Forget the Smokestacks…Chase the Housing: A Case Study in Smaller City Reinvention

141104-Small-TownIt has been a busy year here at Fourth Economy. Many projects have kept us hard at work, traveling across the country and meeting great folks. A theme among these projects has been a growing desire and recognition for all places, communities and towns to reinvent themselves – transform, reimagine, pivot – all in order to attract new investment and the talent that fuels it. And within this theme is a common recognition that without quality options to live, sleep and interact, it is tough to attract that talent. Housing and the context that surrounds a community’s housing stock is (or should be) a cornerstone to any competitive and sustainable economic development strategy. Continue reading “Forget the Smokestacks…Chase the Housing: A Case Study in Smaller City Reinvention”

Innovation Clusters: Water is Gold

Forget the gold rush.  A “water rush” is underway and water rich states are well positioned.

Just a few short years ago businesses expanding or relocating were likely to cite broadband and transportation networks among the most important factors in their decision process.  The Southwestern U.S. has been targeted for the majority of this investment activity. But with below average snowpack, higher temperatures, growing consumption, and extreme drought appearing to be the new normal, water has quickly become the new gold.

Continue reading “Innovation Clusters: Water is Gold”

The Future of Community Development: Throw Out Your Textbook

Last November I packed my bags and moved to Pittsburgh to begin my career in community development. Given my background and the number of community-based organizations (CBOs) tucked within the city’s neighborhoods, I assumed that I would end up working directly for a CBO. However, those jobs were few and far between, as CBOs across the city, and the nation, are in the midst of great changes.

Most CBOs depend a great deal upon government-funded programs, such as Community Development Block Grants. In these times of fiscal austerity, however, government funding for community development, like everything else, is dwindling. And what remains, is often a whole new beast. The Pennsylvania Main Street program, for example, now determines funding eligibility based on the principles of partnerships, performance based metrics, and competition. Foundations are encouraging similar changes, as a way to decrease duplication of services and increase efficiency. For example, the local funding collaborative, Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development, announced last year that they would begin directing the majority of their funds into multi-neighborhood clusters with the goal of developing concentrated areas of expertise. These trends are visibly pushing the community development world towards greater collaboration, and often, smaller organizations.

Due to the changing dynamics within the community development field, my job search ended, not at a CBO as I had originally anticipated, but at Fourth Economy Consulting. Now, as the Community Development Strategist, I am able to help CBOs here and across the country figure out how to navigate these changes. At Fourth Economy, we’re working with CBOs to help them think creatively, strategically, and realistically about their goals, programming, and revenue sources.

The basis for this work often boils down to helping a CBO understand three things: their niche, their social impact, and their market. In order to adapt to this new climate, organizations are taking a step back to clarify what it is that they do better than anyone else, how to quantify their work in terms of social impact, and where the market is presenting opportunities or necessitating change. Several organizations in Pittsburgh are currently trying to answer those questions and as a result, new CBOs are being born, and old CBOs are reorganizing or closing their doors for good. It’s still too early to know exactly what the new face of community development in Pittsburgh, or across the nation, will look like, but one thing is certain – if you’re looking to begin a career in the field, organizations are looking, not for textbook solutions, but for flexible, innovative ideas to push community development forward into the future.