Friday, February 26, 2016

Daddy’s Home

By Alex Pearlstein, Principal and Vice President
Nothing confirms a trend quite like its entry into the world of children’s playthings. Lately, new conceptions of gender roles and images are making their way into the toy aisle. Barbie is now full-figured and Lego has just introduced a “stay-at-home” dad figurine as part of its Lego City collection. A set that also includes a mom wearing work clothes and various tableaus of search and rescue, law enforcement, transit, garbage collection, and an interesting item called “Prison Island Starter Set.” A Lego rep said the company made stay-at-home dad in order to “stay in tune with the world around us.” Can a “disgruntled voter” figurine be far behind?

 It’s notable that Lego associates stay-at-home dads and working moms so exclusively with city life. The assumption being that the city is where workforce roles are most fluid. The very fact that there is a Lego City confirms that perceptions of urban living and lifestyles are becoming mainstream. There can be no doubt that the generation coming up today will be inculcated in urbanity more than any since the proliferation of mass suburbanization. Popular culture exerts a powerful effect on generational perceptions and attitudes. Many experts partially attribute “back to the city” trends to Millennials growing up watching shows like “Friends” based in dense, urban neighborhoods. So one can reasonably expect that interest in cities as places to “live, work, and play” will carry on for at least another generation.

What this means for communities is that axioms like “a body is only as healthy as its heart” and “you can’t have a successful region without a strong core” will continue to inform regional development strategies. Despite often stark differences in political preferences, development patterns, demographics, and other categories, urban, suburban, and rural leaders and constituencies must come together to promote the value-add of central city investment to the region at large. This will ensure that a full range of choices, from residential to entertainment to workplace to recreational, will be provided to talent and companies looking for places to plant roots and invest. Including stay-at-home dads.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Impact of Attitude

By Mike Gaymon, Senior Advisor

We all know that attitude can make a big difference in expected outcomes. We also have probably all heard the phrase, "our attitude will govern our altitude". But what does that have to do with the work that MSS does?

Over 160 clients ranging from cities, regions and states obviously have recognized the necessity of not only determining the current status of their entity but more importantly, helping to design the future status in development and structure. The "facts and figures" from the research can be both reinforcing and challenging. However, it is only when reality is clear that the future can become even clearer.

A favorite city of my family is Charleston, S.C. There is much history and beautiful things to see and learn about there. One of our favorite stops is at the Hyman's Seafood Restaurant. They know how to make food almost melt in your mouth from the delicious taste. On one of their marketing materials they have their motto which was originally written by Dr. Chuck Swindoll. It says....." The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important then education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company....a church...a home. The remarkable thing is that we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we embrace for that day. We cannot change our past....we cannot change the fact that people act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is to play on the one string we have and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you....we are in charge of our attitudes."

We should never underestimate the power of the impact that attitudes have on the plans, studies and analysis in their acceptance and execution.
A Steering Committee charged with building a consensus should always focus on the process of the group and the constituents with the BIG PICTURE in mind having a positive attitude about the end results. There will always be different interests and opinions that need to be heard during the process which should strengthen the final outcomes. The process has been proven to work when there is open and honest dialog and input without premature judgement as to the value early on.

The MSS experiences have proven that the more proactive the Strategy becomes then the clearer the pathway to structure the specifics measurements for the implementation phase. The things that get measured get done.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Best Practice Report: Hands on Learning for Students

By Kathy Young, Principal and COO 

During our strategic planning processes around the country, our team often recommends best practices when there is an opportunity for our client to learn from the experience of other communities and regions. Often, these examples are drawn from comparable communities’ experiences with a program or initiative that has resulted in proven success. Sometimes we recommend that our clients look into an innovative new program that may not have a proven track record yet, but has successfully inspired collaboration and helped strategic efforts gain momentum.

Less often, there are programs operating a national level that deserve a second look (or sometimes it’s the first look). Junior Achievement (JA) is one of these programs. Because the organization has been around for 97 years and has a global reach, most of our community leaders have heard of their many programs. Often, Steering Committee members and stakeholders are involved already. But occasionally, we hear about a need for greater financial literacy education or entrepreneurial programs in a community that hasn’t already established a JA connection, and we encourage our clients to consider learning more.

In the interest of checking in on one of our best practice programs, I recently volunteered at the Discovery Center in downtown Atlanta, one of two such facilities in the region – the other is in Gwinnett County, a client community with a very strong education system, which was awarded the 2010 and 2014 Broad Prize for Urban Education.

