive into the data to understand the differences in trends for various groups. For instance, a community’s unemployment rate can be competitive, but if you look at unemployment by race and ethnicity, some groups may have unemployment rates that are dismal. The Nashville Chamber is engaged in promoting diversity and inclusion in many ways, including the following:
  • Education – closing the skills and educational attainment gap through programs such as the Middle Tennessee Skills Panels, the Lumina Community Partnership for Attainment Grant, and the Middle Tennessee Reconnect Community Grant.
  • Transit – becoming cognizant of the ability of the workforce to commute to jobs even if they don’t own a car. The region is in the process of completing its RTA and MTA Strategic Plan. They are working to identify and secure a local funding source for regional transit so that they can break ground on the first rapid transit project by 2020.
  • Public Policy – engaging public officials by publishing the Legislative Scorecard, which not only tracks votes that directly impacts the economy but, most recently, also votes that affect diversity and inclusion.

It is very important for chambers, regional planning organizations, and economic development professionals to understand that talent truly is the #1 issue vital to economic development. Increasingly, talent’s desire is to be in communities that embrace all people and allow everyone who moves there the opportunity to thrive and be successful. Chambers and EDOs are absolutely organizations that can make a positive difference in a community’s promotion and acceptance of diverse populations and the celebration of those populations.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

This Week at the ACCE Annual Conference

By Kathy Young, Principal and COO

As the national economic development sponsor for ACCE, the Market Street team always looks forward to early August and the chance to reconnect with friends and clients from around the country. This year’s annual conference is in Savannah, Georgia, a city that is near and dear to me personally. My hometown, Brunswick, is an hour south from the community that some still call “the Hostess City of the South.” I have many family and friends there, and I wrote my Georgia Tech City Planning school entrance essay about General Oglethorpe’s plan for the city, which created the many beautiful squares that are enjoyed by residents and tourists alike.

With more than 1,000 Chamber professionals in Savannah for the week, there have been plenty of opportunities to enjoy the city and learn from its history. As always, ACCE works hard to integrate the host city with the conference agenda without distracting from the valuable workshops, think tanks, keynote presentations, and committee meetings that are scheduled throughout the week. Based on reports from the Market Street team (we have five staff members in attendance) and the social media coverage of the week, this year’s conference has once again provided quality networking opportunities, genuine learning and sharing, and inspiration. 

The vitality of the Chamber profession is evident everywhere you look during the conference, from the First Time Attendee gathering to the recognition of new Life Member honorees. The annual Certified Chamber Executive (CCE) breakfast was once again very well-attended and thought-provoking, as three very experienced Chamber professionals (Harvey Schmitt, Raymond Burns, and Kit Cramer) discussed the legacy of their work. Our CEO, Mac Holladay, moderated the panel following the recognition of the seven new CCEs.

This year the conference featured seven tracks – Leadership; Membership/Revenue/Events; Marketing/Communications; Economic/Community Development; Public Policy/Government Relations; Education/Workforce; and Diversity & Inclusion. Next week’s blog posting will feature more takeaways from various sessions – in the meantime, we want to thank Mac’s guest panelist’s for yesterday’s standing-room-only session on “Inclusive Growth: Policy, Programs, and Progress.” Bob Morgan, President and CEO of the Charlotte Chamber and Courtney Ross, Chief Economic Development Officer for the Nashville Area Chamber were gracious with their time and engaged the attendees. We’re looking forward to Market Street VP Matt Tarleton’s afternoon session on “Attracting and Keeping Millennial Talent,” which will also feature Kate Atwood from the Metro Atlanta Chamber; Shannon Full from the Fox Cities Chamber; and Shannon Hoeg, Chair of the South Shore Chamber’s Young Professionals group.

And finally, I have to give a huge shout out to the ACCE team for expanding the conference app features (with partners at The DoubleDutch Team). For the first time in nearly a decade, I was unable to attend the conference at the last minute. I had already downloaded the app and began using it before my plans were cancelled, so I’ve kept it close all week to follow from afar.

While a lot of session highlights are being shared on Twitter, the conference app has a much more personal feel. Chamber professionals have embraced the app this year, posting photos, key takeaways, and using it to connect with their colleagues from around the country. It also seemed to help fight off the boredom experienced by many during travel delays earlier this week (thank goodness Delta is getting back to normal!).

Even though the app is intended for actual conference attendees, not “observers” like me, I think my app usage and experience reinforces the value of online learning and social networking. In this case, it’s a consolation activity that is helping offset the fact that I can’t be there in person, but there are plenty of chamber professionals who simply can’t accommodate the days away for scheduling or resources reasons.

For anyone out there reading and wondering if they should download the app… it’s not too late to follow along with ACCE. Maybe next year there will be a new category of “virtual attendees” along with the 1,000+ actual attendees!

Check out for more.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Best Practices and Issues: Back to School Edition

By Kathy Young, Principal and COO

Hard to believe, but students around the country will be heading back to school soon. In many communities, teachers and administrators are already deep into their planning work and preparing for the coming academic year. To celebrate this annual transition, we’re highlighting a few best practices and issues as we reflect on the critical connection between education and economic development.

In a blog post earlier this year, I shared information about a good resource for hands-on learning at the elementary school level, sponsored by Junior Achievement (JA), an organization that has been around for 97 years and has a global reach. Later in the spring I also participated in the “JA Day” at my daughter’s school, which was similar to the program described here. The morning session provided students with the opportunity to learn key business and economic concepts from business community volunteers (who are also often parents). JA provides all of the materials (featured in the photo below), but the volunteers are empowered to deliver the curriculum directly, with only classroom management support from the teacher. 

The experience is rewarding for volunteers and a treat for the students. Teachers have some time to spend on planning, and the school strengthens its relationship with the community. And for those of us with no teaching experience, working with a class of 20 elementary school students was an intense experience. Many schools have guest reader or Principal for a Day programs – which help connect students to business representatives and role models. Those programs give participants a glimpse into the challenges and opportunities that come with public education as well. But if you’d really like to understand the job of a teacher, you literally need to walk a mile in their shoes. Four hours in the classroom only scratches the surface of course, but if you would like to help your community leaders understand some of the educational issues in your schools, developing a partnership with JA might start some great conversations.

One of our client communities in Alabama (Decatur-Morgan County) has been having some fascinating dialogues about education and workforce training for more than a decade, thanks to the launch of the Summer Welding & Electrical Technology (SWeETy) Camp for 9th – 12th grade young ladies from local schools. Hosted by the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and education partners, the camp’s goal is to offer young women an opportunity to learn hands-on about technical skills that can lead to high-paying, satisfying careers in high growth industries. 

Not far away, in Carroll County, Georgia, one of the community’s business leaders, Southwire, developed the cooperative 12 for Life program with the school system in 2007. The program is intended to provide “students a place where they can mix classroom time with time on the floor at a real manufacturing plant, gaining an education, a paycheck, key work and life skills, and the all-important hope—for a diploma, for success in the workplace, and for a better life.” 12 for Life has received national media attention and continues to maintain a focused approach to the initial goals of 2007.

My colleague, Ranada Robinson has shared many other best practices and updates from education field, including takeaways from the 2015 Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) Workforce Week Conference, where she presented this past March, and a webinar that shared research regarding school takeovers by state governments. Stay tuned for more updates about education best practices, trends, and issues that could impact your community.

As August beings, we wish the best to our communities as they transition back into the school year, and look forward to featuring some of the businesses and community leaders that are making education a priority and strengthening the economic and workforce development partnerships that are vital to success.