Aldermen Set Initial Steps on Economic Development

Yesterday, at our day-long retreat, the Board of Aldermen worked through several dozen possible next steps for our economic development strategy and chose three to refer to staff and three to refer to itself.

Staff will be looking into:

-A leakage analysis of the Carrboro economy. Leakage analysis looks at what goods and services are being purchased in Carrboro from non-local sources and develops strategies to develop local alternatives. Although discussion of leakage locally typically focuses on retail sales, our consultant Michael Shuman points out that significant leakage occurs in such areas as food, energy, financial services, absentee landlords, and transportation. Leakage analysis is foundational to related initiates that, Shuman recommends, could include fostering entrepreneurship, building business support networks, mobilizing demand (what he calls “think local first” campaigns), and better systems for making equity available to locally owned small business. (Shuman’s powerpoint presentation developed for Carrboro should be available on the town web site soon)

-A sustainability matrix or scorecard for evaluating and encourage development proposals. This is something that has been under discussion for some time and that would include both measures of economic and environmental sustainability. Ideally, this could be accomplished in a manor that will not hamper our success in the next item.

-A number of recommendations from the RTS report on Creating CarrboroÂ’s Economic Future (page 48-49) geared toward tightening up and clarifying our development review process.

The board itself will be:

-reviewing our revolving loan fund criteria.

-reviewing our regulations regarding home-based business to remove any unnecessary barriers while retaining needed protections for residential neighborhoods.

-Alderman Haven-O’Donnell will be developing a proposal for a task force to work on continuing steps toward implementing the “living, local economy” approach advocated by Shuman.

It was encouraging that all of these items were chosen by unanimous vote. Also that several are focused on potential short term improvements and several on improving our long term position.

Hopefully, my colleagues will expand on the above as they see fit.

Total votes: 107

Comments

One of the things that Carrboro can really leverage to bring high tech people and corporations to town is WiFi. Carrboro already has that well under way. There is always rooms for improvement though. i.e. more bandwidth and the ability to handle hundreds of connections (laptops) in a small area (room in century center) simultaneously. I'm not saying this isn't already possible. Matter of fact my correspondence with Andy Vogel, TOC IT manager, has been VERY VERY positive.

This brings me to another issue: space availability. The Century Center is great, but is often booked. Especially hard to find two days in a row for events. Are there any other venues in Carrboro that could hold this amount of people? Public Schools? Could we expand the Century Center? Could the reservation system be improved and put online?

My interest is in bringing hip tech conferences aka unconferences to Carrboro. I was the main organizer for a 300 person event called PodcasterCon and a co-organizer for the recent NC Science Blogging Conference. We have plans to conduct more events.

Not only can these types of events bring tourist type money they can also act as an introduction to the Town of Carrboro. People who travel long distances can fall in love with the town and its obvious charm. You can easily see the follow on biz ops.

I'm ready to rent cool event space that has open WiFi and readily available coffee and food. Carrboro can do this.

Help us bring hundreds of out of town "creative class" visitors to Carrboro by finding more venue space. (BTW, I am NOT saying Carrboro should build a giant venue like Raleigh. Just a bit more space.)

Thanks!

I meant to add that Shuman's presentation took as his starting point a phrase borrowed from Jock Lauterer which Lauterer in turn borrowed from Charles Kuralt. The phrase is "relentlessly local." I believe it resonated for all of us.

I agree, Brian, about venue space. We had wanted to have a larger public event Sunday might for Michael Shuman but, with the Century Center booked up, had to settle for a smaller event at town hall.

Does anyone know if the new hotel will have meeting rooms? I'm wondering if that might be a possible solution (if perhaps pricey) to Brian's needs.

Dan, thanks for your post. I do wonder sometimes if the town can play any role in helping to fill up vacant buildings or retail spaces. For example, I think about the Andrews Riggsbee building and wonder if it could house, for example, a children's museum or meeting space or funky restaurant of some kind. Seems a shame of wasted space and opportunity for more local economic options.

