Four Federal Water Infrastructure Funding Programs to Watch

The White House’s Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America, which was released early this year, outlines the President’s proposed steps to encourage increased State, local, and private investment in infrastructure. And though you’ve probably heard a lot about it, chances are you haven’t had the time to read and reflect on the 55 page document. So what might the President’s plan mean for infrastructure in your community? While the plan outlines programs for infrastructure of all sectors, this post provides a quick overview of the 4 proposed programs with relevance to water infrastructure.

Continue reading “Four Federal Water Infrastructure Funding Programs to Watch”

Lessons for CED from Europe: Inclusive Communities and a New City-Run Food Pantry

The photo was eerily familiar to anyone interested in CED.  The headline from the New York Times article on September 20, just days before the German national election, read, “Merkel Says Germans ‘Never Had It Better.’ But Many Feel Left Behind.”  The accompanying photo by Gordon Welters, shown here, features Continue reading “Lessons for CED from Europe: Inclusive Communities and a New City-Run Food Pantry”

Electric Buses Debut in North Carolina

The days of public buses pulling away from a bus stop with the loud growl of a diesel engine and a cloud of black smoke could become a thing of the past.  The company Proterra makes fully electric buses, and North Carolina will soon see four of these buses hit their streets.  The governing board for Raleigh Durham International Airport has agreed to purchase four of Proterra’s Catalyst E2 fully-electric buses, four charging stations, and the required infrastructure and training at a cost of $3.4 million.  The cost was offset by a $1.6 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).   Continue reading “Electric Buses Debut in North Carolina”

What’s the deal with modular construction?

AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown

In May of this year, Marriott International announced that it would ramp up the use of modular construction in its hotels. Marriott said they anticipated signing on at least 50 hotels in 2017 alone that would be primarily modular, citing that this type of construction would enable them to generate returns for their partners faster, decrease waste, and employ a steady and reliable skilled labor force. In fact, one of these 50 properties is in Chapel Hill; the new AC Hotel Chapel Hill Downtown. The four-story above-ground structure (with two levels of parking beneath) will boast 123 guest rooms, all built using modular construction. Continue reading “What’s the deal with modular construction?”

The Electric Grid of the Future

The energy landscape is changing. More and more, renewable energy plays a larger role on how we generate and consume power. Fundamental differences between traditional power generation technology and renewable sources requires an overhaul of the entire energy industry, from infrastructure to business models, creating the electric grid of the future. Three of the biggest differences, which this blog post will explore, are: variability, decentralization, and digitalization. Continue reading “The Electric Grid of the Future”

Renewables: Beyond Traditional Small Scale Applications (Part II)

Solar Roadway

The first CED post in this series explored non-traditional uses of renewable energy that went beyond traditional on-roof and on-ground arrays. Those included solar canopies, roofs, and shingles, whose value-add is the possibility of producing a space that can be used for more than power generation. But not all options are about creating additional space. In some cases, the best option is to add solar generation capabilities to existing spaces in the least intrusive way. How do you generate clean energy at a park without unsightly modifications? Where do you install solar panels on a modern skyscraper? What if you want to modernize an existing structure? For each of this questions, the answer lies in new solar technology capable of adding solar generation capabilities to a wide array of spaces. Continue reading “Renewables: Beyond Traditional Small Scale Applications (Part II)”

Studying the Affordability of Water Rates

The affordability of water and wastewater rates is an issue that is attracting more attention than ever. In particular, “A Burgeoning Crisis? A Nationwide Assessment of the Geography of Water Affordability in United States”—a recent paper out of Michigan State University— has generated a great deal of debate and dialogue about the issue. The paper is worth reading for yourself, but the primary conclusion of the paper is that over the next five years, at least 35.6% of the U.S. population will have combined water and wastewater bills greater than 4.5% of their community’s median household income. Continue reading “Studying the Affordability of Water Rates”

5 ways to make your building healthier: Fitwel, Part 2 of 2

A recent CED blog post introduced Fitwel – a new certification system focused on occupant health and wellness in buildings – and began to explore what a ‘healthy’ building looks like. This post continues the discussion, highlighting five examples of features that the Fitwel system recognizes. The purpose of this post is to give readers a better sense of:

  1. what Fitwel certification looks like in practice; and
  2. what specific things owners and tenants can do to make their office buildings healthier places to work.

