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What It Takes to Cluster

April 18, 2014

This is a guest post written by Daria Siegel, Director of Launch LM and Andrew Breslau, Downtown Alliance Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing

Tech Tuesday’s took place at the South Street Seaport during the summer of 2013.  Hundreds of technologists gathered for conversations related to innovation and technology at this weekly public event series.

At Tech Tuesday’s during the summer of 2013, hundreds of technologists gathered for conversations related to innovation and technology at this weekly public event series.

It seems everybody these days wants a “tech cluster.” Municipalities across the country are repositioning themselves as tech friendly in hopes of capturing some of the promise the industry might hold for their local economy.

Here’s the rub though: a tech cluster can’t happen just anywhere. It needs two primary ingredients. One harkens back to that oldest of business clichés “location, location, location” and the other is a bit more under a municipality’s control: a coordinated strategic marketing campaign.

The beginnings of a meaningful tech cluster are rooted in the strength and breadth of a location’s irreducible assets. Even in the face of the digital economy’s decentralizing potential, agglomeration is essential. One of these desired clusters can’t be faked, plunked down just anywhere or retrofitted neatly in the postindustrial landscape (unless you have access to an extraordinary amount of capital i.e. Las Vegas). A preexisting creative cluster or digitally dependent core industry, robust academic assets, cutting edge telecommunications resources, access to financial resources for start-up and mature businesses alike and multi- modal transportation networks are just some of the characteristics that enable viable tech clusters.

If those assets constitute the hardware needed to animate a tech cluster, the software is marketing. In order to build the right marketing software, a location has to first be ruthlessly honest in its appraisal of what its “hard” assets are. Whatever your store of hard assets is, it will take a partnership amongst a consortium of stakeholders and investments in branding, social media and organizing to make the most of your locality’s strategic and competitive interests.

In Lower Manhattan, we’ve been doing just that.  In September of 2013 we created LaunchLM, an initiative to galvanize and grow the technology and digital communities in Lower Manhattan. Over the past year, the number of tech companies in Lower Manhattan grew by 24 percent, from nearly 500 to 600 companies today.  And that doesn’t even count digitally oriented media and other creative industries. We believe the potential to build on that is vast.

Lower Manhattan has a legacy rooted in innovation. From AT&T building its first headquarters here in 1916 to being the location of the first transatlantic telephone call, Lower Manhattan has always teemed with possibility. We’re blessed with unsurpassed transportation access, a rich pool of knowledge workers, space for businesses to let at a variety of price points, the nation’s most advanced fiber optic network and we possess an already bustling mixed use environment.

By partnering with the real estate industry, LaunchLM provides venues for programming and events targeted toward the creative industries sector, like the holiday party hosted by LaunchLM and Control Group at 4 World Trade Center.

LaunchLM provides venues for programming and events targeted toward the creative industries sector, like the holiday party hosted with Control Group at 4 World Trade Center.

LaunchLM grew out of a committee convened by the Alliance for Downtown New York—New York’s’ larges Business Improvement District. The committee, made up of stakeholders in the tech sector, real estate professionals, industry associations, community leaders, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, met for a year discussing and debating the kinds of catalysts needed to help Lower Manhattan reach its potential with the industry.

Two bedrock principles of the effort were clear and became the pillars of LaunchLM. The effort had to make those it was seeking to influence the parties who defined our direction and also make them partners in content making.  The effort needed to be by and for the technologists, executives and locational decision makers and influencers that make or break clustering. It also had to be an effort that was committed to for the long haul. Whatever work was undertaken would have to be sustained with constant investment and effort over time. Years, not weeks. To quote the Carpenters “we’ve only just begun.”

Launch likes to think of itself as relentlessly active and patient at the same time.

Whether it’s our restless pursuit of building virtual community through our rich website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts, the attention we pay to SEO and email list building or the regular public programming we sponsor from Start-up Open houses to talks on the frontier of data science to discussions on the intersection of food and tech, we keep our ear to the ground about the industry’s latest trends and concerns and then invite them to partner with us to produce relevant content. We never forget it’s their industry, we help produce the venue, the crowd, make connections and spread the word.

This is the key to marketing to the Tech sector. If it’s ersatz –you’re done. Be what you advertise.

In addition to making content, Launch is an advocate. Among other things, we educate the real estate community about the particular needs of tech clients–flexible space, bike rooms, etc. You can look to our website as a resource for tech friendly buildings in the district. We also energetically engage with government, educational institutions and the not for profit sector on the industry’s needs and agenda. We strive to be a connecter, problem solver and industry champion.

