Opening a Produce Market in a Food Desert

Produce Marketplace Clairton Banner with Fruits and vegetables

Clairton, Pennsylvania is home to less than 7,000 residents. It is probably best known for being the home of the Clairton Coke Works and was once known as the Coke Capital of the World. It is also known for being the home of the Clairton Bears, the local high school football, which had a 66 game winning streak that spanned 2009 to 2013.

Clairton is one of the Monongahela river towns where the decline of the steel industry hit hard. Tucked onto two hilltops that overlook the river, train tracks, and the coke works, Clairton has seen more than its fair share of losses. More than a decade ago, the last grocery store in town closed.

Now, there is positive momentum. Local residents, working through two committees: The Healthy Food, Social, and Human Services Committee and the Neighborhood Partnership Program Committee guided the development phase and ensured engagement by the residents of Clairton. The effort to get to opening day resulted from the efforts of two nonprofits, Economic Development South and Just Harvest. Funding for the store was provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development’s Neighborhood Assistance Program (funded by BNY Mellon and Highmark), and Bridgeway Capital.

Fourth Economy and Palo Alto Partners were engaged by Just Harvest to assess the financial viability of the fresh foods market planned by Economic Development South. We conducted a needs assessment to identify the areas of highest need in Clairton, combined with an opportunity assessment to identify the areas that would be most accessible to residents. We also conducted an evaluation of local expenditures and competing stores and to assess potential store locations in Clairton. Surveys of residents provided critical insights into what factors would make the store successful. The study estimated the potential sales that could be captured for different offerings. Finally, the study integrated all of these analyses into a business plan and operational model.

The results of our analysis demonstrated that such a store would have a narrow path to sustainable break-even operations. Every scenario required some level of subsidy to overcome early operating losses. As a consulting team, we were downcast that we were not creative enough to find a sustainable, break-even solution. We were dreading when it came time to present the results to our project partners at Economic Development South and Just Harvest.

When we got to final numbers on the cash flow and the break-even projections, we expected to hear something like, “Well, thanks for trying.” We got a very different response instead. Greg Jones of Economic Development South was ecstatic — the numbers were much better than he expected. “We can make this work. This is less than it costs to educate people about food deserts and the lack of fresh produce. If we can actually provide fresh foods at this cost, this is a no-brainer!”

With the opening of Produce Marketplace, at 519 St. Clair Avenue, residents of Clairton will have access to affordable fresh foods all year round. It has been great to see this project come to life. It will be two or three years before we know that the store is sustainable, but the level of community engagement and interest to date provides a good leading indicator of the store’s viability.

Top 10 Mid-Sized Counties in the US

We see the Fourth Economy Community Index as a starting point for communities, providing a baseline to help understand where they are doing well and see where there is room for improvement.

We envision using the information:

  • When developing an RFP to create specific strategies to improve your community
  • To lead community discussions about areas of relative strength and weakness
  • To inform presentations to stakeholders about the state of your community
  • To compare your community to top ten communities of the same size

The Index model incorporates twenty different indicators in the areas of Investment, Talent, Sustainability, Place, and Diversity. While we know there is no single recipe for economic success, we also know that these five areas are critical ingredients in vibrant communities everywhere.

What do we mean by each of these?

  • Investment: active businesses, access to capital, and investment in physical infrastructure
  • Talent: a growing workforce with education and job skills, equipped to excel in high-wage opportunities
  • Sustainability: transportation, land use, and environmental conditions that promote healthier lifestyles and a healthier planet
  • Place: affordable housing and transportation options that provide access to recreational and cultural amenities
  • Diversity: personal and professional interaction across lines of race/ethnicity, age, and wealth

Top 10 Mid-Sized Counties in the US (50K – 150K)

  1. Minnehaha County, SD (Sioux Falls)

Minnehaha County, South Dakota, has strengths in Place, Investment, and Talent, and has experienced a whopping 8% growth in population over the past five years. Along with the increase in the population of Minnehaha and the Sioux Falls area, the county also has a robust business community and has seen increasing development to meet demand, as illustrated by the blossoming communities around Sioux Falls.

