Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Latest Population Estimates Show the Might of the Sun Belt

By Ryan Regan, Project Associate

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released the latest population estimates for localities in the United States, and in keeping with trends from recent years, metro areas across the Sun Belt continue to flourish. 

Given that everything is bigger in Texas; it is most appropriate that the Lone Star State is adding new residents in significant numbers, thanks primarily to the state’s metropolitan growth. The Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio metro areas collectively added 412,467 people between 2014 and 2015. These metros by themselves added more people than any state in the country over the past year except for Texas itself. 

Below is a listing of the top-ten metros (out of 381) by one-year and five-year population growth rates. The Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL metro unseated the Austin, TX metro as the fastest growing metro in the country. Austin previously occupied that position for each of the past four years.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates

As indicated in the table, the fastest growing metro areas in the country are concentrated in Sun Belt states – namely Florida, Texas, and the Carolinas. Of the 20 fastest growing metro areas over the past year, a whopping 15 of them were in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, or North Carolina.

This dynamic is even more pronounced when one-year and five-year population growth rates are isolated to metro areas with at least 1 million residents.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates

The population growth figures speak for themselves, but another additional layer of the population growth conversation is where these new residents are coming from. The U.S. Census Bureau tracks the components of population change in terms of natural growth (births minus deaths) and both international and domestic migration. 

Domestic migration is especially critical to track because it is indicative of how much more desirable certain places within the United States are over others. Domestic migration captures those people who have chosen to move from one city to another. People move between places for an assortment of reasons – job opportunity, retirement, military orders, etc. – but domestic migration is primarily an indicator of economic opportunity, since that is a central reason why and where people move. 

The following table again shows the dominance of the Sun Belt region as an increasingly attractive place to live and work. The top metros in the country over the past year and the past five years by measure of domestic migration is a who’s who list of some of the top-performing metro areas in the Sun Belt region. 

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates

The Sun Belt’s rise can be primarily attributed to the growth of industries like aerospace, defense, auto manufacturing, and oil & gas[1] all of which have thrived in the Sun Belt in recent years. Companies in these industries and others have taken advantage of the low involvement of labor unions in the region, as well as the robust portfolio of transportation assets – ports, railways, highways, and airports – that make many Sun Belt states attractive places for major manufacturing companies to invest. 

According to data from Economic Modeling Specialists Int’l (EMSI), 58.04 percent of the nation’s total job growth from 2005 to 2015 was captured by the following twelve Sun Belt states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California. These states also accounted for 61.2 percent of the nation’s population growth over the same time period. 

The Sun Belt region’s rapid population growth has also led to the region’s increased political influence. Since 1970, Sun Belt states have gained over 25 electoral votes and many of the region’s states are evolving into ‘purple states’ as rapid diversification remakes the political landscape in the region. 

Much has been made about the declining populations of rural communities across the United States, many of which constitute a large portion of the Sun Belt region. However, as recent population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate, the region’s metropolitan areas are cementing themselves as booming population hubs that continue to attract new residents in droves. 

[1] The downturn in the oil & gas industry and its impact on major Sun Belt metros like Houston is not captured in the recent population estimates. It will be interesting to see if there is any evidence in coming years of the oil & gas industry’s downturn thwarting some of the significant population gains being experienced in that part of the country.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Political Reality

By J. Mac Holladay, Founder and CEO

I have always believed that the work of community and economic development required all of us in the work to be professionally non-partisan. When I served four different Governors from both parties, my job was to make that individual and the state look as good as I could. The professional staff in each state worked together across all lines to accomplish what we could.

It has concerned me that over time many states have chosen to appoint political operatives to key economic development positions. While the individuals may be intelligent, experienced, competent people, they have no experience in the field. This is no time for "on the job training."

The reality of the Great Recession and its aftermath is that the game has changed, and that we must be flexible and creative to move our organizations forward.

The history of state level "public private" partnerships is mostly bleak. While Enterprise Florida, the longest standing organization, still exists, it is a far different organization than years ago. It now resides inside the Governor's office and he/she hires and fires the CEO. That privilege was the Board's and the funding was then 50-50 public and private. That is no longer the case. Most of these efforts have lasted only one or two terms and many have conflicted directly with major metro areas’ private sector funding efforts and activities. The recent drastic changes to the strong North Carolina Department of Commerce is a prime example. Whether that state's new "partnership" can be effective or successful is an open question.

As The Metropolitan Revolution reported, the real creativity and actions are coming from Mayors and local chambers and economic development organizations. The relevance of state level programming and operations has fallen to an all-time low. The drastic budgets cuts in most states combined with the lack of professional leadership and extreme partisan politics have combined to produce this reality.

Frankly, it makes me sad since I believe this team sport of community and economic development needs leadership from the state level combined with consistent local public and private leadership to produce the great results we all want.