Continue reading “5 ways to make your building healthier: Fitwel, Part 2 of 2”

Renewables: Beyond Traditional Small Scale Applications

When people think about renewable energy for their homes and businesses, the first option that comes to mind is building a traditional solar panel array. Whether on their roof or on the ground, these systems provide clean solar energy and are eligible for different incentive programs. Nevertheless, that is not the only option available. In an industry that has seen rapid innovation and an overall drop in prices, companies have been quick in exploiting more ways in which to create value. This post, the first in a 2-part series, will explore new innovations in solar canopies, roofs, and even shingles. Continue reading “Renewables: Beyond Traditional Small Scale Applications”

What is the “Greenest” Building? Making a Case for Building Reuse and Historic Preservation

Mother Earth Brewing in Kinston, NC: Gold LEED certified & Historic Preservation

Carl Elefante, AIA, LEED AP, a prominent proponent of sustainable historic preservation, states, “The greenest building is the one that has already been built.”  Elefante’s declaration revolutionized the commonly-accepted theory that newer is better, both for society and for the environment. Elefante meant to dissuade public and private sectors from new construction and development, and to revalue existing and irreplaceable building stock. The preservation of historic structures has proven to be an effective tool towards economic, environmental, and social sustainability. However, the green movement, as it exists currently, stresses new construction rather than the preservation of existing resources, leading to implied preferences towards the touted sustainability of “green design.”  Continue reading “What is the “Greenest” Building? Making a Case for Building Reuse and Historic Preservation”

Biophilic Design, Part III: Cities

bioBiophilic design offers solutions in the face of a world that is quickly urbanizing and taxing our health, our wallets, and our environment. Compared with more rural settings, urban environments make people more stressed, do greater harm to the environment, and cost their taxpayers more money. There are costs to city life. Urban environments – with their steel, concrete and crowded spaces – are, quite literally, unnatural. Yet that’s where the world is headed and we need answers on how to best exist in these spaces.

As discussed in the first and second blogposts of this series, biophilic design is the idea of bringing aspects of nature indoors and it offers numerous benefits to a building’s occupants. It boosts worker productivity, decreases the length of hospital stays, improves student test scores, and increases residential property values, to name just a few. Continue reading “Biophilic Design, Part III: Cities”

Green Infrastructure 101

5036625486_e60cef8f76_bIn today’s changing climate, planning for natural hazard mitigation and the reduction of wet weather impacts is a top priority, particularly in coastal communities and flood-prone areas. Communities with growing populations face additional pressures, as more people and increased development strain existing water infrastructure and a place’s capacity to weather storms. In light of these challenges, green infrastructure represents one way towns and cities can better manage stormwater and help increase their resiliency.  Continue reading “Green Infrastructure 101”

The Smart Growth Program in North Carolina

In September, my colleague Glenn Barnes shared resources from EPA on “smart growth” economic development. This approach to economic develop helps protect human health and the natural environment, while making communities more attractive, economically stronger, and more socially diverse. Smart Growth can take many different forms, from planning and zoning ordinances, to green infrastructure plans, to farmland protection initiatives. While the Smart Growth Program has been successfully implemented in cities and towns throughout the country, it has also had an impact right here in North Carolina. What are our neighbors in NC doing to promote Smart Growth principles? Read on for two examples.

Continue reading “The Smart Growth Program in North Carolina”

Solar Schools and Environmental Finance

North Carolina is one of the leading states in the country when it comes to installing solar energy. The growth of solar in North Carolina has been a fascinating opportunity to study the impact of different environmental finance systems. While the financial incentives and environmental finance systems available to solar developers across the state have been critical to supporting the growth of solar; not all property owners have had equal access to these incentives. Given the importance of income tax incentives to solar developers, it’s not surprising that Continue reading “Solar Schools and Environmental Finance”

EPA Resources on Smart Growth Economic Development

Many small towns and rural areas had an economy that was built on a single economic sector (for example, logging, mining, or manufacturing) that has changed significantly by technology and/or market forces, leaving residents without jobs and governments without a healthy tax base.  Some communities respond with an economic revitalization strategy that seeks to attract major employers to replace lost jobs.  Another approach is “Smart Growth” economic development, which builds upon existing assets, takes incremental actions to strengthen communities, and builds long-term value to attract a range of investments.

