STIP Interns, Summer 2012

This year’s STIP interns and their research projects were selected in late March.  The quartet, all master’s degree students at Georgia Tech, will conduct their research during the summer and publicly present their findings in early September.

This year’s group will bring the total number of graduate student participants in the summer intern program to 30. Now in its eighth year, the summer intern program has supported graduate student ideas to promote Georgia economic development in a range of topical areas, from biofuels and Hispanic business growth to nanotechnology and the expansion of the Brunswick port. Since the internship started in summer 2005, many of the students have graduated and found jobs in various industries. For example,

  • Jonas Titus (2005 intern, Masters in City and Regional Planning at Georgia Tech), who worked with another intern, Phaedra Tucker, on the digital media industry, is working for the Texas Economic Development Council of Tyler, TX.
  • Wenben Xiao (2005 intern, PhD in Public Policy in the Georgia State/Georgia Tech joint program) examined IPO’s in Georgia and is now a venture manager with the Shanghai Pudong Software Park Company in Shanghai, China.
  • Mark Farmer (2006 intern, Masters in Public Policy at Georgia Tech) project was titled “”Creative Work in Savannah Georgia: Assessing the Technical and Artistic Climate in a Coastal City” and he is now the director of entrepreneurship and information services at the Gwinnett Chamber in Gwinnett County, Georgia.
  • Miguel Granier (2006 intern, Masters in City and Regional Planning, Georgia Tech) studied Hispanic entrepreneurship and has himself become an entrepreneur by founding Invested Development, a Boston-based, impact-focused, seed-stage investment firm launched in July 2009.
  • Alexa Stephens (2006 intern, Masters in City and Regional Planning and Public Policy, Georgia Tech) profiled the digital music industry in Georgia, served as a research analyst at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and is currently with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, where she works as an evaluation associate.
  • Nathan Moon (2007 intern, PhD in History, Science, and Technology, Georgia Tech) researched telework and telecommuting programs within Atlanta’s private sector and is now working as a research scientist at the Center for Advanced Communications Policy at Georgia Tech.
  • Patrick McKeon (2008 intern, Masters in Public Policy, Georgia Tech) researched nanotechnology opportunities for Georgia as an intern and is now a fiscal and policy analyst in the Delaware state government.
  • Ashley Rivera (2008 intern, Masters in City and Regional Planning and Public Policy, Georgia Tech) examined the benefits of harbor expansion for the Port of Brunswick and is now a senior program specialist in local government services for the Atlanta Regional Commission.
  • Jennifer Chirico (2009 intern, PhD in Public Policy, Georgia Tech) project report was titled “Waste Management Technologies: Potential for Sustainable Development in Georgia” and is now working as the executive director of the Sustainable Living Institute of Maui (SLIM) at the University of Hawaii-Maui College.
  • Rahul Jain (2009 intern, Masters in City and Regional Planning, Georgia Tech) examined green building trends in Georgia and created a database of green buildings for the state. Rahul is now a research associate in economic development and transportation at the Citizens Budget Commission in the Greater New York City area.

For 2012, the students and their projects are:

Shan Zhou, a student in the School of Public Policy, will examine the employment impacts of smart-grid policies and how to best position energy policies for long-term economic growth.  The research will apply input/output analysis to evaluate employment effects of five smart-grid policies in Georgia: interconnection standards, net metering rules, solar buy-back program, dynamic pricing initiatives, and smart meter program.

Zhou holds a B.S. in environmental sciences from Beijing Normal University and a master’s degree in environmental sciences, policy and management from a program jointly operated by Lund University, University of Manchester and Central European University. For the past two years, Zhou has been a graduate research assistant at Georgia Tech.

Also in the School of Public Policy, Lyndsey Nott intends to study characteristics of effective business tax credits that will enhance economic competitiveness in Georgia.  There is little data examining which of the nearly three dozen tax-credit incentives offered by the state are most effective, yet the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative advocates modifying and expanding the existing tax-credit program.  Via a comparative case study, this research will identify the most cost-effective tax credits and compare them with those of other states.

Nott earned a B.S. degree at the U.S. Military Academy and subsequently had duty assignments in Iraq and at Fort Carson, Colorado and Fort Hood, Texas.