Continue reading “Top 10 Mid-Sized Counties in the US”

Innovating for Societal Good at the Public Library

person sitting at desk at a library

When was the last time you visited a public library? How about a Starbucks? As of 2017, it is noted that there are more public libraries than Starbucks in the U.S. I’ve experienced a recent uptick in my library visit frequency. Instead of simply using their printer when mine is on the fritz,I’ve used their resources to successfully kick-start an abandoned community garden, discover local neighborhood assets, and score a free yoga class.  

In late July, there was an opinion piece shared by Forbes (that was quickly deleted due to insane backlash), that insisted Amazon could and should replace libraries. Leave it to the librarians to whip up some serious backlash. So it’s obvious that there’s a need for libraries, but why? In both rural and urban areas, libraries are moving away from simply being placeholders for books, and closer to becoming a space that meets unmet society needs through technology innovation, education, and municipal services.

Let’s rewind 20 years…

Maxine Bleiweis’ 1997 publishing of Helping Business- The Library’s Role in Community Economic Development, served as a How-To manual for the library’s role in small business development. Back in ‘97, libraries offered free training courses, aided in workforce development, and began advocating for a strange new gizmo: the internet. In the past twenty years we’ve seen the rise of this online resource, with most library materials reflecting this shift. Many now provide public access technology infrastructure resources and capacity, digital literacy support, and domain-specific services and programs (civic engagement, education, health and wellness, etc). However, states with a high percentage of rural areas still struggle with supporting small and local businesses when their residents lack a reliable and affordable internet connection. It’s 2018, and in every single state there exists a portion of the population that doesn’t have access to broadband.

Libraries to the rescue!

In Missouri, Secretary of State, Jay Ashcroft, is pushing to fund the “Remote Electronic Access for Libraries Program”, which supports the costs of internet access, technical support, and other training services at the state’s public libraries. Ashcroft views the program as a cost-effective way to spread broadband throughout the state”, an issue that many states’ deal with. The roots of the Public Library run deep in supporting public needs beyond provision of paper materials . For example, Andrew Carnegie’s first designated library in Braddock, PA (pictured below), was imagined to be a full service center for working class Americans. It was equipped with billiard tables and a bathhouse to provide mill workers with a place to shower before using the facilities.

Photo circa 1893: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-DIG-ppmsca-15382)

In a world where people are paying to get ahead through specialized education such as training programs and certificates, libraries are slowly breaking down the inequality barrier.

In June 2014 the Free Library of Philadelphia launched a Culinary Literacy Center, aimed at revolutionizing the way residents think about food and nutrition while advancing literacy and teaching math through measurements. Over in Connecticut, the Westport Library’s makerspace is equipped with 3D printers which allow users to learn modeling software programs, and robots to teach coding and computer-programming skills. Outside the U.S. exists what is commonly referred to as the gold standard in library innovation, Dokken, in Aarhus, Denmark received the award for best public library in 2016. Patrons can park in the automated, robotic underground parking lot, make use of the lecture halls, and get some fun time in at one of its three on-site playgrounds. Furniture is movable, allowing users to create whatever space they require, a reflection on how libraries function best when listening and responding to community needs. After renovations, visitor counts skyrocketed from 1,800 to 3,800 visits per day.

At a time where inequality is at its highest in the United States, we need more than ever, to embrace potential innovation for societal goods that libraries hold in both urban and rural areas. Whether it be through entrepreneurial and small business support, broadband availability, or being an inclusive space for community engagement,  Libraries bring social wealth to communities and subsequently, their economies.

The upcoming revitalization of Braddock Carnegie Library of which Fourth Economy is helping, will allow us to complete a community and economic impact analysis for the library. I’m personally excited about drawing lines from community needs to what the library can offer.


