We see the Fourth Economy Community Index as a starting point for communities, providing a baseline to help understand where they are doing well and see where there is room for improvement.
We envision using the information:
- When developing an RFP to create specific strategies to improve your community
- To lead community discussions about areas of relative strength and weakness
- To inform presentations to stakeholders about the state of your community
- To compare your community to top ten communities of the same size
The Index model incorporates twenty different indicators in the areas of Investment, Talent, Sustainability, Place, and Diversity. While we know there is no single recipe for economic success, we also know that these five areas are critical ingredients in vibrant communities everywhere.
What do we mean by each of these?
- Investment: active businesses, access to capital, and investment in physical infrastructure
- Talent: a growing workforce with education and job skills, equipped to excel in high-wage opportunities
- Sustainability: transportation, land use, and environmental conditions that promote healthier lifestyles and a healthier planet
- Place: affordable housing and transportation options that provide access to recreational and cultural amenities
- Diversity: personal and professional interaction across lines of race/ethnicity, age, and wealth
Top 10 Mid-Sized Counties in the US (50K – 150K)
- Minnehaha County, SD (Sioux Falls)
Minnehaha County, South Dakota, has strengths in Place, Investment, and Talent, and has experienced a whopping 8% growth in population over the past five years. Along with the increase in the population of Minnehaha and the Sioux Falls area, the county also has a robust business community and has seen increasing development to meet demand, as illustrated by the blossoming communities around Sioux Falls.
- Platte County, MO
Home to Kansas City International Airport, Platte County, MO specializes in Management of Companies & Enterprises; Transportation & Warehousing; and Information industries. The county scores above average across all measures and in the top ten percent for place and talent. With top educational systems, significant investment in recreational amenities, and a strong workforce, the small communities found in Platte County appeal to those seeking a small town feel.
- Tompkins County, NY (Ithaca)
Tompkins County, NY, (home to Ithaca’s Cornell University) offers a supportive environment for entrepreneurship and business development. The county offers revolving loan funds to projects that cannot be financed by conventional sources and tourism capital grants to support capital projects at tourism destinations in the county. These focus areas, matched by top ten percent scores in sustainability and place, give Tompkins County a spot on our top ten list.
- Albemarle County, VA
Albemarle County surrounds Charlottesville and scores highly across all categories, with an especially high score in talent. The score in talent is aided by the quality public school system as well as post-secondary opportunities that include the University of Virginia and Piedmont Virginia Community College. An abundance of cultural, historical, and leisure opportunities make Albemarle County a place that people want to live, work, and play.
- Orange County, NC (Chapel Hill)
Part of the Research Triangle, Chapel Hill is home to the University of North Carolina. With above average scores across all categories, Chapel Hill scores highest in talent. Recent economic development targets include output of Medical School, Pharmacy School (and research), Applied Sciences and Technology. A main component of the area’s economic strategy is strengthening the connection “between town and gown.”
- Kauai County, HI
Located in a beautiful island setting, Kauai County, Hawaii, ranks in the top 10 percent in diversity and investment. The mission of the county’s office of economic development is, in partnership with the community, to create economic opportunities towards the development of a healthy, stable and balanced economy for the residents. Above average scores in talent, place, and sustainability round out Kauai County’s overall success in the Index model.
- Burleigh County, ND (Bismarck)
Bismarck—the capital of North Dakota—ranks highly in investment, talent, and place. Bismarck has become one of the fastest-growing small cities in the United States. The city is the economic hub of North Dakota, with high levels of employment in state government, healthcare, and professional service industries.
- La Plata County, CO (Durango)
Tucked away in the San Juan Mountains, Durango and La Plata County rank top ten percent in place. Main Avenue in Downtown is a Nationally Registered Historic District that cuts through downtown Durango and is home to galleries, boutiques, restaurants, bars, and other businesses. The Animas river runs through downtown and provides residents and visitors with recreation opportunities. The area has a reputation as a small-business incubator and prides itself on economic growth through attracting entrepreneurs and small businesses.
- Gallatin County, MT (Bozeman)
Bozeman and surrounding Gallatin County rank second among mid-sized counties by scoring in the top ten percent of investment, talent, and place. Adjacent to Yellowstone National Park, Bozeman is a favorite of travelers and locals for its quality of life, scenery, and nearby recreation.