Dan Cotter, a student in City and Regional Planning, will explore how integrating light Industry into mixed-use urban development could economically strengthen Georgia’s cities.  The project will identify, characterize, and classify certain light industrial uses, e.g., food manufacturing, life sciences enterprises, and other businesses compatible with walkable urbanism, and highlight best practices that make such mixed-use development possible.  In addition to policy and economic analysis, the effort will involve interviews with business owners, brokers, developers, architects and others.

Cotter holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the New College of Florida.  A LEED-Accredited Professional by the U.S. Green Building Council, he currently serves as a technical advisor to the Grove Park Community Land Trust.

Alison Pienta, also part of Georgia Tech’s City and Regional Planning program, proposes to examine how Atlanta is promoting human capital development and identify strategies the city could adopt to strengthen the local workforce.  Attracting, as well as retaining, businesses depends considerably on development of a skilled and capable local workforce.  The research will not only look at Atlanta’s efforts in this area but consider what has succeeded in other regions as well.

Pienta received a B.A. in sociology from Holy Cross, and, as an officer in the National Guard, served in Iraq and Kuwait.

The four interns were picked from 19 applicants.  The selection committee consisted of Dennis Chastain, Vice President, Community and Economic Development Georgia EMC; Mark Lytle, Director, Centers of Innovation, Georgia Department of Economic Development; and Pat Sims, Manager, Metro Community Development, Georgia Power Company.

STIP is a collaboration between Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and School of Public Policy.  For more information on the intern program or STIP in general, contact Lynn Willingham (404/894-0730, lynn.willingham@innovate.gatech.edu).

April 4, 2012 Forum

Manufacturing Is Job One

The final forum of the spring term highlighted the re-energizing of manufacturing, and featured Dr. Ben Wang, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Industrial & Systems Engineering and executive director of the university’s Manufacturing Research Center (MaRC).

Several factors, he noted, account for manufacturing’s significance in our economy.  It produces 70 percent of U.S. exports and boasts a potent multiplier effect in employment—one manufacturing assembly job generates 10 jobs in the wider realm.  Also, two-thirds of U.S. scientists and engineers are employed in manufacturing.  And it reflects a high degree of innovation—90 percent of U.S. patents are related to manufacturing, he said.  All in all, it affects policy, defense, infrastructure, employment, and education, as well as technology.

Maintaining manufacturing’s strength and status is a major effort of Georgia Tech, Wang observed, which wants to create “a community of interdisciplinary experts passionate about driving innovations into manufacturing in order to solve grand challenges for the enhancement of the nation’s wealth, competitiveness and security.”  Doing so will “amplify Georgia Tech’s global reputation as the world leader in innovation-driven manufacturing,” he said.

Georgia Tech’s many academic units and research centers all tie into manufacturing in some fashion, ranging from robotics to nanotechnology to industrial design to public policy, Wang observed.  The university can further raise the visibility of manufacturing via colloquiums, global forums, workshops, and more student engagement.

The Obama administration’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), announced in June 2011, is designed to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing competitiveness and create high-quality jobs, said Wang.  Its steering committee comprises six universities, including Georgia Tech, and a dozen CEOs.  It identified five “workstreams”: (1) advanced manufacturing technology development, (2) shared infrastructure and facilities, (3) policy, (4) education and workforce development, and (5) communication and outreach.  The AMP has held four regional meetings attracting hundreds of attendees, said Wang, adding that its top recommendations are to improve the business climate, secure the talent pipeline, and enable innovation.

Continuing on a broader dimension, Wang said the United States has been the “first mover” of many new technologies but has lost ground in the market, and industry has not fully captured payoffs from federal investments in research.  One response involves the national Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which is changing its focus, he said, and becoming more “innovation-centric.”

In regard to bridging the gap between academia and industry, he sketched out what he called “the collaboratory,” a collocation of academic, industry, and government experts that could team up to rapidly insert new technologies having a compelling business case.  Firms could collaborate on production scale-up and compete on product design and post-sale services.  He envisioned this concept providing a breeding ground for new ideas, a proving ground for new technologies, and a training ground for new leaders.

Looking ahead, Wang predicted ultra-lightweight engineered systems will become ubiquitous, appearing in everything from vehicles to infrastructure to sporting goods.  And he suggested the greatest improvements in performance and value ultimately will come from nanomaterials as manufacturing moves from the micro level to the nano level.

