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.