The 3 Ls of Collaborative Economic Development

In 2015, Fourth Economy had the opportunity to work with economic development stakeholders in Butler County, PA to develop a new system for delivering county-wide services. Ultimately, we recommended an organizational structure and defined partnership roles based on our process of stakeholder engagement and best practice research.

Now, over 3 years later, the Butler County Growth Collaborative is taking shape! I sat down with Dr. Nicholas Neupauer, President of the Butler County Community College and a member of the Collaborative’s advisory board, who is the primary convener of the Collaborative, to learn what it takes to create a new model of collaborating around economic growth (spoiler alert: it’s leadership!).

1. Leadership

While our work with the Butler County Growth Collaborative began in 2015, the desire to create a more coordinated approach to economic development was years in the making – since 2009. However, earlier efforts were “bottom up” in their approach, minus ultimate support at the County Commissioners level, leading to the classic plan on the shelf. But as new Board of Butler County Commissioners were elected in 2015, there was an opportunity to try again.

Fortunately, this new Board of Commissioners (Osche, Geyer, and Boozel) shared this vision for greater collaboration and coordination on economic development. Such support was the missing piece that allowed over a decade’s worth of work to move the concept forward.

…There was a clear leader to establish roles, make decisions, and identify shared priorities around which to work.

2. Leadership

With the Commissioners leading the way, Butler County hired a full time director for the Butler County Growth Collaborative. The former CEO of a steel company, Mark Gordon was the right person for the job. Because the Collaborative had been functioning as a group of roughly 10 organizations with no clear leader, it was trying to be everything to everyone. When Mark came on, there was a clear leader to establish roles, make decisions, and identify shared priorities around which to work. Furthermore, the Collaborative engaged a third party convener (Bright Lights Innovations of Hermitage, PA) to facilitate advisory board meetings. This helps to ensure that no one advisory member drives the agenda.  

3. Leadership

The organizations on the Board of the Collaborative include leaders from: the Butler County Chamber of Commerce, Tri-County Workforce Board, Butler County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, Butler Transit Authority, Cranberry Township, Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, Community Development Corporation of Butler County, and Butler County Community College. Most of the individuals representing these organizations have over a decade of experience in their respective positions.

They know each other, they’ve fought hard battles, and while they bring experience, they also bring open minds. Over the years, they have been consistent and gentle champions of collaboration. If someone wasn’t playing along, the others would bring them back on track. And now, thanks to their patience and leadership, the Butler County Growth Collaborative has enough small wins under its belt, that they are taking steps to establish a more permanent and formal structure through which to advance shared economic prosperity for Butler County!

The Inequitable Roots of Home Ownership: Systemic Racism & the Wealth Gap

In March, I was lucky enough to attend a two day Racial Equity Institute workshop. The workshop was dense – covering the creation of the concept of race, implicit bias, and systemic/ institutional racism and how it contributes to the inequitable outcomes we see today. In a future blog post, I will share some things I learned about systemic racism as it pertains to access to work, but today I’d like to focus on home ownership.

One statistic is particularly striking in revealing the scale of inequality impacting people of color today. According to the Census Bureau, in 2014 the median net worth of a white household was $102,800, versus only $9,590 for a black household. Equity in a home comprises the majority of the wealth; excluding equity in a home, the median net worth of a white household is only $33,570, and that a black household drops to $3,339. Hispanic families fare only marginally better, with a median net worth of $17,530, which drops to $6,253 absent home equity.

The history that the Racial Equity Institute covered illuminates how largely our government policies have led to that situation. This is important history to keep in mind as we work to develop new programs and policies to create economic opportunity, and as we try to explain to stakeholders why we have an obligation to redress the impacts of these policies. While the history is vast, here are three key points.

1. It all starts with land, and all of the major programs to initially settle our country were off-limits to people of color.

The 1785 Land Ordinance Act, which offered 640 acres at $1 per acre, was only available to white people. The nearly 100,000 white people who came to California after the end of the Mexican-American War were allowed to claim and own “free soil”, while slaves and free black people were banned from doing so. Additionally, the 1862 Homestead Act, which gave citizens 160 acres of land for free if they would farm it for five years, was not available for Blacks and Native Americans. According to Lui et al. in The Color of Wealth, an estimated 46 million Americans living today are descendants of Homestead Act beneficiaries.

