A Georgia Main Street Paved in Red Carpet

December 2, 2012

By: Robbie Brown
Via: The New York Times

House from Fried Green Tomatoes
SENOIA, Ga. — Unlike so many recession-weary towns, Senoia has a bustling Main Street. Dozens of new stores have opened, including a sushi bar, an antiques vendor and an Irish pub. City Hall has been repainted with money from the soaring tax revenues.

The reason? Filmmaking.

This is the quaint, small town that plays a quaint, small town on television and in the movies. Hollywood filmmakers come here when they need a Mayberry backdrop or a row of mom-and-pop storefronts. The community of 3,300 people, 25 miles south of Atlanta, has been the site of 24 shows and movies, from current hits like “The Walking Dead” and “Drop Dead Diva” to Southern classics like “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Driving Miss Daisy.”

With film crews bringing in money and publicity, Senoia (pronounced sen-OY) has avoided the empty downtowns and shrinking tax bases that plague many rural towns. The population has nearly doubled since 2000. Property tax revenues have risen even though the city has lowered its tax rate and the fact that Georgia, over all, has among the nation’s highest foreclosure rate.

“It has been like turning on a fire hose of cash,” said Scott Tigchelaar, the president of Raleigh Studios Atlanta, a division of an international production company.

Senoia did not lure Hollywood on its own. Georgia lawmakers helped, passing lucrative tax credits for filmmakers and promoting the state’s cheap labor costs, few unions and access to the world’s busiest airport, in Atlanta. The money brought into the state through filming — including music videos and television commercials and other projects — has soared to $879 million from $260 million in 2008.

No city took advantage of the Georgia filmmaking bonanza as much as Senoia. The first movie made here was “Driving Miss Daisy,” which was released in 1989, and a movie or television show has been filmed nearly each year since, including “Sweet Home Alabama” in 2002, “Meet the Browns” in 2008 and “Footloose” in 2011.

By far the biggest project has been “The Walking Dead,” the hit zombie show on AMC that is the highest-rated drama of all time on basic cable channels. In the current season, Senoia plays the fictional town of Woodbury, Ga., a heavily armed haven for zombie survivors. Last season, most of the filming was done at a farm outside town.

Much of life in the real town revolves around the zombie show. Main Street was closed to traffic for 30 days this summer and fall for filming. The city stopped mowing its grass to appear post-apocalyptic. Fake buildings for a bank, travel agency, law firm and bookstore were so realistic that some customers tried to walk in.

Senoia does not charge filmmakers who come to town, but it makes money in other ways. Cast and crew members dine, shop and sometimes live here. Raleigh Studios employs as many as 250 people. And store owners say profits rise by up to 30 percent during filming.

Tourists have come from around the world. Self-proclaimed Walker Stalkers hover off the set for cast members. Keith Boldt, a truck driver from nearby Newnan, Ga., has stayed up until 4 a.m. to watch key scenes being filmed. “You get the spoilers before they air,” he said. “I’ve met almost every cast member who hasn’t been killed off yet.”

To foster tourism, the city built a replica of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, with gold plaques honoring locally made films. Soon there will be a trolley-car tour of the filming sites.

Senoia’s slogan (“The perfect setting. For life.”) clarifies that it is a small town doubling as a movie and television set, and not vice versa. But the attention can be overwhelming.

“It feels like living on a film set,” said Todd Baggarly, owner of Founders Restaurant, whose great-great-grandfather founded the town in 1860. “One of the biggest cable shows in history films on one block of a small town in Georgia, and it happens to be our town.”

Not long ago, Senoia looked like most hard-hit rural towns. There were only seven stores on Main Street in 2006, compared with 49 today.

The largest landowner is Senoia Enterprises, a development company run by Mr. Tigchelaar of Raleigh Studios. Since 2006, his company has bought and restored more than half of the stores downtown. Using an architecture firm that specializes in historical renovations, the company has rebuilt bars, restaurants and shops as they might have looked in the late 19th century.

