A daily stream of headlines fill my inbox, describing technology advancements as a growing number of researchers, economic developers, and political candidates are discussing the future of work and our new robot coworkers. We’ve reached a tipping point in the understanding of how robots and artificial intelligence are impacting and will impact our lives.
This summer, FedEx will demo their same day delivery robots in Memphis, TN. What may be news to many is that this is not the first autonomous delivery demo as several other communities are already hosting demos delivering everything from Pizza to toilet paper.
Our friends at the Brookings Institution have noted a few compelling facts to consider:
- “Almost no occupation will be unaffected by the adoption of currently available technologies.
- Approximately 25 percent of U.S. employment (36 million jobs in 2016) will face high exposure to automation in the coming decades (with greater than 70 percent of current task content at risk of substitution).
- At the same time, some 36 percent of U.S. employment (52 million jobs in 2016) will experience medium exposure to automation by 2030, while another 39 percent (57 million jobs) will experience low exposure.”
The Fourth Economy team is working with a number of communities to more directly assess the impending impacts and in some cases we have noted that the Brookings estimates are very conservative. The question is, will the businesses in these communities embrace the transformation or be forced to when the economics of legacy systems become unsustainable?
In less urban and smaller communities the economic development and political leadership must start helping their employers transition through the integration of new technology. From training to retooling, companies including manufacturing, logistics, service industries, and really anywhere there is repetition of tasks should be ready for the transformation. Progressive firms will transition, while those slower to respond will be disrupted. This could mean countless jobs lost in communities that need them most.
Some are fighting against the robot invasion, hoping to slow the inevitable progression of the use of technology to improve the economics of business. In doing so, they are putting their communities at risk of the negative impacts that will be experienced from lack of investment to a lack of interest by talent and companies looking to be hosted in a more advanced community. Local leaders must also consider the governance systems impact in their communities. How fast can an autonomous delivery robot travel while on our sidewalks? Does our community’s broadband infrastructure support connectivity? What if someone purposely damages a robot delivery vehicle – do our criminal codes cover this? There is work to be done in figuring out how to manage the future impacts.
You can fight the robot invasion or you can embrace it and plan accordingly. What you can not do is say that you didn’t see it coming. The future of work is being implemented now and I welcome it for these three reasons:
- Robots and AI will continue to make life better and safer.A primary benefit from the adoption of robotic technology will be the reduction of repetitive tasks, many of which are dangerous and will allow workers to add value rather than burn time. In industries where indoor air quality issues or other environmental impacts are felt by employees, robot technology can take on tasks. For example the auto industry uses robotic arm paint sprayers to coat vehicle versus a small furniture manufacturer employee using a hand sprayer to coat a finishing on a new table.
- Robots are the bridge to economies of scale. Communities are struggling to find cost effective ways to evolve legacy transit systems to the new realities of where the jobs are verses where people live. Optimized autonomous vehicle networks will be able to lower the cost of the home-work commute and reduce overhead to balance out the cost issues associated with lower density and fewer trips. In addition, autonomous and drone robotic delivery of purchases, including fresh food, medicine and more, can expand the access for both rural and disconnected urban communities.
- Labor force shortages will drive more investment and quicken the pace of technology adoption. This is where some communities will see great benefits as their companies invest, increase productivity and reap the benefits of their new labor force. We need to plan and training for a transitional labor force rather than waiting for the disruption. Living in Pittsburgh, I hope we all have learned from the previous technology revolutions and be more proactive and progressive in how we approach the advance of this one.
We are at a time where we have a vast amount of information and resources to see what the near term future holds and dream about what is beyond that horizon. We should use the clarity we now have to embrace the transition of our economy, communities and our jobs. I am hopeful that we can use this time to make sure the negative impacts are minimized and we define new opportunities for all to benefit.
Thoughts? Drop us a line… email@example.com.
“Smart Cities: Transforming Cities for a New Era” was the theme of the 10th Annual Sustainability Conference, hosted by the Pittsburgh Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Environmental and Water Resources Institute, Carnegie Mellon University’s Metro 21 Smart Cities Institute, and Sustainable Pittsburgh.
