The Latest in Economic Development – 4.26.2012

This week’s blog highlights the implications of an export-oriented US, explores the oft-ignored US service export sector, explains the implications of the SBA’s definition of “small business,” clarifies realistic expectations for microfinance, and links to a McKinsey report on factors contributing to trends in employment. Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

If we are indeed headed for an export-oriented economy here in the US, what does that mean, and what will it look like? Tyler Cowen, of The Great Stagnation fame, is fairly optimistic about America’s future, but it’s not all daffodils and lollipops. He says there are three factors that, when combined, have the potential to make the US an “export powerhouse”: our expertise in artificial intelligence and computing, possession of traditional and renewable energy sources, and increasing demand from developing countries. Cowen states “the closer other nations come to our economic level, the more they will want to buy our stuff.” So there’s reason to be cheery, but Cowen also notes that the “new export-based prosperity may not translate into higher wages for everyone, or even most people, in the United States.” This isn’t much of a surprise, as we have seen declining wages and jobs in manufacturing over the last decade due to increased foreign competition and highly productive, machine-based production processes. (The American Interest)

When we talk about increasing exports, we usually think of putting tangible stuff on container ships and sending it across the pond, but since we have a primarily service-based economy, is the manufacturing focus wrong? Catherine Rampell, writing in the New York Times, mentions that “America already exports more services than any other country in the world… up 10.1 percent from 2009, and up 136 percent since 1991.” And while US manufacturing firms get lots of support from Washington in trade disputes, there isn’t much attention paid to service trade barriers. There are many reasons for the lack of progress in reducing service trade restrictions, including mutual protectionism, strict immigration policies, and interestingly enough, the United States’ federalist nature.

With small business tax cuts on the House agenda this week, it is instructive to define which small businesses will be helped by the impending legislation. As NPR’s Tamara Keith reports, the typical mom-and-pop store we think of when small business is mentioned is not exactly the type of small business that will be helped by the bill, mostly because of the generous definition “small business” receives by federal agencies. According to the Small Business Administration, a small business has less than 500 employees, which is around 99.9% of American businesses. So the tax cut may be targeted at job creating “small businesses,” but the majority of the benefits of the tax cut would go to larger companies at the high end of the distribution. (NPR)

Can microfinance spur entrepreneurial growth, or is it a temporary means to an end? With the emergence of alternative funding mechanisms for ambitious entrepreneurial ventures and small family businesses alike, it is useful to take a realistic approach to the virtues of some of these mechanisms, particularly microfinance. While some think that microfinance can be used to jumpstart the growth of small businesses that can evolve into large profitable operations, they are mostly used by “necessity entrepreneurs” who are sole proprietors because they have to be. Carlos Moreno, who is interviewed in the article, points out that “most people just want a job.” In distressed areas, where job prospects are dim, microfinance acts like a credit card, smoothing consumption and cash flow problems. (Reuters)

The McKinsey Global Institute recently released a report outlining “five trends that are influencing employment levels and shaping how work is done and jobs are created.”  The five trends are: 1) Technology and the changing nature of work; 2) Skill mismatches; 3) Geographic mismatches; 4) Untapped Talent; and 5) Disparity in income growth.

McKinsey goes on to outline three options for policy makers to address these challenges:

  1. Enable growth in aggregate demand
  2. Make raising worker skills a national priority
  3. Unlock business-creating investment and innovation

Get the full report here.

Concluding NLC’s Delegation to Europe: Day 5 [Hamburg, Germany]

NLC delegates tour IBA

After a full week of traveling, touring, meetings, and presentations we reach the end of NLC’s International Sustainability Exchange. We began our day with a meeting at the Ministry of Urban Development and Environment where delegates engaged with leading authorities on efforts that the City of Hamburg is taking to reduce carbon emissions while at the same time attracting and growing business opportunities within the renewable energy sector.

Delegates learned about an innovative “renewable energy cluster,” developed and led by the city, to support the growth of renewable technologies – most notably wind and solar energy – and the regional economy.  By utilizing existing assets, including their expansive port and strengths in project development, maritime engineering, finance, and other “know-how” services, Hamburg is positioning itself as a leader in the renewable energy industry.