I also think it's great you're looking into home-based businesses. I don't have any personal interest, but it makes sense.

My recollection is that we were told that the hotel may have some small meeting rooms but will by no means be anything akin to a conference style hotel.

The town does pay a role currently through our economic development office, as does the county's e.d. staff.

The Andrews Riggsbee building has a redevelopment coming soon.

Let me add a bit about the attraction of this idea of living local economies, what Shuman also calls “LOIS” (LOIS = Local Ownership and Import Substitution).

First off is that it helps flesh out the notion of sustainability in the economic realm. Quite simply, locally owned businesses are likely to stay put. We have many long term presences in Carrboro: Surplus Sid's. Balloons & Tunes, WSM, etc.

Second is what is called the multiplier effect, the simple fact that locally owned businesses spend their income on other locally based products and services: accounting, legal, copying, etc. Non-local find those services typically wherever the home office is. Shuman cites a study done in Austin which found that the local bookstore re-circulated 60 cents of every dollar locally as compared to only 20 cents for Borders.

Next is the synergy created by a group of locally owned businesses actively cooperating to improve the local economy. Shuman's book, The Small-Mart Revolution, has a host of ideas here, many of them being realized by the BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) organization that he helped to found.

In addition, business recruitment or attraction is a zero-sum game for communities. Google may go to Knightdale or to Carrboro but probably not to both. With LOIS, all communities have avenues to pursue economic success. Shuman gives the example of St. Lawrence county NY which was gripped with a severe economic downturn and serious unemployment. A leakage analysis determined that a county that prided itself on its dairy industry actually imported more beef than it consumed. It was not difficult to put together the pieces: some thousands unemployed, a ¼ acres of idle farm land, and the importation of products for which the know-how was already in the local community.

Where public support is involved, LOIS costs less. Shuman cites a study from a Pacific northwest locale where local business jobs cost the community $2,000 each as compared to $20,000 each for TINA type jobs (TINA refers to Margaret Thatcher's phrase “There Is No Alternative” in regard to global capitalism. It refers, in this case, to non-locally based businesses). When the fact that many of the TINA companies took their incentives and left town prematurely is taken into account, that figure rises to $60,000, a 30-1 subsidy differential.

Finally, there is the sensitivity of locally owned business to community values and culture and their support of community activity.

I'm sure I'm leaving something out but this should give a flavor of what underlies the idea.

One aspect of Shuman's presentation that I appreciated was his emphasis on how doing all this is NOT the government's role. For example, a company could be recruited to operate a business or non-profit incubator. The government might broker the idea and assist through the revolving loan fund, but ultimately it would be a local business/community initiative rather than a government program.

Was any part of the afternoon spend discussing what constitutes 'local' for Carrboro?

Sorry--I forgot to provide this link to Chicago's Local First Initiative: http://www.localfirstchicago.org

Shuman's position is that there is no on-size-fits-all definition of local, that it must be developed organically by the participants in particular communities.

We talked about how some activities might be local within Carrboro, some within Orange County, and some somewhat more broadly (like the criteria for the Farmer's Market). Our focus initially is within Carrboro. Joal Broun suggested engaging the county and Chapel Hill in this conversation through the Assembly of Governments.

I was able to attend bits and pieces of Monday's retreat but missed some of the connecting discussions. I thought the ideas presented were very thought-provoking and opened my thinking to some new directions.

Two questions for Dan or anyone else who was there: at some point, I heard either Shuman or Liston talk about “local” in a somewhat broader sense than even Orange County. I think they were talking about recruitment and explained that what they meant was not trying to get Google to move to Orange County but to make sure that if a home-grown company in Durham needed to expand, Carrboro had space they would find attractive for their expansion. While I doubt Carrboro wants to cannibalize on small, local businesses in the other Triangle communities, I thought that view of recruitment and its intersection with thinking locally presented some real opportunities.

I guess that wasn't a question, but I'd like to hear more about that concept and the idea that Durham is Carrboro's “competition”.