The day-long summit, which took place at the August Wilson Center in Downtown Pittsburgh, explored our unique, local approach to planning for our future as a smarter, more livable and connected city. Speakers highlighted a variety of topics but ultimately circled around a central question – How do we leverage data and technology to improve quality of life for the people who live in our region?
Major themes discussed throughout the day included:
- Transportation – How can we build complete, networked transit systems that include first and last mile solutions?
- Energy – How can we manage resources by implementing efficiency technologies, alternatives, and behavior change to reduce emissions on a large scale?
- Infrastructure – From wifi networks to utilities, how do we ensure the needs of residents are addressed in effective, reliable ways?
- Land Use – How do we design and develop the built environment with a mix of residential, industrial, and public space that people actually like to use?
- Climate Change – How do we address serious climate stressors like increased rainfall and stormwater management before they become potentially deadly shocks like flooding and landslides?
- Workforce – How can we ensure we are adequately and equitably training workers for a future economy that includes automation and rising advanced industries?
- Data, Surveillance and Privacy – How do we balance the inherent tension between data collection for the purposes of increased security and connectivity with our right to privacy?
Technology, no matter how advanced, must be used as a tool and instrument of building an equitable, high-functioning lived environment that responds to the needs of the population who call it home.
Throughout the day ran a central idea – that though technology is better than it’s ever been, and indeed is a growing staple of our regional economy, the future of Smart Cities cannot be about tech for tech’s sake. As seductive as the allure is of a completely integrated web of devices answering our every whim, the essential question planners must ask before anything else is “what kind of spaces do we want to live, work, and play in?” Once that vision is established, technologies and innovations can be sourced to enable that vision. Technology, no matter how advanced, must be used as a tool and instrument of building an equitable, high-functioning lived environment that responds to the needs of the population who call it home.
We must guarantee that our future Smart City development is incremental, deliberate, and, most of all, people-centric.
We are lucky to have bright thinkers in our region like those who spoke throughout the day to help ensure that Smart City technology integration is driven by the will and desire of people in our communities. We will certainly apply this critical thinking in our work in communities like Lewiston, Maine, where over the next nine months we will examine opportunities for enhancing and investing in new smart city assets – things like smart streetlights, traffic signals, parking kiosks, wifi-hotspots, Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations, distributed energy generation units, shared multi-modal units (bike or scooter shares), and fiber assets – to increase public health, digital equity and public safety.
In short, “Smart Cities” has the potential to improve our lives by connecting, monitoring, and optimizing city services like transit, utilities, and public safety resources. However, in order to make sure that it actually achieves the impact we want, we must guarantee that our future Smart City development is incremental, deliberate, and, most of all, people-centric.
Okay, not all 350 of them were actually farmers, but they were all related to the agriculture economy in some way: managers of farmers markets and farm-to-school programs, backyard gardeners with big dreams, and folks who run processing and distribution businesses.
The WV Department of Agriculture and WVU Extension knew that for their strategic plan to be successful they needed to engage stakeholders across the state’s 14 conservation districts in defining the agriculture economy’s challenges and developing solutions. They also recognized that the timeline and budget constraints that would make that level of engagement a challenge presented an opportunity: agency staff were craving the chance to enhance their facilitation skills.
Over the years, Fourth Economy has refined our approach to “Build Sessions”. Borrowing from the human-centered design method, stakeholders brainstorm, prioritize, and build strategies to address the challenges identified through the process. In order to deploy Build Sessions across 14 community meetings in 2 weeks, Fourth Economy developed a facilitation training for 25 staff of various ag-serving agencies and institutions.
Held in September, the half-day training covered general facilitation best practices such as neutrality, consensus, active listening, summarizing, staying on task, and transforming conflict, as well as exercises to practice facilitating a Build Session. The trainings were a big success. After the training, one participant was so excited to try out her new skills that she actually moved her vacation to be able to facilitate one of the community meetings!
Across the state, meetings were held in churches, fire halls, and fairground buildings. Agency staff were amazed at the number and diversity of folks who showed up to participate in the process. The Build Sessions generated lots of conversation and great ideas, and ultimately fed directly into the creation of the strategy. Last month we met with the WV Agricultural Advisory Board to present the strategy and they commented that the sessions sparked a whole new level of collaboration among stakeholders across the state. To us, that is a testament to the power of a truly participatory process.
