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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hickory, a Legacy Community

I have looked at several articles that fall within the time-frame of the past decade relating to our (Hickory) area’s Economic Development reality. The content summary related to cities that have experienced a similar plight to our community is pretty voluminous. We are not alone. These Cities/Metropolitan areas that have had a similar experience are called “Legacy Cities.” Legacy cities are older, industrial urban areas that have experienced significant population and job loss, resulting in high residential vacancy and diminished service capacity and resources.

Below are nine wide-ranging strategies that legacy cities need to adopt in order to move forward economically in the 21st Century. Along with these strategies, I have highlighted and related my personal opinion, giving suggestions as to how these strategies fit within Hickory’s economic and cultural reality.

Legacy - (Noun) - anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.

               (Adjective) - of or relating to old or outdated computer hardware, software, or data  
                                     that, while still functional, does not work well with up-to-date systems.

Rebuild the central core. – combination of density and a walkable, urban texture with proximity to major institutions and employers creates significant opportunities for regeneration driven by residential redevelopment. This is likely to lead to other economic development opportunities. Have we not already invested huge amounts of capital in our city’s core? Are we making the right investments in City Center infrastructure?

Sustain viable neighborhoods through targeted investments. - Legacy cities contain many viable residential neighborhoods. While some of those areas have gained renewed vitality in recent years, many others have shown signs of physical deterioration and market decline. Sustaining these areas and building their attractiveness as neighborhoods of choice in their regions are critical tasks for legacy cities. In Hickory, we have created a system of Neighborhood Associations to empower, mostly historical, neighborhoods within the City's governmental hierarchy. 

We need to help these neighborhood's be more autonomous and make decisions for themselves even within the City's structure. Let's help these associations achieve 501-c3 non-profit status to raise monies to help do things in their neighborhoods. With their new status, associations would be eligible to apply for state and federal grants - in their own name - as well as various state and national foundations that offer funding. But, perhaps the most unique funding opportunity is right within the neighborhood itself. Local businesses located in or adjacent to these neighborhoods would have a new way of giving back to the communities they serve. These businesses could now make tax-deductible investments in the local communities and help to directly meet the needs of their neighbors.

Repurpose vacant land for new activities. - The large inventory of vacant land and buildings in legacy cities is a valuable asset, and should be seen as such by local officials and their partners. By repurposing it for new uses, such land can become the springboard for building new quality places. Along the lines of reducing and re-using or recycling: How much vacant property/buildings are available? Is there a current suitable purpose for the property? What is its strategic value?

If there is an overabundance of property available, but currently little demand (now or for the foreseeable future), then it is best to demolish unneeded structures and clear land.  The most effective way to reduce the inventory of unneeded buildings is to not create more buildings until the current inventory is reduced -- doing this will help to maintain (and increase) the value of existing viable structures.

What is the value of repurposing a building and will the pay-off outweigh the costs in the long run. Versus building a new structure, which process will lead to the greatest pay-off for all parties involved?

All parties involved equal the property owner, adjacent property owners, and the larger community (which may be providing economic incentives).

Use assets to build competitive advantages. What are the economic and cultural assets of our community? We need to do a full audit of the properties and resources within the community to figure our what is working and what is not working. This is a key to developing a plan moving forward.

Re-establish the central economic role of the city. – Cities should focus on building export-oriented economies linked to the regional, national, and global networks, not only to build wealth and generate financial multipliers within the city, but to further their engagement with their regions in ways that will ultimately break down urban/suburban barriers and lead to greater regional integration. What is the Brand of the Community? What is its mission? What is its purpose? What is the "Vision" of what we want to be.

Use economic growth to increase community and resident well-being -- Who needs help in the community? What areas need the most uplifting? What would you say are the most important areas of town that need to be addressed? What are the most important issues that need to be addressed? Economically? Culturally?

Build stronger local governance capacity and partnerships -- How can we help government better understand the needs of the community? Governance is leadership and leadership must formulate intentional strategies to unlock the potential of a city’s assets to bring about sustainable regeneration. You have to communicate with the people of the community and get them to buy-in and leadership must work to have understanding and trust as the community moves forward. “Strategic Incrementalism” begins with leaders sharing a vision of the city’s future and then making incremental, tactical decisions that will transform the status quo, while avoiding grandiose and unrealistic plans.

Increase the ties between legacy cities and their regions -- The cities within our Metropolitan area have to take a bigger role in our economic development. Hickory is the Hub and the largest city in our Metropolitan area. Hickory has to get on a path towards growth in population as well as economy and work in partnership with Morganton and Lenoir to build synergistic hubs of industry within the realities of the modern economy. We have to pull in the same direction and we also have to work within the framework of the larger cities that are experiencing growth within our region (Charlotte, Asheville, Winston-Salem).

