The Latest in Economic Development – 3.5.2012

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This week’s blog continues our recent dialogue regarding advanced manufacturing and its employment implications, as well as the emotionally popular draw of professional sports complexes. We also explore the uncertain future of urban retail, “rural gentrification” in small cities and towns, urban revitalization in former industrial powerhouses, and a new program to help small wineries export to China.  Comment below or send to

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In the last few weeks, this blog has highlighted articles that have made the case for a resurgent advanced manufacturing sector in the US, but with an important caveat; the job market isn’t exactly filled with workers with adequate training for these potential jobs. Thomas A. Hemphill and Mark J. Perry of the Wall Street Journal explain that “a majority of US manufacturing jobs used to involve manual tasks such as basic assembly. But today’s industrial workplace has evolved toward a technology-driven factory floor that increasingly emphasizes highly skilled workers.” Because of this, many open manufacturing job vacancies are left unfilled due to the shortage of qualified workers. So what is being done to buck this negative trend? Since the era of the apprenticeship is largely dead, manufacturers are partnering with trade schools, high schools, community colleges, and universities to develop a technically-trained workforce that can contribute immediately.

In golf, there is an oft repeated saying: drive for show, putt for dough. In an economic development context, as Seattle has recently experienced, the proposal to build a new sports arena might be the 300 yard bomb that makes the highlight reel, but Amazon’s downtown office building commitment is the crucial 15 foot par save.  This is highlighted in Jordan Royer’s article on, which walks us through the interesting dynamic of public appeal vs. overall impact when it comes to economic development projects. With the loss of the Seattle Supersonics still fresh in their minds, it is understandable that Seattleites would choose to focus on the new arena project intended to bring the NBA (and maybe the NHL) back to the city. But the Amazon deal, in which no public money will be spent, will most likely end up being the better deal economically.

The events of the Great Recession turned a lot of business models on their heads, and retail was no exception. Tom Stoelker of the Architect’s Newspaper describes the plight of both large and small retailers succinctly: “Retailers… are caught in a Catch-22. Today’s urban customer wants small shops and a homespun product while demanding the convenience, variety, and price that only chains can offer.” With the retail industry in limbo, the implications of zoning regulations are more pronounced in determining the direction of urban retail.

Small city economic development efforts often don’t get the same attention as their big city counterparts. Yet small city economic development can be just as crucial, and just as innovative as in large cities. This article, posted on Planetizen by Thomas Sigler, shines a light on some smaller communities like Lewisburg, PA, Beaufort, SC, and Hood River, OR that offer culturally vibrant living without the hustle and bustle of big city life. Sigler examines the concept of “rural gentrification” and its effect on these small towns. He paints a picture of the towns’ transitions from big industry to small business, and the positive and negative effects of rising housing prices due to the recent influx of people searching for better opportunities and lifestyles.

“From Flint to Chattanooga, Saginaw to Pittsburgh, the goal has been the same: revitalization to draw back residents, talent and investment,” says Amy Lane in a recent Bridge Magazine article. In it she explores the challenges and successes of urban reinvention. Written from a Michigan perspective, Lane (helped by a quote from NLC’s James Brooks) articulates how lessons from Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, Philadelphia, and Cleveland can be learned and applied to the Detroit area, but in fact, they can be helpful for any community coming back from the brink.

China is a BIG country, and as its purchasing power grows, so will its demand for luxury items such as wine. To tap this vast market, the Small Business Development Center, in Albany, New York has developed an innovative new initiative to help New York wineries export their products to China. The agreement with the Chinese entails a New York state wine outlet in Shanghai, enabling the collective wine industry in New York to access a “booming marketplace.” The SBDC will also help the wineries sell their products in Chinese stores and hotels, accompanies by promotional events to effectively market their wine. (Watertown Daily Times)