If you are looking to do something similar, here are our top three tips:
Help participants be prepared to generate good ideas.
Overall there were 10 topic areas that we were looking for stakeholders to help us develop strategies around, but we could only facilitate Build Sessions around 3 topics at each meeting. Therefore we had participants vote on what they wanted to discuss as part of their RSVP. Even if their topic wasn’t selected, they were coming to the meeting with a clearer idea of the specific topics at hand. For each topic area our team prepared a white paper detailing what we already knew about the issue. Each Build Session started by reviewing the white paper so that all participants were on the same page. Finally, we designed the facilitation materials to help prompt participants to think of different types of interventions.
It doesn’t matter how good you are a facilitating if you don’t capture people’s ideas.
Ensuring that you have adequate capacity to serve as a scribe and/or a process for participants to capture their ideas on paper is key. Especially if your facilitators are relatively inexperienced, you can’t expect them to also be taking notes. What’s more, you need an efficient process of compiling all of the notes from a session so that they can be easily translated into a strategy document
Don’t forget to share.
After the meetings, meeting notes were shared on a public website that we designed specifically for the planning process. Throughout the process we used the website to advertise opportunities to engage and share what we had learned. We also had great support from the communication and marketing departments of all of the agencies involved. This was critical to the transparency of the process, as well as to stimulating ongoing conversation and collaboration.
It is very difficult to track capital for small businesses in any rigorous fashion. The Census Bureau and the Kauffman Foundation partnered to conduct the Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs (ASE), with the first survey covering 2014. Additional surveys covered 2015 and 2016. These surveys provide a nationwide baseline for investment data for small businesses and entrepreneurs, but the data is only available by state and for the fifty largest metropolitan areas.
The most common sources of business financing for young firms are the personal assets of the owner and the owner’s family. The reliances on these sources limits entrepreneurship to the wealthy. Since we do not know which opportunities will create value, it is important to increase the pool of risk capital beyond the small amount that the market provides, which can create opportunities for those without family resources.
Sources of Capital for Startups (less than 2 years old)
Source: Annual Survey of Entrepreneurs, 2014
A small percentage of firms are able to tap resources beyond their personal assets. For startups less than two years only, only 12 percent (120 out of 1,000) are able to access traditional bank financing and seven percent establish a credit account for their business. Five out of 100 firms are able to get a loan or investment from family or friends. State and local governments operate a number of business loan programs, but these are often out of reach for startup businesses where their only collateral is intellectual property. As a result, for firms less than two years old, 17 out of 1,000 access a government guaranteed business loan and only four out of 1,000 businesses are able to access a direct government loan. This leaves a lot of businesses out of the capital markets.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) publishes information on the lending activity they support through their programs. The SBA 7(a) Program provides loans for small businesses of up to $5 million to fund startup costs, buy equipment and more. Here’s what else you can do with 7(a) funds:
- Purchase new land (including construction costs)
- Repair existing capital
- Purchase or expand an existing business
- Refine existing debt
- Purchase machinery, furniture, fixtures, supplies or materials
The Geography of Small Business Finance in Pennsylvania
Using the SBA data, we can dive deeper into what businesses are accessing these loans, where they are located, and what banks are involved. As an example, Fourth Economy created an interactive workbook that presents the SBA 7a loans in the state of Pennsylvania from 2010 through April of 2018. You can explore the maps and data by county.
Now that cities across the country have properly grieved the loss of the HQ2 they never had, and NYC pretty much dumped Amazon on their Valentine’s day date, we have some serious questions. How many communities have policies in place to handle an economic shock like landing an HQ2? How does plopping 25,000 new high paid tech workers in a city affect housing? This post will look at how Amazon HQ2 might impact housing in Washington, DC.
There are a few things we know:
- Washington DC is one of the most expensive housing markets in the US. The median rent is $2,146 per month.
- Speculation is rampant. The day of the official announcement there was a 435 percent jump in Zillow users viewing homes in Arlington compared to the same day a year earlier.
- If you already own a home, you’re lucky. But for those looking to purchase a home or rent, costs are expected to rise.
