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!

The Challenge of Creating Actionable Plans

Burket-Blog-Web-05-2016As part of our work in our hometown of Pittsburgh, we have been digging into all of the plans that have been created over the past five years or so. So far, we’ve found around two-dozen plans, reports, or studies on all manner of community, workforce, and economic development topics. Of those, about five have well-articulated goals, actions, responsible parties, though the form and detail of those components varies from plan to plan. And even with detailed actions, the degree to which those plans are being implemented varies a great deal. Our experience in Pittsburgh is not unique – we see the same trend in the other places that we work. So why is it, that despite our best wishes and intentions, it is so hard to create actionable plans? Continue reading “The Challenge of Creating Actionable Plans”

What Is Not Being Addressed that Will Kill Your Economic Development Strategy

BooksforBlogAt this point I think we are all familiar with the struggles facing Detroit Public Schools, at least on the surface: mushrooms growing in schools, teacher strikes, financial crisis. However, as detailed by this incredibly thorough and thoughtful report by LOVELAND Technologies, 200 years worth of poor decision-making led Detroit to where it is today. This speaks to the need for a new approach to public accountability in our education system. Recognizing the critical role of public education to economic development, in Nashville, it has been the Chamber that has been stepping up to provide that platform for accountability by conducting annual holistic assessments and concrete recommendations for improvement. Continue reading “What Is Not Being Addressed that Will Kill Your Economic Development Strategy”

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”

Increasing the Economic Impact of Trails

Economic-Impact-Trails

Across the country, communities are beginning to understand the economic value of developing trails. Though trail advocates and economic development organizations still often speak different languages, they are beginning to speak a shared language of talent attraction, tourism, and business development.

Different types of trails offer different economic opportunities. Continue reading “Increasing the Economic Impact of Trails”

Preparing your Local Economy for Climate Change

Climate-Change-&-Economic-DevelopmentMany state governments have devoted a great deal of resources over the past decade to mitigating and responding to climate change through energy and urban planning related efforts. Planners and energy experts are fluent in the language of sustainability, adaptation, resiliency, and mitigation. But ask an economic development official what climate change means to them and it’s possible that they can barely utter the word. Many in the business community have feared that climate change will simply mean more costly equipment upgrades to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In too many communities, time is still spent debating the veracity of climate science instead of recognizing the impacts already occurring. Economic development officials have a responsibility to help businesses understand the greater implications of climate change – how they can protect themselves from the effects of climate change; how they could develop new products or services in response to climate change; and how they should prepare themselves to recover from climate-related events. Continue reading “Preparing your Local Economy for Climate Change”

National Fourth Economy Community Index Lists Top 10 Mega-Sized Counties for 2015

141204-FECIndexFourth Economy Consulting announces the latest release of its national community index, listing top counties from across the nation. The Fourth Economy Index highlights those communities ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth within the fourth economy.

PITTSBURGH, PA – The latest release of the Fourth Economy Community Index (FEC Index, #FECIndex) was announced today listing the nation’s top ten mega-sized Fourth Economy Communities. These communities are recognized as the regions ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth among all regions with a population greater than 500,000 people.
Continue reading “National Fourth Economy Community Index Lists Top 10 Mega-Sized Counties for 2015”

Economic Development: What I Didn’t Learn in Planning School

131114-Teaching-PlanningI received my Master’s in Urban Planning with a focus on Community Development. I learned a lot about how to design “great places” as the American Planning Association calls them. Characteristics of a Great Neighborhood include… Continue reading “Economic Development: What I Didn’t Learn in Planning School”

Witnessing Collaboration Across the Nation

131022-Regional-CollaborationRight now, Fourth Economy is fortunate enough to be working in two communities on private sector-led regional economic development. The first is a group of self-organized group of private sector and higher education leader in the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota (the major metropolitan areas are Fargo-Moorhead and Grand Forks-East Grand Forks).  This group known as the Valley Prosperity Partnership is looking in to identify regional economic security interests and leverage the booming energy economy in Western North Dakota. The second community involves a group of private sector stakeholders convened by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation and the Rhode Island Foundation to inform both the Statewide Sustainable Communities planning and the work of the sponsoring organizations. Continue reading “Witnessing Collaboration Across the Nation”