Placemaking and Business Retention and Expansion

The following is the second installment of a four-part series entitled, “Re-defining the Three-Legged Stool: Placemaking as a Component of Economic Development.” 

The previous installment explored placemaking’s role in business attraction as it improves the quality of life of a community and the marketability of a place. This installment considers how placemaking influences business attraction and retention.

Defining Business Retention and Expansion

Business retention and expansion (BRE) is different than business attraction because it focuses on helping existing businesses already in the community to prosper and grow. Typically, the main tool of BRE is a yearly survey of businesses that economic developers send out to (or make appointments to work through in-person with) businesses in their communities. In cases where businesses are seeking to expand, economic developers can provide access to financing, in the form of revolving loan funds, grants, and other loans, or by providing access to municipal or state resources.

Mixed Uses Contribute to Improved Usability

But, even if they aren’t aware of it, economic developers are also likely engaged in business retention and expansion activities that overlap with placemaking. For example, businesses that are multi-use, such as breweries with attached tasting rooms or small-scale food manufacturers with attached kitchens, often do not fit into one zoning category — though their mix of uses is what makes them unique, and contributes to a lively neighborhood. This can make expansion difficult, and lead to cumbersome zoning negotiations, causing businesses to lose both time and money. If economic developers work with city planning staff to assist business owners in these cases, then they are helping to create more vibrant places with improved usability.

New Uses for Older Properties

As real estate tides change, economic developers will need to be creative about new uses for old properties. Retail outlets and office spaces are being repurposed for apartments, maker spaces and incubators or are being converted into space for existing businesses to expand. The success of these new uses depends on a vibrant, transit-linked, pedestrian friendly environment to attract the kind of young talent that populate these spaces.

Innovation Districts

Creating nodes of activity in centrally located, pedestrian, and transit-accessible areas can also assist with regional business retention. As shown by the Brookings Institution’s research shows, more and more companies are choosing to move from suburban corporate campuses to areas where economic, networking, and physical assets are more accessible, contributing to a rise in what has been termed “Innovation Districts.” These districts combine small businesses, bars, and restaurants with startups, institutions such as banks and universities, and large companies. The diverse mix of tenants leads to more collaboration and an attractive environment for knowledge workers.

Attracting a Quality Workforce

From assisting businesses with zoning issues to encouraging innovation districts, business retention and expansion efforts are improved when viewed through a lens of placemaking. However, the most important determinant for keeping businesses in a community and helping them to expand is a talented and plentiful workforce. Creating a place with a higher quality of life attracts more people to communities and engenders a strong bond that helps retain populations. Smart companies understand this and locate themselves where their workforce wants to live. Placemaking is part of a larger business retention and expansion effort, and offers an advantage that should be used by economic developers.

Three Lessons for Cluster Development

The Fourth Economy team has had the pleasure of supporting the University of Pittsburgh as they look to advance the life sciences cluster in Pittsburgh to the next level. Our work included researching the predicted next generation industry advances, analyzing the region’s research capacity and influence, location benchmarking, profiling the current cohort of life sciences companies, and discussing what is needed to build on the growing success of the sector.

We were able to provide the life sciences community with specific recommendations and a website to tell their story. The take-aways from our findings for this project are not necessarily unique to this sector in Pittsburgh and should be considered across any industries that a local community is looking to support.

#1: Sustained Leadership is Vital

Cluster development takes a vision and a level of sustained leadership that is able to evolve over a significant time horizon. Even when a region has a strong research base, it takes concentrated efforts by a community-minded intermediary to build a robust industry cluster. This cluster must provide collision points for local and out-of-region industry sector players to build relationships and find opportunities for collaboration. The output of this type of leadership activity cannot be measured in deals or investment, but creates the environment for those things to happen. We see many clusters fail because success is expected overnight, and leadership is not sustained long enough to build the necessary community infrastructure.

#2: Public, Private, and Philanthropic Investments Work

The important work of cluster development requires collaboration between the public, private, and philanthropic sectors to achieve the greatest leveraged impacts. At a time when questions swirl around the sustained commitment of federal research and development funding, it is critical to look at the models that many communities, including Pittsburgh, have demonstrated. Over 15 years ago, the state government, in collaboration with local philanthropy and the region’s research institutions, made a significant commitment to the emerging life sciences industry. The impact of those investments can be seen in the growing portfolio of companies and the position that the sector is in now.

#3: Regional impacts are Spurred by Neighborhood-Level Concentration

Industry clusters are often spread throughout a region both in terms of the location of firms and their employees. As firms mature and grow, they look for their own space, often in locations outside an urban core. But that urban core is vital to creating the density and culture of collaboration needed, especially in research and development-intensive industries. As the current generation workforce has made it known, they are looking for dense urban environments with ample amenities. In turn, the firms that are emerging will look for these locations as hosts for their employees. The Brookings Institute has advanced the notion of Innovation Districts to describe this phenomenon.

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”

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”

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”

Measure Up!

Paytas-Blog1-Web-05-2016The ripple effect of big data and analytics is hitting economic development. There has been a resurgence in new tools that package economic data to make it more accessible to a wider audience. A lot of these tools are using aggregated data that is useful but it is often not granular enough to inform an individual EDO or city about how to improve its economy and what is working.

To do that we need better data that is more granular with details about specific projects and specific companies. Big Data relies on and pushes for this kind of transactional data. Much of this kind of economic data does exist but it is walled off by various bureaucratic walls. We are a long way from incorporating Big Data into economic development, and there are real risks with a pure Data Analytics approach to understanding economies and creating development strategies. Continue reading “Measure Up!”

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”