- Displacement may be an even bigger issue. As costs rise, those that can’t afford housing are pushed farther away from the economic opportunities found in city centers.
As we’ve previously written about HQ2, in places like Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington DC, the cost of living can rise beyond the reach of many non-tech workers.
Over the past decade, the median home price in Washington DC has risen more than 50 percent, from $365K in 2009 to $581K in 2019. Along with that, the cost of rentals has increased significantly, now requiring a minimum salary of $85,840 to afford a median-priced apartment in DC. Ouch.
An estimated 136,000 renters in the DC metro area now spend more than half of their income on rent.
Over the next decade, some policymakers are seeking to stabilize rent and construct new rental units. Communities surrounding HQ2 have promised to create and preserve 2,000 to 2,400 affordable and workforce housing units from 2019 to 2029. These policies will not be enough to both catch up with the past decades’ rising housing costs and adequately address the housing impact of HQ2. An estimated 136,000 renters in the DC metro area now spend more than half of their income on rent. The promised units would address less than two percent of the existing gap.
For communities watching from the sidelines, here are a few resources for thinking about an equitable housing strategy:
January is an exciting month in many state capitals around the country. There are twenty new Governors being sworn in and starting to announce their teams. There are others who were re-elected and recognize that a second term provides a unique moment to be bold with their agendas. Soon, many will need to submit their first budget request and begin the shift from campaign rhetoric to actual programmatic and policy-driven agenda setting.
We have seen the good, the bad, and everything in between in how these leaders – well, LEAD. Some will seek to lead in a hands-on way, meeting with key constituents and helping to manage the daily agenda of the government. Others will choose to rely on the talented people they hire to carry out the vision.
Most are in agreement that the economy of their state – jobs for residents, happy employers, outsiders interested in moving in – are all important to their political futures. They recognize that a healthy economy makes the other tough issues they must deal with easier.
So how do they ensure economic success?
Think Beyond Transactions
It’s hard to argue against wanting the press release and the photo op with the big scissors or golden shovels. The announcement of an expansion, a new housing development for millennials, or a major infrastructure project, all attract interest and ‘show’ that things are getting done. I’ve seen too many economic development leaders focus on these wins and ignore what’s bubbling beneath the surface in their communities.
The announcement of these transactions must be accompanied by an understanding of the short and long term consequences. Often these broadcasted wins fall short of the excitement promised. Economic forces change the narrative and project scope as the growth ramps up; or worse, the face-value excitement is for a deal that will strain the community fabric. For example:
Community Win: Job creation!
Community Loss: All of the jobs pay below the community’s living wage.
Too many communities are losing with this rhetoric, and trust in leadership is lost as excitement deflates.
Announcing improvement in areas like place, investment, diversity, sustainability, and talent are the wins that leaders should aim for to create a lasting impact and to maintain trust and excitement about local development.
The Fourth Economy Community Index is a great resource for economic development officials to start looking into key indicators, like those listed above for each county in their state. The Community Index is a free resource that profiles almost every county by using 19 indicators that we think illustrate what is needed for success.
Quality of Place Drives Economic Development
For years now, I’ve been preaching that the best tool for economic development is a vibrant community that supports diverse lifestyles. There are a lot of people who get paid to tell you how bad your tax system is, why you should throw truckloads of incentives at companies and that your red tape is ‘crushing business’. Our research has shown that in a vibrant community those issues become footnotes and not the lead story. People want to be in communities that have culture, recreation, good education, and a welcoming environment. If you have those things people will stay or move to be there and the jobs will follow.
A few years back we researched the most transformed places in the country and found the quality of place to be the common thread. The message and results of that research are stronger than ever.
Power Comes From Collaboration
The history of governors and economic development leaders is filled with those who have tried the Command and Control approach, and those that pursue Collaboration.
The command and control leaders think that the path to success can be dictated. They fail to recognize that economic development is a team effort that can sometimes involve hundreds of organizations and leaders.
The Collaborative crowd recognize this and use their positions to rally, to leverage, to inspire those in their network to pursue a shared vision. The collaborative leaders will have a longer-lasting positive impact. They are the ones that collect awards and are well-regarded by their peers and communities they serve.
