Economic and Community Development
Road Reports – Part 4
I’ve been burning up the airports and highways over the past month visiting multiple ACCE member chambers across several states. I never fail to take away valuable tidbits and lessons from every visit. The fourth installment of this series is from Northwest Arkansas.
Over the past few decades, few regions have experience more growth and prosperity than Northwest Arkansas. Wal-Mart’s expansion and vast supplier network has kept the region booming for years. But business leaders are now thinking about the next economic and employment engines, and they’re thinking regionally.
A strategic plan developed with Market Street Services is guiding the region’s next phase of growth. Infrastructure development (specifically roads) is a huge focus. Job centers are scattered across the region so the main artery, I-540, can get congested in either direction at any time. But quality of life and place-making issues like arts, cultural, bike trails and sports venues, are a big focus too. With the opening last year of the world class Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, they’ve quickly leapfrogged many competitor regions on the arts and culture front.
With continued strength of big corporate players, anchor institutions like the University of Arkansas, a growing airport, serious philanthropic dollars, and a new entrepreneurial focus, keep an eye on Northwest Arkansas.
Road Reports - Bridging the Region
Road Reports – Part 3
I’ve been burning up the airports and highways over the past month visiting multiple ACCE member chambers across several states. I never fail to take away valuable tidbits and lessons from every visit. The third installment of this series is from Cincinnati.
Bridging the Region
Infrastructure is occupying the minds of corporate leaders in Cincinnati, specifically bridge building. I was in town in early May for a joint meeting of the boards of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and the Northern Kentucky Chamber. That meeting, in a recently opened restaurant and brewery adjacent to the Red’s Stadium, kicked off an education and outreach campaign to rebuild an expanded interstate bridge over the Ohio River connecting Northern Kentucky and downtown Cincinnati.
Kentucky Lt. Governor Jerry Abramson was an apt featured speaker for the joint board meeting. As Mayor of Louisville, he worked closely with Greater Louisville, Inc., One Southern Indiana and other in the business community on a two bridge project over the same river with a similar price tag. His words to the crowd last week: “It can’t and it won’t be built unless everybody’s pulling in the same direction.”
Coordination and cooperation will be crucial as this bi-state region works on a compressed timeframe to put together a financing plan to cover this $2.5 billion project that will fly in both Columbus and Frankfort. The full spectrum of options is on the table from public bonds to tolling. There is a strong likelihood that at least some of the final funding equation includes public-private partnership. Check out their coalition website: www.buildournewbridgenow.com/
Regionalism in action in greater Cincinnati.
Read more at - Bridge Can't Wait.
Road Reports - College Town, Boom Town
Road Reports – Part 2
I’ve been burning up the airports and highways over the past month visiting multiple ACCE member chambers across several states. I never fail to take away valuable tidbits and lessons from every visit. The second installment of this series is from Conway, AR.
College Town, Boom Town
One state university and two significant liberal arts colleges are contributing tremendously to growth in Conway, Arkansas. The University of Central Arkansas graduates more health professionals every year than the state medical school and in total roughly 4,400 students graduate with bachelors and higher degrees from institutions in Conway each year. Many of those graduates are staying in town, lured by new jobs at recently located firms like Hewlett Packard. The population has more than tripled in less than 30 years and the constant infusion of recent graduates perpetuates a young, energetic, even hip feel. The chamber staff go business causal every day with an emphasis on casual.
Growth and development were evident across town as the Conway Chamber’s Brad Lacy, CCE took me on a tour after breakfast on a Wednesday earlier this month. The city has launched a street-by-street sidewalk and beautification effort. Downtown is full of vibrant retail and restaurants and there is a large new mixed use retail-housing development going up near one of the college campuses. Yes indeed folks, there are places in the country where new home construction is still happening.
The Conway Chamber is going strong too. The chamber, economic development, and convention and visitors bureau are managed and staffed like a single entity. A separate downtown council is also housed in the chamber’s recently renovated downtown building. In addition to their impressive economic development successes, advocacy is also a strong focus, particular on shale gas related interests. The Chamber netted impressive sums from their annual meeting and grossed more than $1 million on last weekend’s Toad Suck Daze, an annual festival that supports scholarship funds.
Conway is a model example of a smaller community focusing on and building from key assets. If you’re in Arkansas drop in on Brad and check the place out, just don’t expect to see him in a suit and tie.
Our friends and partners around the economic development world produce some great content. Here's a sampling of recent items worth reading:
The Startup Act
Progress Report: Job Growth in U.S. Metros
Entrepreneurs' Resource Center
Oklahoma MSA’s Set For Economic Success
Signs of Growth, Really!
ACCE Economic and Community Development Division, Chairman's Message from February 2011
How many times have you heard 'green shoots' mentioned relative to the US economy since 2008? Too many to count I'm sure. But many regions actually saw signs of growth in 2011. Here in Lexington, expansion and relocation projects added 1,300 new direct jobs and millions in new investment to the Bluegrass Region. A $17 million dollar global headquarters expansion by Tempur-Pedic that created 65 new jobs was a particular bright spot.
I'm cautiously optimistic about 2012, and after talking with colleagues across the country, I know many other regions are also seeing signs of growth. This good news can't come soon enough for our friends and neighbors who've lost a job during the downturn, but we know economic development is measured in years, not days. Today's investment announcement began years ago as careful planning, good strategy, and effective marketing led by a chamber or EDC. And more than ever, economic development success comes less from industrial recruitment and more from building a vibrant community with talented workers and a pro-business climate. This is work every chamber in the country can, and should, lead.