Trick or Treat? 5 Experiences of HQ2

This week, children all over the country go knocking on doors in the annual ritual of Halloween, trick or treat. In many places, this day is one of the few when you get to meet your neighbors as we go door to door, shuffling along and bumping into friends not seen in some time.

Amazon HQ2 is that kid who ignores the rules, that senior in high school who just wants the candy. Amazon HQ2 did not wear a costume and knocked early when, on September 7th, 2017, it announced its intentions to locate a $5B second headquarters and a 50,000 person workforce somewhere in North America. In a reversal, Amazon pulled a neat trick by getting potential suitors to send elaborate proposals on what treats they had to offer, thus sparing the company the drudgery of actually visiting the communities.

Amazon has always been an industry disruptor, and this latest campaign is either pure genius or a Trojan horse: a trick or treat experience that by my estimate cost North American communities well over $119 million in staff time, and professional fees for video production, print media, research and economic analysis and more to create their responses. In its mailbox, Amazon received 238 proposals in response to its detailed request for proposals.   

There are so many lessons to learn and points to consider in what ensued over a six week period that I plan to make this an Amazon HQ2 series over the next year. As I dwell on the HQ2 lessons learned, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. To get that started, please take the companion survey here:

In this posting I cover: Trick or Treat? 5 Experiences of HQ2

Treat: Quality of Place

The criteria that Amazon published in their RFP is straight from our (link to Fourth Economy Quality of Place pdf) Consulting Playbook. While we hope that all of the bidders can cover the basics of labor force, location, and incentives, it is the areas that cover cultural community fit and community/quality of life attributes that make the RFP a treat. These are the areas that, we believe, can make any community a success. Amazon notes variables such as a diverse population, strong higher education systems and local government that will work with them. Under quality of life they mention daily living and recreational opportunities.The real treat will be if all 238 cities actually spent time considering these factors and while putting their best forward also identified opportunities to invest in making their quality of place better.

Trick: A proposal is not a plan

My professional guess is that very few of the cities that submitted a proposal actually had an economic development strategy in place that guides how they will attract and retain new jobs, let alone how they will handle 50,000 over a short period of time. On the other hand, the communities that do not have such a strategy but did submit a bid now have a lot of great information collected in one spot that they can use to advance a plan that goes beyond this one opportunity or if Amazon delivers less than promised.

Treat: Dare to Dream

In many communities, the thought of 50,000 new jobs in a relatively short period of time is exhilarating. This is especially true in Rust Belt cities that lost a lot more jobs that that over the past two or three decades and have struggled with starting the growth engines again. The exhilaration is of course tempered a little when one starts to look at what Amazon’s growth has done for Seattle’s housing prices and other cost of living factors. The resulting conversations are good though as these are the scenarios that communities should be considering with any plan for growth. I am hopeful that the 238 dreamer cities all use the time between now and Amazon’s next step in the process to have honest conversations and plan for what’s next in their communities.  

Trick: All That Information

Amazon now has a lot of information on 238 communities and as a company built on data mining they are going to have a field day slicing and dicing. They ask in the RFP for a great deal of information that is readily available via the web. Locations with 1 million people, proximity to an international airport, crime statistics, stable business climate. All of this information could have been found through a simple request to Alexa. Or just start with the New York Times, CNBC, Brookings and more who all crunched the numbers and provided their ‘Top’ lists of communities that meet the criteria. The style points of how the proposers are pitching their communities must have been the reason to ask for Amazon to have them to do their homework for them. So the trick is that as many as 237 communities did a lot of work and may still get a failing grade.

Treat or Trick: Place Your Bets

The idea that there are betting sites now offering odds on which city will be chosen is probably both a treat and trick. A treat in that we can all continue to play along in the speculation and if we guess right make a few bucks in the process. A trick because the notion that people are literally betting on communities opens up a strange channel of conversation about their future.

Co-Working Categorized: People and Places in an Emerging Market

Over the past decade, co-working has grown from a niche offering to having a significant impact in terms of the commercial real estate market — and providing a new alternatives tailored for remote and independent workers and small teams.

