Thursday, December 31, 2009


Wood pellets, as discussed in the NY Times here, were one of the sectors my studio class looked at for SustainFloyd this term. I was a bit surprised by the distinct business models among firms working for export (see the examples in the NY Times link above) and firms working on production for local markets like this. The installation of specialized stoves by consumers and the need to build retail networks is a challenge for the domestic market. A federal tax credit (through 2010) promote some movement in this area.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Animated map of US unemployment

Eye popping graphic from Purdue's center for rural development here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

We are now open for "business"

Just so you know we are now moving into out "soft-rollout" phase. I have opened access to the blog and would invite you to share the our address with others. Plans are underway to migrate to a university platform, but I'd really enjoy getting some additional feedback going before we make that move.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Arguements against wind losing steam?

The impact on property values has long been a concern with respect to wind projects. This hefty US DOE financed study looking at 7,500 properties around the nation makes a pretty definitive case it is a non-issue.

I have heard less about the question of health impacts. A recent industry-funded review finds no medical basis for concern. That's probably not the last word of the subject.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A collective failure of imagination

Slate's Daniel Gross always gets my attention. He argues here that the left and right are wrong about the stimulus and are locked into "a collective failure of imagination" about the direction of the economy. The ability of banks to raise cash in the market to pay back the TARP funds, rising exports, job slowing job losses (and maybe even slight job growth by the time revised November figures are in) are all among the evidence he highlights.

Gross also notes the changing character of stimulus projects coming on line in the new year, for example construction a new tunnel between NYC and NJ employing 1,000 people. The impact of those jobs may be different than the loss prevention in education and government that predominated last year.

However, down here in the trenches things still look pretty grim. There are real consequences for real people as we're reminded in the NY Times today.

I have some concern that the type of rural distressed communities where we spend most of our time might be the last place to feel whatever change is working its way through the system. What do you think?

Friday, December 11, 2009


Over the holidays, my aunt and a friend both recommended that I take a glance at this book:
"Keeping the Millennials: Why Companies Are Losing Billions in Turnover to this Generation and What to do About It"

Just curious if anyone has read this yet... I must admit that I have not, but I am considering adding it to my reading list for break...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

When did Michael Porter jump the shark?

Do you remember the roaring 90's and the place Michael Porter used to have on the bookshelves of every economic developer? Porter's neat repackaging of old ideas about agglomeration and industrial districts set off a complex conceptual arms race between academics, practitioners, and consultants all looking to subdivide this intellectual real estate. Communities were offered a heady menu from which to repackage their community's assets as a response to global economic restructuring.

A lot of the data work with industry cluster analysis that used to be time consuming can be covered by increasingly accessible free on-line tools . So what's left to do?

Portland-based consultant Joe Cortright, writing for Brookings, described the thinking behind clusters as "cursed with being vague, comprehensible, and basically true." For example, the significance of regional scale and the concentration of existing industry for economic competitiveness readily penetrated discussions among practitioners. But too often regionalism is limited to a discussion about marketing, and the conversation around industry concentration mistakes mass for function in the global economy.

There are useful efforts to develop meaningful analytical tools for occupational and technology/knowledge clusters. I'll have more on those in future posts. What I want to think more about now however are strategy development and implementation. The communities who once may have needed us to churn out location quotients can take that step themselves with some ease. That should leave us free to facilitate that will add infinitely more value. These should include more meaningful conversations with local industries and other stakeholders, and importantly follow projects well beyond analysis and into implementation.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Have employers pushed worker productivity to the max in the recession? Daniel Gross thinks "like hamsters on a treadmill" at 9.5% productivity growth for 3Q we're about to drop. He runs the numbers for you here. What do you think? And are there urban and rural differentials in productivity growth that will have implications for our work?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Links that caught my eye 11-10

The recession is hitting home in very different ways.
The Jobless Rate for People Like You

One of the best economic development stories ongoing at Virginia Tech. Integrating higher ed and economic development Special bonus a Ted Settle Podcast!

I hadn't thought about the potential role of composite materials, a strength in SWVA, in turbine construction.
Offshore wind pilot project in NC

Looking for green jobs for Floyd County

This fall graduate students from planning, public administration and forestry departments are participating in the Economic Development Studio @ Virginia Tech. The class is working with leaders of Sustain Floyd, a community based non-profit organization dedicated to the sustainable development of Floyd County, a rural county off the Blue Ridge Parkway in the New River Valley.

As many of you know I teach this hands on graduate course as a part of the Urban Affairs and Planning program. It is a final pre-professional experience for the students. This year students are working to identify opportunities for green or sustainable business in Floyd County. The class will begin their project with an analysis of Floyd County's assets and will subsequently assess the feasibility of specific business and industry opportunities.

I've seen their preliminary recommendations which include looking at micro-dairies, wood pellet manufacturing, green interior furnishings production, and a sustainable living education center. Any thoughts?