The second one is really a question: during the Monday morning session, Liston identified some sites suited for big box retail or light manufacturing. When I came back in the afternoon, that was not discussed. I was just wondering what happened to those ideas and thoughts on what could be done at those locations to increase the non-residential tax base.

Linda

Linda,

re: Big Box

I think what we heard was that there is only one site in Carrboro where a big box store could be built under present zoning; I gathered from the discussion (or lack thereof) that there is no interest in changing that situation.

re: Marketing Carrboro within the Triangle

While some of the presentation on Monday related to the concept of marketing or positioning Carrboro as a business attractor in the Triangle marketplace, it was notable that the Board did not take up the question of hwo to go about that. Personally, it does not make sense to me to spend our tax dollars on marketing Carrboro for two reasons: 1) Carrboro is well known in the Triangle already (dispropotionately so for such a small community in the context of the Triangle region) and 2) I envision our economic development efforts being more focused on supporting existing and emerging small businesses in Carrboro, rather than recruiting existing businesses to come here from other locations.

Durham or RTP is not a competitor because they provide an entirely different set of opportunities that are undoubtedly better for certain kinds of companies. Other kinds of companies would find Carrboro the better location.

re: Definition of Local

I think the definition of 'local' depends on the type of service or product that you are talking about. We can probably all agree that driving to Durham to buy plastic junk from China is not local (although for some items we currently have little choice). Many of my groceries come from Weaver Street Market; that's local. Eggs are available from a good number of farmers in the more immediate area (although outside Carrboro); that's local. Biodiesel is not manufactured for sale in Carrboro, so buying that locally would mean getting it from a company in a nearby jurisdiction; that would still be local. Cars are really not made anywhere nearby, so clearly you would have to buy something that was made considerably further away, but there are any number fo car dealers from whom you could buy a car; so this could still be done locally by some definition.

Mark,
When I worked in Durham Planning, I recall the dilemma we faced when a rezoning for a “good” project came in for a property zoned industrial. I've seen in the newspaper accounts since that they still face these conflicts from time to time. Almost always, holding on to the industrial zoning wins.

I wouldn't expect Carrboro to go after a big box, but wondered what you think about those large properties that are not zoned residential in the context of wanting to double the commercial tax base.

It made me think of the fruitcake place on the way to Seagrove (maybe someone can help with the name). In the middle of cow pastures is this amazing retail/industrial operation – not unlike A Southern Season in feel – that I believe arose from a home-based business to a very successful operation that ships its goods everywhere, employs local folks and attracts visitors. Maybe someone knows more about this unlikely place - but it made me think that it might represent the kind of vision Carrboro has for those properties.

Linda

Hmmm, I think I disagree about RTP and Durham - and Morrisville and Cary - not being competitors. Yes, there's no room in Chapel Hill or Carrboro for an IBM, but a lot big enough for a Big Box would also be big enough to develop office spaces for locally owned companies with 25+ employees.

As I am long wed to someone in tech, it's frustrating that most his opportunities involve getting in the car and driving - currently just across the county line, but still not accessible (safely by our standards) by bike or by bus.

There are two other factors in why land use was not discussed much on Monday. First, it was not in the scope of work for the RTS report and is not particularly in the repertoire of either of the consultants present. Second is that we are poised to begin a review of our northern study area which contains most of the still undeveloped land in town.

Reporter Cara McDonough interviewed Shuman for her article in today's Herald.

Sounds like an interesting discussion. The article ends with this quote from Shuman, which I don't understand... "What's exciting is Carrboro was on the verge of going down the traditional but wrong path of economic development and they caught their breath just in the nick of time," he said. Anyone have thoughts? If we're on a wrong a path, it's around the availability of affordable housing, in my view.

The BALLE website describes local as "the area that people in the community consider to be local. Is your region defined by natural landscape features, or historic boundaries? Rural communities may define themselves by county, or by multiple counties. Some "buy local food" campaigns have noted that a two-hour drive from farm to table is often considered a "local" food-shed (like a watershed). In a large city, it may make sense to think in terms of both the greater metropolitan area and the business district neighborhood, depending on the situation."