Following this discussion the delegates returned to Town Hall for a meeting with the First Mayor Olaf Scholz. We were honored to have this opportunity to meet with Mayor Scholz, who due to the political structure of the country is also President of the Senate, or Governor of the State of Hamburg. Mayor Scholz met privately with the delegation and discussed at length issues including the intersections of environmental sustainability, industry, immigration and education.

As a major shipping and industrial area Hamburg’s designation as the European Green Capital is especially impressive and stems from public and political commitments in response to industrial pollution and harmful conditions in the ‘70s-80s. Today Hamburg faces challenges of an expanding immigrant population and need for social sustainability including equitable access to education and ensuring there remains a skilled workforce to meet the demands of expanding technologically-based industry.

The day concluded with a tour of sites within the International Building Exhibition (IBA), scheduled to open in 2013. Delegates received an overview of IBA’s community development activities by CEO Uli Hellwig who explained how the exhibition is providing an opportunity to demonstrate innovative approaches to a changing environmental landscape such as housing that can respond to sea-level rise. The group then visited “Energy Mountain,” a former contaminated landfill now the site of wind and solar energy production and the “Energy Bunker,” a former WWII bunker being converted into a renewable energy generator and storage facility.

As we reach the conclusion of this Sustainability Best Practice Exchange in many ways we find ourselves still very much at the beginning – of opportunities for informative dialogue, expanded international collaboration, and lasting relationships with all those we had the honor of meeting along the way. Throughout this past week delegates and our hosts discussed components of sustainability – environment, economy, and society – as the “three P’s”: people, planet, and profit. In looking back over the lessons that we gathered from this experience, three additional “P’s” emerge: Patience, Passion, and Partnership. As mentioned in the first blog post in this series, sustainability can be extremely complex and often very challenging. With the right combination of perseverance, political leadership, comprehensive strategy, and broad-stakeholder support and collaboration we have seen that sustainability is possible – at home and abroad.

We sincerely thank the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm and U.S. Consulate in Hamburg for this opportunity and all those sustainability leaders we had the great pleasure of meeting and exchanging information with in Stockholm, Malmo and Hamburg.

To continue to follow the work of NLC’s Sustainability Program and learn more about what cities are doing across the country to advance sustainability please visit www.sustainablecitiesinstitute.org

NLC’s Delegation to Europe: Day 4 [Hamburg, Germany]

The delgation’s second day in Hamburg began with a boat tour of the Port of Hamburg, one of the most productive ports in the world.  Delegates were able to converse with representatives of the Hamburg Port Authority and witness several of the innovative practices happening at the Port, including technologies for shorepower connections and automated container terminals.  As Councilmember La Bonge of Los Angeles aptly stated, and as the tour demonstrated, understanding and enhancing port operations are critical to strengthen relationships between major cities around the world and to make significant progress in sustainability goals, such as energy efficiency and improved air and water quality.

In the afternoon, the delegation had an opportunity to tour the Town Hall and visit with the Senator of the Environment and Urban Planning, Jutta Blankau.  Ms. Blankau reemphasized the importance of strengthening relationships between cities in the United States and Germany as environmental protection is increasingly an agenda that cannot be ignored.  Directly after this meeting, the group participated in the Best Practices Conference at the Bucerius Law School.  This conference provided an opportunity for the delegation to highlight more specific aspects of the innovative sustainability work in their cities.   With Helga Flores of The Brookings Institution as moderator, the first panel titled “Comprehensive Approaches to Sustainability” consisted of Mayor Buol, Mayor Coleman, Councilman Kraft, and Holger Lange from the Hamburg Ministry of Urban Development and Environment.   An interesting theme that consistently came up between the speakers was the need to purposefully create integrated, holistic strategies to institutionalize sustainability in cities.  Councilman Kraft, of the city of Baltimore, described the process of utilizing parking taxes to fund the downtown Charm City Circulator, meeting multiple goals of generating funds for the city; reducing greenhouse gases; and increasing mobility for residents.  The second panel, titled “ Green Infrastructure, Energy and Transportation” included Councilman La Bonge; Mr. Christensen, Deputy Director of the Port of Los Angeles; Mayor Ralph Becker; Councilman Matt Zone; and Mr. Otto-Zimmerman, Secretary General of ICLEI.  Discussion topics in this session included the healthy ‘competition’ to ‘green’ U.S. cities that is propelling innovation and creativity; the importance of public- private partnerships in scaling up sustainability efforts; and the need to engage citizens globally in order to effectively create change.