Rethink state and federal policy toward legacy cities.We can’t control this, but we must promote how State and Federal policies have negatively impacted our area and work through our Congressional and State Representatives to change certain policies and to help create legislation that can help us to transition to the realities of the modern economy.

 A couple of publications helped me in the presentation of the information above

Reinventing America’s Legacy Cities: Strategies for Cities Losing Population - The American Assembly - Columbia University - March 2011 

Regenerating America's Legacy Cities -  Lincoln Institute of Land Policy - Alan Mallach and Lavea Brachman - 2013

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hickory, Creativity, and the Killa C's of Economic Regeneration

The Hound is back: Eight years ago I wrote a series of articles about where Hickory stood economically at the end of the 21st Century’s first decade. I spoke to many people who found relevance in the issues that I discussed at that time. We are living in a transitional age, a period transitioning out of the old industrial age and into an age of productivity that relies upon information technology and knowledge at its core. The old economy of industrial cities, like Hickory, was operated through top down management. The new, Knowledge Economy, depends upon individual empowerment. It has been a difficult transition for our community, but there are signs of a desire to change all around us.

Years removed from the decade of economic turmoil we experienced related to the international trade agreements and the 2008 Financial Crisis, we have moved passed the feelings of loss and abandonment. Most people have realized that life goes on and they figured out how to survive, while others are no longer with us, and then there are the young folks that don’t know any different. The young folks think the way that things are now is the way they have always been.

What our area went through economically has been life altering for many of our citizens. They have never gotten back to the levels of prosperity that they experienced through much of the 1980s and 1990s. There is a frustration related to the different world we live in today. People have come to accept the reality of a constantly changing world, what they don’t understand is Hickory’s position and status in that ever changing world.

Most people in the workforce understand that we are part of a new global reality. We have come to grips with the realization that our old job base, Manufacturing, as we knew it, is not coming back, but that does not mean that goods aren’t going to be produced.  Hickory, and the surrounding area, has lost half of the industrial jobs from the peak of around 30 years ago. However, manufacturing is still an important part of our economy and more prevalent than in most other communities in the nation.

I think most people have come to grips with the reality that careers are no longer determined by specific and redundant tasks. In order to make money, individuals have to be better-rounded, adaptable, experienced in fundamental skills, and have the ability to multi-task. Most of the people I know have changed jobs over the past decade and many have changed jobs multiple times and some have seen a complete change of career. It’s an ever changing employment reality in the 21st Century. You aren’t allowed to get comfortable.

Richard Florida, who I have discussed previously on this site, developed philosophy about the new economy in his book The Rise of the Creative Class. He wrote, “The key to economic growth lies not just in the ability to attract the creative class, but to translate that underlying advantage into creative economic outcomes in the form of new ideas, new high-tech businesses and regional growth.”

The Hickory area has struggled to move towards this new economic paradigm, but those who have chosen to stay understand the new reality and they have adapted the best they can. We have many creative individuals in our community. We just have to find more outlets for them to express themselves and to find avenues for them to benefit from their creativity.

This is the beginning of an update of my series from eight years ago Time to put the Puzzle together. In looking at where we were and comparing it to now, we can see that our community has evolved, but more because it has been forced to and not because it chose to. There is still a division between Old Hickory and New Hickory.

Yes, I know that many do not like the term “Old Hickory.” I have never meant harm in saying that. Tell me, how else am I supposed to define it?

Like I said eight years ago, and I will reiterate today, this city has a lot going for it and with focus it can get back to growth, but we have to be honest about where we stand and willing to change the direction of this city to take advantage of its resources. We have lost many of our best and brightest young people and the numbers bear that out. While the middle-aged and elderly populations have grown substantially in the area, since 2000, the 18 to 45 age bracket has lost population drastically.
I said at the time, that it reminded me of a church that doesn't add younger members. It is sure to fail. The not so funny thing is that it has evolved to where many of the churches in our area are experiencing this very problem at this present time.

Hickory has only grown by 400 people in the past six years and the Metropolitan area has lost population. We have wasted time in not taking a hard core approach to turning this situation around. The writing is on the wall. The future viability of Hickory is at stake!


The Killa C’s of Economic Regeneration - The Killer C’s can be Killa if you implement them and a Killer if you don’t.

Change - We must transform from the industrial economy to post industrial realities. Manufacturing and top-down control systems led to massive production and growth in society. Our society’s necessities were managed through the process of industrialization; including government, energy, education, food, healthcare, and the entire corporate process through increases in economies of scale, maximizing revenues, and reducing costs; thus maximizing profit to the fullest extent possible. The Industrialization process was never going to be sustainable. Because resources are not infinite and perpetual, unlimited growth is not realistic. The new economy is based upon information and knowledge, but this doesn’t mean the end of production. People will have the same needs in life, those necessities are just evolving.

