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.

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.


Showing Developers Opportunities in a Small Town

 

In mid-August, Fourth Economy and the Borough of Ford City played host to developers and investors for an Opportunity Tour.

Fourth Economy has been working with Ford City on their Comprehensive Plan, and this tour was designed to gauge interest and gain ideas for how development might take place on two sites in the community – the former site of Ford City High School and the riverfront that runs between the town and the Allegheny River.

The riverfront is currently home to several different uses – the 36 mile Armstrong Trail starts about a mile away from Ford City and runs the length of the town along the river. Also along the river are several manufacturing firms, some of which have located in the former home of Pittsburgh Plate Glass. At the north end of the riverfront site sits a few uninhabited buildings formerly housing the the Elgier toilet plant.

The Tour began at Klingensmith’s Drug Store, with local leaders greeting their out of town guests, and a quick overview of the comprehensive planning process and the proposed capital improvements plan. After a quick walk around the downtown, tour participants split into a caravan and drove to the southern end of the riverfront, then continued back up, making stops along the way, with property owners along the route to fill in information about each site.

On a clear August day, with a light wind blowing and the sun sparkling off the Allegheny river, tour participants brainstormed about the potential of marinas, riverfront restaurants and residences, and how to repurpose the existing industrial infrastructure.

The next stop was the former high school site, which offers a unique opportunity for development in the center of town.

 

Down the street from the former high school site, the group gathered at Spigot Brewery for a refreshing happy hour with food provided by Harper’s Grill, a recently opened restaurant that offers burgers made from grass-fed beef.  

The tour capped off with a presentation at 10th Street Station, which was attended by residents, town leadership, and tour participants. First, the group heard from Leslie Oberholtzer of Codametrics, about the upcoming process that will result in a new zoning code for the Borough. Then, Jim Kumon of the Incremental Development Alliance explained how starting development on a small scale through rehabilitation of older buildings and spurring  small businesses could change the town’s economy.

While the tour ended, Leslie and Jim returned to Ford City the next day to lead workshops in riverfront planning and activating spaces. During the first exercise, the group split into two and cut out different land uses to paste them on a map of the riverfront, an exercise that was useful for envisioning what the space might look in the future.  

In the afternoon, Jim Kumon provided several examples of places that had activated uninhabited parts of their towns through markets or recreation, and how that lead to more investment and development. Participants then split into three groups, and brainstormed ideas for how to take the “next smallest step” for the riverfront, the high school site, and the downtown. The riverfront and downtown group went on field trips to survey their spaces, and returned with good ideas and information to share.  

How to Incorporate New Voices into Community Change Efforts

All communities that we work in are seeking some sort of change. This change could come in the form of attracting talent and jobs or seeking to improve the quality of life in the area by leveraging an existing asset, such as a river or theater. Change is naturally difficult. It is challenging to envision the change that is necessary, work to develop it, and ultimately implement this new vision. However, realizing change is much more challenging when the process lacks input from every corner of the community.

As our team at Fourth Economy works in communities around the country, it is clear that engaging new voices in these efforts is critical. Most planning processes are driven by a usual group of stakeholders, including representatives from government, businesses, universities, and funders. While these voices are important, exclusively relying on the same opinions and perspectives limits the potential impact of community change efforts.

Therefore, it is essential to look for opportunities to grow the number of stakeholders and the variety of backgrounds in order to genuinely engage new perspectives. This engagement of new voices goes beyond an invitation to a meeting, but should strive to provide ample opportunities throughout the process to listen to this group, allow their thoughts to inform and guide the process, and offer chances for them to lead.

Many communities have attempted to incorporate new thoughts and ideas in their planning processes, but struggle to connect with populations that have not historically been engaged, such as minority communities and those living in rural areas.

To engage these new voices, it is important to meet them where they are. It may be difficult to engage them in the usual monthly meeting, during the day, in a boardroom downtown. Meeting people where they are requires communities to think creatively about how to facilitate the engagement of these individuals. This may involve identifying existing meetings where the desired population is already convening, such as meetings at schools and local community centers,  hosting conversations in spaces in their communities, and working with individuals and organizations from the area to conduct outreach to engage people in their networks.Quote: Engaging new voices is a best practice in community engagement, but more importantly, should be a standard that drives planning efforts in communities around the country

Engaging the “unusual suspects” in community and economic development processes is important for a variety of reasons.

  1. It will help your project generate new and diverse ideas.
  2. It will build stronger social connections in your community as people are encouraged to work with individuals that they do not normally.
  3. It will increase the likelihood of your community change efforts being successful because those individuals critical to implementation have been involved in the development of the strategies.

Engaging new voices is a best practice in community engagement, but more importantly, should be a standard that drives planning efforts in communities around the country. At Fourth Economy, our goal is to engage these new voices to strengthen the impact of our work and we would encourage all communities to do the same. Reach out to learn more about our creative efforts to engage new voices.

Have you had success or unique challenges in engaging diverse voices in your community engagement? Reach out – we’d love to hear about it or problem solve with you.

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!

Pioneering a New Approach to Economic Development

A core principle at Fourth Economy is that economic development works best when it works at the intersection of environmental, social, and economic issues—a concept referred to as sustainable or triple bottom line economic development. A recent article published in Economic Development Quarterly by one of our Fourth Economy Pioneers gives some background into this concept.

Janet Hammer of The Collaboratory, the lead author of this research, notes that while traditional economic development delivers programs, policies, or activities designed to create or retain jobs and wealth, sustainable economic development does so in ways that also contribute to environmental, social, and economic well-being over time. This triple bottom line approach recognizes that economic development both influences and is influenced by a spectrum of factors like quality of life, fiscal health, resource stewardship, and resilience. Continue reading “Pioneering a New Approach to Economic Development”

Fourth Economy’s Rich Overmoyer and Chelsea Burket Appear on “Our Region’s Business”

Fourth Economy CEO Rich Overmoyer, along with Director, Sustainable Communities, Chelsea Burket were recent guests on “Our Region’s Business” hosted by Bill Flanagan. They discussed Fourth Economy’s role as a platform partner for the Rockefeller Foundation 100 Resilient Cities initiative. Watch their appearance by clicking on the video below.

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”

5 Lessons From the MLB All-Star Game for Economic Opportunity Pursuits

Overmoyer-MLBIt’s All About the Distance. Or is It?

Sure, power contributes to your ability to hit a home run, but it’s also the mechanics of how you swing that can take the ball farther. Many community and economic development initiatives throw a lot of money (power) at an issue without an understanding of the underlying issues and opportunities. A better approach is to use community input combined with real-time data to better understand the current local mechanics and what forms of investment (money and time) it will take to support change. Continue reading “5 Lessons From the MLB All-Star Game for Economic Opportunity Pursuits”

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”