The result is a Norman Rockwell setting for the newly rich. Zac Brown, the country music star, owns a restaurant and concert space. There are 4,000-square-foot brownstones with elevators and five bedrooms that sell for $500,000. Developers are also planning a hotel. The goal is to attract empty-nesters from Atlanta and its wealthy suburbs who are drawn by the simplicity of small-town living, with a Hollywood twist.

“We like to say we’re 25 miles and 100 years from Atlanta,” Mr. Tigchelaar said.

Not everyone in town shares that vision. “It’s a double-edged sword,” said Wayne Peavy, the owner of an antiques store. “It’s good for business. But it’s not the small town I moved to.”

Others are embracing the changes. Mr. Baggarly has installed Hollywood props at his restaurant: a white reindeer from “The Chronicles of Narnia” film series overlooks the bar, and a bazooka fired by Patrick Swayze is mounted on the wall. “We’re buying velvet ropes,” he said. “And of course, there will be a red carpet.”

On-shoring/Re-shoring Trends in US Manufacturing

October 26, 2012

by Siobhan Dilly, TIP Strategies

It is well-known that US manufacturers have spent the past 30 years off-shoring production in pursuit of low-cost labor and economies of scale. This trend has had significant ramifications for the landscape of the US economy, in which manufacturing as a share of total employment has fallen by more than 40% since its peak in 1979. Off-shoring, however, is no longer the default choice for US manufacturers. Issues with logistics, culture clashes, intellectual property, and quality control have made on-shoring or re-shoring more attractive. According to Boeing chief executive, Jim McNerney:

“We, lemming-like, over the last 15 years extended our supply chains a little too far globally in the name of low cost. We lost control in some cases over quality and service when we did that, we underestimated in some cases the value of our workers back here.”

Companies participating in this counter-trend note a range of advantages associated with producing on-shore, from better quality control, improved responsiveness to product changes, more logistical flexibility and lower shipping costs, to simply operating in the same (or a similar) timezone. Small businesses in particular see an advantage in domestic manufacturing, which frees them from the challenges of financing the required bulk orders from Chinese manufacturers. Larger businesses have found savings by eliminating the need to send employees to China and India to oversee production processes.

A series of reports released by Boston Consulting Group has found that rising US competitiveness, next to rising costs in China, will result in 10 to 30 percent of US imports from China being moved to the US in the seven tipping-point sectors: transportation goods, appliances and electrical equipment, furniture, plastic and rubber products, machinery, fabricated metal products, and computers and electronics. Along with this prediction, BCG anticipates the return of manufacturing work to the US, along with increased exports, will create 2 to 3 million jobs, both directly from added factory work, and indirectly via supporting services. BCG also found that increased US per worker productivity means the average US worker is 35 percent cheaper then the average Western European worker, up from 12 percent a decade ago. They expect this gap will continue to widen.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) recently released the results of a survey as part of their Forum for Supply Chain Innovation. The survey found that 14% of 108 respondents were definitely planning to move some of their manufacturing back home, and 33% were considering re-shoring. Google, GE, Caterpillar, and Ford are examples of large companies that have announced plans to move some of their production to the US. Although this is generally positive news for the US economy, continued high unemployment indicates this trend has yet to make significant inroads.

A Co-Working Space For People Who Give A Damn Explodes In Los Angeles

October 11, 2012

By: Zak Stone

The co-working network The Hub’s L.A. outpost just opened, but it’s already taking off. The model: Less leased office space than collaborative space for people with shared values.

If you find yourself at the Hub L.A. on a post-industrial block of downtown Los Angeles, you’ll encounter all the features you might expect from a co-working space: Raw-wood planters and ample natural lighting. Zig-zagging communal tables, ready to host a row of MacBooks. Wall-sized white boards marked up with words like “inspire” or “collaboration.”

But click “Apple + F” on the Hub’s website, and you won’t find the word “co-working” written a single time. Rather, co-founder Nick Kislinger calls the Hub a “members’ space for people who give a shit.” While the 4,000-square-foot former warehouse may be ideal for cranking on a laptop all day, those in charge of Hub L.A. insist that the physical space is just the beginning of an exclusive social experience and community–portending a model of co-working spaces that’s more like a Soho House for social impact professionals.