- Dallas County, IA
Outside of Des Moines, IA, Dallas County makes the top mid-sized spot for its excellent scores in place, investment, and talent. The county is the fastest growing in Iowa. The Greater Dallas County Development Alliance is a strong organization that advances the positive impact on economic, social, and environmental aspects of the region. Finance, education, sustainability, membership, and marketing committees take a holistic approach to protecting and enhancing economic, social, and environmental resources.
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.
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.
Everyone is talking about workforce.
Thoughts around the impacts of an aging population, the need to attract diverse and skilled workers, the power of millennial talent, the technology skills gap, upskilling, the role of career and technical education (to name a few) are on the minds of every city and region seeking to get ahead of one of the leading threats to economic growth. Yet, talk is just that … talk. Though important, it is inaction that’s really costing regions their competitive advantage.
Fortunately, we know of and have invested time in places ready to do something about their current and future workforce challenges. Resonating in these places is a common resolution: connect job seekers to high-opportunity careers. Here’s a snapshot of what’s being done:
In places where quality training is limited, they are deepening connections between industry employers and technical colleges to create and expand apprenticeships for entry-level workers and mid-career talent. A “learn and earn” approach to training that entails a combination of classroom instruction, on-the-job-training and industry-specific skill development is proving to be a great model of success in places like South Carolina with its employer-focused Apprenticeship Carolina initiative.
In places where there’s a large pool of disadvantaged, underskilled talent, they are leveling the playing field for job seekers by mitigating barriers to entry. Opportunity@Work’s offerings in underserved communities across the country extend beyond skills training to include efforts to transform employer hiring practices and reimagine education financing. Their efforts result in more equitable and fair hiring and options such as financing and wrap-around social services to make it easier for lower-income individuals to seek training and perform on the job.
In places where low-wage jobs are common, efforts are underway to increase access to better, higher wage jobs and improve job quality. Through the Apsen Institute’s Good Companies/Good Jobs initiative, communities are partnering with employers to incentivize and reform conditions for low-wage workers. Boston’s hotel industry is a benefactor of their efforts as front-desk clerks, housekeepers and the like are now making living wages and have increased opportunities for job advancement.
These are just some of the many actions cities and regions are taking to build a strong and more resilient workforce for today’s needs and tomorrow’s success. They aren’t just talking about it, they are doing something about it with strategies that are providing strong return on investment and ensuring an overall stronger economy.
Got solutions? We’d love to hear them. Want to do more? Get in touch – we’d love to help.
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.
Engaging the “unusual suspects” in community and economic development processes is important for a variety of reasons.
- It will help your project generate new and diverse ideas.
- It will build stronger social connections in your community as people are encouraged to work with individuals that they do not normally.
- 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.
Energy is a vital sector and a job generator, but it is also important to understand that there are some real challenges for how the development of energy resources and systems benefit the economy.
The Good: Energy is a Job Generator
The 2017 United States Energy and Employment Report (USEER) estimated there are 6.2 million workers in Energy and Energy Efficiency in 2016. This broad definition for Energy accounts for four of every 100 jobs in the U.S. with the largest share in Energy Efficiency Construction. The Energy sectors defined by the USEER report added 300,000 net new jobs in 2016, more than any other sectors than Accommodation and Food Services.
Energy is a common thread woven throughout every aspect of our lives. It is a link between all sectors of the economy, our health, and the environment. Virtually every aspect of our modern industrial lives depend on reliable electrical power and energy infrastructures. Energy is vital for everything we produce but that link is weakening as manufacturing grows more efficient. Gross output in U.S. manufacturing has remained stable or grown since 1998, while overall fuel consumption and energy intensity have decreased.
The Bad: Energy Growth <> Job Growth
Even though energy is essential to our economic life, the development of energy resources does not translate into overall economic growth. At the state level, the development of natural resources and mining has not benefited the host states – there is no relationship between output growth in these sectors and the overall growth of the state economy. The lone exception is North Dakota, where the energy boom fueled growth in a state with about 750,000 people. For other states experiencing an energy boom, such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, the energy boom has not translated to overall economic growth.