This past year, the U.S. EPA released Framework for Creating a Smart Growth Economic Development Strategy: A Tool for Small Cities and Towns.  This tool is intended for small to medium sized cities and towns that have stagnant population growth, struggling economies, and areas of divestment.  It is the latest in a slew of resources available from EPA on Smart Growth, including other tools, publications, technical assistance, and case studies. Continue reading “EPA Resources on Smart Growth Economic Development”

Mapping North Carolina’s Local Food Infrastructure

NC Local Food Infrastructure Inventory
NC Local Food Infrastructure Inventory

Strengthening local food economies can be viewed as an important part of a holistic approach to community development. Local food can be a positive contributor to social capital, public health, environmental preservation, and overall quality of life. It also can be an important component of local economic development. In thinking about the development of robust local food economies, a lot of attention is given to the poles of local food supply chains: namely, local farmers and farms on one end, and outlets for distribution on the other, such as farmer’s markets, co-ops, and CSA operations. But for many local farmers, too little attention is given to the intermediary steps in the supply-chain. The intermediary steps together constitute a critical infrastructure for local farmers that can make a huge difference in making a local food operation viable or not.

Continue reading “Mapping North Carolina’s Local Food Infrastructure”

2016 Environmental Legislation: Place Matters!

How much the last legislative session impacted environmental management in your community largely depends on where you live in the state. It was a “short” legislative session and relatively few bills were passed, but several of the bills that were passed contained significant provisions likely to impact environmental quality in specific regions of the state. For example, the Drinking Water Protection/Coal Ash Cleanup Act requires that the owners of coal ash impoundments (ponds) that were shown to pollute groundwater provide impacted households with a permanent alternative water source. The Act also lays out the process and Continue reading “2016 Environmental Legislation: Place Matters!”

Is Your Local Community Partner Ready To Go?

In July 2013, I wrote a blog proposing a four-part framework for understanding if specific local organizations have the capacity to implement CED programs. How well does this framework hold up when actually used?  We answer this question using interviews with 31 local partners, over the past two years around a single, federally-funded, locally-administered community program in North Carolina.  About half have given up on running the program. Continue reading “Is Your Local Community Partner Ready To Go?”

Sparking Sustainability and Innovation

This April, the North Carolina Department of the State Treasurer hosted a conference on “Sparking Sustainability and Innovation: Together, Let’s Build a Stronger Future”. The conference was designed to foster discussion around how innovation and sustainability are integral to creating and maintaining long-term stability for North Carolina communities. Successful economic development initiatives often rely on and are strengthened by vibrant, innovative, and sustainable communities, so this conference was aimed at sharing strategies, success stories, and identifying challenges and opportunities for North Carolina local governments.

Continue reading “Sparking Sustainability and Innovation”

Community Food Strategies: Food System Network Building in NC

CFS_WebsiteAs I have written about before, I see local food organizing as a powerful community building enterprise. Because everyone eats, local food efforts literally can have an impact on entire communities. And because local food organizing touches upon all aspects of community capital (social, environmental, financial, and so on), focusing community development energies on local food seems like an effective strategy to achieve at least some broader community development goals. Perhaps no state in the U.S. has a better infrastructure for local food organizing than North Carolina. In this brief post, I’d like to draw attention to the supportive infrastructure that is helping make NC a national leader in local food efforts.

Continue reading “Community Food Strategies: Food System Network Building in NC”

The Blue Economy: Linking Water to Economic Revitalization

Over the last several decades, the economy of North Carolina has undergone major transitions. Once home to thriving tobacco, furniture, and textile industries, we’re seeing more and more emphasis on high tech solutions to modern problems. We’re now a state of leaders in technology, education, manufacturing, green industry, and health care. Of course we’re not alone in this transition, as many communities are experiencing a decline in manufacturing and other once strong industries. In previous posts, my colleagues have written extensively on how water plays an important part in community economic development. But what role does water play in a transitioning economy?

Continue reading “The Blue Economy: Linking Water to Economic Revitalization”

How to Measure Job Creation from Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Programs


In past posts, we have discussed how governments can use financing programs to encourage energy improvements and how energy improvements can turn undesirable properties into economic opportunities.  In fact, economic development and job creation are some of the major benefits touted by governmental energy programs, even above and beyond the potential environmental benefits of such programs.

The non-profit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has written extensively on the job creation benefits of energy programs, including a fact sheet and a series of case studies.  Many other entities have put out their own case studies, such as World Resources Institute (WRI).