The event’s discussant was Chris Downing who heads the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) based in Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2).  Manufacturing, he said, is part of the university’s lifeblood; indeed, the school was established in 1885 to bolster Georgia’s manufacturing sector.  Today, GaMEP serves the state’s diverse industrial base in several crucial areas—from new product development to lean manufacturing to sustainability—and taps the expertise at MaRC, EI2, the Georgia Tech Research Institute, and other campus-based resources.

The Innovations in Economic Development Forum is presented each semester by Georgia Tech’s program in Science, Technology and Information Policy (STIP), a joint initiative of the university’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and School of Public Policy. Free and open to the public, it brings together faculty, researchers, students, economic developers, and policymakers to discuss leading-edge ideas and practices in economic development and innovation policy. For upcoming forums and videos and presentations from past forums go to the STIP website at stip.gatech.edu.

Re-energizing Manufacturing

Professor Ben Wang is the Executive Director of Georgia Tech’s Manufacturing Research Center (MARC) and the Eugene C. Gwaltney Jr. Chair in Manufacturing Systems in the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech. To download his presentation go here. To view a video of the forum go here.

February 1, 2012 Forum

Spring Semester Forums Begin

Innovation as Job 1 got another showcase Feb. 1st at Georgia Tech’s Midtown campus with a presentation titled “Rethinking the SBIR Program.”  The Small Business Innovation Research program coordinated by the U.S. Small Business Administration, awards funds for proof of concept and for prototypes regarding novel technologies that meet the mission needs of diverse federal agencies.

The opening session of the spring semester’s innovation in economic development forum featured Charles W. Wessner, Ph.D., from the National Academies who began his remarks by noting that today’s “exciting times” demand innovation to address challenges such as climate change, global health issues, and new sources of energy.  Many countries such as Finland, Sweden, and France are investing substantial resources to create and attract industries, he said, adding that China, India, and South Korea lead the United States in this respect.  China aims to be an “innovation-driven economy” by 2020, and Singapore wants to be Asia’s top financial and high-tech hub, said Wessner.

Many of their strategies draw from successful U.S. policies and programs, but federal R&D investment as a percentage of GDP has been declining since the 1980s, according to Wessner, who pointed out that 90 percent of DoD spending goes to weapons development.  The U.S. exhibits complacency about its global competitive position and pays limited attention to the composition of the economy, including trade and investment policy.  We focus on current consumption and fail to pay sufficient attention to commercialization.

Small firms are key to bringing technology to market and to creating jobs, said Wessner, but he countered conventional wisdom about markets.  For example, capital is necessary to transform ideas into products, but “new” doesn’t always attract financial support.  Also, venture capitalists have limited information about new firms, show “herding” tendencies, and are moving to later-stage investments.  Seed-stage investments, he said, dropped by 48 percent in 2011.  Often, the initial money does not come from venture capitalists.

There is a role for government here, and one of the things that works is the SBIR program, according to
Wessner.  Established in 1982, it “provides money to jump-start innovation.”   The year 2010 saw more than 4,200 Phase 1 awards and 1,800 Phase 2 awards, he said, comparing that to 363 seed-stage venture deals in 2010.  Each year, one-third of the awards in the program go to new companies.

Among SBIR’s features are a growing budget, large scale, and operating in a decentralized, adaptive fashion.  An SBIR award, he added, “is a certification of quality”—in other words, it’s a good idea or technology—for consideration by other investors.  In addition, SBIR provides options for public procurement, and it links universities with industry and helps create spin-out firms, he said.  New enterprises shouldn’t quit if they don’t receive an award via their first application.  “Some try six or seven times before they get it,” he said.

The National Academies recently studied the SBIR program (more on the report), surveying 7,000 projects and conducting some 100 case studies.  The research, Wessner said, concluded that SBIR “is sound in concept and effective in practice.”  At an annual $2.5 billion, it’s the largest U.S. innovation partnership undertaking.  It leads to high-quality jobs; new products, patents, and licenses; and government mission success, he said, noting that SBIR has contributed to the success of companies such as QualComm, ATMI, Martek, and Luna.

The Academies recommended to Congress that the program be maintained and its flexibility preserved, Wessner said.  Among other things, it also suggested drawing on best practices, focusing on Phase 2 transition, adjusting award sizes for inflation, and shortening the cycle time from application to award.  Congressional reauthorization extends SBIR for six years (to 2017) and increases standard award sizes to $150,000 for Phase 1 and $1 million for Phase 2.  It also provides for shorter cycle times, sequential awards from different federal agencies, more technical assistance for small businesses, and incentives for DoD commercialization.