The Ugly: The Workforce Gaps
73 percent of employers reported difficulty hiring qualified workers over the last 12 months. Some of this reflects the difficulty in finding qualified workers willing with the skills and desire to take on a challenging job. However it also reflects the difficulty that some sectors have in recruiting from a broader pool of candidates.
Ethnic and racial minorities are not well represented in the energy workforce. In the U.S., Hispanic or Latino workers make up 16 percent of the workforce but only 14 percent in energy. Black or African American workers account for eight percent of the energy workforce compared to 12 percent. The glaring gap however is that across all sectors of energy women account for a low 22 percent of the workforce in energy efficient vehicles, up to 34 percent for electric power generation, which is still below the 47 percent for the overall U.S. workforce.
We need energy for our economy and it is an important source of job growth. However, the development of energy assets does not guarantee growth in other sectors. Furthermore, more must be done so that the jobs that are created are available to the widest possible pool of eligible candidates.
Springtime means conferences, and members of our team have been on the road. I have been back and forth to two conferences in Washington, D.C. in the last few months, attending the International Economic Development Council’s FED Forum in March, and the LOCUS Leadership Summit, in April. IEDC’s event was focused on economic development programs at the federal level, bringing in top economic developers throughout the county to interface with federal partners at the Economic Development Administration, Department of Labor, and other key partners. The LOCUS event brought together a coalition of real estate developers and investors who advocate for sustainable, equitable, walkable development in America’s metropolitan areas, as a program of Smart Growth America.
At both events, the topic of the hour was Opportunity Zones.
What Is the Opportunity Zones Program?
The Opportunity Zones program is a new federal economic development tax incentive designed to funnel private investment to low and moderate-income Census tracts across the U.S. The incentive provides Investors the opportunity to temporarily defer or avoid taxes on capital gains – profits from the sell of an investment – if those gains are reinvested in an Opportunity Fund benefitting low-income communities. These communities are designated as “Qualified Opportunity Zones (QOZ).” Each state will be allowed to designate up to 25% of the eligible tracts for Opportunity Zone status, with the final selections being made by the state’s governor. As of April, Census tracts in 18 states had been designated as Opportunity Zones. These are available for viewing on a map available through CDFI Fund.
The creation of this policy was lead by the Economic Innovation Group, who anticipates claims that this program unleashing will unleash $6 trillion in unrealized capital gains that can be leveraged in the neighborhoods that need it most.
How Does it Work?
According to Kenan Fikri, Director of Research at the Economic Innovation Group, who participated in a session at the FED Forum, Opportunity Zones can best be understood as a tax benefit akin to EB-5, or the Earned Income Tax Credit. In fact, rather than being housed in HUD or Department of Commerce, the IRS will be managing this program. This is due to the fact that investors will be drawn to Opportunity Zones primarily through the incentive of deferred capital gains tax. Here’s an example of how it works:
If an investor cashed out $1 million in stocks, they would owe 23.8% or $238,000,000 of that in taxes to the government. But if that $1 million were invested into an Opportunity Zone, taxes would be deferred for five years. If these funds stay invested for more than five years, then the tax bill would be decreased by 10% and if funds stayed in invested for more than seven years, the tax bill would be reduced by another 5%. Furthermore, whatever capital gains would be collected from investments made by Opportunity Funds in the Zone, there would be no capital gains tax levied.
Opportunity Funds are the vehicles through which investments can be made in these zones. According to the statute, Opportunity Funds will be set up as a partnership or corporation. They can fund investment in a domestic corporation, a partnership interest, or real property, so long as any of these have 90% of more of their holdings in an Opportunity Zone.
What Can You Do to Prepare?
At both conferences the feeling regarding Opportunity Zones was one of excitement but also uncertainty. One presenter at the LOCUS Summit likened this rollout period to the “wild west” because there is so little understood about what the outcomes will be. This is due to the speed at which the program was adopted and executed, as well the choice to have the program interred at the Department of Revenue. Here’s what you can do to prepare:
Stay Informed. There are significant questions about how the Opportunity Funds will be set up, with details about aspects of the program still ill-defined. The CDFI Fund has a ton of resources – updated in real time – to keep you abreast of all that you need to know. Check FAQ’s, explore a map of designated QOZ’s and other resources, here.
