Economic and Community Development
Advocacy is Essential
Government advocacy is essential to economic development. We all know that what happens at city hall, in the state house or in Congress has a significant impact on our ability to retain and grow jobs. And lest we forget, our elected leaders continually find ways to remind us.
The $85 billion in indiscriminate federal spending cuts known as sequestration is the most recent and broadly felt case in point. Like it or not, federal spending in vital areas like defense and research support thousands of private sector jobs in many communities. Business expansion decisions have been stymied by the extreme uncertainty in the healthcare market created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Other companies have been forced to invest abroad because our federally regulated immigration system still won't allow them to hire skilled workers who happened to be foreign-born. While reduced government spending is a reality, our ability to educate government on economic impact is crucial to getting our economy growing again.
Unfortunately our government challenges are not limited to the federal arena. Many states have slashed the incentive programs needed to close deals, and they've cut funding to the universities that produce the talent companies need to hire. Often those cuts have come while pension liability and retiree health costs remain unaddressed. Local government is not immune from bad public policy either. Some cities have effectively hung an "Unwelcome" sign by passing English-only ordinances. Others have pushed "local-only" public contract bidding preferences that completely ignore the reality of our regional economies. The list could go on and on.
We can't fight all of these battles alone, but we also can't expect that others will take care of these problems for us. As area/regional chambers of commerce and economic development organizations, we must lead the charge in educating our local elected officials. If we're not the "Voice of Business," then who will be? We should partner with like-minded, pro-growth organizations to amplify our voices at the local, state and national levels.
Of course, government advocacy isn't just about fighting wrong-headed, job-killing government actions. It's equally about promoting smart public policy and supporting wise investment of public funds. Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and a handful of other states have recently bent their steep prison spending curve by implementing smart corrections reform efforts supported by state and local chambers. Students in Dayton, Milwaukee, Spokane and scores of other cities are making serious strides in STEM education thanks in large part to productive partnerships between chambers and schools. Oklahoma City, host of the 2013 ACCE Convention, is a role model for cooperation between the public and private sectors to win overwhelming voter support for vital, job-creating infrastructure investments.
If your organization isn't sounding full-throated opposition to onerous propositions at all levels of government and leading the charge for smart policy and investment, you're not doing everything you can to support job growth in your community. Government advocacy is essential to economic development.
Infrastructure Part 3: Durham
Guest Post - John White, Director of Public Policy, Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce
Earlier this year, I was asked to take part in a webinar to discuss our involvement and the passage of a ½ cent sales tax for transit. While awaiting my turn to present on the issue, I listened to others familiar with the topic as they advised on how to best prepare for a ballot issue campaign. One person recommended having no less than $100K to fund campaign efforts, while another referenced needing at least a year to prepare, plan and educate the public on your issue. As I listened to these two individuals talk, I thought to myself this ought to be interesting….
In 2008, the North Carolina General Assembly passed enabling legislation allowing 94 counties the opportunity to charge & use a ¼ cent sales tax. The legislation also provided Durham, Orange and Wake County’s, also known as the Triangle, the opportunity to charge & use a ½ cent sales tax, for transit enhancements, with voter approval. Since 2009, the Durham Chamber and surrounding chambers have been at the table discussing this issue with the NC Dept. of Transportation as well as our elected officials at the state and local level. Unlike the other chambers, the Durham Chamber of Commerce is the only Chamber in the Triangle that has a dedicated committee to the topic of Transportation. In the summer of 2011, the Durham Board of County Commissioners decided to put this issue on the November 2011 ballot for voters to decide on. Given the Chambers role and attention to transit issues, the Durham Chamber stepped up and took the lead in organizing a campaign committee. I staffed the Durham Transit Campaign Committee and organized efforts of which led to the passage of the transit referendum. Having received 60.1% support for this ballot measure, to date, Durham is the only county that has successfully passed the ½ cent sales tax for transit within the Triangle region and the second in the State of N.C. (Mecklenburg County, 2007).
At last it was my turn to speak to Durham’s success during the webinar. After providing an abbreviated timeline of events, I informed the audience that the Durham Transit Campaign Committee, led by the Durham Chamber of Commerce, had roughly four months to organize. We did not raise over $50K.
Every community is different and while we can use lessons learned in other areas, it doesn’t mean that information is translatable to every community. Chambers are institutions that by design are forced to know business interest, community interest as well as who the players are within our respective communities. I’m glad to say that the Durham Chamber of Commerce understands how important this is and has been able to benefit from extending ourselves outside of the traditional box of business. Why should this example matter to business community? Since our success with this campaign, our creditability as an organization has risen along with the communities desire to work with the business community. Sure, people still come to us to sponsor most of everything. Nonetheless, we take this as part of the territory, knowing that in the end we’ve made more people aware of what we are capable of doing and the continual impact and reach chambers of commerce have!