The evaluation continues, noted Wessner.  His organization is (1) doing follow-up surveys, (2) assessing efficacy of post-award commercialization programs, (3) exploring strategies to encourage minority participation, (4) studying university-industry partnering, (5) identifying new approaches to streamlining the application and grant/contract award processes, and (6) reviewing the role of complementary state and federal programs.  And innovation must continue, too, he advised.  “It’s not a hobby; it is core.”

EI2’s Julie Collins served as discussant at the session.  She heads up the seven-year-old SBIR assistance program for Georgia.  Last year, the program, supported by state and federal funds, helped 140 companies/individuals.  More than $9 million in Phase 1 and 2 awards went to Georgia firms that received assistance.  According to Collins, most firms her program works with are university-based spinoffs.

The program, she notes, has evolved through the years, with the current focus on minority-owned, women-owned, and non-metro Atlanta companies.  To reach a broader audience and provide consistent assistance, her group created “SBIR circles.”  Open to the public, these weekly events address a different topic each session, including the basics of applying for SBIR funding.

To learn more about SBIR in Georgia, contact Julie Collins at julie@atdc.org.  Interested parties also may subscribe to the group’s newsletter at http://eepurl.com/hX1GQ.

The Innovations in Economic Development Forum is presented each semester by Georgia Tech’s program in Science, Technology and Information Policy (STIP), a joint initiative of the university’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and School of Public Policy.  Free and open to the public, it brings together faculty, researchers, students, economic developers, and policymakers to discuss leading-edge ideas and practices in economic development and innovation policy.  For upcoming forums and videos and presentations from past forums go to the STIP website at stip.gatech.edu.

Re-thinking the Small Business Innovation Research Program

Dr. Charles Wessner is a National Academy Scholar and Director of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship at the National Academy of Sciences. Click here to see a PDF of Dr. Wessner’s presentation. To see a video of the forum go here.

No Lack of Possibilities – STIP Summer 2011 Interns

From urban agriculture to health information technology, STIP interns offered fresh perspectives on economic development Sept. 9, 2011, when they presented results of their summer research projects at Technology Square.  The seventh annual readout session was attended by an audience of faculty, students, economic developers and government officials.

In an introduction, Jan Youtie from Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and a co-director of the intern program, noted, “New and good ideas are a vital part of economic development.  The STIP interns do that.”

Mobile augmented reality

Nettrice Gaskins, a doctoral student in Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Communication and Culture, investigated the emergence of a new field called mobile augmented reality (AR)—the overlaying of digital information onto the real world via a camera phone or other camera-enabled mobile device.  Mobile AR increases the level of engagement among users (employees and customers), she said, noting that consumers can see, in 3-DE, color, design and other features of a product before buying it.  The market is expected to grow in the next three to five years, she reported, adding that global revenues could reach $1.5 billion by 2015.  The total mobile AR market will be split into seven categories, 75 percent of which are games, location-based services and enterprise applications.  And the applications are many, including multimedia, health and education, she said.

Metro Atlanta houses nine AR companies, which represent a pre-emerging cluster stage, according to Gaskins.  “A critical mass is building quickly in New York City but more slowly in Atlanta,” she said.  Still, Atlanta is well-positioned to support AR startups, she said, adding that investors must become more aware of AR and the field needs to get on “government radar.”  She recommended (1) increasing networking opportunities, (2) encouraging collaborations, (3) recognizing new policy tools, and (4) integrating local content.

Energy efficiency and conservation block grants

A doctoral student in Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy, Ben Deitchman, examined the federally funded energy efficiency and conservation block grant program in Georgia, part of an effort to bring energy efficiency activities to the local level with the aim of reducing emissions, cutting total energy use and creating/retaining jobs.  The economic development angle entails investing in green jobs and growing the energy services industries.

Funds have been allocated across the state, chiefly in metro Atlanta and the larger counties, with the three greatest allotments going toward energy audits and retrofits, he said, followed by street lighting, then roofing.  The bulk of the grant money has gone to schools and government office buildings.  In Georgia, he said, only 74 percent of recipients reported job creation, 57 percent reported business development, and 19 percent reported household savings.  Low-cost policy options for sustaining the work beyond the grant include (1) creating local energy committees, (2) establishing revolving loan funds and tax credits, and (3) continuing education, training and certification.  Working along these lines, he suggested, could help meet the Georgia Energy Challenge—reducing energy consumption 15 percent by 2020.