Think Smart About Outcomes. There is no doubt that Opportunity Zones will massively impact the investment levels in low to moderate census tracts. If your state got an extension, and is not one of the 18 who already has designated their tracts, it could be worth reviewing some of the criticism that has surrounded the first round of designees, and learning from this process.
Crowdsource. Going forward there also seems to be a role for community based financial institutions to step into the role of administering Opportunity Funds, or even incorporating crowd-sourcing to make these funds more community oriented. Community development stakeholders should keep an eye out for the public comment process to weigh in on how these funds can be best used for their purpose of benefiting low income populations.
I recently had the opportunity to go back to the Fort Wayne region of Indiana to reconnect with the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership, who led the implementation of the Road to One Million plan. When we helped them create that plan, there was little precedent for the private sector to support investments in arts and culture, main streets, and outdoor recreation. But three years later, it was amazing to see the impact of $255 million invested in exactly those types of projects, with nearly 70% coming from private investment.
Since that experience we are always on the lookout for other examples of the private sector and economic development community collaborating and investing to create great places to live, especially at the regional level. This year’s American Planning Association conference highlighted a couple of great examples.
The Charleston Resilience Network is a collaboration of public, private, and non-profit organizations seeking to enhance the resilience of our region and communities. Recognizing the need to connect the myriad of puzzle pieces related to climate adaptation and mitigation, the Network was developed to foster a unified regional strategy and provide a forum to share science-based information, educate stakeholders, and enhance long-term planning decisions that result in resilience. Activities range from a bi-monthly happy hour to collaborating to pursue federal funding opportunities. The Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce is an organizing member of the Network and many private sector companies are participants. Given the stark reality that hurricanes Harvey and Irma wiped out an estimated $200 billion in economic value according to Moody’s, it is critical that the private sector is a part of the conversation around resilience.
The Mid America Regional Council’s Creating Sustainable Places consortium is taking a strategic approach to utilizing federal transportation funding to further regional sustainable development goals. Planning and implementation funding is competitively let throughout the region to transportation projects that promote housing diversity, density, healthy lifestyles, historic and cultural preservation, and energy efficiency. The Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is a partner in the consortium, and economic development agencies and private sector partners (such as architecture firms and the hospital) are part of the policy committee, which reviews applications. In order to compete for young, educated talent, it is critical that the private sector support planning that creates these types of livable communities.
Do you know of a great example of private sector participation in similar collaborations? Let’s talk!
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.
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!
My circle of friends includes a lot of small business owners. People who own bars, print shops, jewelry businesses, motorcycle shops, yoga studios, food trucks, cideries, dinner clubs, podcasts, and organic farms. And they all have one thing in common.
They do not want to come to your chamber event.
I actually go to a lot of chamber and industry events—and I have benefitted tremendously from attending networking happy hours, gaining mentors and connections. But I’m an economic developer, and I’m used to the small talk, the dress code, and the business card exchange. My friends who are creative, entrepreneurial types are not interested in putting themselves in environments where the main activity is “networking” and the food options range from crudité and ranch to cheese and crackers, (typically without a gluten free or vegan option, excluding celery.) Faced with the choice of running marketing campaigns from their phone while they watch season 4 of Parks and Rec, or interacting with people they don’t know, they’re going to pick yoga pants and the couch over awkward conversations.
They also haven’t heard about your event. Your networking lunch may be posted on your website and Facebook page, but if this target audience is not already interacting with you on social media, then it’s not reaching small business owners outside of your members.
Why is this a problem? Why does the kombucha brewer need to know about and attend Chamber events? Because she represents your next generation of businesses, and if she is not accessing the services offered by your chamber and other aligned organizations, then your economic development ecosystem is failing.
Chambers are vital partners in economic development efforts. They are the access point for businesses in the region, and through their networks, businesses gain access to resources offered by the supportive organizations that can guide them to success, such as financing and mentorship opportunities.
Unfortunately, if a small business owner is looking at your chamber website, seeing a board and staff lacking diversity, holding events at the country club, she will not see your organization as a space where she fits. And when her business encounters a setback, without a network of support, you risk losing her business and all that comes with it—the owner, the employees, and the young people who would potentially be attracted to your community by the enticing things to eat, do, and see. Today, talent is the most important factor in retaining and attracting business, and chambers cannot stand to ignore a subset of small businesses just because they are unconventional or much younger than other members.