I am hopeful that we can return to a time when all that really matters is real progress and that partisan politics again takes a back seat to improving the lives of all our citizens. A competent committed professional staff at the state level is a good place to start.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Bridging Generational Gaps through Best Practices

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

Last Thursday, I was afforded the opportunity to lead a session entitled Understanding and Bridging the Gap across Generations at the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. (ABC) Workforce Week Conference.

My presentation was composed of three sections. In the first segment, I discussed characteristics and stereotypes of each generation, from the Greatest Generation to the Millennials. After pointing out differences, many of which are well-known to most, I talked about similarities that can be leveraged in communities, including public design elements, social opportunities, and basic human needs like respect. The main takeaway of the first section was that the differences between generations need to be considered, but the generations aren’t as different as it sometimes seems. The similarities are just as important.

The second part of the presentation, Workforce Sustainability in Construction, was research-heavy. I provided employment projections by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as dependency ratios for various construction occupations. Dependency ratios are simply the ratio between “young professionals,” or workers in a given occupation between the ages of 25 and 44, and experienced professionals nearing retirement between the ages of 45 and 64. This is one of the most basic ways to evaluate workforce sustainability, by measuring whether there are currently enough young professionals in an occupation to eventually replace the retirees. If the ratio is over 1.0, there are enough younger workers to replace older workers, in sheer numbers (not taking skills and knowledge into consideration). If the ratio is less than 1.0, the given sector or occupation is at risk. Nationwide, the construction sector (NAICS 23) is sustainable with a ratio of 1.13. Construction occupations that are at risk nationwide include tool and die makers (ratio of 0.42), model makers (0.49), construction and building inspectors (0.59), and civil engineering technicians (0.81). There are several currently sustainable occupations, including drywall and ceiling tile installers (1.66), cement masons and concrete finishers (1.51), electricians (1.32), brickmasons and blockmasons (1.31), and architectural and civil drafters (1.24). It is important to note, though, that these occupational age dynamics vary by community.

Because the overall purpose of the presentation was to convey the importance of bridging the gap between generations and ensuring that younger workers have clear career paths and career advancement opportunities, the last segment focused on best practices. There are only two ways for communities and similarly, businesses, to have the talent they need to fill current jobs: talent attraction and long-term talent development. Building talent pipelines is vital. Here are just a few best practices I highlighted.

Leadership Programs

Leadership programs, both at the firm and community levels, are important for giving young workers the opportunity to network, learn skills, and gain experience that will prepare them for future job opportunities and promotions.

- Firms such as Procter & Gamble, General Electric, IBM, and Deloitte have designed leadership programs to assist their employees with mentorship and training opportunities, particularly their most recent hires. These companies consistently rank on Chief Executive’s Best Companies for Leaders list because they have made it their priority to ensure that the talent they hire receives guidance, is challenged, and is well prepared for future positions. Current leaders and managers are expected to coach and develop those who report to them.

- Community young professional leadership groups are also tools to encourage and empower young professionals. TYPros in Tulsa, the largest YP network in the nation with over 8,000 members, is a great example. With a platform, young professionals can make a profound impact on communities. Through its Business Development “Bring It to Tulsa” program, they have successfully attracted Trader Joe’s and Uber to the community. An effort to promote Next Gen Leadership, the Board Internship program provides training to YPs, then matches participants to a board within the community where they receive experience serving on a board without financial obligations or voting rights.

Industry Promotion Programs

For business sectors that may be at risk of not having enough young workers to replace those nearing retirement, promotion programs are helpful in exposing existing and future talent to jobs that are available in a community.

- Manufacturing Day is a nationwide (and beyond) observance that promotes manufacturing as a viable business sector by addressing misperceptions and connecting with younger generations. Communities and businesses across the nation host events that foster conversations about opportunities and challenges within manufacturing, including events at schools.

- Women in Construction Week highlights opportunities for women in the construction sector, including both executive/administrative and hands-on opportunities. It also celebrates contributions that women have made in the sector. National Association of Women in Construction chapters host events nationwide during this week. 
Career Exposure Programs

While filling existing jobs is, of course, a priority, it is also important to reach the youth to prepare them for future jobs. Higher exposure increases a student’s perception of possible careers and is a way to connect future job projections to future homegrown talent.

- Southwire 12 for Life public-private partnership formed by Southwire and Carroll County Schools in Georgia to address the community’s dropout rate. This initiative has served multiple purposes—not only has the program helped with increasing the community’s graduation rate and number of students going on to pursue college, but it has also provided high school students with valuable part-time jobs and mentorship and full-time employment opportunities after graduation.

- In Decatur-Morgan County, Alabama, the SWeETy (Summer Welding and Electrical Technology) Camp gives high school girls the opportunity to learn hands-on about nontraditional, high wage technical careers. The program has been a huge success, with such high demand that the program has expanded over the years.

Successful communities and companies recognize the value of talent of all ages. At the end of the day, people want to be respected and acknowledged for what they bring to the table. By building on strengths and bridging the gap between the generations, talent pipelines can be fortified so that communities and companies have the workers they need.