The ACCE Economic and Community Development Division's core goal is to provide chamber leaders access to the information, individuals, and ideas that will help them build more competitive, prosperous regions. The role has never been more difficult or more important. Over the coming year the Division will organize and produce webinars, convention speakers, magazine articles, a benchmarking survey, and new information office content all focused on helping you drive economic growth in your community.
Lone Star Clean Tech
An article in this week’s Time highlights the emergence of Austin, Texas as one of the nation’s premier alternative energy and clean tech hubs. While the author plays up the political angle in this story – green tech in a red state – I read a shining example of smart economic development. Austin’s clean tech story is a lesson is effective cluster strategy, public private partnership, talented workforce, strong community and building off existing assets. Here are key excerpts:
For Austin, high tech had to come before clean tech. The city has long been a science-and-technology hub, thanks to the presence of the sprawling main campus of the University of Texas, with a student body of 50,000. In the mid-1980s one of those students was Michael Dell, who founded his eponymous computer company in a University of Texas dorm room before moving Dell to a sprawling campus north of Austin. Around the same time, the federal government and U.S. semi-conductor manufacturers launched a research consortium — based in Austin — called Sematech, pooling public and private investment to compete with Japan, which was threatening to dominate the semiconductor industry.
Sematech and Dell helped create a high-tech boom in Austin through the 1990s, luring tens of thousands of talented engineers who came for the jobs and stayed for the Austin lifestyle … So as clean tech began to heat up in the early part of the past decade, Austin was a logical place for start-ups and entrepreneurs to set up shop. An experienced technical workforce was already available, ready to shift from manufacturing computer chips to building solar panels.
"We like the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and there's just a ton of talent here that you can't get in Illinois," says Joe Scarci, SolarBridge's vice president of marketing. "It's a great place to recruit."
Of course, none of this is news to the economic development team at the Austin Chamber of Commerce. Clean energy is one of their focus industry segments. They know that growth in the clean tech cluster is as much about smart strategy as good luck. And they’ve been getting good press coverage about this for years. Check out all the great info on their Clean Energy webpage, pay special attention to the Pecan Street Project.
Merger…Or the Opposite
Frequent ACCE blog readers may recall several posts from me last fall noting multiple examples of chamber and economic development entities merging forces. (For reference see HERE and HERE) In those posts I did everything but proclaim a national trend of chambers and economic development entities merging. There is a flip side to every coin.
Last week the Bradenton Herald reported that the Manatee Economic Development Corp. is no longer under the Manatee Chamber of Commerce umbrella and has become its own separate entity. While it will have a new separate board and its own separate budget, the EDC will still be located in the chamber’s building, and the two organizations will still cooperate closely.
Regrouping and Refocusing in Nevada
In November, the Brookings Institution released an intriguing economic development report for Nevada titled Unify, Regionalize, Diversify.
The study highlights Nevada’s economic challenges, chiefly that it has been over-dependent on consumption sectors like tourism and home construction. But it also notes that Nevada’s key asset is an “overall business-friendly environment, including low taxes, relatively low costs, light regulation, and ease of business start-up/permitting.” I believe this is a testament to the ongoing public policy work of the Las Vegas Chamber.
After performing a full SWOT analysis and examining strong potential growth sectors, the study’s authors identify three primary recommendations to boost growth and economic innovation in Nevada:
- Unify: Install an operating state-wide system for 21st century economic development
- Regionalize: Support smart sector strategies in the regions
- Diversify: Set a platform for higher-value growth through innovation and global engagement
Sounds easy, right?
Digging deeper into the report, Kristin McMillan and the Las Vegas Chamber are already tackling many of the workforce and infrastructure challenges outlined in the report. They also plan to help feed the regionalized “bottoms up” approach recommended for a reworked economic development structure.
Brookings has done similar business plans for the Puget Sound, Northeast Ohio and the Twin Cities. If you’re not familiar with this work you should take a look.
This Year's Top Honor Goes To...
The November issue of Site Selection magazine hit my desk last week with this cover story headline: Texas Tops the 2011 Business Climate Rankings. Kudos to Texas for earning the coveted top spot on a high profile list from a respected publication. Impressive job creation stats, sound tax climate and serious tort reform efforts; seems to me like the Lone Star State earned this one the hard way. Texas was trailed this year by 2) Georgia, 3) North Carolina and 4) Virginia.
The same four states occupy the top spots on CNBC’s 2011 Best States for Business ranking, but in a different order: 1) Virginia, 2) Texas, 3) North Carolina and 4) Georgia. Forbes hasn’t updated its Best Business State rankings this year but in 2010 Utah took the top spot followed by Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado.
Best business tax climate, according to the Tax Foundation, is South Dakota. Best legal climate for business, according to the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, is Delaware. Best educated workforce, according to CNN Money, is Massachusetts. I could go on and on.
A quick scan through ads in Site Selection (or many regional chamber websites) reveals just how much stock is placed in these kinds of rankings. Regions build their brands on them, politicians build their careers on them and business publications build their business plans on them. You better believe that when I win best husband, son, brother, and employee of the year, I'm having that magazine framed and sending a copy to everyone I know.
I think rankings are useful in determining how you benchmark your state or region against others. But you have to look at methodology for the ranking to have any meaning. The best is only the best because of the judging criteria, so if you're in the middle of the pack and want to move up you need to know what specific policies and practices to emulate. If your state is at the top, celebrate the successes that got you there but don't ignore your blind spots.
For a healthy dose of perspective about rankings and how we use them in the chamber/economic development profession, I suggest you read Mick Fleming’s article from the summer 2011 issue of Chamber Executive, "From Where I Stand: My Short List.” My favorite line from that piece:
“…the real problem with the media obsession with rankings—publishers, pollsters and pundits know that we don’t really care to hear the rest of the story. We want the digested, synthesized and, above all short, versions of news and analysis.”