Another reason that your “Business After Hours” may not be attracting young people is that networking as an activity has lost its spark. With their purchasing decisions, Millennials have shown that they value authenticity, connection, and community – witness the success of outdoor brand Patagonia, whose products and branding advocate for ecological sustainability – and whose recent Pittsburgh store opening featured designs by a local print shop. With creative engagement with the community, Patagonia attracts young people with common goals and ideals to come together in their space, for events beyond shopping. Trading business cards and small talk does not provide engagement with a community or authentic connections.
Business networking events don’t really make sense to people running small, creative businesses. Talking to a bunch of random people at a business networking event is not an effective solution for growing your business when technologies like LinkedIn and Google exist, making it easy to research specific contacts, understand their expertise, and reach out for a coffee date. Finally, for young business owners, their time outside of work is limited, and they want to spend it having quality experiences.
So, what can you do?
Economic development is a profession built on relationships. Stopping by the new businesses that are cropping up in your community and introducing yourself and your organization goes a long way. You might have to do a little bit of hunting – small businesses operating from their houses won’t have a storefront yet, but could be selling significant amounts of merchandise on Etsy or another online platform.
One way to get in touch with these producers is to keep up with farmers markets and maker fairs in your community. Maker fairs like Handmade Arcade feature hundreds of craft-based artists, makers, and producers; consider reaching out to the fair organizers to get an roster of local vendors whose booths you can visit.
Millennials have been programmed their whole lives. From Little League to dance lessons to student life activities in college, Millennials are really good at engaging in organized fun. Having an activity or event gives participants something to talk about and engage in together, creating an authentic connection. The description of Newaukee, a young professionals group in Milwaukee explains why programming is so essential to creating meaningful networking events for young people:
“…there had to be a way to socialize and explore the city with their peers that did not entail hauling a stack of business cards to a stuffy networking event. And they also believed in building genuine, long-lasting relationships – people need to meet on a common ground, doing something that they truly love together.”
Newaukee hosts incredible events for their members, billed on their website as Signature Experiences, such as Tournavation, a crowd-sourced idea generation platform that focuses on solving important issues that face the city of Milwaukee, and The Launch, a curated networking program featuring an exhibition of hiring companies and potential recruits on a boat.
Social Media Ready
I am not suggesting you join Snapchat, but I am suggesting your event be worthy of posting on social media. Food choices, drink selections and choice of venue contribute to the quality of the event and the attractiveness of images to be shared. It’s not just enough to have a hashtag – consider experiences that young people can engage with and share on social media, such as a custom backdrop, or providing a station to make signs about why they love their community.
Also – make sure your events are being shared with the young people you are trying to engage. Social media is great for this but working with local online communities, such as blogs or message boards, will put your event in front of new eyes. Don’t forget community bulletin boards at coffee shops or bars – if your event flier is posted alongside music and art shows, that’s a good sign.
Don’t Go It Alone
To get maximum turnout from young folks at your events, engage them in the planning process – and in your organization. Start with asking young people to get involved in planning your events – ask for help in where to have them, and how to promote them. As they become more involved, ask them to join your committees or boards, or help them to create their own, Chamber-supported organizations.
For example, the group Connecticut Young Professionals was started in 2013 by a young person who was new to the state and has grown to more than 1,400 people. They hold events such as a non-profit pitch nights. In an interview, founder Faris Virani explains how he tailors events and messaging to his membership:
Growing up in the digital age, millennials are used to getting information very efficiently, delivered quickly and with brevity. Our speakers realize that their job is almost to plant seeds, not necessarily convey all the information during your speech.
Create a Judgement Free Environment
Today’s young entrepreneurs are more likely to wear a hoodie, echoing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, than a French cuff shirt reminiscent of Gordon Gekko. If you expect young people to wear different clothing to your event than what they wear to work every day, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re changing the venue and the programming of events, you might also consider specifying a dress code on your marketing – with friendly wording such as “Come as you are,” or Dress Code: Casual.
Take these suggestions and look at where your Chamber organization or networking program has room for growth. A good first step is to visit that brand new local brewery, coffee shop, or café and introduce yourself the old-fashioned way. Those authentic connections will take you a long way in connecting with the new generation of business owners.