Economic Recovery, Pop-Ups and Sports Stadiums: This Month in Economic Development

Our monthly roundup of the latest news in economic development filtered through a city-focused lens. Reading something interesting? Share it with @robbins617.

Cities and Unequal Economic Recovery. How are local economies faring now that the worst of the recession is behind us? NLC recently surveyed mayors across the country to find out. In Cities and Unequal Recovery, NLC’s Christiana McFarland and Emily Robbins examine local economic indicators in cities and reveal that economic recovery is following two distinct paths – economic conditions are improving for some, but worsening for others. The report serves as a resource for cities on implementing inclusive growth strategies around affordable housing, workforce development, and wages in order to encourage equity in local economies. Check out the report’s coverage in the Wall Street Journal.

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Mayors are Talking, and We’re Listening: State of the Cities 2015. Economic development, infrastructure, and public safety are the top three issues on the minds of mayors this year, according to the second annual analysis of mayors’ state of the city speeches conducted by NLC’s Brooks Rainwater, Christiana McFarland, and Micah Farver. Among the speeches analyzed for State of the Cities 2015, 75 percent discussed new or ongoing economic development strategies. Take a peek into the minds of mayors in the report, and also check out the Fast Company op-ed and the Washington Post article.

Examining the Pop-Up Phenomenon. Pop-up programs, such as temporary retail markets and short-term occupancy of vacant office space, are a relatively new recruitment technique for economic development. This interesting article from The Guardian explores how pop-ups are popping up across the country, and examines whether or not these temporary solutions could lead to permanent benefits within our cities.

Are Local Businesses Vanishing? Speaking of vacant storefronts, this Governing piece highlights how gentrification in New York City is displacing local mom and pop businesses at a higher rate than ever. In particular, businesses are seeing their rents double or triple in price because of high-demand. A local blogger made the striking observation that, “Small businesses aren’t just struggling – they are being targeted for assassination.” NLC recently covered this issue in a blog post, along with some strategies cities are using to address commercial vacancies.

How the “Dark Store” Method is Hurting Commercial Property Tax Collection. The Institute for Local Self Reliance recently shared an eye-opening report on how big box companies can potentially manipulate property tax assessments in their favor, while putting local government budgets in jeopardy.

Ideas of the Month: The Old Takoma Business Association in Maryland recently launched a tailored loan program for small businesses funded by local investors from the community. Also, in Baltimore, a very generous restaurant made reservations during Restaurant Week only for those who can’t afford to pay.

What We’re Reading. The City Initiatives for Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CITIE) report from Nesta, Accenture, and Future Cities Catapult. (This is really a must-read.)

John Oliver, host of HBO's "Last Week Tonight."

John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”

For a Laugh. HBO’s John Oliver from Last Week Tonight made some really interesting arguments for why local governments shouldn’t financially support the construction of privately-owned sports stadiums. Get ready to get outraged. (Note, some of the language is NSFW.)

Thing to Know: The Internet of Things. Get used to hearing this phrase. The Kauffman Foundation offers up an explanation for why it matters.

Links to previous editions of This Month in Economic Development are here, here, here, here, and here.

Robbins_small (2)About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate of Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.


Regulatory Reform, Data Analytics and Local Food Systems: This Month in Economic Development

Our monthly roundup of the latest news in economic development filtered through a city-focused lens. Reading something interesting? Share it with @robbins617.

boston_1_fullsizeCities like Boston have recently begun a new chapter in economic development by taking an innovative approach to regulatory compliance, creating a win-win scenario in which the community is protected and businesses are encouraged to contribute to a vibrant, healthy economy. (Getty Images)

Grab your scissors, it’s time to cut red tape for local businesses. Whether it’s the dizzying paper trail, inexplicable permitting or licensing requirements, or an arbitrary approval timeline, the local regulatory process is ripe for reform. NLC profiled the three key strategies for untangling the knots of business regulations, and also highlighted how several cities are using a “more carrot, less stick” approach. Mayor Martin J. Walsh wrote a guest blog post for NLC on how he is making Boston more business friendly, including building an online permitting system. The Ash Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School recently launched a comprehensive, online guide to help cities plan out their own regulatory reform initiatives. (Side note, here’s a great article from The Week on other ways cities can support businesses).

Data analytics is driving more effective economic development… There were a couple great stories this past month about how data analytics is improving local government outcomes, particularly for economic development. For example, Transit Labs is partnering with Detroit to use city data to improve inefficient bus routes. Also Louisville and Raleigh are among a group of cities using public feedback on the restaurant review website Yelp to prioritize health inspections for businesses.

…and collecting city data is more valuable than ever. The data analytics movement is creating new dialogue around what is the most effective data for cities to collect and analyze. To this end, Smart Incentives shared advice on how to measure the actual impact of economic development incentive agreements, not just the costs associated with them. The Kauffman Foundation also released a briefing on the four best indicators to measure a city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. (NLC also has a performance management guidebook for cities).