Infrastructure Part 2: Stamford
Stamford, Conn.: Banking on Infrastructure
Transportation issues are becoming critical for Connecticut. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, nearly a third of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient, 45 percent of its major roads are in mediocre or poor condition, and 58 percent of its urban highways are congested.
Following a comprehensive study of infrastructure issues in 2010, the Business Council of Fairfield County (BCFC) in Stamford issued a statement noting that:
· Infrastructure is critical to economic competitiveness.
· The U.S. and Connecticut have fallen behind most of the world’s developed nations in infrastructure quality and capacity.
· The balance sheets and budget deficits of our national and state governments do not allow enough investment to maintain our current position, let alone close the gap with our major competitors.
· Increased infrastructure investment can’t wait until public sector fiscal health returns.
BCFC then created a stakeholder group, the Infrastructure Investment Task Force, consisting of utilities, consulting firms, academics, economists and other companies that had a strong infrastructure focus. This group was able to develop an understanding of the county’s infrastructure issues, put them into context and assess state level opportunities. It was determined that Connecticut’s need is $85 billion over 20 years to maintain, repair and enhance existing systems, add capacity and expand services, and transform the key systems of transportation, energy and broadband.
The challenge is that they won’t be able to raise more than half of those funds through state funding and anticipated federal appropriations. To fill the gap, Connecticut will actively support all existing funding sources for infrastructure, support a national infrastructure bank, and explore state-level mechanisms to leverage public-private partnerships and improve how projects are selected.
Chris Bruhl, BCFC’s president and CEO, says BCFC’s relationship with author and New York University Senior Fellow Michael Likosky has helped with the council’s involvement in federal funding discussions. Likosky is an expert on public-private partnerships, has served on the BCFC stakeholder group, advised a number of states, elected officials and organizations, and is the author of Obama’s Bank: Financing a Durable New Deal, among other titles. Because of Likosky’s role with BCFC and other organizations, BCFC has been invited to participate in a national infrastructure bank think tank. BCFC also has found that this new area of policy involvement has generated a new membership stream for the chamber: companies that have interest or experience with infrastructure issues.
BCFC has been supportive of Connecticut’s Green Bank to leverage private sector investment in clean energy. The group also has a good relationship with the governor that has led to a senior staffer being appointed co-chair of the governor’s panel to deal with response to the tropical storm and snow storm that hit Connecticut with disastrous result in 2011. Gov. Dannel Malloy has been receptive to the council’s suggestions, and the council has been encouraged by his willingness to try new things. While it doesn’t necessarily mean that all plans will come to fruition, they are encouraged that Connecticut is becoming competitive.
Private money will be raised and invested, and if we didn’t act now, Connecticut could be left out. – Chris Bruhl, BCFC President & CEO
Infrastructure Part 1: Louisville
Federal dollars are still flowing to states for infrastructure projects, but there’s not enough money to keep up with needed infrastructure expansion. Knowing the impact that transportation has on attracting new business to communities, chambers are seeking infrastructure project funding through alternate strategies such as new taxes, partnering with neighboring states or working with public and private partnerships.
Infrastructure is critical to economic competitiveness says Business Council of Fairfield County President, Chris Bruhl. As economic development becomes more ingrained in the chamber’s mission, chambers must step in to help solve regional infrastructure problems. Some chambers have tackled this challenge in unusual yet instructive ways.
Louisville, Ky.: Two Bridges and Two States
Louisville is a major transportation hub, with three interstates—I64, I-65 and the terminus of I71—converging downtown near the Ohio River. Logistics, distribution and manufacturing are key economic development sectors for the region, and each depends on safe and reliable bridges and a connecting highway network. But Louisville is currently served by only three Ohio River bridges that are near or over capacity, creating congestion and safety issues.
In 2003, after more than 450 public meetings and a five-year study, the federal government recommended two new bridges and reconstruction of a major interchange known as Spaghetti Junction to address the region’s current and future cross-river transportation needs.
Almost immediately, the project stalled because costs had ballooned to $4.1 billion. Nearly nine years later, a scaled back project that includes all the original major elements is on a fast track to construction. The recent progress is largely the result of strong support, perseverance and creative direction from business, community and political leaders.
Under the 2003 Bridges Project plan, Kentucky was to pay 70 percent of the cost and Indiana was to cover the rest. Relying on traditional highway funding generated from gas taxes, Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet estimated 20 years for project completion, but long before that the project would absorb more than half of the state’s available road transportation funds—a politically unpopular option.