But what is the best way to measure job creation?  Is there a consistent, accepted methodology to measure the economic impact of energy programs so that programs can be compared to each other? Continue reading “How to Measure Job Creation from Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Programs”

The Triple Bottom Line in Local Government Community Economic Development


North Carolina Triple Bottom Line1

A central tenet of community economic development is the belief that in fostering a healthy economy, we are working towards building healthy, vibrant communities. But many would contend that a healthy economy is only one piece of the puzzle. Local governments are increasingly paying attention to other elements of community development work in order to build healthy communities, realizing that they cannot foster a strong economy in isolation from social and environmental factors. One approach to development that addresses these issues is the “triple bottom line”, a method that integrates three dimensions of performance: social, environmental, and financial. Under the triple bottom line approach, growth and development should consider not only economic factors, but also social and environmental impacts of any initiative.

The triple bottom line framework has been adopted and championed by a wide variety of actors, including large corporations, community based nonprofit organizations, environmental groups, and international development agencies. Experts say that triple bottom line sustainability is most achievable at the regional and local scale, so it seems natural that local governments would adopt this approach in their economic development efforts. But what strategies can local governments in North Carolina use to foster triple bottom line impacts?

Continue reading “The Triple Bottom Line in Local Government Community Economic Development”

Can you feel it Coming in the Air? Rural Economic Development and Wind Farms may not literally grow on trees, but a glance at North Carolina’s rural economies reveals that cash crops sprout not just in our long-cultivated cotton and tobacco fields: they now also root in the steep hillsides of northwestern Christmas tree farms and navigate the waters flowing through the mountains and along the coast. The recent unveiling of plans for a large wind farm in northeastern North Carolina point to the air above farmland as the growing medium for the state’s newest cash crop. Just how excited should wind-tousled economic developers and public officials be?

Windfall Revenues

In mid-July, Amazon, the online retail giant, and Spanish energy company Iberdrola Renewables announced that they would build a 34-square-mile wind farm in Perquimans and Pasquotank counties. The 104 turbines that make up the first phase of the so-called Amazon Wind Farm US East will provide electricity for use by Amazon data centers in Virginia and Ohio beginning in December 2016. When fully built, the wind farm will have 150 turbines.  Continue reading “Can you feel it Coming in the Air? Rural Economic Development and Wind Farms”

Key Financial Indicators: Debt Service Coverage Ratio

In previous posts, we have discussed where to find data to help make smart financial and managerial decisions. Another vital data source for any enterprise is its own financial statements, from which enterprises can calculate key financial indicators.  In March, we discussed operating ratio.  This post will discuss another key financial indicator–debt service coverage ratio.

Debt service coverage ratio is an important indicator for many aspects of community and economic development.  For this blog, let’s look at key financial indicators from the perspective of a business-like unit within government–a water or wastewater system.  Key financial indicators are a way for that enterprise to get a snapshot of its financial health and to determine whether it needs to make adjustments to its rates, and they should be calculated annually when financial statements are released.  Debt service coverage ratio, as the name suggests, measures the system’s ability to pay its long-term debts. Continue reading “Key Financial Indicators: Debt Service Coverage Ratio”

Key Financial Indicators: Operating Ratio

In previous posts, we have discussed where to find data to help make smart financial and managerial decisions. Another vital data source for any enterprise is its own financial statements, from which enterprises can calculate key financial indicators.

Let’s look at key financial indicators from the perspective of a business-like unit within government–a water or wastewater system.  Key financial indicators are a way for that enterprise to get a snapshot of its financial health and to determine whether it needs to make adjustments to its rates, and they should be calculated annually when financial statements are released. One important financial indicator is operating ratio, which measures the ratio of annual operating revenues to annual operating expenses. To be a true enterprise fund that is self-supporting, a system should strive to have at least as much operating revenue as it has operating expenses, if not more. Otherwise, the system would be operating at a loss.

Continue reading “Key Financial Indicators: Operating Ratio”

System Leadership and Community Development

From "The Dawn of System Leadership" (SSIR, Winter 2015)
Stanford Social Innovation Review (Winter 2015)

An article titled “The Dawn of System Leadership” was recently published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, and John Kania and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in community development. While the notion of system leadership is not new—it is getting at similar ideas that others have called collaborative, integrative, boundary-spanning, adaptive or catalytic leadership—I believe the emphasis on “systems” thinking, change, and leadership is very helpful, and their short article does a great job of distilling down a lot of learning into a few key points that I’d like to summarize here.