Pioneering local food systems. Creating a local food ecosystem is a win-win situation for food providers and community member. The city of Portland, Maine, is emerging as a pioneer in the local food system scene. Mayor Michael Brennan developed the Healthy Sustainable Food Systems Initiative a couple years ago pledging that 50 percent of food at public schools, universities, and hospitals will be from local sources. To help other cities create their own local food ecosystems, the Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA) recently held a course on financing local food systems (follow @CDFA_Update to find out when it will be offered again).

Local government is still the leader in public sector job growth. This month’s Local Jobs Report found that, once again, local government is leading public sector job growth. Both federal and state governments lost jobs, but local government gained 3,000 jobs in March. Our analysis also reviews monthly employment trends from 2008 to now, and looks at whether or not cities are hiring back public safety positions that were lost after the recession due to budget cuts.

Religious freedom in Indiana? Talk about voting with your feet. In the wake of Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s passage of a controversial new religious freedom law, the business community is responding by cancelling expansion plans and prohibiting travel to the state. Angie’s List, headquartered in Indianapolis, is delaying a planned $40 million expansion set to create 1,000 local jobs over the next five years until the law’s ramifications are made clear. The list of other organizations that are banning activity in Indiana includes major companies like Apple, Salesforce, and Yelp. Meanwhile, Governor Pence is working to clarify the intent of the law, and its supporters are explaining that similar legislation already exists in 19 states without comparable pushback.

For a laugh. Or maybe for a shudder. The city of Austin wants you to visit its cemeteries. No, really. The city is developing a master plan for its burial grounds to turn the abandoned (and perhaps creepy?) spaces into public places where people choose to visit. The city’s plans include gravestone repairs, public programming, and other revitalization efforts.

What we’re reading. HuffPo column on how McDonald’s is fighting Seattle’s new minimum wage law. San Francisco Fed’s analysis of whether or not place-based policies like enterprise zones create jobs. A thought piece from Jerry Newfarmer on why people, not technology, are the unsung heroes of innovation in cities.

(Read the previous monthly roundups from January and February.)

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About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate of Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

Workforce Development, Jobs Report, and Broadband: This Month in Economic Development

Our monthly roundup of the latest news in economic development filtered through a city-focused lens. This month’s roundup features stories from NLC’s Congressional Cities Conference. Reading something interesting? Share it with @robbins617.

"Photo by Jason Dixson Photography."President Obama announces his new TechHire initiative, which calls for a partnership between cities, higher education and the private sector to expand access to tech jobs in communities across the country, at NLC’s Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. last week. (Jason Dixson Photography)

White House announces TechHire initiative to expand skills training for tech jobs. President Obama addressed NLC’s membership at the Congressional Cities Conference and asked for cities to partner with him on TechHire, a new workforce program designed to train low-skilled workers for well-paying information technology jobs like software development, network administration and cybersecurity. The new initiative will include $100 million in competitive grant funding as well as private sector resources and support for 21 communities selected to participate.

Skills gap: myth or reality? Meanwhile, the ongoing debate continues over whether or not a skills gap actually exists in our country’s workforce. Tom Snyder, President of Ivy Tech Community College, wrote a piece for The Huffington Post about leveraging community colleges for skills training on emerging technologies. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently challenged the idea of a skills gap, arguing there’s insufficient evidence to prove a skills gap is holding back employment. However at the local level, where job opportunities are returning but going unfilled, mayors are responding by developing workforce programs to meet the specific hiring needs of area businesses (like in Missoula, Mont., and Heath, Ohio).

The latest employment trends in local government. NLC’s latest Local Jobs Report analysis by Christiana McFarland found slight gains in overall public sector employment, with local government responsible for the majority of those new jobs last month. But this positive news is tempered by the fact that the local government workforce is still smaller today than it was at its peak in 2008. Another local government trend highlighted by the Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) network is the lack of growth in the percentage of chief administrative officers that are women. That number still stands at 13 percent – the same today as it was back in 1984. The thought-provoking ELGL “13 Percent” blog series features personal stories from city employees.

Municipal broadband could be coming to a neighborhood near you. In case you missed it, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to allow the municipal broadband systems in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to expand outside their existing borders. This is encouraging news for other cities that are considering building their own broadband systems, like Seattle. The decision also affirms NLC’s position that municipal broadband systems can play an important role in supporting local growth and opportunity. More info from the FCC can be found here.

Cities are making the sharing economy work. NLC released a new report, Cities, the Sharing Economy, and What’s Next, at the Congressional Cities Conference. The report provides analysis from interviews with city officials about the impact of the sharing economy (and companies like Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb) on innovation and economic development and how cities are managing safety and implementation considerations. NLC’s Brooks Rainwater explained how this new resource will assist city leaders as they understand, encourage, and regulate the sharing economy in their cities.

For a laugh. Not to start a dog-versus-cat war, but how great would it be if every economic development strategy included plans for a cat café? Meanwhile in Boston, a GoFundMe campaign aiming to raise $300 million to fix the struggling local transit system first started out as a joke but is now receiving national media attention. The campaign is unlikely to reach its goal, but if you donate $50, the fund’s creator will scream your name on the orange line for 45 minutes during rush hour.