Our next step will be creating a physical space where programming, networking and pedagogy can have a home. In the months ahead, LaunchLM will become a three dimensional destination where industry associations and startups, out of town executives and companies can come set up and shop, conduct business, sponsor hackathons, do product demos and convene audiences. All that and have a killer cup of coffee at the same time. Never forget that caffeine is the fuel that the Tech industry runs on!

Our results so far? Great press about the district’s assets, a constant drum beat about possibility, promise and achievement, a robust and growing social and communications network, a new sense of community, new connections between the real estate and tech industries and a palpable sense of momentum.

We’re confident that it’s the dynamic interplay between the intrinsic appeal of Lower Manhattan and how and with whom we sell it that will ultimately tell the tale of our “cluster.” We’re also confident that, with the course we’re setting, the oldest neighborhood in New York City is going to play a big role in defining the City’s economic future.

Andy_headshot

Andrew Breslau is a Senior Vice President for the Alliance for Downtown New York. A former press secretary in New York City government, a not for profit executive and producer at CNN, he manages the Alliance’s communications, marketing and technology teams.
 

 

Daria_headshotDaria Siegel, an urban planner, serves as Director of LaunchLM, an initiative designed to champion the growing technology sector in Lower Manhattan, created by the Alliance for Downtown New York.

Serving Veterans in Rural America Requires City Engagement

April 17, 2014

After enduring years of Vermont winters on the streets, a homeless veteran finally found a place to call home through a partnership between regional nonprofits, the Veterans Administration and the City of Winooski, a town with a population of less than 7,300.

When asked about the impact on his life, he said, “this program has helped me stay sober for three years. I have been given not just a physical home, but also a state of mind home, and that is a great feeling.”

Replicating this success with other veterans in largely rural areas like Winooski requires regional cooperation between many stakeholders to overcome the unique challenges of long distances and sparsely populated areas.

From Service to Shelter, a report released this week by the Housing Assistance Council (HAC) and The Home Depot Foundation, highlights the troubling prevalence of veteran homelessness in rural America, resources available to address the issue and models for successful implementation.

The report found that veterans are over-represented in the homeless population in rural areas, and the overall rural veteran population is getting older. Currently, 43 percent of veterans in rural America are aged 65 or older, and that number is expected to rise to 70 percent in the next 10 years.

vets-stats-1-f

In recognition of these challenges and facts, a collaborative effort between HUD, VA and the Department of Labor has been piloted in five communities near major military installations. The Veteran Homelessness Prevention Demonstration (VHPD) targeted two of its locations near Ft. Hood and Ft. Drum, both of which have significant rural areas nearby.

While the pilot program’s evaluation is not yet finalized, two primary concerns and possible solutions have already emerged. The first challenge is not surprising. The large geographic size of rural areas makes service delivery challenging. To ease this challenge, officials are looking at ways to co-locate services delivered by federal agencies. By having all assistance in one stop, people can avoid multiple and costly trips.

The second challenge is the increased levels of isolation and the stigma associated with getting “help.” In a small community, the sense that “everyone knows everyone” appears to have the effect of discouraging people from accessing services that could help bring them out of homelessness. Federal officials realize that changing the location and manner of how services are delivered will be necessary to overcome this barrier. The precise process for doing this will require the insights and help of local leaders who can assist their federal partners with a more nuanced understanding of their community.

Efforts such as VHPD are part of an unprecedented level of federal support for homeless veterans. In support of the federal goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the Administration has dramatically increased the availability of resources that serve veterans.

With the availability of resources at an all-time high, local coordination is the principal challenge. Having service providers identify homeless veterans, assess their needs in a coordinated manner and prioritize the delivery of services ensures that the right resources are delivered to the right person at the right time. Progress is being made and is reflected by the 24 percent reduction in veteran homelessness since 2010.

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Information compiled by:
NCH

To help ensure veterans in rural areas have a safe place to call home, The Home Depot Foundation is partnering with HAC as part of its Affordable Housing for Rural Veterans Initiative. Through the initiative, HAC and The Home Depot Foundation have awarded grants totaling more than $260,000 to nine local nonprofit housing associations to build or preserve housing for veterans in rural America.

In addition to the grants, HAC provides rural nonprofits serving veterans with training, research and other assistance to help increase their capacity and allow them to better serve their communities.