2. The housing programs that fueled post-war wealth generation, were also largely inaccessible to people of color.

Of the approximately $120 billion in new housing financed by the VA and FHA by 1962, 98 percent of it went to white home owners. In part, this was because beginning in 1933 with redlining and continuing with racially restrictive covenants (outlawed in 1968, but still in some cases on the books), people of color were restricted to certain neighborhoods – neighborhoods in which banks would not lend. If you haven’t looked at the redlining map of your city to compare it to present-day conditions, check this out.

3. Systemic racism continues to influence access to homeownership and wealth.

The Recession disproportionately impacted people of color. In December 2011 the US Department of Justice announced a $335 million settlement with Bank of America/ Countrywide for its predatory practices that targeted black and Latino households. The settlement noted that between 2004 and 2008 roughly 200,000 African American and Latino borrowers were charged more for their mortgages than were similarly qualified white borrowers.

Of course, the picture is much more complex than this blog post can convey. If you want to learn more, PBS has compiled a list of resources on race.

And we are always interested in learning more, ourselves! So please reach out with thoughts, resources, or questions: engage@fourtheconomy.com.

How We Got 350 Farmers to Help Us Shape the Future of WV’s Agriculture Economy

Okay, not all 350 of them were actually farmers, but they were all related to the agriculture economy in some way: managers of farmers markets and farm-to-school programs, backyard gardeners with big dreams, and folks who run processing and distribution businesses.

The WV Department of Agriculture and WVU Extension knew that for their strategic plan to be successful they needed to engage stakeholders across the state’s 14 conservation districts in defining the agriculture economy’s challenges and developing solutions. They also recognized that the timeline and budget constraints that would make that level of engagement a challenge presented an opportunity: agency staff were craving the chance to enhance their facilitation skills.

Over the years, Fourth Economy has refined our approach to “Build Sessions”. Borrowing from the human-centered design method, stakeholders brainstorm, prioritize, and build strategies to address the challenges identified through the process. In order to deploy Build Sessions across 14 community meetings in 2 weeks, Fourth Economy developed a facilitation training for 25 staff of various ag-serving agencies and institutions.

Held in September, the half-day training covered general facilitation best practices such as neutrality, consensus, active listening, summarizing, staying on task, and transforming conflict, as well as exercises to practice facilitating a Build Session. The trainings were a big success. After the training, one participant was so excited to try out her new skills that she actually moved her vacation to be able to facilitate one of the community meetings!

Across the state, meetings were held in churches, fire halls, and fairground buildings. Agency staff were amazed at the number and diversity of folks who showed up to participate in the process. The Build Sessions generated lots of conversation and great ideas, and ultimately fed directly into the creation of the strategy. Last month we met with the WV Agricultural Advisory Board to present the strategy and they commented that the sessions sparked a whole new level of collaboration among stakeholders across the state. To us, that is a testament to the power of a truly participatory process.

If you are looking to do something similar, here are our top three tips:

Help participants be prepared to generate good ideas.

Overall there were 10 topic areas that we were looking for stakeholders to help us develop strategies around, but we could only facilitate Build Sessions around 3 topics at each meeting. Therefore we had participants vote on what they wanted to discuss as part of their RSVP. Even if their topic wasn’t selected, they were coming to the meeting with a clearer idea of the specific topics at hand. For each topic area our team prepared a white paper detailing what we already knew about the issue. Each Build Session started by reviewing the white paper so that all participants were on the same page. Finally, we designed the facilitation materials to help prompt participants to think of different types of interventions.

It doesn’t matter how good you are a facilitating if you don’t capture people’s ideas.

Ensuring that you have adequate capacity to serve as a scribe and/or a process for participants to capture their ideas on paper is key. Especially if your facilitators are relatively inexperienced, you can’t expect them to also be taking notes. What’s more, you need an efficient process of compiling all of the notes from a session so that they can be easily translated into a strategy document.

Don’t forget to share.

After the meetings, meeting notes were shared on a public website that we designed specifically for the planning process. Throughout the process we used the website to advertise opportunities to engage and share what we had learned. We also had great support from the communication and marketing departments of all of the agencies involved. This was critical to the transparency of the process, as well as to stimulating ongoing conversation and collaboration.  