Idea of the month: Life experience as college credit. Getting a degree later in life is hard, but Pennsylvania’s community colleges are making it easier by now counting life experience as college credit.

What we’re reading. There were a few solid reports this month on workforce, wages, and jobs. Brookings released a report identifying the advanced industries with the greatest prospects for long-term economic growth (Governing provided a solid overview of the key findings). The Boston Consulting Group found that the top three reasons companies bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. are better access to skilled workers, lower shipping costs, and shorter supply chains. Finally, the Economic Policy Institute testified before Congress about government actions needed to create jobs and grow wages. The testimony said that local governments should implement targeted employment programs and also invest in broadband, education, transportation and other infrastructure projects.

(Last month’s roundup is here.)

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About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate, Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

Inequality, Instagram and Incubators: This Month in Economic Development

Our monthly roundup of the latest news in economic development filtered through a city-focused lens. Reading something interesting? Share it with @robbins617.

San-Diego-InstaCould Instagram walk-around tours help cities attract visitors and showcase local landmarks? (Photo Credit: David Maloney)

Shining a new light on income inequality.
The issue of inequity is getting prime-time coverage from the White House, think tanks and mayoral state of the city addresses. A root of the problem, as a  new CityLab analysis suggests, is that the “rising tide raises all boats” approach needs to be swapped out for one that focuses on expanding advancement opportunities for low-wage earners. City leaders are taking note. Portland Mayor Charlie Hales is proposing to raise the minimum wage to $15 for city workers and contractors. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced a “shared prosperity agenda” that includes affordable housing measures and universal after-school and summer programs. Huron, South Dakota is increasing city spending on English classes for new residents as a local workforce development initiative. Cincinnati just created a new city department for economic inclusion.

Forget all your troubles, forget all your cares. Things will be great when you’re developing downtown.
Cities are continuing to invest in revitalizing their downtown districts to attract retailers, visitors and residents. In places like Monroe, La., Derby, Conn., Modesto, Calif. and Osage, Iowa, city officials are making plans to enhance their downtowns with projects including expanding parking access, updating building facades and developing pedestrian walkways. Bismarck, N.D., will soon have a new downtown apartment and retail complex designed to attract young professionals. Last year, NLC’s City Fiscal Conditions study found that 62 percent of cities increased spending on capital projects and infrastructure. That number may continue to grow this year.

Old debate, new players. Are major sporting events a good development strategy?
It’s an age-old question. Is hosting a major sporting event a good economic development strategy? This debate has been playing out in Glendale, Ariz. and Boston, Mass. in recent weeks. Leading up to the Super Bowl, Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers tried unsuccessfully to get reimbursed the $2.1 million his city spent on security during game week. Meanwhile the city of Boston won the U.S. bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, but not everyone is wicked excited about Bostonians handing out the gold medals. A new nonprofit, No Boston Olympics, formed to protest the bid and says it plans to push for a ballot initiative or state legislation that could prevent the Games from coming to Boston. No Boston Olympics argues the city could be left in debt or forced to use taxpayer dollars to support the Games.

Coworking spaces are popping up in new cities.
Affordable, shared workspaces for entrepreneurs (a topic we’ve talked about here also) are launching in new places. DeskHub in Scottsdale, Ariz., recently opened its doors to the community and is the largest coworking space in the Phoenix metro area. Artists, crafters and makers in the nation’s capital can now rent space at the Brewmasters Studio in downtown D.C. to let their creative juices flow in the company of fellow artists. Plans are also officially underway to build an innovation district in Chattanooga.

The Great GASB.
The Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) proposed a new set of rules requiring state and local governments to disclose details about tax abatements. Over 300 organizations weighed in during the recent comment period, with a decision expected from GASB this summer. While greater transparency and accountability in the use of incentives gets a big thumbs up, concerns abound regarding the administrative burden the rules would impose, and the lack of context in which abatements would be disclosed.  Stay tuned…

Idea of the month: Downtown Instagram walking tours.
Speaking of downtowns, a local photographer in Bluefield, W.V., developed an Instagram walk-around tour of his city, attracting shutterbugs from the area to snap photos of downtown buildings and landmarks. This could be a unique new approach for attracting visitors and showcasing a city’s unique architecture, parks or art.

What we’re reading.
Governing’s new series on gentrification. On a related note, can Starbucks predict where gentrification will happen next? Also, policy ideas from the Kauffman Foundation for how federal, state and local government should support immigrant entrepreneurs.

For a laugh.  
It’s state of the city season. Are you ready? Cupertino’s Mayor Rod Sinks just raised expectations to new heights by jumping out of an airplane with his council colleagues as part of his speech.

Check back here on our blog Friday, Feb. 6, for NLC’s take on what the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics’ numbers mean for local government workforces.

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About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate, Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.