Big Disruptions – Water

121102-WaterWhile research and data can often predict trends in our economy, large, disruptive changes can have signifiant impacts on how we live our lives. The economy is changing rapidly, growing more interconnected and dynamic. Now more than every past trends do not indicate future performance. Unfortunately, the tools of economic analysis are much better at predicting stable patterns than at predicting significant inflection points and transitions. The data and methods of economics tells us about the past, so even when we do it well, it helps us to predict the stable patterns – it does not predict big disruptions like the housing collapse of 2008. In a recent webinar for the University Economic Development Association (UEDA), I discussed three areas of disruption that will have a major impact on most of our communities. 1) System Disruption, 2) Environmental Disruption, and 3) Cultural Disruption.

You can view the webinar here. This blog post is the first in a series that will explore how a specific community is preparing for one of these disruptions. Milwaukee has taken the issue of water head on. In 2009, a group of Milwaukee-area businesses, education and government leaders formed The Water Council as a 501(c)(3) organization with a mission of aligning the regional freshwater research community with water-related industries. The Water Council links global water technology companies, innovative water entrepreneurs, government, nonprofits, and researchers with a shared commitment to finding innovative solutions to critical global water issues.
Continue reading “Big Disruptions – Water”

Water Economy Network to Host National EPA Water Technology Innovation Cluster Leaders Meeting

Watter-EPAFourth Economy continues to be involved in developing and implementing cluster strategies that move beyond the data, focusing more on tangible marketing opportunities for regions across the country.  Once identified, regions can bring together common industry partners to solve challenges and help grow their respective markets – all of which helps to distinguish and add value to a particular region or community. Continue reading “Water Economy Network to Host National EPA Water Technology Innovation Cluster Leaders Meeting”

Three Strikes and You’re Out or Still California Dreamin’?

California-DreamingThe news out of California so far in 2014 is raising serious questions about the future of the Golden State.

Strike 1: The most pressing issue is the drought which is widely impacting a state that is home to 1 in 8 Americans. Search California and drought in your favorite browser and you’ll get a long list of articles that should strike fear in all of us and images of what empty reservoirs looks like. Over 17 communities will run out of water in the next 60 to 120 days – 40,000 people left dry. A quick look on the state government homepage seems to disagree with news reports that leaders are taking the issue seriously as not one note on the homepage or the ‘alerts’ tab mentions the situation. In the past year or so climate change or maybe just damn climate has impacted millions (Sandy, AtlantaSnow2014, wildfires and the list grows) yet somehow we are not understanding that these impacts may not be random. And maybe that we should start planning for the worst and celebrating our best. Continue reading “Three Strikes and You’re Out or Still California Dreamin’?”

Three Economic Disruptions Under the Radar

130823-3-DisruptionsAs Fourth Economy turns three years old it is a good time not only to reflect on the lessons of these past three years but also to think about what is next.  One of those lessons is that many surprises in the economy are things people should have known about, but didn’t get enough attention in the media.  Stories that lack sound bites or sizzle are ignored until they become a crisis.  Even then they may not get attention.  So here are three big economic disruptions that are flying under the radar:

3 – The Myth of the Self-Employed

2 – Catastrophe Losses and Insurance

1 – The Global Water Shortage Continue reading “Three Economic Disruptions Under the Radar”

Fourth Economy Works to Advance Water Economy Network 2013 Action Plan

Pipe-Rustiq-TemplateAs part of a growing organizational development practice area, Fourth Economy is continuing to help build and advance the Water Economy Network’s (Network) 2013 agenda and action plan. Several major initiatives were announced in the first quarter of this year designed to expand Greater Pittsburgh’s water sector market opportunities. “Since our inaugural board meeting in November 2012 we have moved very quickly to analyze the market opportunities, define clear objectives for our organization, create a governance structure and move forward on several fronts,” said Network Chair Sam Johnson, director of water asset management for CONSOL Energy.“