3 Examples of the Private Sector Collaborating to Create Great Places

I recently had the opportunity to go back to the Fort Wayne region of Indiana to reconnect with the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, who led the implementation of the Road to One Million plan. When we helped them create that plan, there was little precedent for the private sector to support investments in arts and culture, main streets, and outdoor recreation. But three years later, it was amazing to see the impact of $255 million invested in exactly those types of projects, with nearly 70% coming from private investment.

Since that experience we are always on the lookout for other examples of the private sector and economic development community collaborating and investing to create great places to live, especially at the regional level. This year’s American Planning Association conference highlighted a couple of great examples.

The Charleston Resilience Network is a collaboration of public, private, and non-profit organizations seeking to enhance the resilience of our region and communities. Recognizing the need to connect the myriad of puzzle pieces related to climate adaptation and mitigation, the Network was developed to foster a unified regional strategy and provide a forum to share science-based information, educate stakeholders, and enhance long-term planning decisions that result in resilience. Activities range from a bi-monthly happy hour to collaborating to pursue federal funding opportunities. The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce is an organizing member of the Network and many private sector companies are participants. Given the stark reality that hurricanes Harvey and Irma wiped out an estimated $200 billion in economic value according to Moody’s, it is critical that the private sector is a part of the conversation around resilience.  

The Mid America Regional Council’s Creating Sustainable Places consortium is taking a strategic approach to utilizing federal transportation funding to further regional sustainable development goals. Planning and implementation funding is competitively let throughout the region to transportation projects that promote housing diversity, density, healthy lifestyles, historic and cultural preservation, and energy efficiency. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is a partner in the consortium, and economic development agencies and private sector partners (such as architecture firms and the hospital) are part of the policy committee, which reviews applications. In order to compete for young, educated talent, it is critical that the private sector support planning that creates these types of livable communities.  

Do you know of a great example of private sector participation in similar collaborations? Let’s talk!

Tackling Economic Inequity in a Resilience Strategy

St Louis 100 Resilient Cities CoLab, February 2018
St Louis 100 Resilient Cities CoLab, February 2018

Earlier this month, Fourth Economy came together with practitioners from various sectors and parts of the country to help St. Louis tackle the issue of economic inequity. We were convened by 100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation, because they have seen so many of the cities in their network identify economic inequity as a key stress. Fourth Economy is a platform partner of the 100 Resilient Cities network, creating tactical recommendations for the planning and implementation of resilience efforts. After two days of intense collaboration, our group of community leaders, Chief Resilience Officers, economic development experts, and other thought leaders developed seven discrete project ideas that St. Louis could implement to impact economic inequity.

St Louis, Missouri

Some of our ideas really focused on the basics. One clear take-away is that before we can implement new, innovative solutions, we need to ensure that we are investing in the basics.

  • Talk to Each Other – First thing’s first…Developers, city agencies, and community organizations need a forum to discuss how all partners enhance the tools, processes, and partnerships to implement equitable economic development.  
  • Equitable Economic Development Strategy – St. Louis is about to embark on creating an economic development strategy; making it explicitly about creating an equitable economy will be key.
  • Resilient CDCs – Like many of our cities, some of our neighborhoods have strong community-based organizing and development capacity, while others are lacking in investment, or quality investment, in part due to this lack of capacity. We recommended an organization that could promote sharing of resources, developing professional capacity, promoting collaboration, and developing a central pool of funding.

One of those other important basics is data. We all know that what isn’t measured, doesn’t count. So 100 Resilient Cities is working with the CUNY Center for State and Local Governance to help cities in the network develop a set of equity indicators. The equity indicators that St. Louis will be using to measure economic resilience and economic equity include:

  • Are residents able to fully participate in the economy?
    • Educational attainment: Enrollment in college or vocational training
    • Education quality: Dropout rate
    • Court reform: Youth adult convictions for nonviolent, nontraffic crimes
    • Court reform: Legal representation
    • Civic engagement: Digital equity
  • Are residents able to access goods and services?
    • Health: Pedestrian deaths
    • Health: Access to healthy food
    • Health: Access to social services
  • Are residents able to invest in their own community?
    • Financial empowerment: Median credit scores
    • Financial empowerment: Home loan denial rates
    • Financial empowerment: Business ownership rates

With these indicators in mind, our group developed ideas around both Access and Investment.

