Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Economic Development Studio @ Virginia Tech: A Student Experience

Ms. Jones and Dr. John Provo, Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development Associate Director, will lead a FREE webinar on sustainable development, presenting their work commissioned by SustainFloyd as a case study on Friday, March 25th. You can register for the webinar online here.

Top right: In a meeting room at the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development, the Economic Development Studio @ VT meets weekly to work on their project. From left of table; Thomas Moore, Sherman Taylor, Daniel Ling, Courtney Kimmel, Brian McElraft, Ashley DeBiase, Will Drake and Mel Jones work on client presentation.

Top left: Dr. John Provo, instructor of the Economic Development Studio @ VT, and Thomas Moore, Urban Affairs and Planning Student, at presentation to client, SustainFloyd, at the Country Store in Floyd, VA.

Bottom left: Jack Wall, SustainFloyd board member and client contact for the Economic Development Studio @ VT.

Bottom right: Ashley DeBiase presents the opportunity for a micro dairy in Floyd County, VA to SustainFloyd at the Country Store in Floyd, VA.

The Economic Development Studio @ Virginia Tech is an opportunity for students to experience a development project from its commission to completion. The studio experience is complicated and no doubt different for every student involved, depending on his or her role, ambitions, and background. Despite the variety of experiences to be had, I expect that exercise in applying economic development theory, project planning and implementation, group dynamics, consensus building, and time management were felt in everyone’s intellectual muscles.

This year’s project was commissioned by SustainFloyd, a local non-profit devoted to sustainable development in Floyd County, Virginia. SustainFloyd connected with the studio’s instructor, Dr. John Provo, and requested that the class identify sustainable business opportunities in Floyd County. Accepting the request, Dr. Provo assigned the studio project as a preliminary feasibility study to identify a number of sustainable business opportunities. He introduced readings to direct the class to applicable theories and set out deadlines for the project’s progression.

From the beginning, the class unanimously chose to apply the concept of community economic development, likely due to our exposure to academic trends in economic development and our generation’s affinity for community engagement. Adding “asset-based” to community economic development was almost accidental (it seemed to me; perhaps Dr. Provo had it up his sleeve the whole time). Obviously, we had to know what is in Floyd to work with, so we began interviewing members of the community who were already involved in sustainable businesses or already promoting sustainable practices and made a plan to collect data on Floyd’s labor, natural, and infrastructure resource availability. The interviews quickly revealed that Floyd had a wealth of intangible assets rooted in the cultural and social dynamics of the county. Through data collection and analysis we identified Floyd’s general labor advantages and a number of important infrastructure and resource constraints.

Our evaluation of Floyd’s advantages and constraints along with our interpretation SustainFloyd’s sustainability mission led us to sectors in which Floyd County could most effectively contribute to sustainable development. In those sectors (training and education, biomass energy, interior furnishings and food processing) we detected sustainable business opportunities which would both use and bolster Floyd’s assets while contributing to the overall sustainable development of Floyd County. Without ever specifically intending, we were applying concepts of asset based development. Our enterprise recommendations are therefore product of asset-based, sustainable, community economic development ideas. A taste of our results is below, but check out the whole report at on the Virginia Tech Office of Economic Development Website!

Climate change and alternative energy is one of SustainFloyd’s top priorities, so wood pellet production is a particularly relevant sustainable business opportunity. Wood pellets can be produced and consumed on a local level, aligning with SustainFloyd’s desire to localize the area’s economy. A micro dairy would allow the county’s existing agricultural and dairy base to enter a thriving, value-added niche market. Manufacturing flooring and countertop materials would leverage the county’s existing manufacturing skill base, creating opportunities for the area’s artisans and craftsmen, while expanding sustainable living options for consumers. A “sustainable living” training and education center could retrain displaced manufacturing workers, empower prospective farmers to enter the agriculture business, and provide additional income streams for professionals in the area.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

HUD Issues Notice for New Sustainability Planning Grants

When Congress approved FY 2010 funding, $150 million was provided to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for a new sustainable communities program. $100 million of that funding was set aside for regional planning grants and $40 million for “challenge grants” designed to provide capital funds to implement regional plans. On February 5, HUD issued an Advance Notice with a description and framework for a new Sustainable Communities Planning Grant Program. The Advance Notice process is for the agency to garner feedback from the public, prior to a Notice of Fund Availability (NOFA) release.

HUD is requesting comments on the program and the proposed funding structure. Because the program is for multi-jurisdictional regional planning efforts, HUD is particularly seeking input from local governments, regional bodies, community development entities, and other stakeholders about how best to structure the program in order to have the most meaningful impact in creating “economically competitive, healthy, opportunity-rich communities.”