Innovation in health information technology

Deji Fajebe, a doctoral student in Georgia Tech’s Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, looked at patent activity related to health information technology (HIT) and how well Georgia can take advantage of patents generated here to foster growth in this industry.  In his study, patent counts represented a measure of HIT innovation, and a significant impetus was federal stimulus funding via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of $19 billion devoted nationally to HIT.

He examined several domains of innovation, which included bar coding and RFID, electronic health records, handheld devices, clinical decision support, claims/billing, and picture archiving and communication systems. Over his study period, most patent activity occurred in clinical decision support, then claims/billing, then electronic health records.  The number of published patents, he noted, significantly increased in the wake of ARRA dollars.  The biggest clusters of inventors and assignees (firms marketing the items) occurred in the Northeast and on the West Coast, he said, adding that most inventions in HIT are U.S.-owned, and even more are commercialized by U.S. small and midsize companies. Georgia, said Fajebe, has a presence on the inventor side but is weak on the assignee side, that is, it lags behind in commercialization of HIT and must come up with policies to capture HIT innovation and foster growth.

Urban agriculture

Working on a master’s degree in city and regional planning at Georgia Tech, Mary Richardson researched urban agriculture and identified opportunities for and barriers to it in Atlanta.   She identified several models—such as community gardens, urban agriculture businesses, school gardens—as well as numerous benefits, including blight remediation, energy savings, improved water quality, green jobs and improved access to food.  Her work drew on case studies from Philadelphia, Chicago and Atlanta.

Challenges to full blossoming of urban agriculture include zoning matters, water cost/access, public awareness, land acquisition, few trained personnel and lack of an appropriate governing body.  But on the plus side, she observed that the Atlanta Land Bank has identified 90 properties for urban agriculture, markets and demand are growing, and Atlanta has three successful startups and the city has issued two urban agriculture-related RFPs.  Richardson’s study included a vacant-land survey, and according to her Atlanta has 2,000-plus acres in some seven dozen suitable parcels.  Among her recommendations: (1) create a Food Policy Council, (2) develop suitable ordinances for land acquisition, (3) include food system planning into the city’s planning, and (4) include urban agriculture programs in youth outreach and job training.  Public-private partnerships and grants for pilot programs could also nourish the concept.

Georgia Tech’s program in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) launched the intern program in 2005, and since that time 25 graduate students have conducted economic development research under it. Topics have ranged from Hispanic enterprises and biofuels to telecommuting and energy planning.  Each year, the program receives 20 or so proposals from which a committee reviews and selects three or four.  The interns spend the summer conducting their research projects and receiving mentoring from STIP faculty.  This year the committee comprised Greg Torre from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Pat Sims from Georgia Power Company and Dennis Chastain from Georgia EMC.

The interns’ full reports are available from the menu under Internship Program on this website. For more information about the internships, contact Jan Youtie(jan.youtie@innovation.gatech.edu, 404/894-6111. STIP is a collaboration of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and School of Public Policy.

November 2, 2011 Forum

Self-Employment – a Strategy for Adding Jobs

During this time of high unemployment, research shows that Americans increasingly are turning to self-employment, a shift that deserves support from the local to the national level, according to the speaker at Georgia Tech’s third fall-semester innovation forum on November 2, 2011.

Anil Rupasingha, a research economist with the Federal Reserve Bank Atlanta (FRBA), said the nation is currently 6.8 million jobs below where it was when the recession began, and adding to that 4.8 million jobs the country should have gained produces an 11.1 million job shortfall.  Self-employment has surged over the last decade and it will continue to do so, he said.  Citing an August 2011 issue of Business Week, he observed that 31 percent of the U.S. labor force is self-employed, and according to the federal Bureau of Labor statistics, by 2019 the self-employed will account for 40 percent of all U.S. workers.

Rural counties have higher rates of self-employment than do their urban counterparts, according to Rupasingha, adding that his research using county-level data “found a statistically significant relationship between self-employment and county economic performance measures” (e.g., growth in income and employment).  The results, he indicated, “provide empirical support for the pro-small business prescription to accelerate local economic and employment growth and reduce county-wide poverty.”