Economic evolution in the 21st Century has brought us to the reality of the necessity of certain constraints on modern development, such as minimizing energy use (or creating alternative sources of energy), minimizing/eliminating waste (pollution), and maximizing the health and wellness of people.

Every facet of the economy is being redeveloped with information technology and knowledge at its core. Solutions that have, and will, emerge in the knowledge economy operate very differently than old industrial models. The industrial economy was based on top down management of processes and resources. Today, cooperation and collaboration towards innovation and creativity have become a necessity in the production of goods and services.

The new age production economy (Knowledge Economy) has created tension with people vested in the Old Industrial Economy. The Old School economy is rooted in corporatism and large scale solutions. The reality of modern technology offers us the possibilities of homestead and neighborhood (local) based microsolutions, such as energy networks. An example is food, where we have seen industrialized, large-scale, subsidized production of basic foods, like corn and soy, versus a developing, smaller-scale, localized production of food on microfarms and distribution through their networks.

Though there will always be tension in an evolving society, this economic evolution is changing how things get done and constantly creating new opportunities to innovate products. 

Creativity the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination. 

Capital - Consists of anything that can enhance a person's power to perform economically useful work.  There are five types of sustainable capital from where we derive the goods and services we need to improve the quality of our lives. Those 5 types of capital are Natural, Human, Social, Manufactured, and Financial capital. As a community, we need to identify our capital resources and assess what we can we do to be relevant within that framework of reality?

Capturing & Captivating the marketplaceWe want to gain a grasp of the marketplace by understanding our place within market realities, which will give us a better position of strength. Then we can utilize that information to exert our influence over prospective investors in our community by gaining their attention/interest in what we have to offer.

Coordination & Cooperation – Legacy (Old Industrial) communities must forge new partnerships with their counties, neighboring communities, their State, the federal government, and other economic entities aligning their efforts both vertically and horizontally.

Consolidation – Efficiency needs to become a priority in reducing redundancies of process and maximizing the allocation of scarce resources.

Care - (Maintaining/Sustaining) taking care of the capital and infrastructure we have, while evolving towards new realities, efficiently utilizing scarce resources. What good does it do to obtain new capital or build out new infrastructure, if other infrastructure falls into disrepair? This would be a misallocation of scarce resources.


I have added a Donation button to this site. It takes a lot of time and energy to write this material. Any contribution will be kindly appreciated. This isn't a career move or anything. If I get any money, I can assure you that I would use the money to write more and enhance the purpose and the mission of The Hickory Hound. Thank You. Peace Out.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

HDR Letter to the Editor: 'Time to come together on economic development'

Jerry Willard was my Economic and Government teacher when I was in 9th grade (1980-81) at Newton-Conover Junior High School. A great mentor and role model to many in this community through the years.


Hickory Daily Record Letter to the Editor: ‘Time to come together on economic development’ - (August 16. 2017)
Some years ago, I wrote a letter to the community through this forum to help us remember a founding principle of Catawba County’s birth and economic development.

I highlighted the entrepreneurial spirit of our founders who found conditions, resources, and the strong work ethic which made our region grow and prosper.

While I have seen and heard much in my time as an educator (now teaching in year 47) about economic development, I have yet to see a real plan that taps into that entrepreneurial spirit that made this area a great place to live.

As a component of a new plan, I advocate marketing to the nation and the world, “Young folks with great ideas for start-ups, we have buildings and plans to grow new businesses, provide you incentives, and a commitment to foster the Catawba Valley entrepreneurial spirit. Come on in.”

I call on leaders to make sure all stake holders have been included in the development and implementation of plans, and that all plans, especially those which have promised results from bond funding can be assessed for effectiveness?

I feel we spend way too much time and money putting lipstick on pigs to attract the “big companies” rather than truly developing economic foundations.

It’s time to focus on growing the culture and environment that made this a great place to live in the first place. It takes work, transparency, and a great plan to enhance a culture.

We have a vibrant university in town, we have solid and well-focused public schools, we have growing and niche based private and parochial schools. We have a great place to live; but we don’t have a sound, researched-based economic development plan.

This is not a factor of not caring. We care, and our leaders care. I feel we just don’t have the knowledge, research, and models to make us more aware and more successful.

You know, Greenville, S.C. didn’t just happen. They had a highly sophisticated and transparent plan based on consensus goals with metrics for measuring success.

If this county and region has financial resources to support economic growth, it’s time to make sure those resources are part of a sound plan. A house built on lipstick and sand might make us feel pretty and that we are at the beach, but we know the results of such foundations; the Good Book tells us the same thing.

It’s time to come together on economic development with a little Christ-like humility on a plan that is researched-based, and that works for all of our citizens.

It’s time for our citizens to ask some hard questions about economic development.

Jerry Willard