Three funding categories are being considered. First, support for the preparation of Regional Plans for Sustainable Development that integrate housing, economic development, transportation, and environmental quality where such plans do not currently exist. Second, funds may support the preparation of more detailed execution plans and programs to implement existing regional sustainable development plans. Lastly, implementation funds to support regions that have regional sustainable development plans and implementation strategies in place and need support for a catalytic project or program that demonstrates commitment to and implementation of the broader plan.

The comment period on the Advance Notice is open until March 12, 2010. HUD expects to release the final NOFA on the planning grants by April 12, 2010. Regions would likely have until the end of June to apply, and grant announcements would be made in early August.

APA will be submitting formal comments to HUD. We want your input. If you would like to submit comments or ideas, please contact APA at govtaffairs@planning.org.

The Obama Administration is also asking Congress to approve an additional $150 million for the program in the FY 2011 budget. Additionally, Congress is considering legislation to provide a multiyear authorization for the program. That legislation, the Livable Communities Act (S. 1619) may come before the Senate Banking Committee later this month. A House companion is expected as soon as next week. APA has endorsed the legislation.

More information, including a link to provide comments, can be found on HUD’s sustainability office website.

Jason Jordan
APA, Director of Policy & Government Affairs

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Celtic Tiger Crash: A Visit to Dublin After the Bust

On a trip to Ireland last month I was amazed to see all of the scaffolding hanging from half completed projects, and the plethora of brutalist architecture. I was visiting Dublin to do mini-internship with the Urban Institute; a research organization at University College Dublin, aimed in part at grappling with the newly sprawling pattern of the city, and aiming to inform policy to create a more sustainable Ireland. While there, I spent a lot of time in awe of the devastating crash of the Irish economy.

Dublin is a small city-walkable from the north end to the south end in about ten minutes, which is perhaps why the rampant modernist buildings were all the more noticeable and troubling. During the recent hay day of the Celtic Tiger boom, far too many Georgian buildings were leveled to make way for structures resembling Albany’s Empire State Plaza, or Boston’s City Hall. The economic boom ushered in an era of wasteful spending and dubious banking practices. During the boom, Ireland sent representatives around the globe to teach struggling nations how they too could prosper. Lithuania, Latvia, Uruguay, and Trinidad all become convinced that the Irish Model could work for them. What exactly constituted the ‘Irish Model’ is nebulous, but included low regulation, a ‘business friendly’ attitude, and creative banking-all ingredients with which Americans have recently grown familiar. Also, as noted by Fintan O’Toole in ‘Ship of Fools: How Stupidity and Corruption Sank the Celtic Tiger,’ “Ireland became far more dependent on foreign investment for its manufacturing base than almost any other society. By 1999, half the manufacturing jobs were in foreign-based companies compared to 20 percent for the EU as a whole. But it seemed to work. At the end of the 1990s, Ireland had become the largest exporter of computer software in the work. The overall value of exports more than doubled between 1995 and 2000” (p.13). Housing prices escalated, and many bought homes that they could not afford. Development was in full swing and the old style architecture and way of life was being demolished to make way for a new, modern era, replete with a sprawling development pattern. Other factors of course contributed to the fast increase in wealth, a case is often made that Ireland was merely catching up to the rest of Europe. Since 1922, growth in Ireland lagged significantly behind Europe. Another factor was the successful global economy at the time of the boom. In the late 1990’s, nations the world over were enjoying financial success, and thus investing more heavily abroad.

Ireland is now faced with recovering their image, their economy, and their built environment from the devastation of a hard fall commensurate with a sharp rise. And as Dublin does have much to offer in the way of inviting European streetscapes, the city will likely be frozen in this place for a while-scaffolding and half finished projects sitting side by side brick Georgian buildings as a symbol for what became of this nation for a brief time. While it is enticing to be caught up in the good times of economic success, hopefully we all, Irish and American alike will insist upon economic development strategies rooted in sustainability and endurance going forward.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

EDD Scholarship New Deadline: Feb 18th

NEW DEADLINE: FEB. 18th 2010!

The application deadline for the EDD Scholarship has been extended to Feb. 18th, 2010.

Master's level students from PAB-accredited planning departments across the U.S. may apply. The $1,000 scholarship is awarded on the basis of a letter of recommendation from a full-time faculty member and an original paper or work having to do with a substantive and relevant topic related to economic development and planning. We prefer an article length or shorter paper submitted (not a thesis, although a shorter paper developed from the thesis is acceptable) of 2,000 to 2,500 words.

The application should be addressed to:

John Provo, Ph.D.
Associate Director
Office of Economic Development (0373)
Outreach and International Affairs
Virginia Tech
702 University City Blvd.
Blacksburg, VA 24061

The scholarship will be presented at the APA National Planning Conference in New Orleans in April 2010, and the paper will be published in EDD’s News & Views.