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”

GASB Shines a Light on Tax Abatements

Paytas-Blog2-Web-05-2016The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) has implemented new guidelines[1] for disclosing tax abatements with the requirements taking effect for financial statements for periods beginning after December 15, 2015. These new regulations will require a significant change in the operating procedures and record-keeping of many economic development organizations and local governments. Chances are many are not ready to meet the requirements of the new GASB standards. Continue reading “GASB Shines a Light on Tax Abatements”

How the Private Sector is Paying for Public Innovation

Evans-Blog-20160405City governments have experienced increasing financial strain over the past several decades – pension payments are coming due, infrastructure needs replacing, and the cost of providing social services is increasing. This leaves little room for local governments to get on the social finance innovation train that has been sweeping the private sector for the past few decades, where bright minds have been exploring social enterprise, low-profit limited liability companies, impact investment, and more. However, many have recognized the importance of bridging the gap between private sector innovation and government, leading to organizations across the sectors investing time and money devising ideas that may fill this void. Continue reading “How the Private Sector is Paying for Public Innovation”

NIST Announces NMII Competition

Paytas-Blog-20160405Recently, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced the competition to award its first National Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NMII).  Proposers may focus on any advanced manufacturing technology area not already addressed by another institute or open competition. Seven institutes have been funded to date with two currently moving through the review and negotiation process. After attending the Proposer Day session on March 8, 2016, it is clear that many proposal teams have already been formed. Continue reading “NIST Announces NMII Competition”