The evening concluded with a wonderful dinner hosted by the state chancellery of the City of Hamburg.  Tomorrow, the delegation will meet with the First Mayor of Hamburg, Olaf Scholz; hear from the Ministry of Urban Development and Environment; and tour the International Building Exhibition (IBA).

Continue to read our daily activities here at www.citiesspeak.org and follow us on twitter @NLCgreencities !

NLC’s Delegation to Europe: Day 3 [Hamburg, Germany]

On day three of the NLC delegation’s tour of Europe, we arrived in Hamburg, Germany, the European Green Capital in 2011. Hamburg is a beautiful and bustling city that is home to the second largest port in Europe and is a center of renewable energy, aerospace, and media.

Our visit to Hamburg kicked off with lunch at the U.S Consulate hosted by Consul General Inmi Patterson. Our delegation learned about the long history of collaboration between the United States and Hamburg dating back to George Washington.

Following lunch, our group headed to HafenCity, the city’s large waterfront redevelopment project.  Like many U.S. cities, Hamburg confronts the challenge of underused, formerly industrial land in need a remediation and redevelopment. With HafenCity, Hamburg strives to create a mix of residential, corporate, retail, and cultural spaces to ultimately create a new livable and vibrant area of the city. The development, which will be built in stages and be completed in 2025, calls for almost all new buildings to replace the single story sheds that previously occupied the space. These new buildings will be built to meet stringent energy efficiency guidelines.

After the tour, the delegation shared their insights and experience from their cities with HafenCity CEO Jürgen Bruns-Berentelg. Council Member Matt Zone and David Ebersole, Brownfield Manager for the City of Cleveland, Ohio discussed efforts in their city to remediate formerly industrial land for new uses.  Baltimore, Maryland Councilman James B. Kraft highlighted the similarities between HafenCity’s plans and Baltimore’s forty year history of successful waterfront redevelopment programs.

Our day closed back at the U.S. Consulate with a reception hosted by the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce where NLC delegates and business leaders discussed the important role that private industry plays in sustainability.

Our tour of Hamburg continues with a tour of the Hamburg Port, best practice exchange at the Bucerius Law School.

Continue to read about our daily activities here at www.citiesspeak.org and follow us on Twitter @NLCgreencities!

NLC’s Delegation to Europe: Day 2 [Malmö, Sweden]

On the second day of the NLC delegation to Europe we head to Malmö, Sweden, the third largest city in Sweden, and along with Stockholm considered one of the leading cities in Sweden on issues of sustainability.

Our group was welcomed to Malmö with a lunch meeting hosted by the National Association of Swedish Ecomunicipalities (SEKOM), an organization of over 80 municipalities in Sweden committed to advancing sustainability practices. At the meeting U.S. and Swedish local leaders discussed efforts that they are making in their communities, and trends they are seeing as being important to advancing sustainability. Among the topics discussed by Swedish leaders were the challenges of balancing an increase in energy consumption from the rise of ever-accessible IT such as mobile phones with the need to continually incorporate technologically-based solutions into sustainability plans.

Following this meeting the group headed to the Western Harbor, a former shipyard that has been redeveloped and transformed over the past decade into a mixed-use community incorporating innovative sustainability features throughout the newly-built environment. Design features include retractable solar panel canopies that serve the dual purpose of providing shade and reducing cooling needs; stationary vacuum systems for waste collection; and collection of stormwater through greenroofs and permeable surfaces. At the conclusion of the tour delegates met with Environment Director for the City of Malmo, Ms. Katarina Pelin, at the famous “turning torso” building to learn more about the evolution of sustainability efforts throughout Malmo. It was encouraging to learn that even just 10 years ago, the concept of sustainability was not widely embraced but that today it is widely accepted and expected by community members and private developers.