Continue reading “System Leadership and Community Development”

Food Trucks, Waste, and Economic Opportunity

Landfill or Reuse?
Landfill or Reuse?

How do you turn a small urban park into a massive culinary festival? Invite 45 food trucks to show up for the afternoon. Planning a sunny 50 degree day after a week of rain helps as well. “Food truck rodeos” have become a popular way of bringing people into urban areas to support small businesses and food creations that often rely on local products.  The crowds that come for these events pump excitement and financial resources into urban areas, but they also lead to some less exciting by-products such as trash. At one time, the main objective for festival organizers in dealing with waste was to do it as quickly and sublimely as possible — spreading waste bins throughout. Many event organizers have started to rethink this approach and there has been a rapid increase in no and zero waste events. Environmental festivals like the Eno River Festival have long sought to minimize their environmental impact, but this trend has not been limited to environmental events. Mainstream events such as the NC State Fair and Sports Events have realized that with a little extra effort on their part, the waste system can be redesigned to reduce the event’s environmental impact.  Continue reading “Food Trucks, Waste, and Economic Opportunity”

CDFI Profile: The Natural Capital Investment Fund previous blog post discussed the role of Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, in North Carolina. CDFIs are typically smaller financial institutions that engage in mission-driven lending intended to expand access to capital in low-wealth and underserved communities in order to foster economic development and revitalization. CDFIs are involved in community and economic development activities in a number of ways – from Program-Related Investments to support revolving loan funds in the case of the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation to the expansion of affordable housing in targeted geographic areas (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership). This post, the first in a series of posts profiling CDFIs with links to North Carolina, will highlight the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF), a CDFI focused on sustainable development. NCIF is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) affiliate of The Conservation Fund, dedicated to providing debt financing to small, natural resource-based entrepreneurs and small businesses across rural communities in the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States.  Continue reading “CDFI Profile: The Natural Capital Investment Fund”

Where to Find Data for Smart Managerial and Financial Decisions

Ever need to know how many single-family wood-framed houses were sold in the Midwest last year? Or the latitude and longitude of every farmers market in Wisconsin that sells herbs, flowers, and soap? What about the number of planes that sat on the tarmac more than three hours this past June? Or the annual sales volume of book stores in the United States for the past 20 years?

These might sound like crazy questions, but all of the above information is available through the federal government’s data portal houses more than 130,000 data sets that are freely available for download (and, no, that’s not a typo—more than one hundred thirty thousand data sets). These data can be invaluable resources for making smart managerial and financial decisions for our economic development, community development, and environmental services. Continue reading “Where to Find Data for Smart Managerial and Financial Decisions”

A Gathering of NC Food Councils

Gathering of NC Food CouncilsLast week (December 4-5) I attended a remarkable event, perhaps the first of it’s kind. It was a gathering of people involved in local food system work from all across North Carolina, as well as some representatives from South Carolina and Virginia. The title of the event was “Connecting for the Future: A Gathering of NC Food Councils.” About 150 people were in attendance at the Biotech Place in Winston-Salem. The event was convened by the Local Food Council of North Carolina in partnership with the Forsyth Community Food Consortium. Many sponsors helped cover the costs of the event, including the BlueCross BlueShield Foundation and the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS). It was a great opportunity to hear about the ‘state of the art’ when it comes to local food networks/councils.

Continue reading “A Gathering of NC Food Councils”

Encouraging Property Improvements with Stormwater Fee Credit Programs

Greentown, USA wants to join some of its large older city peers such as Washington and Philadelphia that are rebranding themselves as Green Environmental Cities. Greentown wants to become the greenest small town in the country and would like to encourage property owners across their town to plant more trees, convert their rain shedding roofs into rain absorbing green space, and dig up their pavement and replace it with rain gardens and other stormwater systems that reduce run-off. They have started a media blitz promoting this green transformation, yet progress has been painfully slow. Older shopping centers, like the Southside Shopping Center, continue to produce torrents of rainwater runoff laden with oil and trash that pollutes the area’s waterways. Retrofitting existing space is costly and property owners have other competing needs for their scarce renovation dollars, and education alone only goes so far in promoting transformation. The city council is deadlocked between a contingent that wants to enact regulation that requires older properties to “Greenify” and a contingent that thinks the city should just use public grants to incentivize the transformation. Greentown, like many communities across the country, is stuck. What’s the solution? Continue reading “Encouraging Property Improvements with Stormwater Fee Credit Programs”