To date, organizations in Maine, Washington, Tennessee, Texas and Florida have received assistance allowing nearly 100 veterans and their families to have a new home.

In the next month, an additional $250,000 in grants will be announced. For more information about HAC’s work for veterans in rural areas, visit www.ruralhome.org/veterans or contact Janice Clark at Janice@ruralhome.org.

Elisha_blog
About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Local Governments Expand Incentive Programs for Technology Companies

April 14, 2014

This is a guest post by Ellen Harpel, president of Business Development Advisors and Founder of Smart Incentives.

Incentives are taxpayer backed programs used to influence business decisions and spur company investment or job creation in specific locations. Incentive use has expanded tremendously over the past several years, though the exact amount of money devoted to incentives is unknown.

We do know that incentives are no longer reserved for special, targeted projects, but are offered to entities of all types and sizes. They include bonds, grants, investments, loans, and tax breaks. They might be used to provide capital, reduce taxes, prepare or purchase a facility or site, build or extend infrastructure, or recruit and train a workforce.

Over the past few weeks several communities in the Greater Washington region have either proposed or implemented changes to their incentives policies in the hopes of attracting more technology companies. Here is a quick rundown of some of their actions:

Arlington, VA: Proposed expanding the definition of eligible businesses that can take advantage of Technology Zone incentives that reduce the Business Professional and Occupational License tax on gross receipts. If implemented, smaller business (<100 workers) and expanding firms (not just new businesses) in a broader set of technology fields will be eligible for a 50% rate reduction ($0.18 instead of $0.36) in all 4 of the County’s Technology Zones.

Digital DC: The District of Columbia has committed $1 million to a venture fund that would provide $25k-$250k grants to early stage tech entrepreneurs locating in a designated corridor in the city. These businesses would also be eligible for funding for building rehabilitation or office construction. Digital DC adds to existing DC Tech Incentives and incubator/accelerator programs supported by the city.

WeWork co-working space in DC’s Shaw neighborhood, part of the city’s newly designated technology corridor. Photo Credit: WeWork

WeWork co-working space in DC’s Shaw neighborhood, part of the city’s newly designated technology corridor. Photo Credit: WeWork

Prince George’s County, MD: Approved creation of a science and technology business district in order to create jobs by providing tax incentives, streamlining permitting and approvals, and fostering collaboration among academia, government and industry. The district in the northwestern portion of the County includes College Park (University of Maryland), Greenbelt (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) and Beltsville (USDA).

Alexandria, VA: A Business Tax Reform Task Force has as one of its objectives to “identify revenue or other incentives that the City can deploy to attract businesses and encourage beneficial development aligning with the City’s Strategic Plan.”

Incentives have become more important to business investment decisions and the day-to-day work of economic development. We founded Smart Incentives because we believe it is vital for state and local leaders to have access to high-quality business intelligence, data and analytical tools to make the best decisions for their community.

Smart Incentives helps communities make sound decisions throughout the economic development incentives process. We serve cities and economic development organizations by providing in-depth business research on companies seeking incentives and business case analyses for incentive projects. Smart Incentives is also at the forefront of efforts to develop better processes for monitoring compliance and evaluating the effectiveness of incentive programs.

HarpelEllen Harpel is President of Business Development Advisors (BDA) and Founder of Smart Incentives. She has over 17 years of experience in the economic development field, working with leaders at the local, state and national levels to increase business investment and job growth in their communities. 

Contact: eharpel@businessdevelopmentadvisors.com or ellen@smartincentives.org. Follow Ellen on Twitter @SmartIncentives.

Highlighting Advances in City Policy for Disconnected Youth

April 14, 2014

The annual member’s forum of the National Youth Employment Coalition serves as a hothouse of ideas for advancing young people through work and education, in the face of the ongoing youth jobs deficit and dropout crisis.

This year, three cities’ approaches to better policy and practice for disconnected youth stand out for their breadth and inventiveness. After ten years of policy attention to disconnected youth, perhaps this marks the beginning of a solid wave of broad citywide stage-setting and improved resource allocation and alignment. Which city will “catch the wave” next?

