Here are a few of my takeaways from the May 12th and 13th, 2021 Mid-American Economic Development Council Best Practice virtual conference. Thanks to Tim Robinson, chair of the event, the host committee, and the 26 speakers for their efforts in putting on a great conference and avoiding death by PowerPoint.
From the opening session by a panel of the Michigan utility economic development network, I learned that they have developed a shared form for gathering the necessary utility requirements of prospective companies. This tool saves everyone time and effort by gathering the necessary information up front. They also indicated the importance to engage them as early as possible in your projects so they can better serve you and your prospective companies. If you would like a copy of the shared form, please contact them using the information to the right.
Next, Tracey Tucker, Economic Development Director of Discover Flint Township, gave examples of how her organization has gone about the re-use of their over-built retail space and how they have repurposed it for other uses including a distribution center, residential development, and manufacturing space.
The end of the day virtual Trivia contest was a welcomed break. I was surprised to learn that there is now a service that hosts Trivia sessions for virtual conferences! Even though my team didn’t win, it was fun playing.
The next day, Gabriel Dion, Director, Global Strategy for Newmark, pointed out that the US has 14.2 billion sq. ft. of retail space which is five times more per capita than in Europe. He gave several more examples of commercial property re-use and outlined the benefits that it is 18% faster to convert a property to new use and 16% less expensive than new construction. In addition, retail property conversion to distribution often has the added benefit of a prime location with good transportation access as well as a large potential workforce.
Nathan Foss, of EMSI, and Molly Mason, CEO of Hoyden Creative, discussed the use of data to strengthen economic development programs, inform strategies, and bolster marketing efforts. For example, cost of living, commute times, housing costs, and crime data can be used when attracting talent and recruiting businesses. Molly said that quality of life has become a major factor in attracting talent. Factors such as walkability, the attractiveness of the downtown, availability of nightlife, and the music scene can be used in the talent attraction effort. Cities such as Nashville and Austin are two examples of cities that have become talent magnets.
Aaron Brossoit, CEO of Golden Shovel, and his panel, which included Sandy Pratt, John Karras, and Amanda Jenkins, talked about remote workers. John discussed the relocation of remote workers to lower-cost cities outside of major metropolitan areas.
Sandy Pratt described how cities and states are offering incentives to remote workers to relocate to their areas. Cities such as Tulsa, OK, and the State of Vermont are offering $10,000 to $20,000 in cash to remote workers who relocate.
Amanda Jenkins told us about her experience as a digital nomad, a new kind of remote worker. She said that digital nomads move from place to place to explore the new geographic area or have new experiences. She described the digital nomad village resort in the Caribbean where she was staying and the group of digital nomad friends she met there. Some resorts now cater specifically to these remote workers, employing full-time managers to serve the needs of these nomads.
The last session taught me how art can be used for placemaking. Jennifer McKeone, Executive Director of Cozad Development Corporation, showed us how Cozad, Nebraska, through strong community leadership, reinvented themselves from a dying rural community to a thriving tourist destination. She described how they began by focusing on a famous local artist, Robert Henri, and created a museum of his art, organized classical music events and other activates to attract tourists.
Another example of place-making through art was presented by Joseph Schipani, Executive Director of the Flint Art Project. Flint, Michigan created a tourist destination with walking tours of murals they commissioned to be painted on the buildings in their downtown. Kady Yellow, Director of Placemaking of What’s Up Downtown, gave examples of creating a sense of place that we all need as we emerge from the virtual Zoom world in which we have been living in the past year. The need to connect is part of who we are and want to be. A sense of place matters!