While many co-working spaces feature business accelerator workshops and social events, CEO and co-founder Elizabeth Stewart says that the Hub will go beyond that to serve the “whole person” with programming for “personal development or professional development.” And they’ll attempt to create a new community of urban entrepreneurs united around sustainability and digital media.

That means putting a cafe on-site, and organizing events like a release party for a book about “changes in consciousness,” a lecture on permaculture, a workshop on sustainable infrastructure, or a short-film festival.

And it also means letting the right kind of person in. On the application, members must demonstrate a commitment to social impact through their professional aspirations. Individual memberships range from $25, which gets an open invitation to the events, to $510, for unlimited access to the space (about twice as much as full-time access to more typical co-working spaces downtown). According to Kislinger, a “dedicated impact media lab” geared at “Inconvenient Truth-style” media-makers will soon open.

So far, the concept seems to be working. Despite only being officially open for little more than one week, nearly 100 of 600 slots for members have already been filled, according to Stewart. Two four-person mini-offices, called “hub-lets”–which require at least a six-month lease–are already occupied by OkCupid Labs and Verynice, a consultancy for social design.

And it also means letting the right kind of person in. On the application, members must demonstrate a commitment to social impact through their professional aspirations. Individual memberships range from $25, which gets an open invitation to the events, to $510, for unlimited access to the space (about twice as much as full-time access to more typical co-working spaces downtown). According to Kislinger, a “dedicated impact media lab” geared at “Inconvenient Truth-style” media-makers will soon open.

So far, the concept seems to be working. Despite only being officially open for little more than one week, nearly 100 of 600 slots for members have already been filled, according to Stewart. Two four-person mini-offices, called “hub-lets”–which require at least a six-month lease–are already occupied by OkCupid Labs and Verynice, a consultancy for social design.

New Campaign Highlights Apparel ‘Made in Los Angeles’

August 23, 2012

By: Jeff Tyler
Via: NPR Marketplace

A sewing machine
Jeff Horwich: Today, the apparel industry’s largest trade show kicks off in Vegas. And this year, the mayor of Los Angeles will be there, promoting a “Made in LA” campaign.

Here’s Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler on the surprising rise of a new American clothes-making hub.

Jeff Tyler: At this factory in downtown Los Angeles, large knitting machines transform yarn into fabric. What distinguishes this city from fashion hotspots like New York or Paris?

Pat Tabassi: We’re a great hub for the casual ‘L.A. chic’ look.

Pat Tabassi is marketing manager for Design Knit, a textile manufacturer. She says the company considered relocating to Shanghai, but decided the move would add time to their production process.

Tabassi: It’s really about efficiency. Because everyone wants to get their goods out as quickly as possible.

Los Angeles specializes in what’s known as ‘fast fashion’ — style as set by celebrities. Ilse Metchek is president of the California Fashion Association. She says L.A. designers have a moving target.

Ilse Metchek: You have 10 weeks to define what’s hot. And in 10 weeks, it’s not.

Companies based here can jump on a trend before it goes out of style.

Metchek: That’s what we’re all about. Built-in obsolescence.

From the home of built-in obsolescence, I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

Panama Canal’s Growth Prompts U.S. Ports to Expand

August 21, 2012

By: John Schwartz
Via: The New York Times

Port of Baltimore
BALTIMORE — The four cranes rise grandly over the port here, 14 stories high. Just off the boat from China and now being prepared for operations, the $40 million machines are part of this city’s gamble that when supersize container ships start coming through the expanded Panama Canal in 2015, Baltimore will be one of the few ports on the East Coast ready for their business.

“We think it’s going to be a major win for us,” said James J. White, the executive director of the Maryland Port Administration.

This sense that the new set of locks now being built to allow giant ships through the canal will bring riches 1,000 miles or more to the north is shared by industry and government officials along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, who have been promoting multimillion- — and in some cases multibillion- — dollar port projects for years. The Obama administration has now moved to speed up the review process for developing and deepening the harbors for several of these ports, including those of New York and New Jersey; Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Miami. The initiative “will help drive job growth and strengthen the economy,” President Obama said in announcing it last month.