The delegates concluded their day as guest presenters at Malmo University where they presented to students and faculty members about sustainability initiatives in the U.S. The students were particularly interested in topics of U.S. land use policies; adoption of alternative transportation; and how cities were developing partnerships – such as those with universities and surrounding cities – to achieve their goals.

Tomorrow the delegation will depart Sweden and begin their day in Hamburg , Germany where they will visit the waterfront development area of HafenCity and visit with the U.S. Consul General to Hamburg.

Continue to read about our daily activities here at www.citiesspeak.org and follow us on twitter @NLCgreencities !

NLC’s Delegation to Europe: Day 1 [Stockholm, Sweden]

NLC’s delegation to Sweden and Germany kicked off the first day of the trip with a breakfast meeting with Ambassador Brzezinski, the U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, and representatives from U.S. businesses with a presence in Sweden.  In his opening remarks the Ambassador underscored the important relationships already present between Sweden and the United States including the Swedish American Green Alliance (s.a.g.a), a sustainability exchange that NLC’s Sustainability Program committed to on its 2010 visit to Sweden. Business representatives discussed the importance and potential growth of partnerships around sustainability, particularly in a time when local governments are looking to attract and retain businesses in a global environment.  All delegates presented an overview of the sustainability initiatives in their communities and their commitments to sustainability. Mayor Buol highlighted the city of Dubuque’s Smarter Sustainable Dubuque initiative, and emphasized that the city’s sustainability agenda has been able to thrive because of the commitment of IBM, with whom the city has developed a long- term public- private partnership, and local residents who are committed to sustainability.

Hammarby Stojstad

FORES

The delegation then toured Hammarby Sjöstad, a former industrial district that is now an international model for sustainable, integrated redevelopment. Here, U.S. delegates shared their experiences with the redevelopment of industrial sites, and gained tremendous insights into “The Hammarby Model,” an integrated eco-cycle model to manage energy, waste, water and sewage as efficiently as possible.  Delegates walked away reassured that “waste” can in fact be a commodity if it is treated and managed properly.  The delegation then visited the headquarters of Forum for Reforms, Entrepreneurship, and Sustainability (FORES), one of Sweden’s leading think tanks on issues related to the environment. During a roundtable discussion the U.S. officials spoke with academics, Swedish members of parliament, Swedish local officials and NGOS, dispelling the notion that the United States is doing little in the way of sustainability.

In the afternoon, delegates visited City Hall to speak with the Vice Mayor for the Environment, Mr. Per Ankersjö.  The discussion highlighted that Sweden and the cities represented by the delegation have many similar challenges and opportunities, including the cities’ industrial history and relationship to water. Much of the discussion also focused on job creation and retention. Mayor Coleman of Saint Paul posed the question of how to redevelop industrial sites into livable, thriving communities, while preserving critical manufacturing and other industry-related jobs in the center city. The discussion also touched on the environmental benefits of creating dense urban centers.  Mr. Ankersjö stated- and the delegates agreed- that “being ‘green’ is something to be proud of.”

Delegates with the Vice Mayor for the Environment

The visit to Stockholm revealed that sustainability is ingrained in the culture and the politics of the city.  The sustainability exchange with Sweden continues tomorrow in Malmö, where delegates will meet with the National Association of Swedish Eco-Municipalities; tour the Western Harbor, an industrial park that has been transformed into a sustainable community; and speak with faculty and students of Malmö University.

Continue to read about our daily activities here at www.citiesspeak.org and follow us on twitter @NLCgreencities !

Strengthening Sustainability at Home and Abroad: NLC-led Delegation Heads to Europe

The pursuit of sustainability is in many ways a pursuit of innovation. Far from altering the ultimate processes, systems, services, and objectives of local government – sustainability initiatives seek to find new approaches, use creative solutions, and plan comprehensively to enhance overall efficiency of cities and create healthy, prosperous, and strong communities. Sustainability approaches bring together and often streamline disparate functions, thrive on partnerships, focus on lasting solutions and are rooted in practicality even while embracing out-of-the-box thinking. In other words – while vastly necessarily, sustainability can be endlessly complicated.