JA Discovery Center, Atlanta (sourced from
In about a month, I will also be volunteering for “JA Day” at an elementary school in Smyrna, Georgia to see an in-class experience. I should note that my interest is both professional and personal, as my youngest daughter attends the elementary school in question, and there has been interest in getting a Discovery Center in our county.

I had heard great things about the Discovery Center – and after serving as a “Chief Volunteer Officer” alongside seven enthusiastic 6th graders from The Champion School in Stone Mountain Georgia – I can safely say that my expectations were easily met. The experiential program that JA Georgia has put together is impressive, and seamless integration of corporate partners turns what the students might have assumed would be a fun field trip into a realistic venture that is truly empowering and inspiring. The day trip to the Center (which serves 65,000 students a year) caps off an in-class curriculum-based experience led by teachers in the weeks prior to the visit.

By giving the student teams clear job descriptions and time-based expectations, the program motivates them to work together and helps them attach meaning to otherwise abstract concepts. I was assigned to the Chick-Fil-A team, which was responsible for catering for the 150 person group in attendance (handing out the bagged lunches) and was challenged to sell products throughout the session (the mini cow toy).

I expected my team to be full of excited sales associates, which they were, and my Marketing Director definitely put his gift of gab to good use. However, what most impressed me was how the other students stepped naturally into their roles and took responsibility for the more tedious jobs like paying invoices and logging sales by hand (in addition to the fun job of swiping their JA Biztown bank cards). They set a sales price and then adjusted it quickly when sales were slow, and most importantly came to the decision collaboratively and without my help.

The career education component is another perk of the Discovery Center. In addition to the sales associates and the marketing position, each team had a store manager, a CFO, and a CEO. There was a Mayor for the day, and every team interacted with the bank and received their product from UPS. By the end of the day, many of the students had begun to sense where their skillsets and personalities could fit in a business setting.

There are dozens of locations throughout the U.S. that provide communities with local access to JA programs, and as with all examples that we provide for our clients, it’s important to note that one size doesn’t fit all. If JA isn’t the answer for your community, or isn’t available to you and your partners in education and workforce development, talking about the programs and the value of experiential learning may still spur the kinds of conversations that are needed.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Inclusive Economic Development

By Stephanie Allen, Project Assistant 
For decades, economic development was traditionally concerned with creating jobs, and that perspective still influences some of the key decisions being made. What the new jobs pay and what sort of lifestyle they afford has not often been a big topic of discussion. We sometimes see communities that tie incentives to the number of “high paying” jobs created, but what we haven’t seen much of are communities concerned with creating jobs that pay a living wage for all. For a long time, economic developers have taken the approach that a rising tide lifts all boats.

But according to Brookings this hasn’t been the case in the recovery from the Great Recession: “growth in metro economies [from 2009 to 2014] did not reliably improve all residents’ economic fortunes.”

The further stratification of the lower and upper classes and the disappearance of the middle class in the wake of the Great Recession have more than a few economic developers rethinking their approach. 

Enter inclusive economic development. 

Inclusive economic development aims to lift all boats—to create an economic system that builds wealth and prosperity for everyone. This will require shifting our focus from looking solely at indicators measuring growth and prosperity, to considering how that growth and prosperity is distributed among the community. 

The new report from Brookings’ MetroMonitor suggests that looking at indicators such as the change in median wages, the change in the relative income poverty rate, and the change in the employment rate can give us a better picture of how an entire community is faring economically. And, we can see from the tables below, that the communities with high rankings for growth and prosperity are not necessarily the ones that rank highly on measures of inclusion.

Raising all boats isn’t just about attracting high-paying jobs. So, how do we create wealth and prosperity for everyone? 

The CitiesBuilding Community Wealth report from the Democracy Collaborative suggests we need to create a new system, a new framework for inclusive economic development—one where concern for broad prosperity and the whole community is at the core. The report suggests a new framework, which they call Community Wealth Building. The following chart compares this new framework to the traditional one.

As you can see, inclusive economic development looks very different from the traditional approach. In the midst of a very slow recovery from the Great Recession and the dawning realization that the post-recession economy is a very different one, proponents of inclusive economic development ask us to think about why we engage in economic development at all. Presumably, what we want is to lift all boats.  

Some economic developers (e.g., CenterState Corporation for Economic Opportunity) are realizing that's our best shot at long-term economic stability. Traditional approaches, it seems, are lifting some boats but leaving others to run aground. So, if what we really want is to build long-term wealth and prosperity for our communities, it’s time to reevaluate our strategy.