Plus the first Living Economy Principle is:
"Living economy communities produce and exchange locally as many products needed by their citizens as they reasonably can, while reaching out to other communities to trade in those products they cannot reasonably produce at home. These communities value their unique character and encourage cultural exchange and cooperation."

So Linda C--I think you heard correctly. Plus, in my brief discussion with Mr Shuman, he told me that each community needs to come together and make their own decisions about what constitutes local. In Carrboro's case, I would assume Chapel Hill, Orange County, Durham, Alamance and Chatham counties would constitute our community given the important role the farmer's market and Weaver St play here.

Applause to the Board of Aldermen for seeking to establish realistic and sustainable policies for economic development, and for enlisting the valuable help of Michael Shuman in doing so. His writings on resource ownership in particular are extremely insightful and I hope this influence bears fruit in our wider community. Shuman leaves us with the task though of deciding what local means for us, and this has already been the subject of some discussion in this thread: Is it in town? In town plus Orange County? In town plus Orange and adjacent counties? Even further afield?

All of these are possible but I'd like to suggest the Board of Aldermen look for the answer not in radius but in relationship, and specifically in those relationships which touch on accountability, mutuality and interdependence. Local ownership whether individually or collectively can have those characteristics, but does not guarantee it. And as Shuman points out, there would seem in principle to be considerably greater value to the community in collective rather than individual local ownership of significant local resources, a function which can be addressed by restricted-stock corporations as well as by cooperatives. Policy discussions by the Board of Aldermen which explore that principle would be most welcome.

To tag onto Maria Rowan's comment about "places" for high tech employees... I'm really interested in how Carrboro and Chapel Hill can provide resources to tele-commuters. (wifi, public places, public transportation, etc.) Many of them work in their home office. But often times increased productivity, and spending at local businesses, can come about by having a change in your schedule and interacting with other professionals who you don't work with.

One way people are organizing these types of situations is called CoWorking. Groups all over the country are setting up small group office spaces that can be rented cheaply to individuals. Sometimes on a day by day basis. This type of space usually includes group tables with access to electricity, Internet access, water, coffee, conversation, bathrooms, conference rooms, printers, etc. Having a few places like this in our part of the world might convince more tele-commuters to move here. It could also increase local business profit during 9 to 5. I can think of a bunch of people who'd like this resource.

How could the towns help? By providing loans or grants to community CoWorking organizations, encouraging property owners with vacant office/retail space to provide reduced rent rates to workers, to extend public wifi or build new public wifi networks, etc.

I think you could call this grassroots small business development. One independent worker at a time.

Brian,
One interesting implication of your post would come into play when we review the criteria for the revolving loan fund. On the face of it, there is no reason we could not consider applications for collaborating businesses seeking to create some sort of facility or support service.

Wow Brian, that's a great idea. There are several office spaces upstairs where my office is that have been empty at least since last June when I moved in. I'm sure Mr. Jones would rather be making money from them, if only on a temporary daily basis, than having them sit empty as they have been.

I've been delinquent in letting you all know that Michael Shuman's talk is available on Carrboro's economic development web page. You'll need to scroll down a tad.

Unfortunately, Shuman's powerpoint and his talk are in separate files. But, if you open up two windows, it's pretty easy to listen to the mp3 of the talk and page through the slides at the right time.

Overall I'm very supportive of the idea of doing a Leakage Analysis for the community - I think it is something that can be used to develop some hard to reach long-term goals that we as citizens can feel empowered to strive for. I'm not sure of the exact contents of the Leakage Analysis, but I think the ecological foot print components including in the following assessment are also worthwhile to capture:

http://www.rprogress.org/newprograms/sustIndi/services/index.shtml

The Redefining Progress organization can be hired to do assessments and there are also sample results posted so that some of their metrics could simply be included in our own assessment.

--Abraham; Carrboro, NC

 

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