Because of these complexities and the need for context-specific approaches, identifying and implementing appropriate sustainability initiatives is rarely a straightforward undertaking. The need to balance cause-and-effect across social, economic, and environmental considerations, and among a range of stakeholders can be especially challenging. Cities recognize that when it comes to pursuing innovative approaches to complex issues there is strength in numbers – in sharing, learning, and working together.

NLC’s Sustainability Program within the Center for Research and Innovation seeks to support, strengthen and connect cities’ sustainability efforts by sharing best practices, resources, and topic-specific information. Last month we welcomed the Sustainable Cities Institute, an online platform of case studies, model policies, and more to help achieve this goal. Recognizing the global implications and opportunities inherent within the field of sustainability, we have also regularly engaged international audiences through dialogue and information sharing.

Global innovations aimed at creating “smart”, sustainable, efficient, and healthy communities are rapidly expanding – as are efforts within U.S. cities. There is much to learn from and to share with the international community and many opportunities to expand international collaboration – among cities, businesses, universities, and other partners – to achieve sustainability goals.

To facilitate the exchange of best practices and learning across international communities this week NLC’s Sustainability Program is leading a delegation of U.S. local leaders to cities in Sweden and Germany (see press release). In each country, delegates will meet with international counterparts, non-governmental organizations, and high-ranking government officials to highlight locally led sustainability initiatives in the U.S. and learn about successful approaches being used in European communities.

Delegates will tour projects known for significant sustainability achievements in the cities of Stockholm and Malmö, Sweden, and Hamburg, Germany. Topics covered will range from advances in energy efficiency and renewable energy development, comprehensive community design, waste management, waterfront redevelopment, “green ports,” and strategies to connect sustainability with economic goals through clean tech and “greening” of business practices.

Meetings in Sweden provide an opportunity to build upon relationships developed through a similar delegation in 2010 when NLC signed on to support the Swedish American Green Alliance (s.a.g.a.), an initiative designed to encourage dialogue and knowledge transfer between the two nations on energy, environmental, and clean tech issues.  In Hamburg, delegates have been invited to help recognize and celebrate the city’s history of environmental achievement, which in 2011 resulted in the city being named the European Green Capital, a prestigious and competitive designation awarded by the European Commission.

The NLC delegation consists of local officials from the cities of Baltimore, Md., Cleveland, Ohio, Dubuque, Iowa, Los Angeles, Calif., Saint Paul, Minn., and Salt Lake City, Utah.

Follow the delegation all week on CitiesSpeak and via twitter @NLCgreencities for daily reports on activities throughout Sweden and Germany.

-NLC’s Sustainability Team

Thinking Big on Main Street

As we consider how cities can thrive, we try to look at the big picture.  We often begin at the city level and think beyond it—creating economic linkages with foreign markets, addressing the global issues of energy use and climate change, and focusing on cities’ roles within their regional, national, and international context.

But last week, when I attended Rediscover Main Street, the 2012 National Main Streets Conference, in Baltimore, Md., I was reminded that cities are also working at the neighborhood, block, and even building level to produce very big results.  The National Main Street Center operates under the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but this is not your typical church ladies’ historic preservation.  The tone at Main Streets is not about preservation for the sake of preservation—a perspective that can trivialize the efforts—or even preservation for architectural merit.  Rather, Main Streets is a “preservation-based economic development tool that enables communities to revitalize downtown and neighborhood business districts by leveraging local assets—from historic, cultural, and architectural resources to local enterprises and community pride.”

As part of a session on “complete streets,” Executive Director of Dubuque Main Street Dan LoBianco presented the Historic Millwork District in downtown Dubuque, Iowa.  The comprehensive program, which began with the Main Street-style restoration of a series of historic warehouses, has been a catalyst for revitalizing the city.  As a result, it has attracted the attention of the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Senators Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin.  Talk about starting small to think big.