New Tool Helps Communities Assess the Affordability of Services

When the five small water systems in Hampton County, South Carolina decided to band together to create the Lowcountry Regional Water System (LRWS), they, like many other small water systems across the country, faced a number of managerial and financial obstacles. Among these challenges were a flat growth rate, degraded and inadequate infrastructure, artificially low rates, and an economically disadvantaged population. Each of the five communities in this rural county charged vastly different amounts for their service, with monthly rates for 5,000 gallons of water and sewer ranging from as low as $36.50 to as high as $62.67. Whether the rates of the new, regionalized water system were “affordable” for all customers became a top concern for the LRWS. Continue reading “New Tool Helps Communities Assess the Affordability of Services”

Unrequited Demand in a World of Fixed Infrastructure

Water_HeartIt can be hard being a water utility when nobody needs you. Or worse yet, when you have to push people away. But the news seems rife with such stories of unrequited demand for service from water utilities that invested so much in the relationship, the infrastructure, now only to be left kind of empty.

It’s not always for the same reason.  Detroit has experienced a major exodus in recent decades which, in part, drove the utility to undertake a notorious strategy to cut the water service off for about 15,000 residents. The City was trying to make any effort to payback nearly $5.2 billion of outstanding water and sewer system revenue bonds that it likely issued anticipating that there would be paying customers to serve in the coming years.

On a smaller scale, but no less real, rural utilities across the country are dealing with similar population trends. In a recent presentation at the School of Government, Karen Massey, the Director of the Missouri Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority, reported that there are counties in Missouri that are facing a 45% decline in population over the next five years! Communities in North Carolina are not too different, particularly with the loss of textile mills across the state.  Continue reading “Unrequited Demand in a World of Fixed Infrastructure”

Community Food Councils: Questions and Answers

buy_fresh_buy_localOn April 17, 2014 a webinar was held by UNC School of Government, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and the NC Community Transformation Grant (CTG) on food councils. Community and regional food councils (sometimes called food policy councils) are rapidly emerging as important mechanisms to stimulate the kind of dialogue and concerted action necessary to improve local food systems.  In the last five years, food council activity in NC has grown to include more than 24 NC counties participating in or developing community-based food councils or networks. CFSA staff is part of the Community Food Strategies team, a CEFS initiative, that is leading food council support and development efforts across the state.

This post is the second in a series over the next several months that will be cross-posted to Sweet Potato, UNC School of Government Community and Economic Development Blog, the Community Food Strategies blog, and various CTG blogs around the state. Each post answers specific questions asked by webinar participants. This post was written by Jared Cates, CFSA Community Mobilizer.

Continue reading “Community Food Councils: Questions and Answers”

Taxing Toilet Paper —Wastewater Finance Savior or Regressive Burden?

Many government-owned wastewater systems in the United States are enterprise funds.  That is, they are business-like units within the overall government that should be self-sustaining, taking their revenue from the rates and fees charged to wastewater customers rather than from taxes.  Ideally, wastewater utilities base their rates and fees on the full cost of providing wastewater service, not just on operating expenses and routine maintenance costs.  Full cost rates and fees would also include taxes and accounting costs, contingencies for emergencies, and, perhaps most importantly, costs related to capital infrastructure—principal and interest on long-term debt and reserves for capital improvement. Continue reading “Taxing Toilet Paper —Wastewater Finance Savior or Regressive Burden?”

Taxes and Environmental Finance

In the span of a week, Americans witnessed two important days – Tax Day on April 15th, and Earth Day on April 22nd. While we saw many celebrations on Earth Day, on the infamous day that tax forms are due, moods were likely less cheerful as individuals throughout the country struggled to understand and complete a myriad of tax forms. However, perhaps the close proximity of these two important days is appropriate: taxes do play a crucial role in many environmental finance systems. For that reason, at this time of year I often try to relieve my form-fatigue with some reflection on the role taxes play in paying for environmental programs.