But some who are following the efforts have begun to express skepticism about the hope and money going into dredging mud and raising steel. With so many ports competing for a share of the bounty, experts are questioning how big that bounty will be. “Everybody is trying to go after it — there are going to be few beneficiaries, in my judgment,” said William D. Ankner, a former official of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a former secretary of transportation for Louisiana.

The big ships — known as “Post-Panamax” and even “Super-Post-Panamax” — are already in heavy use worldwide, making up 16 percent of the container fleet but accounting for 45 percent of its capacity, according to a July report by the Army Corps of Engineers. And “those numbers are projected to grow significantly over the next 20 years,” said Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, deputy commanding general for civil and emergency operations for the corps, in announcing the report.

In the race that began when plans for the expansion were first announced in 2006, some winners have already emerged. The Port of Virginia, in Norfolk, is ready to receive the big ships today. And New York is also prepared, thanks to a massive dredging project that began 13 years ago.

But nearly every port in the game still faces major challenges and expenses — including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which plans to spend $1 billion to raise the Bayonne Bridge roadway by 64 feet to allow the giant ships through on their way to to Newark and Elizabeth, N.J.

Baltimore, which already has a 50-foot channel, has a bottleneck on the land side: the Howard Street tunnel, through which trains have to pass to reach the port, and which is too small to accommodate the double-stacked container cars that are increasingly the standard for rail shipping. The rail line CSX has announced a workaround that could cost hundreds of millions, involving a new yard beyond the tunnel filled with containers brought by truck; the port will load the trains with a single container to get through the tunnel, and the trains can be completed at the yard.

Containers a the port of Baltimore

Matt Roth for The New York Times

Baltimore officials expect larger ships to arrive at their city’s port via Panama in a few years.

Miami is putting $2 billion into improvements to its port; its dredging project was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers in April, and the city is building a tunnel costing an estimated $1 billion to create a crucial link between the port and the Interstate System of highways.

Savannah is preparing to move forward with a $652 million deepening project, while the South Carolina Legislature has committed $300 million to dredging for Charleston. A plan for the two cities to team up on a common port has all but stalled.

The big ships will also come via places beyond Panama: many are expected to come from Southeast Asia through the Suez Canal, and from South America’s eastern ports.

But more fundamental questions have been raised about the real benefits of the coming trade, and especially the effects of the new canal traffic.

Moving goods by water is generally cheaper than moving them by land because of the economies of scale of moving so many containers on those big ships, said John Martin, a ports consultant in Lancaster, Pa. So that would suggest canal routes will offer lower-cost shipping to the East Coast and Midwest through the canal.
But, he said, containers loaded on the West Coast, which has built up its container yards and highway and rail infrastructure, can outrun those that travel to the East Coast by water, and that can make the difference when speed and dependability are more important than cost alone. Besides, he added, costs and fees can shift; Panama can be expected to raise rates for canal passage, and “the railroads are not going to sit idly by” and let the water route undercut their business.

Scudder Smith, a consultant with the engineering consulting firm Parsons Brinkerhoff, said that a water passage, “all things being equal, will cause cost reductions — but all things are not equal,” he added, and so “I’m not at all confident in any numbers.”

That could be why J. Christopher Lytle, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, does not sound a bit worried. “There’s just not going to be a huge movement of cargo from the West Coast to the East Coast,” he said.

His port, and its counterpart in Los Angeles, are already dealing with some of the biggest vessels on the water, capable of carrying the equivalent of 13,000 container units — vessels too big to pass through the new Panama Canal locks.

After talking up port projects in ways that sound a bit like the overblown economic predictions about new stadiums and convention centers in recent years, some officials are now scaling back their claims. After Hurricane Katrina, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi trumpeted plans for a “port of the future” at Gulfport with a 50-foot-deep channel, redirecting some $600 million in federal housing disaster funds on a project he pledged would spur the economy and create bountiful jobs. A state official at the time called it “the single largest economic-development project in the state’s history,” and officials predicted that it would surpass the Port of Los Angeles.

Today, Mississippi and the port are being more modest. The port recently noted that it is not pursuing the announced plans to dredge the channel to 50 feet, and because of lapsed maintenance, the channel does not even reach the depth of 36 feet authorized by law. The port is now focused on improving what it has instead of expanding greatly, and plans focus more on the cascade effect as smaller ships are crowded out of the major ports by the new superships.