So how did Dubuque’s Historic Millwork District go from being a simple main street restoration project to a nationally, and internationally, recognized model?

  • Complete Streets.  The District underwent a “complete streets” transformation between 2010 and 2012.  The new street infrastructure accommodates drivers, public transportation users, pedestrians, bicyclists, the elderly, children, and people with disabilities.  This included a complete reconstruction of underground utilities (funded through federal TIGER and state RISE grants), permeable pavement, sidewalk reconstruction (including curbs and bump-outs), and historically-appropriate, energy-efficient street lighting.  In addition, Phase 1 of Dubuque’s Intermodal Transportation Center (DITC) is underway within the District.  The complete streets approach doesn’t provide funds, it simply changes the way existing funds are spent, so this effort paves the way for future smart growth development throughout the city.
  • Historic Preservation.  The Historic Millwork District was the backbone of the regional economy at the turn of the 20th century.  It was home to dozens of companies and 2,500 employees.  A National Register Historic District designation recognized the important cultural and regional history of the district, and the city responded with the use of Federal and State Historic Tax Credits and New Market Tax Credits, to rehabilitate many of the historically honored structures within the District into loft-style housing units.  The project seeks the continuation of the 26% Federal Historic Tax Credit for Disaster Recovery (FHTC), which has been a key funding source for making historic rehabilitation projects like this possible.
  • The Arts.  Newly renovated housing units and the urban lifestyle are attracting artists, craftspeople, cultural exhibits, and events.  The neighborhood is being reborn as a cultural hub for the region.
  • Partnerships.  Dubuque has 25 years of experience fostering revitalization through partnerships with community leaders, the Greater Dubuque Development Corporation, Dubuque Main Street, and philanthropic organizations. This commitment to partnerships continues with redevelopment of the Historic Millwork District with development goals created out of a shared community vision.
  • Housing Options.  With the recent location of an IBM customer service center in Dubuque and the resulting addition of 1,300 new jobs, the potential for economic revitalization has increased, but so has the need for affordable rental housing options, especially for transplants seeking an urban lifestyle.  The project is expected to add over 700 multi-family housing units to the downtown.
  • Sustainable Dubuque.  The city has committed to sustainability.  Sustainable Dubuque ensures a viable, livable, and equitable community for the next generations by embracing economic prosperity, social/cultural vibrancy, and environmental integrity.  The Historic Millwork District upholds this mission by creating high-skilled jobs through employer attraction and historic rehabilitation, increasing community knowledge, pride, and mobility, and creating utility systems that ensure healthy air and clean water.

As Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol joins an NLC delegation to the cities of Stockholm and Malmö, Sweden and Hamburg, Germany in just a few days as part of an International Sustainability Exchange, the city is sure to attract more positive international attention for its commitment to and achievement in sustainability.  But learning more about the Historic Millwork District was also an important reminder of the not-so-small efforts happening right there on Main Street and how they can help catalyze major progress.

The Latest in Economic Development – 4.9.2012

This week’s blog highlights an innovative high-school training program in Seattle, a “big data” partnership at Rutgers, the development of “frugal innovation,” Midwestern foreign investment, and small business jobs numbers. Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

Get the last edition of “The Latest in Economic Development” here.

Many workforce development initiatives focus on job training for older, recently unemployed workers, or concentrate on continuing education through community colleges, but what about starting in high school? There has always been resources at public high schools to train young people to do real-world jobs (think auto shop, or other work-study classes), but they usually don’t focus on high-growth industries. Seattle has introduced a Public Schools Skills Center to prepare students for jobs that will likely be in demand when they graduate. Nick Schiffler writes that students in the program “will still take most of their regular high school classes, but will be bused to their individual Skills Center in the afternoon.” Some of the courses have ties to local companies like Boeing and Microsoft, and they are currently focused on aerospace science, digital animation and game programming, health sciences, and the Cisco/Microsoft Information Technology Academy. (TechFlash) via (Seattle’s Office of Economic Development)

“For years, universities have worked with businesses to produce joint research and educational programs. But these days there’s a new imperative: we must create collaborations aimed at producing economic development and jobs.” These are the words of Rutgers professor Manish Parashar, writing about the university’s new partnership with IBM to create a new high-performance computing center in the Huffington Post. The rise of “Big Data” and supercomputing has opened an opportunity for universities to connect with industry, educate students, and compete for research dollars. This will undoubtedly help universities improve the commercialization of their research efforts. Parashar explains, “the (Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute) will foster and nurture partnerships with industry around their large compute and large data needs.”

