Tuesday, February 21, 2017


By J. Mac Holladay, President, CEO, and Founder

I returned last week from a week in Cuba. After spending two days in Havana, the Washington & Lee Alumni College group sailed around the western edge of the island and proceeded to the Isle of Youth, the largest of the Canarreos Archipelago. After visiting the capitol, Nueva Gerona, we traveled on to Cayo Largo, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos. We then drove across the mid-section of Cuba to the Havana airport to catch our one hour and thirty minute non-stop Delta flight back to Atlanta. 

My impressions are too numerous to recount in this short piece, but I do want convey both some facts and thoughts. There were many surprises for me. Here are a few comparison facts to consider:

1) The voting age there is 16 versus our 18.

2) In the hospital, there is a 24% less chance of infant death than in the United States. 4.7 of 1000 babies die in Cuba before age of one, while 6.17 die in the US.

3) While there remain some critical questions about Cuba’s 1980’s HIV program, last year there were only 100 HIV deaths in Cuba. Click here for an in-depth 2012 NYT article about the program.

4) Cuba is having 26% fewer children than in the US. Annual births there are 9.90 per 1000, while in the US it is 13.4.

5) The per capita expense on health care is 93.7% less than in the US. The total public and private expenses per person in Cuba reach $558 versus $8995 in the US. 

6) The inflation rate there is 5.5% versus 2.1% here.

7) The National Parliament has 45% female members versus 22% in our Congress. 

8) Private ownership of fire arms is forbidden. In fact, only the National Police have weapons, the local police have only night sticks. 

Our visit was both “people to people” and educational. Two Washington and Lee professors presented lectures about Cuban history, Castro, and the life and culture there. The lack of new equipment from cars to tractors to trucks was evident everywhere. In many places, horses (many of them under great stress) were pulling carts and doing hard work. While much of the country appears very capable of agricultural production, only sugar cane and tobacco were evident. Yes, there were some “classic cars” somehow beautifully restored, but many more vehicles are barely working with engines and parts from any and everywhere. 

Both Trinidad and Cienfuegos have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I sincerely hope that all of central Havana can receive the same designation. There are literally hundreds of beautiful buildings in Havana that have not been touched since the 1950’s. The opportunity for historic restoration projects is almost unlimited. 

Recently, the government has allowed entrepreneurs to thrive and keep the vast majority of their profits. While the country is not part of the international banking community, small business is growing. What is badly needed is massive foreign direct investment in major industry sectors still under full governmental control. There is no doubt that the now nearly 60 year old US embargo has crippled the Cuban economy. 

The educational and medical systems were far more advanced than I thought they would be. The deep commitment to the arts including music, dance, and graphic arts were evident in all the schools we visited. The health care system begins at the neighborhood level and continues through excellent hospitals and research and development. Both education and health care are free at all levels. 

With a population of over 11 million, this 792 mile long island nation has amazing economic opportunity for the future. Many believe that the changes now underway are unstoppable, and that once Raoul Castro is gone as president a new era will begin, perhaps with the United States as a full partner.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Capital Crossroads Launches 2.0 Strategy

By Alex Pearlstein, Vice President

If there is an equivalent of “Economic Development Strategy Implementation 101,” it would be the activation and sustained work on Greater Des Moines and Central Iowa’s Capital Crossroads 1.0 initiative beginning in 2011. In its first five-year implementation cycle, many of the top leaders in the Central Iowa region, upwards of 700 volunteers, and dozens of public and private government, institutional, and corporate partners have come together behind a comprehensive, holistic, aggressive, and transformative vision for change in the community. Midway through implementation, Capital Crossroads brought on its first director, who helped spearhead the outreach, engagement, and coordination of strategic activities. The initiative has achieved hundreds of “victories” as detailed on the newly revamped project website at http://www.capitalcrossroadsvision.com/accomplishments/.

On February 1 of this year, an even more ambitious Capital Crossroads 2.0 was launched to great fanfare at an event in Des Moines. As with the 1.0 process, I had the privilege of working with the Greater Des Moines Partnership, the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, and representatives from their many strategic partners to facilitate the development of the 2.0 vision plan. Media reports on the plan and its launch can be found here, here, here, and here.

What makes Capital Crossroads the gold standard of regional planning initiatives is the fact that the blueprint has truly become the overarching framework for strategic programming in Greater Des Moines. It captures under its network of organizations and volunteers the principal tent poles supporting the structural advancement of the region as a destination of choice for companies and talent. In today’s world, this includes so much more than “traditional” economic development activities like marketing, existing business services, and entrepreneurial support. Capital Crossroads’ ten strategic Capitals and underlying components impact all key criteria that affect how communities compete in today’s economy, including emphases on talent development, retention, and attraction, quality of life and place enhancement, infrastructure concerns, and topics not found in any other strategic plan Market Street has ever facilitated like civility, mental health, soil and water quality, and many others. If – as I firmly believe – economic development should focus on optimizing the “product” that EDPros are marketing (the community), then Capital Crossroads is the most expansive product development program in America.