Local critics of the original plan like Reilly Morse, policy director of Mississippi Center for Justice, said the state had been swept up in a national fad “that promised far more economic benefits than it could deliver and risked far greater burdens on the host community than it could support.”

Other ports try not to overstate their goals. Mark Montgomery, the chief executive of Ports America Chesapeake, the private partner with the state of Maryland in Baltimore’s project, said that his port and supporters understand that they are not likely to defeat the megaports of the West Coast, or even New York and Norfolk. Instead, he said, his port will serve Baltimore, Washington and Northern Virginia — though he also sees it as a potential gateway to the Midwest. “Our expectations are right-sized,” he said.

To Robert Puentes, a transportation expert at the Brookings Institution, the problem of whether the ports are overbuilding for a Panama payoff is one of planning. “We are the only industrialized country on the planet that doesn’t have a comprehensive freight policy,” he said. As for port development, he said, “I can’t see the federal government picking winners and losers” in such a politically charged environment, but “they could provide a little more guidance — where right now they are providing none.”

The Key To A Thriving Creative Class? Give Artists Their Own Real Estate Developers

August 10, 2012

By: Emily Badger
Via: Fast Company

It worked for St. Paul, Minnesota, where artists revived an old warehouse district–and got to stick around to reap the benefits of what they helped create.

St. Paul MN Warehouse District
The process whereby artists cycle through the rundown neighborhoods of American cities has become so entrenched it even has a dirty name: the SoHo effect. Artists venture into an area where no else will. They help make it desirable, chic even. Then, as rents go up, they’re forced to move out. Neighborhoods appreciate over time. But artist income seldom does.

“I remember that very deeply in my soul back in 1986, we felt that was unfair,” says Kelley Lindquist, who became the president of a nonprofit called Artspace in 1987. “It was insulting for people to sometimes say, ‘Oh, artists like to move, they’re bohemians!’ Who likes to be on the street and renegotiate a lease and carry all their equipment and try to create a new community and basically start all over?”

This is the lopsided social contract cities often have with artists: We count on them remake abandoned neighborhoods, but we offer no provisions for them to remain a part of what they helped create. Enter Artspace. The Twin Cities-based organization has pioneered what sounds like the ultimate niche idea: It’s a nonprofit real estate developer for artists. Its flagship project, the Northern Warehouse in the Lowertown district of St. Paul, Minnesota, has been housing artists for more than 20 years in the heart of a neighborhood that’s undergone vast transformation. Today, as widespread civic enthusiasm for “creative” projects has begun to spawn skepticism, the Northern Warehouse may be one of the clearest case studies of the role of artists in rejuvenating decayed neighborhoods—and sticking around afterward.

An Artspace Development

Click image to view Fast Company's slideshow of Artspace's developments

The city of Minneapolis’ arts commission founded Artspace in 1979 to help connect local artists to affordable space in the city’s warehouse district. But the same artists kept coming back, priced out of their homes and studios, in need of yet another space. When Lindquist took over a decade later, the local arts community began to focus instead on the only permanent solution: They needed to control the buildings. Since then, Artspace has completed 30 live/work developments in 21 U.S. cities, with two more opening this fall, two more under construction, and another dozen in the pipeline.

Lindquist recalls that in the ‘80s, four other organizations–in Seattle, San Francisco, Washington and New York–were toying with a concept similar to Artspace’s (at the time, the five had been given a grant by the Apple Foundation to network with each other). Artspace is the only one of those original five that has survived to this day.

“I do honestly think that there is a prairie spirit here,” Lindquist says, laughing. He sometimes thinks about why this idea got off the ground in Minnesota when it didn’t elsewhere. “Living in Minnesota is pretty rough,” he says. “There can be easily six months of the year that would seem pretty hard to live in and intolerable to a lot of people. But I think it forced those of us here to try harder, and to be a little more experimental, a little more risk-taking on how do we keep our culture vibrant?”