  • In San Diego, the regional Workforce Partnership has incorporated a focus on dropout reengagement in its current request for proposals for youth case management services funded under the Workforce Investment Act. As with the Los Angeles reengagement network of 16 reengagement centers, San Diego’s approach has a high potential for sustainability and for links to jobs, because it blends federal workforce funds with ongoing activities of the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). For a target group of “youth who are at-severe risk of dropout or who have dropped out of school…the funded proposer will partner with SDUSD to expand their dropout recovery efforts and enhance supports provided to those students who are at severe risk of dropout due to chronic absences, credit deficiency, low reading and math skills and English language proficiency.”
  • In San Francisco, Mayor Edwin Lee commissioned the Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families led a 16-month effort to update the city’s policy framework and objectives for Transition-Age Youth (TAY). In a process thoroughly informed by youth voices and vetted by numerous other participating city agencies, the document sets out baseline conditions and establishes measurable objectives for improving transitions for the 8,000 transition-age youth in need of additional supports in the city. An appendix offers a glance back at the path-breaking 2007 recommendations of the Mayor’s Transitional Youth Task Force (one-third of whom are youth) and a sample letter from the mayor that other cities could readily adapt to launch the policy development process among city agencies.
  • In Boston, now undergoing its first mayoral transition in 20 years, advocates and service providers from three coalitions focused on disconnected/opportunity youth came together to develop recommendations for the incoming Walsh Administration.   The brief document highlights ways the new mayor can lead to connect the city’s 12,000 youth and young adults who are not progressing in school and who are not employed. Nontraditional yet plausible roles for Mayor Martin J. Walsh include leading on development of postsecondary and career pathways, expanding alternative education options and supports, and appointing a school superintendent who will maintain a focus on recovering out-of-school youth. Expanding employment options for high school students and disconnected youth makes the short list as well.

Andrew Moore
About the Author: Andrew Moore is a Senior Fellow in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.  Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

WUF7: The Mayors Forum Part II — Individual City Solutions

April 14, 2014

This is the fifth post in a series of blogs on the World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Colombia.

wuf7-roundtable-mayors

In my previous blog, I wrote that the focus of the Mayors Forum was on inclusiveness in order to create a “city of opportunity.” However, I would be misleading you if I implied that each mayor was striving to create a “city of opportunity” in the same way. What they shared was an outcome. How they got there very much depended on how developed, how democratic and how wealthy the city is.

This was exemplified by the diversity of approaches for creating a city of opportunity. Some focused on transportation, others on broader infrastructure, others on job creation, others on education, and still others on public spaces, and for most, a combination of different strategies was necessary. But two things did seem to underlie their approaches regardless of the strategy: inclusiveness and money.

The mayor of Barcelona, Spain underscored this when he said, “We can have the noblest ideas, but if we do not have the financial resources to draw upon, there is nothing that we can do to change our cities and create opportunities for our residents.” He called on national and state governments to respect the work that cities do by ensuring that cities have the resources they need to be a city of opportunity. And the mayors of Medellin, Colombia and Asker, Norway reiterated the importance of involving all residents in the decision-making process and not just the rich or advantaged.

In Santiago de Chile, this process enabled the city to move forward with the development of an adequate urban mass transit system. Prior to development of this system, the city and its residents were supporting the 30 percent with cars, while the rest had to make it on their own. Once the city came together to discuss a solution to the problem of moving its residents from home to work and school, they were able to reach agreement that there needs to be a transportation system, including roads and mass transit, that provides 100 percent of the population with access to everything the city offers.

In Nanjing, China, the focus has been on building a metro system that will serve the poorest sections of the city. While not sharing the deliberative process that led to this decision, the mayor did note that if they failed to create a system that benefited the poorest, the city would remain divided and the poorest residents would have no opportunities to access education, jobs and important social services.

And the mayor of Medellin, Colombia, chimed in by underscoring yet again the importance of his city’s metro system to the least advantaged residents of Medellin, and how important it has been to ensuring that they can get to work, to school and to the services they need. “We were able to transform a two-hour or more commute by bus and foot from the most remote sections of the city into a 45-minute commute to the downtown. In this way we were able to give our residents back two and one-half hours of their day, and increase their happiness.”

In Delft, Netherlands and Budapest, Hungary, the opportunities provided by effective transportation networks were already there; what was lacking was the ability for many of the residents to enter the job market because the skills they had were not the ones local businesses wanted. Delft’s strong technology sector, a driver of job creation, was limited in its ability to absorb unskilled workers. To address this, the city entered into agreements with construction companies, service providers and others who hire lower skilled workers, requiring that they first hire local unemployed residents before recruiting from elsewhere.

Budapest, a city with low relatively low unemployment, still faced enormous employment issues. Long term unemployed residents were not being hired, and young people were also not being incorporated into the workforce. In response, the city set up its own public works program for low skilled workers and worked in partnership with local businesses to ensure that long-term unemployed workers were considered for jobs; and if they were not hired, the city would step in with high-skilled opportunities. The same was done for the city’s youth.