These are my three pieces of economic development advice to our newly-elected officials:
- Don’t get caught up in flashy announcements
- Pursue quality of place for all citizens
- Work collaboratively with organizations and local leaders.
Governors that uphold these standards will set themselves, and their state, apart from the rest. I hope that all leaders, not just governors, can use this advice to help chart a better course and support vibrant communities in their state.
Who are you designing your talent attraction and retention program for? You might say, “For everyone!” And you might mean that – in today’s tight labor market, being able to keep and attract a great workforce means widening the definition of “talent”.
We know that the economic development profession is overwhelmingly caucasian, and, especially in areas of leadership, skews male.
When talent attraction and retention programs are designed by older, white males, then the community enters into a loop of marketing the program right back to the same audience. This is known as “cognitive bias” and it shows up in every field. A startling example of this comes from the U.S. auto-industry’s all-male teams of engineers. They designed the earliest air bags for test subjects that resembled themselves, the result of which killed many women and children whose smaller bodies were not accounted for.
To be fair, the stakes for talent attraction and retention campaigns are not quite as high, but we know that companies are increasingly making operating and relocation decisions based on the availability of a strong workforce. The more educated and talented these workers are, the more competitive a community’s case will be. Rather than focusing your strategy on “everybody” perhaps it is time to target one of the largest sectors of the talent market – Millennial women.
Sisters are doing it for themselves
Why millennial women? Millennial women are highly educated, high earners, and entrepreneurial.
Consider the following statistics:
- About 36% of women ages 25-34 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with about 28% of men who are the same age.
- Though there is still a gender wage gap, women’s wages are rising; between 1975 and 2016, the share of young women earning less than $30,000/yr plummeted from 79.6 percent to 58.1 percent.
- Women are starting about 1,821 new U.S. businesses per day, a significant uptick from an average of 952 between 2012 and 2017.
- There are more than 9 million women owned businesses in the US today.
There are many reasons why women are playing a larger role in the economy, not including the relaxed expectations for women to immediately enter traditional marriages.
One reason for their increasing role is, ironically, due to traditional gender roles. Because of sexism in blue collar jobs, women have more of a need for education than men to earn comparable salaries. Of the jobs that do not require a college degree, the highest paying ones typically go to men. Plumbers, electricians and truck drivers have higher wages than female-dominated jobs that don’t require a degree such as secretarial work, child care or restaurant-industry jobs. This has resulted in women seeking out higher education more often than men and has created a pool of young, female knowledge workers.
The impact of women on your community
Attracting more women impacts your community favorably, both economically and socially.
Furthermore, women control a lot of money and spending. Globally, women are responsible for 85% of consumer spending: the average woman is making purchases for herself, her husband or partner, her children and her elderly parents. That translates into a powerful economic force in your community.
One industry in particular that has benefitted from more women in the workplace is the wellness economy. From 2015-2017, the wellness economy grew from $3.7 trillion to $4.2 trillion, or by 6.4% annually, a growth rate nearly twice as fast as global economic growth. This includes sectors such as Wellness Tourism ($639 billion) Personal Care Beauty & Anti-Aging ($1,083 billion) and the Spa Economy ($119 billion). More women in your community means more jobs for those in the health and beauty industry.
Additionally, a report from the Bureau of Labor statistics shows that women volunteer at a higher rate than men, across all age groups, educational levels, and other major demographic characteristics. Think of all the aging non-profit boards in your community – attracting young women is a way to ensure the continuity organizations and supplement their leadership!
Millennial women, between the ages of 25 and 35, are reaching a point in their careers where they need to make a decision about where to locate more permanently. Due to lower rates of marriage and childbirth, this population is mobile. But they need a good reason to call your community home. Designing your marketing strategy so it speaks to women’s needs and wants will ultimately determine if they choose to relocate and exercise their social and economic abilities in your community.
How to reach these women where it will impact them?
When marketing to millennial women, like any group, it is important to target their key motivations and speak to their values in a way that resonates. Showing, rather than telling, that your community’s values align with theirs can influence decision making.
To attract women, you should speak to the following:
While millenials in general are not buying homes at the same rate as previous generations (hello student loan debt!), single women are buying homes and condos at nearly twice the rate of single males.