Simply acknowledging what must be done to make a region competitive and capturing it under a strategic plan is the easy part. What differentiates Capital Crossroads is that Central Iowa comes together to do the “dirty work” of resourcing, collaborating, coordinating, and sustaining its strategic programming as effectively as any community I’ve seen. It all starts with visionary, progressive, and committed public and private leadership –what Greater Des Moines Partnership CEO Jay Byers calls the region’s “secret sauce.” If they could bottle that sauce, there would be buyers in every community in the U.S. and beyond.

While I no longer live in Des Moines, I’m happy that I’m still able to absorb the wisdom and wonder of the place through my participation in Capital Crossroads’ ongoing evolution. It’s the best course in strategic implementation I could ever hope to take.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Woman’s Work

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

On January 25, 2017, our COO Kathy Young and I attended the 2017 Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) Policy Conference. GPBI is a nonpartisan think tank that conducts research related to Georgia’s state budget, taxes, and public policies and informs the public about issues that arise. Our CEO J. Mac Holladay is on GBPI’s Board of Directors. 

One of the breakout sessions that I attended during the conference was focused on GBPI’s Economic Opportunity Agenda for Georgia Women, published in August 2016. The report explores the impact of women in the state’s workforce and what policies can support and strengthen that impact. Here are some interesting facts that our readers outside of Georgia probably don’t know:

  • The majority of Georgia’s population is women (51.3 percent in 2015, according to the U.S. Census Bureau).
  • Close to half of the state’s workforce is women (48 percent in 2015).
  • Approximately 56 percent of women and girls live in metro Atlanta, and another 28 percent live in other metro areas in the state.
  • Roughly 53 percent of women and girls in the state are under the age of 40.
  • In over half of all Georgia households with children, women are the primary or co-breadwinners.
  • Since 1970, the share of households with children headed by single mothers has more than doubled to 29 percent. Today, 83 percent of single mothers work.
  • Women in Georgia who work full-time and year-round earn an average of $36,000 annually, compared to $44,000 for their male counterparts.
  • Women are more likely to have attended in college—60 percent of Georgia women had attended at least some college in 2014, compared to 55 percent of Georgia men. This includes the 29.4 percent of women who have earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 28.6 percent of men.
  • If all working women in the state earned the same amount of money as their male counterparts all else equal (similar geography type within the state, same age, education level, and working the same number of hours), an added $14.4 billion would be added to the state economy.
  • If women earned the same amount of money as their male counterparts, poverty for working women in Georgia would decrease by nearly half.

The report highlights four specific recommendations that can support the economic mobility of women throughout Georgia:

  • Expanding Medicaid eligibility: Georgia suffers from a health insurance coverage gap that affects more than 300,000 adults in Georgia, including more than 155,000 women. The citizens in this gap have incomes that are too high to qualify for Medicaid under the state’s current eligibility rules but make too little to qualify for financial assistance under the Affordable Care Act. The majority of these citizen are in working families. Lack of health coverage increases the likelihood of poor health outcomes, which negatively impacts the state’s workforce and its competitiveness.
  • Making child care accessible and affordable: Women in Georgia are more likely than men to work part-time because of family care obligations. Home responsibilities is the leading reason cited by women across the nation between the ages of 25 and 54 who are not in the workforce and were 12 times more like than men to cite this as the reason. The average annual cost of center-based child care for an infant in Georgia is $7,644 and for a school-aged child, $3,692. GBPI recommends that Georgia’s child care assistance program be expanded to serve more low-income families.
  • Enacting Georgia Work Credit: The Georgia Work Credit is a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The federal EITC provides a federal tax cut to only people who work and the credit increases as wages increase. It encourages the recipients to stay employed and work more hours. Just under 28 percent of all Georgians received the federal EITC in 2013. A state EITC builds on the federal credit, and GBPI states in the report that the largest value goes to families making between $10,000 and $23,000 per year, but families making up to $52,500 depending on the number of kids in the household can benefit as well. GBPI estimates that this could help up to 900,000 women in Georgia who earn low wages. 
  • Raising the state minimum wage to $10.10 per hour: Georgia is one of only seven states in the nation with a state minimum wage below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. Raising the minimum wage would help close the gender earnings gap because in Georgia, six in 10 minimum wage earners are women. Raising the minimum wage can add an estimated $342 million to nearly half a million women, who are expected to spend it supporting their families and paying for basic needs. 

The Economic Opportunity Agenda for Georgia Women is a worthwhile and enlightening report. Like Market Street, GBPI truly believes in research-based recommendations, and they have definitely made a clear case for these four measures that could significantly benefit Georgia’s economy.