By 2007, with no definitive construction plan, business leaders stepped in, forming the Bridges Coalition, a bi-state advocacy group. Led by Greater Louisville Inc. (the metro chamber of commerce) and One Southern Indiana (Southern Indiana’s chamber of commerce), the coalition united business, labor and bi-partisan government leaders from both sides of the river. Nearly $2 million was raised to support the coalition’s work. Employing communications and legislative strategies, the coalition touted the project’s benefits of reduced congestion, improved safety and job creation, both during construction and after completion.
After three years of coalition work, a milestone was reached with passage of Kentucky legislation that allowed the use of tolls as a potential funding source for the project and the creation of a bi-state Bridges Authority to develop a project financing plan.
In 2011, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer—all strong project supporters—agreed to a revised project design and accelerated construction timetable that reduced the $4.1 billion price tag to $2.6 billion. The governors also agreed to split the cost of the project more evenly. Kentucky would be responsible for the new downtown bridge and approaches including Spaghetti Junction, and Indiana would oversee construction of the East End span and approaches. This modification allowed each state to pursue its preferred financing method for its part of the construction.
Earlier this year, the two states approved the project’s finance plan. Electronic high-speed tolls on the two new bridges and the existing I-65 span will cover about half the cost of the project. (Federal law currently prohibits tolling on existing interstates. Kentucky and Indiana have applied for a waiver to allow tolling on the existing I-65 bridge as part of the project.) The remaining $1.3 billion will come from each state’s traditional highway funds. In June the Federal Highway Administration approved the plan. Construction is slated to begin in 2013.
Carmen Hickerson, V.P. of public affairs and communications at Greater Louisville Inc., says creative funding for major highway projects is a must in today’s economic environment of limited federal funding. Large projects like these are increasingly difficult to fund without the inclusion of user fees. The Ohio River Bridges Project fortunately had two governors and a mayor who were willing to work together to find a solution. Through determination and partnership, Kentucky and Indiana overcame challenges and cleared the path for improved transportation for the region.
Spokane Gets REAL
Improving educational attainment in your region is not a task on a “to-do” list that you can check off some day. It requires vision, persistence and committed leadership, all of which Greater Spokane Incorporated is supplying for their region.
I was in Spokane last month and sat down with Shelley O’Quinn, Director of Workforce and Education for GSI. Shelley, who’s currently running for county commission, leads their REAL initiative – Regional Education Attainment Legacy. This includes projects, partnerships and policy work address issues from Pre-K though Higher Education. A few highlights:
- K-12 Roundtable – meeting every other month with public and private superintendents from 14 school systems across the region. Business leaders are at each meeting; the agenda focuses on everything from capital projects to policy reform to education quality. They’ve organized these meetings for 8 years.
- Career Awareness – Because top business and K-12 leaders have met regularly for so long, they’ve been able to launch programs that would be hard to pull off in one district alone: Aerospace Skills Week, Washington Business Week, and the Professional Development Academy for Science Instructors. Two school districts also house internship coordinators in the GSI offices.
- STEM – GSI is the funding agent and hosts staff for the Spokane STEM Network. A new bioscience focused STEM academy just opened this fall in downtown Spokane. Check out this great video.
- Higher Education Leadership Group – this 12 year old, economic growth-focused group includes the presidents from all 5 of the region’s higher education institutions and key corporate leaders. Their most recent achievement… landing a new state medical school in Spokane.
Better education outcomes through business-educator cooperation, all supported by the regional chamber of commerce. That’s what REAL in greater Spokane.
Nashville Academies: National Attention
The public school system in Nashville is getting national attention for its efforts in high school reform. Each of its 12 zoned high schools have implemented “wall-to-wall” academies within each school, which means that all the students in the school belong to a career or thematic academy for grades 10-12, after starting in a “freshman academy.” What’s attracted attention is the scale of this strategy (15,000+ students, 1,000 teachers), the initial results (graduation rates up, dropout rate down, math scores up), and the deep participation of the business community (more than 170 business-academy partnerships).
Click here to view an invitation from the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce for district, civic, or business/nonprofit leaders to participate in a one-day “deep dive” into the Nashville model on Thursday Nov. 8 as part of the National Career Academy Coalition annual conference in Nashville. It’s an ideal opportunity for leaders who are considering adopting the academy model in their district or are thinking about the systemic issues of taking the academy model to full scale.
Explore all of the education initiatives that are going on at the Nashville Area Chamber by visiting their webpage on K-12 Education including a YouTube playlist with videos showcasing some of their programs.
Wait till you see OKC
Last week I accompanied ACCE's convention boss Crystal Moore to Oklahoma City on the first site visit for the 2013 annual convention. While scouting a dozen venues for events, meetings and tours we saw a lot of the city and met a lot of proud Oklahomans.
If you've never been to Oklahoma City before, you're in for a pleasant surprise next summer.
You've undoubtedly noticed OKC high on many community rankings lists, but what the rankings can't capture is the spirit. This place has a vibe, a swagger, a kind of can-do attitude that comes from a decade and a half of transformational development.