A long-time School of Government Faculty Member, Jake Wicker, used to say that governments never really pay for anything. Governments do the collecting – it’s the people who pay.  I’ve always remembered this and try to keep it in mind as I work with communities to Continue reading “Taxes and Environmental Finance”

Less Consumption, More Production – Energy Efficiency Programs

Energy-BannerIt seems like everywhere you turn these days, someone is talking about climate change and the effects of high energy consumption. No matter what your stance on the subject matter, the data concerning energy consumption and the cost of supplying its demand throughout North Carolina is shocking. A 2010 report found North Carolina to be the second most coal-dependent state in the United States (behind only Georgia) [1]. In addition, North Carolina was recently ranked #8 amongst the “Toxic Twenty” states from a 2012 report published by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) [2]. This report considered the top twenty states responsible for a disproportionate share of toxic emissions from the US electric sector. High energy usage usually corresponds to high energy bills that can negatively affect economic growth. For these reasons, some NC municipalities have implemented programs aimed at increasing demand for energy efficiency retrofits for commercial and residential buildings. Municipalities can secure economic and environmental benefits by reducing energy consumption and investing in energy efficiency programs. These programs can act as tools for increasing the productivity and competitiveness of local economies.   Continue reading “Less Consumption, More Production – Energy Efficiency Programs”

Councils, Common Purpose, and Collaboration

Food SystemI read a terrific blog post at Harvard Business Review (HBR) the other day about collaboration. The author explained that “purpose is collaboration’s most unacknowledged determinant.” Community collaboration has never been more important as today’s challenges are too complex and interconnected for any one organization–government or otherwise–to handle alone. The issues we care about, more often than not, are enmeshed in complex systems that connect many disparate stakeholders. The ideal is to bring the different stakeholders–the different parts of the system, if you will–together, to work together, to collaborate, for the betterment of all. I’ve written several posts lately about local food economies as an example of this kind of complex system that requires collaboration in order to become more equitable, resilient, and sustainable. I’ve argued that local governments in particular should have local food system development on their radar screens. But collaboration amongst the relevant stakeholders doesn’t just happen. Collaboration is difficult. Councils for cross-cutting issues like food are a tool to help overcome barriers to collaboration. They can help create the common purpose needed to drive collaboration.

Continue reading “Councils, Common Purpose, and Collaboration”

Understanding the Financial Position of Households Using the American Community Survey

In previous posts, we have talked about publicly available data on inflationary measures including the Consumer Price Index and the Construction Cost Index as well as on commercial energy use from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the US Census.  The US Census also has a rich set of data on the financial position of households within our community.  These data are especially relevant and helpful for determining the affordability of government utility services such as water and wastewater rates. Continue reading “Understanding the Financial Position of Households Using the American Community Survey”

What @sog_ced is reading on the web: February 2014

CED_Icon_for_TwitterThe following are articles and reports on the web that the Community and Economic Development Program at the UNC School of Government shared through social media over the past month. Follow us on twitter or facebook to receive regular updates.

The North Carolina Department of Commerce continued to move forward with its plans to transfer economic development functions to a new public-private nonprofit entity.

North Carolina Department of Commerce delays the shift of economic development functions to new nonprofit entity until 3rd quarter 2014:

On agenda at first board meeting of new nonprofit entity: Develop plan for transfer of functions and staff from the North Carolina Department of Commerce.

Can North Carolina’s proposed public-private partnership for economic development raise more private funds than Arizona’s similar effort?

North Carolina General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division: “no conclusive study” can say that a public-private partnership is better or worse at economic development than a public agency. Continue reading “What @sog_ced is reading on the web: February 2014”

Change or Die: Why Big Electric Needs to Think Small

2624280_5e6267a7The business model of electric utilities has remained largely unchanged in nearly 100 years. Until now, this capital-intensive industry has primarily recovered revenues through the sale of energy units, or kilowatt-hours: a use more, pay more approach. Most electric utilities operate as state-regulated monopolies because of the amount of capital required to build energy generation and distribution (in other words, it’s not an easy entry market). But an increase in electricity costs combined with increased capability and decreased costs of decentralized generation solutions (like rooftop solar) threaten the way in which big utilities conduct their business. Continue reading “Change or Die: Why Big Electric Needs to Think Small”

Food Deserts and Development Finance Options in North Carolina

Farmer's Food Share - Courtesy of Donn Young Photography
Farmer’s Food Share – Courtesy of Donn Young Photography