This summer, Fourth Economy was engaged to create a market assessment for the co-working market here in Pittsburgh. As a part of that effort, we reviewed a volume of existing secondary research that answered questions similar to the ones that we were looking to answer in Pittsburgh: what is the market capacity for co-working? Who is the co-working market? And, as we’ll address in this blog post, how is “co-working” defined?

What is co-working?

The Oxford Dictionaries define co-working as “the use of an office or other working environment by people who are self-employed or working for different employers, typically so as to share equipment, ideas and knowledge.” The general definition was reiterated in the reports we read the most closely *. But this definition doesn’t help narrow down on what the boundaries of co-working are, ranging from a desk one can rent for a few hours to a serviced office space one can rent for a team of 15 workers. Reading them more closely, these reports tended to define co-working, and view the co-working market, through either a real estate-centric or a workforce-centric lens, depending on the benefits or targets of co-working they focused on.

Real estate-centric

Deloitte’s report defines co-working as a “membership-based workspace with a monthly fee giving access to a desk, office space, Wi-Fi, and other amenities.” The real estate-centric definitions focused more more on the short-term lease and flexible membership benefits of co-working, rather than its community-based or knowledge-sharing aspects. In this framing, co-working is usually lumped in with professional serviced office spaces like those of Regus or WeWork; the different work styles of serviced offices and co-working (specifically, the social difference between working in an open space close to other co-workers, as opposed to in a small rented office with shared amenities) are not emphasized.

This is also reflected in the types of co-working spaces many of the reports we read measure: because their focus is on the commercial real estate implications of co-working — both for the entrepreneurs or remote workers who are co-working tenants and for the co-working operators (like WeWork or Regus) — these reports tended not to measure locally-run co-working spaces.

Workforce-centric

The workforce-based definitions were centered around the culture of these spaces. This approach highlights the types of worker (e.g. self-employed, entrepreneurial, etc.) as well as the collaborative and innovative elements of the space. For instance, in their “The Work Shop” report, CBRE describes co-working as “the best elements of a coffee shop (social, energetic, creative) and the best elements of a workspace (productive, functional)” combined to give workers the opportunity for an affordable, shared space. This definition explains a general value proposition for co-working — but elides how that value proposition differs across teams of different sizes and across the different types of spaces (from rentable private offices to shared desks) that may create a more or less collaborative co-working environment.

Our definitions

Given these different lenses through which to view the co-working market, how did we categorize the Pittsburgh market for our own study? We categorized it two ways: through identifying three main types of co-working spaces we observed in our market, and through identifying the different needs and motivations of co-working clients, from single clients through 8-person teams.

Three kinds of co-working

In the absence of one specific way to define what  co-working includes and doesn’t include, we focused our analysis on workspaces that allow for short-term, flexible lease terms with shared amenities (like kitchenettes and meeting rooms).

We segmented the Pittsburgh market into three rough categories, “Professional Co-Working,” “Community Co-working,” and short-term offices. Professional co-working spaces generally feel more corporate, may have more expensive furniture and finishes, may offer additional amenities like a front-desk receptionist, and are offered at higher monthly rents to reflect those factors.

Community co-working spaces are community-driven spaces with a neighborhood orientation that offer flex and fixed desk workspace at a lower price point than professional co-working spaces. They are similar to professional co-working spaces in that they offer a membership model (often with month-to-month leases) but differ from professional co-working spaces in, corresponding to their lower price point, they may not have professional operations or staffing (like a front desk), the finishes and furniture may be less expensive, and the technology and building operating systems (for example, for teleconferencing or climate control) may be more basic. The trade-off is the emphasis on relationships and community that community co-working spaces offer — as one proprietor told us, co-workers first come to their co-working space because of the space’s proximity to where they live — but stay for the community and connections. Community co-working spaces also differ from the other types of spaces in that they often have a specific community focus, like social entrepreneurship.

