Category: Avalanche Original Content

Eds & Meds in the Transformation of Industrial Cities

By: Marian Kansas, Consultant

Alan Mallach’s book The Divided City: Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America explores the rise and fall of America’s industrial cities. For us, it was an illuminating read on economic development, especially as Avalanche is advising communities across the Rust Belt.

We were especially interested in the chapter “From Factories to Eds and Meds.” Cities with rich histories like Baltimore, Cleveland and Pittsburgh have been able to weather the difficult transition in part because of their strong higher education and healthcare sectors (“eds and meds”).

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2019 IEDC Annual Conference Recap

By: Team Avalanche 

Avalanche was all-in at IEDC’s 2019 Annual Conference earlier this month. We enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. (Hey everyone!) With the whole team in attendance, we covered a lot of ground. Here’s a recap of what each of us took away from the event.

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Three Newsworthy Economic Development Trends in 2019

By Marian Kansas, Consultant

As the manager of The Future Of, Avalanche’s curated content website featuring new economic development articles and commentary each week, I spend a lot of time finding and reading economic development-related articles from a wide variety of sources. I’ve seen trending topics shift since we started The Future Of about a year ago, from the economics of opening craft breweries as a revitalization method to the impact climate change will have on our local and national economies. 

Even though trending topics change as various economic, political, and cultural shifts take place, a few themes are consistently discussed among economists, researchers, and journalists regarding economic development. Here are the three trends I’ve seen surpass news cycles and receive continued research and media attention time and time again:

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Which 20 Metros are Gaining and Losing the Most Young Professionals? (…and the Reason Why)

By John Rees, Research Director

During the past decade, talent has become the most important drivers of economic vibrancy. Regions such as Austin and Seattle are rock star metros thanks in part to their ability to provide employers with seemingly endless pools of smart young professionals. Having a growing pool of talent is especially important in an era when labor is scarce and more difficult to attract. The US unemployment rate remains near a historic low, and the proportion of Americans who move each year has fallen by approximately 50% over the past 40 years.

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The Secret Sauce

By: Amy Holloway, President and CEO, Avalanche Consulting

Every Avalanche newsletter includes a section in which we celebrate our clients, highlighting economic development accomplishments in communities we have served. There is never a shortage of stories (and, we are only catching a small portion of the good news that is out there). It inspires us to keep pursuing our mission of making a positive impact on the world.

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Know Your Labor Shed

By John Rees, Research Director, Avalanche Consulting

The national unemployment rate recently plunged to its lowest level in 50 years. The last time national unemployment was at its current rate, Nixon had just assumed the presidency, Led Zeppelin had just released its debut album, and the world’s first wide-body airplane, Boeing’s 747, had just recently taken flight. While low unemployment is cause for celebration of economic success, talent shortages across most communities in the US means that companies can’t find the workers they need to grow. With employers scrambling to find workers, economic development professionals are increasingly asked to identify pools of potential labor. Firms looking to increase existing operations or invest in new facilities, for example, must be assured that there is a sufficient workforce to support expanded operations. In such instances, a labor shed analysis can serve as an invaluable informational tool.

While several private data vendors produce detailed labor shed models, the US Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) On the Map program empowers anyone to examine local commuting patterns. The On the Map tool combines unemployment insurance records with corporate administrative information to capture the workplace destination of individual workers in all 50 states. The data set covers more than 95% of the private sector workforce. The On the Map website allows users to select virtually any geography (city, metropolitan area, state, etc.) and view the employment destination of area residents as well as the geographic origin of examined workers. Users can also explore demographic characteristics of the local workforce, including information on wages, industry composition, age, and educational attainment levels.

As impressive as the On the Map program might be, the data does come with several important caveats. Perhaps most frustratingly, On the Map’s most recent information is from the year 2015. As commuting patterns evolve at a relatively slow pace, however, the information remains relevant to today. Additionally, the On the Map data can misclassify the work location of employees employed by large companies with multiple locations. This dynamic can be especially extreme for corporate headquarters. For example, the On the Map program may assign an artificially high number of Apple workers at your local mall to the Cupertino campus in California. Despite these limitations, the program provides a remarkable comprehensive portrait of American commuting patterns. 

All which begs the question, how can you make the best use of this information? For outlying suburban locations, the results can be transformational. As traditional employment statistics only capture workers at their place of employment, bedroom communities are often home to substantial levels of hidden talent. On the Map data can highlight available labor that is too often missed. Conversely, employment centers may attract talent from a surprisingly large geography. A labor shed analysis can help pinpoint the dimensions of this area and help employers better understand the true depths of available talent. Finally, integrating commuting data with wage information can help reveal why employers are unable to attract workers from areas seemingly ripe for attraction efforts. Specifically, local wages may not be sufficiently competitive to entice prospective workers to commute long distances. 

While there’s no silver bullet in addressing workforce shortages, crafting a sophisticated labor shed analysis can complement other efforts to ensure that local employers have access to the workers necessary to thrive. 

The One the Map data is a good first step in a labor shed analysis. If your community needs more in-depth insights or a strategy on what to do about your labor shed findings, please contact us. We’re here to help!

Avalanche’s Summer Reading (and Listening, and Watching) Recs

One of Avalanche’s core values is continuous learning, which means that our team is always reading, listening, and watching media that helps us better serve our clients. We love to view stories through an economic development lens. We use what we learn to not only help our client communities become more vibrant, prosperous places but also to improve our own leadership and facilitator skills.

As we kick off the summer season, we thought it would be fun to share what’s inspired us lately in hopes that it will do the same for you. Enjoy!

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Metrics That Make a Difference

How community assessments help foundations translate complex information into collaborative action

By Noelle Salerno, Senior Consultant and John Rees, Research Director

One of the most frequent questions we receive from our clients is, “How do we measure success?” While everyone intuitively understands the importance of having a vibrant economy and society, distilling these topics into readily quantifiable metrics can be challenging. Sometimes the easiest metrics to track aren’t the most important. In other instances, it can be difficult to define the topic at hand. Should an examination of vibrancy focus on job growth, individual health, arts and culture, quality education, or all of the above? Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Determining how to define vibrancy and what to measure is an iterative process that must reflect the unique dynamics of your community.

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Skills, Skills, and More Skills

Why Today’s Economy is Turning Economic Developers into Skills Promoters

By Chris Engle, Principal

Across the country, economic developers grapple every day with the challenge of convincing people to stay in their community, relocate, or develop themselves into the workers our companies need. With today’s unemployment rate at its lowest in decades, retain/attract strategies can feel like a zero-sum game, that my win is your loss. Companies too bristle at the high rates of churn they see in the local workforce. More must be done to increase the size of the workforce pie.

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