“Our aggressive first-year plan includes spearheading a water innovation challenge program, coordinating work plans with several national water innovation collaboratives, co-hosting a major international water innovation conference in Pittsburgh and continuing to identify water sector challenges and the market opportunities they represent,” Johnson added.
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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”

Green Jobs: Learning from the Past for a Better Tomorrow


Earlier this month I attended the Great Lakes Urban Exchange (GLUE) annual conference, which was held in the Larimer neighborhood of Pittsburgh. GLUE is a network of young leaders devoted to creating a healthy, sustainable and equitable future for the Great Lakes region. The theme of this year’s conference was “Green-Lighting Neighborhoods” and one of the issues that surfaced repeatedly was that of green jobs. Green jobs have been getting a bad wrap lately, but there were several organizations on hand whose successes demonstrated a different story.

It’s true that green jobs programs have not been as successful in the past as they could have been. The term “green jobs” is tough to define and its goals have not always been clearly communicated.  And the initial slew of green jobs training programs was often uncoordinated and unaligned with market needs; there weren’t always jobs waiting for graduates of these programs. However, organizations involved with green jobs training are learning from past mistakes and reworking programs to make them more effective.

GTECH (Growth Through Energy + Community Health) is a Pittsburgh-based non-profit social enterprise, whose work lies at the intersection of community development, vacant land reclamation, and the green economy.  GTECH has only been around since 2006, but they’ve learned a lot about promoting the green economy over the past 5 years, and Khari Mosley shared those lessons with us at GLUE.

  • First, focusing solely on training isn’t enough. For programs to be successful, community, political, and business leaders all need to be actively engaged to make sure that programs are comprehensive and reflect actual needs and opportunities. GTECH is partnering with everyone from the unions, to the Housing Authority, to other area non-profits to implement their programs. This collaboration has led to a 63% placement rate for graduates of their Breaking the Chains of Poverty program. They’re also engaging political leaders through their Metro Scale Up program to ensure that there are policies in place to support green jobs.
  • Second, it’s not enough to do the work – if you want people to support the comprehensive programs and policies you’ve worked so hard to create, you’ve got to tell the story, too. To do that, GTECH has begun to focus on several community and consumer education efforts, so that everyone understands the benefits of creating a greener economy.
  • And finally, you’ve got to prepare the next generation of leaders to pick up where you leave off. Along with a host of partners, GTECH is identifying, educating, and engaging young and grassroots leaders to do just that.

One emerging market for green jobs will be in the water sector. As the Pittsburgh region, and many others across the country, prepare to invest billions of dollars in their failing water and sewer infrastructure, we need to make sure that local residents are prepared to implement the green solutions that will be a piece of that work. Abe Taleb, of  re|work, also presented at the GLUE conference about the work being done by the Pittsburgh Pipeline, also presented at GLUE. They are currently working with area high school students to make sure they are prepared to enter careers in the water industry. However, given the scale of investment, there is certainly more work to be done in preparing for future workforce opportunities.

At Fourth Economy, we are tracking many of these emerging market drivers and helping communities prepare to make the most of future opportunities. We believe that we can learn from challenges faced by yesterday’s green jobs programs, in order to build a more effective and robust green economy for tomorrow.


365 Days (and counting) of Building Better Communities

365 days can fly by when you do something you really enjoy.  Last year, on September 1, we launched Fourth Economy Consulting – so today is our birthday!  Of course the idea and planning a new company occurred many months prior, but this is the day that we told the IRS that we were ready to pay our fair share.

It has been an exciting year for us as we talk to old and new friends about our vision, our brand and the new things we are doing.  As we look back, we would like to pause to thank our friends and great clients that have invested in our work.  Our firm has grown in the past year from it just being Steve, Jerry and me to now including Tim and Chelsea.