He suggested several policy and practice opportunities: (1) more technical assistance and better credit access to boost productivity, (2) access to general business services, (3) programs that stimulate a community’s entrepreneurial culture, (4) assistance with health care and taxation issues, and (5) further research on what the self-employed need to succeed.  The U.S. Department of Labor, he said, has a voluntary program to encourage the unemployed to start businesses wherein states pay a self-employed allowance instead of regular unemployment insurance benefits, which participants can receive weekly while starting their enterprises.  Seven states have such programs, he added, but none in the Southeast.

The November session differed from the usual format.  During the presentation, FRBA’s Karen Leone De Nie broke in occasionally to survey attendees, asking questions such as area they cover (e.g., metro, state, rural, urban), occupation (e.g., planner, economic developer, researcher), employment conditions, barriers to employment (e.g., no jobs, mismatch of skills, drug abuse).   Attendees clicked an appropriate multiple-choice answer on hand-held devices and the percentages quickly appeared on screens behind the podium. It was part of FRBA’s effort to collect information about workforce development and chronic unemployment issues.

The Innovations in Economic Development Forum is presented each semester by Georgia Tech’s program in Science, Technology and Information Policy (STIP), a joint initiative of the university’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and School of Public Policy.  Free and open to the public, it brings together faculty, researchers, students, economic developers, and policymakers to discuss leading-edge ideas and practices in economic development and innovation policy.  For upcoming forums and videos and presentations from past forums go to the STIP website at stip.gatech.edu.

Self-employment as a Jobless Recovery Strategy for Local Communities

Dr. Anil Rupasingha is a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Click here to see a PDF of Dr. Rupasingha’s presentation. To see a video of the forum go here.

October 5, 2011 Forum

Reinvigorating Neighborhood Economic Development

It’s said that all politics are local, and certainly, to some extent, the same can hold true for economic development—the community level is where it has its roots.  A compelling example of that formed the thrust of the second innovation forum in early October with discussion of the Evergreen Co-op Initiative, a job-creation strategy under way in Ohio that may find application in Atlanta.

Ted Howard, Steven A. Minter Fellow for Social Justice at the Cleveland Foundation, noted that Cleveland had seen its population shrink with regional decline of auto manufacturing, leaving some 60 percent of households unemployed or underemployed.  Further, economic development models hit a dead end, he said, noting that the recent real estate meltdown wiped out 25 years of effort.  Training programs produced skilled workers, but there were no jobs awaiting them because companies had closed or moved.  With buy-in from city government and anchor institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic and VA Medical Center, the Evergreen Co-op Initiative was launched in 2009 to address generational poverty, to create jobs, to narrow the wealth gap and to try a different model for economic growth, one that stands on community building and has leadership from poor neighborhoods as well as large companies.  “It’s a laboratory for a new kind of economic development,” said Howard.

The Evergreen Co-op Initiative, which focuses on the city’s Greater University Circle (GUC) district, was inspired by a model in Mondragon, Spain, a community that has seen much success in job/business creation, sales and investment, according to Howard, adding that several Cleveland civic leaders visited Mondragon to see the achievement first-hand.

Evergreen companies are owned by their workers, who reside in the GUC, and they are cost-competitive, said Howard.  “For this to work, it must be sustainable in the market,” he noted.  He concedes it remains a work-in-progress.  “We’re learning new things every day.”

The first enterprise was the Evergreen Co-op Laundry designed to serve the needs of area health care facilities, ranging from hospitals to clinics to nursing homes.  Another, Green City Growers, is an enclosed, 4.7-acre hydroponic greenhouse producing lettuce for local consumption.  A third, Ohio Solar, serves anchor institutions and weatherizes area homes.  Other possibilities include printing, recycling and data collection enterprises.  Workers earn a decent wage and receive health benefits, and all companies contribute a percentage of their profits to a revolving loan fund that helps new firms get started.  Emphasis is on “green” practices.

Long-term, said Howard, the effort would like to create 5,000 jobs, firmly anchor local capital, promote asset accumulation, stabilize neighborhoods and develop a replicable model for national impact.

The session’s discussant, Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, reported that a year-and-a-half ago more than a dozen of her colleagues visited Cleveland to see what elements of the Evergreen Co-op might work here.  Subsequent discussions with representatives of Emory University, Piedmont Health Care and other large institutions, as well as entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and community leaders, elicited “a resoundingly positive response.”  Neighborhood stability is a very important factor, she added.  Atlanta doesn’t have the same geographical factors as Cleveland, said Phillipps, but it does have expertise in workforce development, an entrepreneurial spirit and available land.  “We can make this happen in Atlanta,” she said.