Consider this: what was recently a cluster of dilapidated warehouses on the edge of downtown is now Bricktown, a premier dining and entertainment district that draws visitors from around the state. Just a few years ago, the river was so low that it had to be mowed in the summer. Now the Boathouse District is official training site for the US Olympic rowing team with world-class training facilities. I'm not kidding when I say world-class; they have an altitude training chamber and a pool that can simulate rowing conditions on any river in the world.
The recently opened, 52-story Devon Energy Center punctuates the skyline; and it was built in less than two years. The Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory is an LED-lit beacon in the downtown Myriad Botanical Garden. Even in the off season you see so many flags, tee shirts and posters for the Western Conference Champion OKC Thunder that you have to assume its game day.
OKC is also proud of its heritage. The chamber's board room is lined in white cotton, a reminder that just over a century ago the city's only buildings were pioneers' tents. The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum celebrates the iconic figures images of the Old West. The city's landscape is dotted with references to famous native sons: Mickey Mantle Drive, Will Rogers Airport, Jim Thorpe Museum, Flaming Lips Alley.
This city has momentum,and I don’t expect them to slow down any time soon. I look forward to seeing you there next July.
Why They Play
If you've seen an ACCE trends presentation, then you probably remember Mick's triangle diagram showing the chamber at the intersection of business, politics and community. We use the slide (pictured below) to remind audiences that chambers have a unique position which makes running one both fun and challenging. If you love your chamber career, this unique position is probably a big reason why.
It's also why your organization has members who just can't get enough.
I was reminded of this last week when two chamber delegations visited Washington D.C. Rick Baker and Andy Johnston from the Grand Rapids Area Chamber brought corporate leaders to town to muster legislative support for a key piece of infrastructure. Later in the week, a delegation from Valdosta, Ga., led by Myrna Ballard, brought a strong business climate agenda to their federal elected officials.
The 20-some business leaders from Michigan and Georgia whom I met aren’t hired lobbyists. They didn't come to D.C. to win a government contract or fight a regulation that dings just their respective business or industry. They represent a cross-section of the business community – manufacturers, bankers, pharmaceutical distributors, utilities, and HR consultants. Some were senior executives from publicly-traded firms, others were sole proprietors. They all have one thing in common: they care.
They care about their business and about their community. They know they have a big stake in the success of each and that their voice matters with elected officials. They traveled on their own dime and their own time because they know it’s important.
I suspect that they also made the trip because they enjoy it. Like you, they enjoy playing in the intersection of business, politics and community. Who else but a chamber of commerce gives business leaders that opportunity?
Photo courtesy Valdosta Chamber of Commerce
3 Hours with an Audience of 25 Million
Tonight the Miami Heat take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in game one of the NBA finals. In addition to swarms of national media, 22 international media teams are in Oklahoma City and they will be airing the game to over 200 countries around the globe. Total viewership is estimated at somewhere between 20 and 25 million. For at least 3 hours, those millions of viewers will not only see Kevin Durant and LeBron James battle in the post; thanks to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber they’ll also see a lot of OKC.
The Chamber’s newly launched website OKC News Room is a journalist’s delight. They have complied video clips, photographs, interviews, fact sheets and sound bites – pages of material and full media packages - all available online. The seven part series with Oklahoma City Mayor (and former sports broadcaster) Mick Cornett is a particular highlight.
As you watch tonight, look for images of the Oklahoma City skyline and video clips featuring new restaurants in Bricktown. They were probably supplied by your friends at the Oklahoma City Chamber.
Want to learn more about this project and other cutting edge economic development marketing? Join Oklahoma City Chamber CEO Roy Williams and VP of Marketing and Communications Cynthia Reid as they lead the Innovative Community Marketing Strategies workshop at the ACCE Convention in Louisville, Aug 1-4.
Chambers Lead Rankings
Once again, chambers of commerce and their affiliates dominate the list of top performing economic development groups. This month, Site Selection magazine released their Top 10 ED Groups of 2011 and 6 out of 10 (including the top 3) are members of ACCE member chambers. Congratulations to:
- Baton Rouge Area Chamber
- Dallas Regional Chamber
- Greater Houston Partnership
- Nashville Area Chamber
- Pittsburgh Regional Alliance
- Select Greater Philadelphia
Rankings are based on jobs and capital investment generated by corporate facility projects on a per capita basis, as well as creativity in strategy, depth and breadth of project activity, and the ability to generate breakthrough deals.
I don’t typically pay much attention to top ten lists. Many rely on weak (if not faulty) methodology, and are little more than gimmicks to lure readers and advertisers (read where ACCE’s Mick Fleming stands on ranked lists). However, I pay attention to this one because it sends an important signal about the power of private sector led economic development.