On January 27, 2014, the North Carolina General Assembly’s House Committee on Food Desert Zones heard testimony about food deserts in North Carolina. A “food desert” is defined in the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 as an area “with limited access to affordable and nutritious food.” Maps and census tract data about food deserts can be found in the Food Access Research Atlas compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Food deserts are often found in low-income areas. A recent media report pointed out that North Carolina contains 349 low-income food deserts; that is, communities with a high proportion of low-income residents and containing no supermarkets (1) within one mile in urban areas or (2) within 10 miles in rural areas. While it might seem counter-intuitive for farming communities to lack access to food, rural areas are particularly susceptible to food deserts. As pointed out in my 2010 report on rural asset-building strategies (co-authored with Lisa Stifler), looking forward, food deserts are expected to increase in number in rural areas as rural populations decline and food industries continue to shift food distribution channels to larger superstores in more populous communities. With low-income food deserts now located in 80 out of North Carolina’s 100 counties, food deserts are increasingly being viewed as a statewide issue requiring a coordinated policy response. This post describes some of the policy approaches presented to the House Committee on Food Desert Zones and then takes a closer look at a proposed approach involving development finance tools, such as loans and grants. Continue reading “Food Deserts and Development Finance Options in North Carolina”

What @sog_ced is reading on the web: January 2014

CED_Icon_for_TwitterThe following are articles and reports on the web that the Community and Economic Development Program at the UNC School of Government shared through social media over the past month. Follow us on twitter or facebook to receive regular updates.

North Carolina Economic Development Board releases its strategic plan called the “North Carolina Jobs Plan,” here:

The North Carolina Department of Commerce was active on two important fronts: The new Rural Infrastructure Authority met for the first time and Commerce Secretary Decker announced the appointment of an interim Chief Executive Officer for the state’s new public-private nonprofit entity for economic development.

Rural Infrastructure Authority:

  • Commerce Secretary Decker reports that Rural Infrastructure Authority has awarded its first set of grants:
  • List of first set of grants and building reuse loans approved by new Rural Infrastructure Authority:

North Carolina public-private nonprofit entity for economic development: Continue reading “What @sog_ced is reading on the web: January 2014”

The Buying Power of a Dollar, for Christmas Gifts and Beyond

Twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a leaping, nine ladies dancing…

If you are like me at this time of year, busy with last-minute gift shopping, you may have the sinking feeling that every year it costs more and more to buy presents for our loved ones.  To put it another way, a dollar just doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to.

This is not your brain playing tricks on you but rather a real world encounter with the important economic concept of inflation.  For those of us working on community and economic development, the idea that the value of a dollar changes over time should impact our thinking on everything from the buying power of our citizens to the future cost of capital improvements. Continue reading “The Buying Power of a Dollar, for Christmas Gifts and Beyond”

Local Foods as Community Development, Some Questions and Answers

tenpercentEarlier in this Fall I reported on a webinar co-sponsored by the UNC School of Government and the Center for Environmental Farming System (CEFS) on local food and local government. The purpose of the webinar was to educate local government officials about how the local food movement can be an important part of a community and regional community development strategy. Sustainable local food systems contribute significantly to a community’s economic, environmental,  social, and public health. A lot of information was covered in the webinar and a lot of questions were posed by viewers, and there was not enough time to address all the questions. In this post I’d like to take up a few of the questions, and with the help of my colleagues from CEFS, provide some answers.

Continue reading “Local Foods as Community Development, Some Questions and Answers”

What @sog_ced is reading on the web: November 2013

CED_Icon_for_TwitterThe following are articles and reports on the web that the Community and Economic Development Program at the UNC School of Government shared through social media over the past month. Follow us on twitter or facebook to receive regular updates.

Cabarrus County NC bows out of economic development ‘incentives game’:

North Carolina has overhauled its rural economic development delivery system, prompting the Raleigh News & Observer to ask questions about the future of rural development in the state:

Dr. Pat Mitchell, Assistant Secretary for Rural Economic Development at the North Carolina Department of Commerce, touts the department’s rural strategy during a visit to Stanly County:

In response to reports of problems with public-private partnerships for economic development in other states, North Carolina’s economic development leaders were asked to explain how North Carolina’s proposed public-private partnership will be different:

Can Environmental Regulation Promote Economic Development?

In response to pressure from the state’s new data centers, Duke Energy recently filed a pilot program with the North Carolina Utilities Commission requesting approval to directly sell renewable energy to “new” industrial customers in the state. This pilot program seems directly targeted to the new data centers in the Foothills of the state. Google, in particular, has been working closely with the investor-owned energy company to make available this option and help it reduce its carbon footprint to zero.

Apple Solar
Onsite solar array for Apple’s Maiden data center
Photo: Compliments of Apple


Continue reading “Can Environmental Regulation Promote Economic Development?”