Finally, short-term offices range from serviced offices, executive suites, business centers, or other lease-negotiated and based-agreement that may encompass some flexible or open space. Short-term offices differ from either professional co-working or community co-working in that they are specifically offices for small teams, as opposed to flex or fixed desks, and because of their lease-based, rather than membership-based, business model.

Cultural benefits — and costs — of co-working

For the smallest companies, beyond the financial benefits, co-working represents a low-barrier opportunity to participate in a professional culture. For slightly larger companies, the larger culture of the co-working space offers the possibility to either benefit or disrupt the internal culture of the company, depending on how well-matched the two are. Teams of above eight or ten people already have a profound enough sense of cohesion and internal culture that the benefit of being in a co-working space no longer satisfies that need—and a mismatch between the expectations of smaller and larger companies (as contributors to the overall culture of the co-working space) can be a challenge.

The importance of definitions

Reviewing the existing set of definitions for co-working, and creating a framework for understanding the study for our own analysis, was critical to being able to paint a picture of this exciting emerging market for our clients that was as specific and actionable as possible — and helped give them, and us, some new language and tools for understanding how they fit into the market.

Want to talk to us more about co-working and other entrepreneurial supports in your community? We’d love to hear about the impact of co-working where you are. Email us at engage@fourtheconomy.com.  

*Including Newmark Grubb Knight Frank’s October 2016 report, “Scale of Disruption: The Sharing Economy’s Effect on U.S. Commercial Real Estate,” JLL’s “Shared Workspaces” report, NGKF’s report “WeLease: The Growth of Shared Workspace and Its Impact on the New York City Market,” Deloitte’s report “The London Business Footprint: The Growth of Serviced Offices,”Cushman & Wakefield’s 2015 report “Continuing the Evolution of Flexible Working,” and CBRE’s 2016 report “U.S. Shared Workplaces” and “Work Shop” reports

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!  

 

Fourth Economy’s Rich Overmoyer and Chris Ellis Co-Author Impact Investing Article

Fourth Economy’s President and CEO, Rich Overmoyer, and Social Innovation Strategist, Chris Ellis, recently co-authored an article for Green Building Alliance’s annual publication, Viride. The article, titled Social Change: Refinanced, discusses the origin and recent growth of impact investing. Communities around the country have begun to prioritize triple bottom line benefits and partner across sectors to achieve a greater social impact for their citizens. This new focus has resulted in an impact investment market that currently stands at $74 billion* with projections of $2 trillion in growth over the next decade. The article discusses the origin of this field, highlights how impact investing was used to expand access to high-quality early childhood education, and considers how this financing tool can be utilized to support communities throughout Western Pennsylvania. Click here to read the article.

Have thoughts about impact investing? Let’s talk. Send a note to chris.ellis@fourtheconomy.com.

Global Impact Investing Network. Annual Impact Investor Survey

Nostalgia: Community Development Friend or Foe? Pittsburgh as a Case Study

Mabel-NostalgiaRecent podcasts about the benefits and drawbacks of nostalgia got me thinking about this human experience, its influence on communities, and what this means for community developers. I believe nostalgia can help create community, but prolonged nostalgia can be detrimental to a community’s ability to adapt and thrive. Community developers should recognize the value of a community’s collective nostalgia, but they should also work with communities to build upon this legacy and develop an inclusive story of the future. Pittsburgh, like many communities across the U.S., may benefit from this approach. Continue reading “Nostalgia: Community Development Friend or Foe? Pittsburgh as a Case Study”

Embedding Equity Into Economic Development

Guest Blog by Sarah Treuhaft, Director of Equitable Growth Initiatives, PolicyLink

Treuhaft-Inequit-BlogIt is another summer in which America’s deep racial fault lines are being painfully exposed. Following the horrific violence in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights, and Dallas, in a July 8 poll seven in ten Americans said race relations are “generally bad.” A National League of cities analysis of one hundred “state of the city” speeches from 2016 found that mayors increasingly view racism and inequities as major threats to progress in their cities.
Continue reading “Embedding Equity Into Economic Development”

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”