“Frugal innovation” has been thriving in the developing world, and it is only a matter of time before it heads west.  Frugal innovation is generally the act of developing a consumer product that is vastly more affordable due to its “stripped down” nature. The Tata Nano is one example, which is a “no frills” Indian-developed car with a price tag of only $2,000. The Nano didn’t initially catch on, mostly due to miscalculations of consumer preferences and the tendency for the Nano to catch fire, but the concept lives on through other products like Haier’s cheaper appliances and Mahindra & Mahindra’s small tractors. The Schumpeter blog at the Economist thinks that because “the West is doomed to a long period of austerity, as the middle class is squeezed and governments curb spending,” demand for frugally innovative products will soar. (The Economist) via (Innovation Daily)

Just how critical is foreign investment to local economies in the US? In the case of the Dayton-Springfield area of Ohio, pretty darn critical. Scott Koorndyk of the Dayton Development Coalition says that the Dayton area has “about 175 foreign-owned businesses from 21 countries with more than 28,000 jobs.” Drawn by the region’s “rich manufacturing heritage and key location,” companies from Japan and Germany are finding fertile ground to set up operations. (Dayton Daily News) via (Economic News from Ohio’s Regions)

In March, small business employment increased by 0.3%, according to Intuit, Inc. While that seems like a rather negligible amount, it was the “highest single-month growth rate in more than two years.” Small business employee hours worked also increased, as well as compensation. The figures are based on data from small businesses with fewer than 20 employees, and while Susan Woodward, who helped to create the index says the numbers are a positive sign; she also says that the increase in employment “will not get us back to full employment anytime soon.” (MarketWatch)

For more concerning small business and entrepreneurship, check out NLC’s new publication: Supporting Entrepreneurship and Small Business: A Tool Kit for Local Leaders and this corresponding blog post.

NLC’s Sustainability Program Now Home to the Sustainable Cities Institute

NLC’s Sustainability Program is thrilled to now be the home of the Sustainable Cities Institute (SCI), a database which offers practical and reliable resources to help cities and city leaders with their sustainability goals.  As many of you are aware from our posters at the 2011 Congress of Cities and NCW articles, we have been eagerly awaiting the incorporation of this valuable site into our ongoing sustainability efforts.

Over the last few years, we have witnessed the SCI website develop into a carefully vetted “go- to” resource on city sustainability.  Our hope is that moving forward, its reputation will only grow as an increasing number of city staff, Mayors and other elected officials turn to SCI as a means to boost the sustainability work that their own city is doing; to learn from best practices around the country; and to network with others who face similar challenges.

The SCI website is a repository of exemplary city-led sustainability initiatives. The comprehensive nature of the site presents us with a unique opportunity to demonstrate important links between various sustainability topic areas, while also delving into greater depth on each of the areas.  The SCI database and the range of carefully vetted resources on it– including city profiles, case studies, model legislation, and reports– offers something for everyone, from a city leader who wants a better understanding of what it means for a city to be sustainable, to a city sustainability director who has been actively involved in sustainability initiatives and is looking for examples about what others are doing.

In the coming months, NLC staff will work closely with city leaders and staff engaged in sustainability, partners that have been critical to the ongoing development of the site, and others to conduct an in-depth assessment and identify ways to enhance the existing resource.

As an NLC member, we value your feedback.  We hope you will take time to browse the site and the numerous resources available.  Please email us at sustainability@nlc.org if you would like to be involved in this assessment process; if you have a sustainability story from your city that you would like to share on the site; or if you have any questions or feedback about the site itself. We look forward to hearing from you!

-NLC’s Sustainability Team