Access to Services and Jobs

  • Hubs of Growth – In cities that have experienced the degree of population loss that St. Louis has (and that’s a lot of us!), we must foster the development and growth of neighborhood hubs of economic and community activity that will drive growth in their surrounding areas. If connected by transit, these hubs can enhance safe access to healthy food and social services, but also create the density needed to support the growth of local businesses.
  • Mobilize – Another common challenge is the mismatch both between where people live and the skills they have, and where and what jobs are available. This idea brings employers and training providers to the neighborhoods to better understand the needs and opportunities of residents, and target services accordingly. Furthermore, micro transit would be used to connect residents to jobs.  

Investing in Small Business

  • Scale up STL – This program would increase access to capital and supportive services for small businesses that want to scale in targeted neighborhoods. This could include discounted land/space, collateral back stops, regulatory relief, and right-seed lending products.
  • Small Business Portal – St. Louis is making investments in its open data portal. But once they have all of their data available, how should it be used? This proposal is to engage small businesses to understand how the data can best be utilized to support their growth.
  • Women of STL – St. Louis could use a grass-roots organization run by women that strengthens the social fabric and supports the creation and growth of women-owned businesses. This organization would provide workshops, business incubation to address how to start a business, how to access credit, and technical training, e.g. use of internet resources.

As the City of St. Louis develops its resilience strategy, these ideas will be further developed. If you know of best practices in any of these areas, send them our way so we can help St. Louis create equitable economic development faster!

DIY Comp Plan (With a Little Help From Your Friends)

What do you imagine when you hear the words “comprehensive plan”? Hoards of consultants descending upon your community for years, churning out meaningless data, hosting pointless community meetings, and producing a mammoth document that goes to live on the shelf? Well, not in Gary, IN. Gary is taking a different approach to comprehensive planning, and Fourth Economy is excited to be along for the ride.

While Fourth Economy is part of a team of consultants, including Raimi + Associates, Volte Strategy, and Dynamo Metrics, we are just the behind-the-scenes support team. The folks at Gary’s Department of Planning, Redevelopment, and Zoning issued an RFQ looking for “a team of thinkers” with demonstrated “ability to provide services and creative solutions in a highly complex urban setting where social equity, economic parity, and community resiliency are foundational elements of the comprehensive planning process.” All small firms, we are providing our expertise, but not according to any set process. Rather, this will be a truly iterative process, guided by the vision and priorities established by the community.

Though the team at the City, led by the inimitable Joe Van Dyk, will be leading the process themselves, they don’t expect to be the face of it. They are pulling together a team of residents and community leaders who will develop and implement all of the engagement. This means that our role as consultants is simply to create the tools and convey the data in a way that the community can truly own.

Recently, Joe kicked off the process by inviting all of the consultants to Gary for two days of listening. We met with faith-based social justice advocates, neighborhood champions, and movers and shakers of every sort. It was truly exciting to hear the passion that everyone has for their city and to see the investments they are making in Gary’s future. We are honored to be able to play a small role in shaping that future and are certain to learn a lot along the way, which we look forward to sharing!  

 

Three Things to Know When Developing an Aquaponics Project

Fourth Economy recently completed a feasibility study for an aquaponics facility designed to provide fresh produce and fish in a food desert. Through our work with programs like Invest Health, we know that there are many communities out there interested in similar projects. If that sounds like you, here are three things to know.

Because the world of community and economic development is so broad, our team supports organizations that are addressing a myriad of challenges and opportunities: reforming vacant land policies; growing emerging industries like ed tech; coordinating workforce development systemsthe list goes on! This year, we had the opportunity to support a community trying to develop an aquaponics facility to provide fresh produce and protein in a food desert. Through our work with programs like Invest Health, we know that there are many communities out there interested in similar projects. Based on our feasibility study, here are three things you should know:

Know Your Fish

There are real limitations in a commercial aquaponics facility’s ability to operate without incurring a net loss on the fish-rearing portion of the facility. Despite the cost savings represented by the considerable water conservation benefit, at the core of this issue is a low share of fixed costs relative to variable costs, which limits opportunities for economies of scale. In other words, producers in many industries can save money at higher volumes because the fixed costs (e.g. facilities, utilities, and equipment) are high but the actual cost of producing one additional units (i.e., more fish) are low. Unfortunately, in a commercial aquaponics facility, the cost of producing one more pound of food is high. The fish, feed, growing medium, staff time, and supplies needed for growing and transporting the food all influence the cost of production. Fish need to be checked on often, pH levels need to be balanced, fish needs to stay cold on its way to market, and water needs to be drained often enough to ensure the roots can get oxygen during growth. Managing these systems requires serious expertise.

Among fish raised in commercial aquaponics facilities, tilapia are by far the most common and highest revenue-producing choice because they can be harvested more frequently and are not as sensitive to their conditions as many other fish, including catfish and bass.

Know Your Community

Of course you know this already! But it’s tough to make these projects work, and the more you can do to engage your community and partner with other organizations and initiatives, the easier it will be. Are there other underutilized commercial kitchens you can use for processing? What products are doing well at farmer’s markets, and what is in short supply? Are there community or education organizations that could provide volunteers? Who else is using an aquaponics system, and how can you complement and learn from them? These questions should be asked early in the feasibility process, and potential partners should be engaged to help ensure the success of your project.

Know Your Buyers

If you want to sell to grocery stores, schools, or other commercial or institutional buyers, there are a number of considerations. The following is true of most, but not all, buyers:

  • You must be GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified.
  • The fish must be butchered; this requires special facilities and perhaps adherence to additional codes and regulations.
  • You must adhere to specific packaging and delivery requirements (for example, will you need access to refrigerated trucks?).
  • You must have liability insurance.

The good thing is that there are often resources to support new producers. Food hubs, Agricultural Extension offices, and increasingly-specialized incubators (like this one!) often provide training and technical assistance.

Despite the financial and operational challenges associated with aquaponics, these systems continue to gain popularity due to their ability to transform underutilized spaces into production sites for fresh food, spurring community and economic development. Hopefully considering these variables will ensure that your aquaponics project is a success!

Tax-rolls, Triple Bottom Line, and Trust: Thoughts on Inclusive Growth from Detroit

burket-092016Last month, I attended the NeighborWorks Training Institute in Detroit, which featured a daylong symposium on inclusive growth. Inclusive growth was defined broadly as growing the economy while simultaneously decreasing income inequality. As RW Ventures put it, decreasing income inequality in and of itself is a worthy economic goal – people are assets, and poverty is expensive; therefore, investing in programs and reforms that increase access to good jobs for people with barriers to employment should be a central goal of our economic development efforts. While a major finding of the symposium was that we don’t yet have many good examples of how this can be done, there was no shortage of food for thought. Continue reading “Tax-rolls, Triple Bottom Line, and Trust: Thoughts on Inclusive Growth from Detroit”

Big Visions Get Big Dollars in Indiana

IndianaBlogImageOn Tuesday, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) announced $126 million in state matching funds to support three regions in pursuing their visions for growth. The Regional Cities Initiative was developed based on a study of regions that have experienced transformational growth, performed last year by Fourth Economy, and is being funded by a tax amnesty program. Tuesday’s announcement was the culmination of months of planning on the part of Indiana’s regions, and Fourth Economy was fortunate enough to facilitate and advise on the strategy for two of the winning regions in those efforts – Northeast Indiana (home to Fort Wayne) and Michiana (home to South Bend). Here are a few lessons learned from our work helping multi-county, cross-sector partnerships identify and prioritize quality-of-life investments meant to attract and retain population.
Continue reading “Big Visions Get Big Dollars in Indiana”

Education Innovation

Remake-LearningI think that few among our readers would argue that fostering an innovative K-12 education ecosystem plays a critical role in economic development. Employers and economic development officials from any industry will tell you that the critical skills for a modern workforce begin at the K-12 level. They will also tell you that attracting and retaining their current workforce means creating a community in which employees want to live, and education is a major factor in creating livable communities. However, influencing K-12 education to ensure that it’s creating an intelligent and creative next generation workforce often feels like an overwhelming challenge given the systemic barriers. Continue reading “Education Innovation”