Artspace has intertwined missions serving artists and small arts organizations and leveraging the properties that house them for “creative placemaking.” In its most literal sense, the term refers to building communities around arts and cultural activities. But “creative placemaking” has also become shorthand for the more ambitious–and harder to measure–idea that the arts can also lead to economic development. Over the last decade, many cities have fallen in love with the idea that if they can just lure artists and other creative types, economic vitality will follow. The tricky part is proving that an influx of artists actually causes everything that comes afterward: the higher property values, the new restaurants, the middle-class families.

“In a lot of ways, I think Lowertown is perhaps the most cut-and-dried example you’ll ever get of artists who really created a tipping point,” says Laura Zabel, the executive director of Springboard for the Arts, a long-running tenant of the Northern Warehouse. “Because there was such a vacuum here before.”

An Artspace Development

On the edge of downtown St. Paul, Lowertown was long a hub for railroad warehouses. If you wandered into the area 20 years ago, Zabel says, “there was sort of a feeling that you fell off a cliff.” Few people lived there and most of the buildings were empty. The Northern Warehouse had been built for the Northern Pacific Railroad. In the ‘80s, the bottom two floors were still occasionally used by arts organizations. But the top four floors were uninhabitable after the roof caved in. When Artspace eyed the property in the late ‘80s, those top floors had been vacant for 20 years.

Artspace converted the building into 52 live/work loft spaces for artists, with complimentary commercial space on the first two floors. The project was financed with a mix of historic and low-income housing credits, private investment and philanthropy grants. As a result, the building’s mortgage is so low that Artspace can charge tenants well below market rate. To qualify to live and work here, artists must make less than 60% of the area median income. Rents range from about $500 to $1,000, depending on income, for spaces as large as 1,600 square feet. When Artspace recently commissioned a study of the area, market rate for a two-bedroom in now-booming Lowertown was $1,300 a month.

“I’m not sure [Springboard] would still be around if we didn’t have this space,” Zabel says. Her organization, which is about to expand, pays $1,100 a month for 2,200 square feet. This is a common refrain throughout the building. “I’d probably be nowhere,” says painter Matthew Rucker, who estimates that he makes 90% of his annual income during the two weekends a year when the Northern Warehouse hosts an art crawl. “I can honestly say that I owe almost all of my current success to living in this building.”

The Northern Warehouse has also created for its tenants something like the creative cacophony of a coffee shop on a much larger scale. The people who live and work here are sculptors, singers, graphic designers, composers, writers, painters, even magicians. And they constantly interact through the building’s co-op, at art crawl events, in Springboard’s artist resource center. Justin E.A. Busch, a writer and composer, says his six years in the Northern Warehouse have been the most productive of his life because of both the private working space he has here and the people who share the building with him. He produced one CD, for example, with a neighbor who’s a singer.

In a traditional apartment, that might never happen. “Even if your next-door neighbor in an apartment building is a singer,” he says, “it’s a different atmosphere knocking on a stranger’s door and saying ‘I can’t help notice you’re a singer!’ Here, you know everybody is an artist.”

Outside the Northern Warehouse, galleries and restaurants have sprung up throughout the neighborhood. The best farmer’s market in the city now runs year-round across the street. Artspace has developed a second, 66-unit property next door, the Tilsner. Today Lowertown is one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the city, and there is even talk of a new minor-league baseball stadium there.

This, of course, has the artists on edge, being attuned as they are to the fear that artists will always fall victim to their own success in a redeveloping neighborhood. The artists who live in Artspace’s properties will at least be safe in perpetuity. Artspace recently refinanced the Northern Warehouse, and it remains on stable financial footing as a permanent space for artists for decades to come. One might hope that its permanent presence might keep some of the neighborhood’s character intact, regardless of whatever else happens.

If that’s the case, the Northern Warehouse model suggests that it’s possible to break the SoHo effect but still leverage the urban pioneering instinct of artists. Artspace doesn’t prove that artists can power the economy of whole cities. Its success–born out of an intricate model that emphasizes the long-term stability of an arts community–hardly translates to a blanket endorsement of the equation that artists = urban prosperity. But it seems to be doing something pretty effective in the Twin Cities.