Creating jobs for people in this economy is a really rewarding experience and one that we plan to continue as the next 365 days greet us.  Over the past year we have:

  • Pioneered work in analyzing the water industry as an economic driver with a project in the Pittsburgh region that resulted in the “Pittsburgh H2Opportunity” report and in Philadelphia with, “Capturing the Storm” that  details economic opportunities of green stormwater management.  Recently we provided assistance to the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance to identify European water-related companies that may want to invest in the Pittsburgh region.  Sure, you knew we are all wet but did you know that the community that plans for the water opportunity best will keep afloat? (of course I apologize)
  • We continued to serve as strategy developer and project manager for one of the nation’s strongest multi-state regional collaborations, the TechBelt Initiative.
  • We worked with several colleges and universities that are looking to invest and support enhanced community and economic development in their neighborhoods.  From technology transfer, to campus planning, we have supported their thinking and helped develop actionable strategies.
  • We helped a few clients develop better strategic plans to manage their work in this time of economic and political uncertainty.
  • We supported Energy-sector cluster development through a host of strategies and tools designed to create a deeper and broader level of collaboration.  A key principle that we see needed in the fourth economy is a better alignment of assets and interests and we are doing our part to support it.
  • We continue to build industry relationships, helping them seek out new locations to expand and invest.

There are many more projects we have been engaged in over the past year and I encourage you to look at the Project Portfolio section of our website for more information. 

While I was at the beach this summer (yes, I even got a vacation), I took a moment to reflect on where we’ve been and the path before us.  The team that we have assembled, the national community that we are working with and the need for a fresh perspective provides us with limitless opportunity.  I look forward to speaking with you about how we should be collaborating and investing some of the days ahead together.

Think Water!

Water is vital to life.  We simply cannot live without it.  We have no substitutes for it.   Without a minimum intake of water, we die.  The minimum water requirement is estimated at 20 litres per day for drinking plus another 30 litres for bathing and drinking, located within 1 km of the household.  The water required to produce our food, pushes the consumption of water even higher. 3,500 litres are needed to produce enough food for a daily minimum of 3,000 calories.

Water is renewable, but it can be ruined.  We need to conserve and protect this vital resource or we will be without.  Across the world, access to reliable supplies of water that a person can drink without getting sick currently falls short 300 billion cubic meters, roughly the equivalent of 120 million olympic swimming pools.

More businesses and regions are paying attention but the big challenge is monetizing something that people think of as free.  The growth of the bottled water industry has started to change that, but the change has not changed thinking or behavior in water use.  At some point, though the lack of potable water (even in the face of abundant non-potable water) will force change.  The businesses and regions that are ahead of this curve will have a sustainable competitive advantage.

Poll Results: Greatest Economic Challenge Over the Next 20 Years

Last month in our Economic Architecture newsletter, we started a poll series where we ask important questions facing economic development community. Our first question was “What do you think our greatest economic challenge will be over the next 20 years?” One thing never defined was the word “our.” Some participants may have viewed the question as a regional question, others may have viewed it as a global question…or anywhere in between. We were pleased that one area the Fourth Economy team is focusing on — water — was selected as one of the two highest-rated challenges. Our team has constructed two reports on the topic: “Capturing the Storm: Profits, Jobs, and Training in Philadelphia’s Stormwater Industry” for SBN Philadelphia and “Pittsburgh’s H2Opportunity” for the World Environment Day Partnership. What’s also interesting to note is the large number of individuals who selected “other” as a response to the question. We asked those who selected the “other” option to qualify their response with the item they feel will be the most pressing issue over the next 20 years. Here’s a few of the additional thoughts we received on “other” economic challenges over the next 20 years:

  • Educating and empowering our youth, so that America can regain worldwide respect
  • Increasing scarcity of resources (rare earth metals, fossil fuels, etc.)
  • Reducing the national debt
  • Energy Prices/reliability
  • Lack of cooperation and collaboration

All great responses! Did you forget to respond or have some additional insight on what YOU think should be on the list? Leave a note in the comments below. Out first poll saw responses from all across the U.S. and we are excited to keep asking questions to drive the fourth economy. Be sure to take this month’s poll: What do you think of your state’s economic development budget?