The Innovations in Economic Development Forum is presented each semester by Georgia Tech’s program in Science, Technology and Information Policy (STIP), a joint initiative of the university’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and School of Public Policy.  Free and open to the public, it brings together faculty, researchers, students, economic developers, and policymakers to discuss leading-edge ideas and practices in economic development and innovation policy.  For upcoming forums and videos and presentations from past forums go to the STIP website at stip.gatech.edu.

September 7, 2011 Forum

Red Fields to Green Fields Initiative

The Great Recession represented more than $10 trillion in real estate value lost and millions of people losing jobs and homes, according to a recent speaker at Georgia Tech’s midtown campus.  It also generated “an $11.4 trillion rescue program that saved Wall Street and paper assets, but what about physical assets and Main Street?” asked researcher Kevin Caravati in launching the fall term’s Innovations in Economic Development Forum on Sept. 7, 2011.  This year’s theme is rebalancing economic development.

His presentation involved a nationwide public-private initiative called “Red Fields to Green Fields” launched in 2009 and intended to transform overleveraged, misdeveloped properties such as failing malls and vacant buildings into productive turf in the form of parks, trails, urban agriculture and other green space.  A senior researcher at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Caravati noted “there’s $100 billion in such real estate out there,” adding that it has negative value civically, environmentally and economically.

Metro Atlanta, he observed, has too much residential, commercial, and industrial real estate, and noted that real estate transaction volumes are down 95 percent, which has a huge impact on the economy.  Parks and trails can boost real estate values and return liquidity to banks, he said, adding that the “reconstruction” involved in morphing red fields to green could create 70,000 jobs plus foster better watershed protection and land preservation.

Many opportunities exist, both inside and outside the Perimeter—the 2,850 acres inside would equal 15 Piedmont Parks, he said.  Three possibilities, according to Caravati, are a 1,000-acre Fort McPherson-Honor Farm Corridor, the 36-mile Peachtree Creek Green Belt, and some 400 properties in distressed Atlanta neighborhoods such as Pittsburgh and Mechanicsville. As it stands, parkland covers less than 5 percent of Atlanta’s total area (the U.S. average is 8.6 percent), and the city ranks 57th nationally in acres of parkland per 1,000 residents, almost one-third the national average.  Outside the Perimeter, he said are nearly 22,000 acres of vacant land listed at $154,000 per acre.

To date, the Georgia Tech-led initiative has worked with 11 U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Chicago to analyze impacts of converting their red fields to green fields.  Partners include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Trust of Public Land, and various local community development organizations.

A related effort, he noted, is the federal Build Act, which would establish an American Infrastructure Financing Authority with initial funding of $10 billion for transportation, energy, and water infrastructure and provide low-cost loans to attract private capital.

The session’s discussant was Christopher Norman, executive director of the Fulton County/Atlanta Land Bank Authority established in 1991. Land banking, he said, is a tool for converting abandoned or foreclosed property to productive use, that is, promoting housing and generating business and jobs.  It does not have eminent domain or taxing authority, but does step in where the market cannot or will not work.  Land banks, he said, can acquire titles and manage, alter, insure, sell, lease, or trade property.  There are nearly five dozen land banks nationwide, 10 in Georgia.

A main goal of his organization, he said, is to extinguish past-due tax liens from foreclosed property in Atlanta and Fulton County.  Among its programs are: community land trust, public-private development partnerships, tax abatement, greenspace assemblage, and land banking depository.  A tentative one involves community gardening, which, he said, represents an alternative means of property management and improved accessibility of fresh produce for local neighborhoods.

For further information on the above, contact Kevin Caravati at kevin.caravati@gtri.gatech.edu and Christopher Norman at cnorman@fccalandbank.org.

The innovations in Economic Development Forum is presented each semester by Georgia Tech’s program in Science, Technology and Information Policy (STIP) a joint initiative of the university’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and School of Public Policy. Free and open to the public, it brings together faculty, researchers, students, economic developers, and policymakers to discuss leading-edge ideas and practices in economic development and innovation policy.  For upcoming forums and videos and presentations of past forums go to the STIP website at stip.gatech.edu.