For some of the mayors, there could be not hope of creating a city of opportunity unless the city was safe. In Johannesburg, South Africa and Gombo, Congo, the latter having just been torn apart by a civil war where young people were often soldiers, the response could not simply be having more police. Efforts to move the youth away from violence required their complete engagement in each city’s development, so that the young people saw a future for themselves in the city in which they live.

Finally, many of the mayors spoke of the need for accessible and meaningful open spaces, and educational systems that included pre-school and after-school programs.

But all of this came down to one issue for each of these mayors, and that was the creation of a city filled with opportunity, where every resident feels a part of the city, has pride in their city, and benefits from being part of the city. As the mayor of Medellin put it, “We want every resident to be happy; to feel good about where he or she lives, and to benefit from every aspect of life that the city has to offer.” Something every United States mayor wants for their residents as well.

WUF 7: Day Three — The Mayors Forum: Cities on the Rise

April 9, 2014

This is the fourth post in a series of blogs on the World Urban Forum 7 in Medellin, Colombia.

wuf7-roundtable-mayors

Despite the economic forces that I wrote about yesterday, there seems to be an optimism pervading the Seventh World Urban Forum (WUF7) that is almost contagious.  From the opening general session, where the organizers of this conference talked about the unique opportunity we all have to help solve some of the most basic and fundamental problems challenging us, to yesterday’s Mayors Forum, where mayors from around the globe spoke of their cities as “cities of opportunity,”  the overwhelming thrust of the debates and discussions is that we can make the planet a better place to live for everyone and that we have the resources and capacity to do it now.

Their optimism is reflected in the two symbols that seem to be speaking to most of the participants attending WUF7 here in Medellin, Colombia. The first is the city of Medellin’s symbol, the hummingbird, which in South America and among indigenous populations is the symbol of resurrection.

Throughout the city, one sees images of the hummingbird in flight on street signs or public buildings; and residents, whether public or private, talk about the way the city has risen out of the ashes of the Escobar drug cartel to become one of the best places to live and do business in all of Latin America.

The second is a symbol the United Nations has adopted and is visible at WUF7, and that is the butterfly which appears in many of the graphic images displayed throughout the conference site. It is the symbol of transformation or metamorphosis.

Neither symbol was lost on the mayors at Tuesday’s forum. Each mayor, whether from Barcelona or Johannesburg, from Medellin or Nanjing, spoke about how their city rose out of the Great Recession, civil war, violence, or extreme poverty to transform into a city in which all, rather than the privileged few, have the opportunity to benefit from the education, transportation, jobs and recreation their city has to offer.

In its broadest sense, the message of the Mayors Forum was that cities are on the rise as economic centers, centers of innovation and centers of learning — what we have chosen to call “cities of opportunity” — and that cities are replacing individual states and nations as the places in which “real change is taking place.” Because of this, they argue, the United Nations must recognize that cities have much to contribute to the international discussion on ways to make the planet a better place to live.

When asked about how they are making their cities better places to live, the answer was always the same: “through inclusivity.” This was the case even though the types of cities represented in the forum were extremely different.

They ranged from Asker, Norway, a city near Oslo, with its strong economy and social welfare state, to Goma, The Congo, which has just emerged from civil war and where the most basic problems such as clean water must be addressed; from Seoul, South Korea, where tradition has led to the marginalization of women, to Johannesburg, South Africa, where millions live in shanty towns and remain in extreme poverty.

Not surprisingly, we learned that the ways to achieve inclusivity, and therefore opportunity, varied from city to city based on size, economy, politics, infrastructure, location, history, etc.  Asker, Norway’s goal was to create “a broad-based democracy through nonstop dialogue” in which everyone participates, while Goma, The Congo’s goal was to have a thriving and successful city – but to do so the first step was to find a way to include their young people, those who are most disconnected from their decision making process, in the larger community.  “We must teach our young people, who were caught up in the violence of our civil war as soldiers on either side of the conflict, to trade in their guns and violence for a role in the city’s future,” he said.

Of course, there are specific actions that each of the participating cities have taken to move toward as a “city of opportunity,” and in my next blog, I will discuss the specific things cities like Santiago de Chile; Yakutsk, Russia; Guadalajara, Mexico; São Paulo, Brazil and other cities have done to become transform “cities of opportunity.”

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