Personally, this statistic aligns with my lived experience. I moved from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh partially because I could afford to purchase my own home. And when comparing the status of many of my closest friends in each place, a majority of my Pittsburgh friends own homes, whereas only a couple of my D.C. friends did.
Does your community have plentiful and affordable housing available for purchase? Make sure it is highlighted in your marketing efforts.
And let’s not forget the pay gap. On average, women make 80% of what men make. (Www.aauw.org). That’s due to a lot of factors but it’s a fact that women are very aware of. Showcasing businesses that are committed to equal pay, or making the case that your money goes further in smaller communities speaks to women’s concerns about lower wages.
Illustrating your community’s commitment to family connections is also a relevant message for millennial women. The responsibility to care for aging parents often falls to women because of gender norms around emotional labor. As parents grow older, millennial women will be increasingly called upon to address their care. Conversely, if a woman has children, being close to her parents often provides a built-in support system and potential child care benefits.
Attracting young families back to your community has the added benefit of keeping their parents in place. In some communities we have seen the “Double Brain Drain” wherein retired grandparents move to be closer to their grandchildren. Bringing young families to town ensures the older populations don’t move away.
Social media marketing allows for very targeted ad campaigns. Facebook is a relatively inexpensive way to target specific populations, including new parents. And, even without paying for advertising, a viral campaign about how your town is family friendly might catch some eyes.
Young women have flocked to larger cities for a number of reasons – more things to do, better restaurants to try, more impressive scenery for their mental health (and instagram photos). But more often than not, what they are seeking is opportunity.
The more you can show women rising to success in your community, the more women will be interested in seeking opportunity there. If you look around and don’t see women owning businesses or in corporate leadership, ask yourself why not. Is there a need to start an incubator for women and minority owned companies? Do your corporate partners have a diversity program or mentor ship option? Once these programs get off the ground, highlight them in your marketing materials.
Be Authentic! Don’t try to play this marketing angle without actually having the programs to back it up. Promoting a false commitment to equality can backlash.
Their Health (Social, Emotional and Physical)
It’s not enough to have a yoga studio. Every city and town has a yoga studio. What you really need is free yoga. Preferably combined with alcohol.
Young women need to make friends and build a community to choose to make a place a home. But (as I covered in a past blog post) young people are not interested in boring business after hours networking events. Yoga is a high value activity – classes cost between $10-20, but if you can, encourage a local organization (think: library, nonprofits) to do free/donation based events. Adding a happy hour afterwards gives the chance to form relationships. Holding the class in an interesting space, like a museum, provides something to talk about. For extra credit, you can incorporate adorable baby animals.
Make sure to highlight health-oriented and social activities in your marketing plans to pique women’s interest and draw them to your community.
Men will follow
The title of this post is flatteringly adapted from our friend and collaborator David Feehan’s excellent book “Design Downtown for Women – Men Will Follow” which delves into how downtowns can be made into a better experience for women, which in turn, creates a better experience for all.
Men will follow. In the most literal sense, they will follow their partners/girlfriends/wives in their decision to move to your community. But on a greater scale, communities that attract women will grow stronger through more resilient community organizations, more diverse companies, and more tightly knit social networks, and thereby attract people of all ages and gender. The outcome of targeting your talent attraction and retention strategy on young women is a better value proposition for all those who might call your community home.
With much of our work revolving around Regional Economic Development, we decided to host a webinar about Regional Economic Development Collaborations – sharing insights and lessons learned with our panelists:
If you missed the webinar, it’s not too late! See the recording here.
Questions about this topic? Reach out!
Building stronger economies is a core component of what we do as economic development strategists and ideas generated to advance and position an economy for growth differ region to region. To some, a “stronger economy” may mean scaling businesses and/or affordable housing. To others, it may mean investing more in transportation or all of the above. Variance aside, an increasingly common variable we’re finding in our work is a focus on inclusive economic growth.
According to Brookings Institute’s “Opportunity for Growth” report, cities are a critical scale at which to address barriers to and foster greater economic opportunity for workers, firms and local economies. So, if you’re wondering how you can tackle inclusive growth for your city or region, think about your most critical local assets and economic drivers. Think: neighborhood business districts (NBDs), those corridors or hubs of small, boutique shops often anchored by a grocery store and centered around day-to-day convenience shopping needs of residents. NBDs present a unique advantage for cities thinking about how to build wealth for residents, concentrate local jobs, and even increase safety and livability.
Here’s some food for thought:
• Entrepreneurship has been a proven model for financial empowerment and economic mobility, but is most difficult to achieve for residents in poor communities. Investing in NBDs enable areas to reimagine vacant or underutilized spaces for entrepreneurship activity to support local entrepreneurs’ ability to learn, test new ideas, and scale operations.
THINK: Entrepreneurship for All and their efforts to advance inclusive entrepreneurship in local communities in Massachusetts.
• Proximity to jobs and amenities add to a neighborhood’s affordability, particularly as transportation costs make up a large share of expenditures for low-income families. Investing in local NBDs not only increases employment opportunities for local residents but also ensures better access to them.
THINK: the Center for Neighborhood Technology Housing and Transportation Index proving that where neighborhoods are location-efficient, they’re affordable.
• Homeownership is an essential path toward opportunity and wealth building. These assets suffer in poor communities where low home/property values, due in part to the quality of the neighborhood, exists. Investments in NBDs over time – i.e. building renovations and streetscape improvements – reduces blight and vacancy, increases community value and benefits local residents looking to buy, own or sell in the area.
THINK: Brookings recent “The Devaluation of Assets on Black Communities” report.
• Investing in businesses within NBD’s increases tax and municipal revenues, making available additional resources for an area’s infrastructure and public service needs.
THINK: Smart Growth America and how walkable urban development and other smart growth strategies are helping to boost tax revenue.
Building capacity to revitalize a neighborhood business district is no easy task. Yet, with due diligence, a city and region serious about inclusion can develop strategies centered on building NBDs that are economically viable, resilient and sustainable. In return, economic outcomes are not only strengthened but also guaranteed to reach people and places that need it the most.
I recently participated in the State Science and Technology Institute annual conference. These conferences are always a great chance to connect with peers around the country but also to reflect on what is ahead for us all. It was exciting to see a diverse group and a significant number of first-time attendees. This is a great demonstration of new energy in the organization and the network of people looking to make a difference.
As I traveled home I started to reflect on three takeaways that I want to explore more as I reflect on the past year and look to 2019.
First, we are not doing enough! There was a healthy amount of commentary and discussion on the reality that while some of the simple economic indicators are positive, the vast majority of the underlying data – especially the indicators used to look at the future – education attainment, indebtedness, net financial worth, poverty rates, climate change, etc. are all really bad. We can not get distracted by the soundbites of economic strength, we must focus on the economic stresses that exist at some level in every one of our communities.
Second, we need to collaborate even more! The stresses that our communities face are too much for any one organization to address, but many try. Whether it is the human nature to compete or a sense that financial support for mission-driven organizations is a zero-sum game, I continue to see a lack of collaboration.
Leslie Smith from Epicenter in Memphis and I hosted a breakout session on Network Leadership where we asked participants to role play. While some enjoyed the opportunity to get out of their own persona, many struggled to put themselves totally in the perspective of their role. It is not easy to relate to others, especially when their views about the past and future of a community differ. Our default is to often go back to our comfort zone of peers and own organization. By collaborating more, we gain the perspectives of others, resulting in stronger leadership and better solutions.
Third, we should get together more! In the early days of Fourth Economy, we created this image to represent the drivers and assets of the fourth economy. In many ways, we have been pioneers in ‘preaching’ the virtues of broad-scale collaboration. What I’ve come to appreciate even more is that the People asset can be the greatest, but it can also be the most difficult barrier. If people are not able to build trust, empathy for one another, and a shared understanding of the past and vision for the future, we will not be able to do better. We will see some ride the economic peaks while many more become further from the opportunity. We will question what we could have done to prevent the next economic downturn or to help those in our community.
I’d rather not wait and will look for opportunities to push myself to get together with people in the communities that I work, live, and play to increase my own understanding of their vision and needs. I hope you consider doing the same.