Each year, the New York Times Magazine captures the defining ideas of the past twelve months. “The Year In Ideas 2008” issue comes out tomorrow, and guess what they included?
They included the work of Franklin & Marshall College’s Trexler Proffitt, the Lancaster professor who conducted a feasibility study this year on establishing a Lancaster stock exchange that would serve seven counties in Central PA. The Times categorizes the idea under the phenomenon of “locavestors.”
Most of my day is spent dealing with minutiae, but I’m very fortunate because it’s often very meaningful minutiae. I arranged for Prof. Proffitt and two of his students to meet for an in-depth discussion with the man who puts the “executive” in my “executive assistant” title (Tom Baldrige, president of The Lancaster Chamber) earlier this year as part of their feasibility study. It’s nothing boast-worthy, but it is an affirmation that what I am contributing, I’m contributing toward something good.
Here’s to the world’s foremost newspaper identifying Lancaster as a place that is germinating innovative ideas!
The U.S. Census Bureau released new data today as part of its American Community Survey program, which tracks information for certain areas between 10-year censuses. This is the first time Lancaster city, with a relatively small population (55,029 of us) was included in such an extensive Census Bureau project in the in-between years. (New York City, for instance, is always included in such studies. This time around it revealed that the number of whites in Harlem has tripled.)
The data reveals some shocking trends for our city. I compared the newly-released data against data from the 2000 census (which reflected reality as of 1999). To do this, I converted 1999 dollars into 2007 dollars (by multiplying by 1.24438087, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
We all know that the current economic recession is hurting everyone. What we didn’t realize was how badly we here in Lancaster city were getting hit already.
Household & Per Capita Income
Lancaster city – As of 2007, median household income was $31,599. In 1999 it was $37,045 (adjusted to 2007 dollars). That means household income dropped 15% between 1999 and 2007. In that same time, per capita income dropped 9%: in 2007, per capita income was $15,813. In 1999, it was $17,365.
Lancaster County – As of 2007, median household income was $63,499. In 1999 it was $56,628. When you tack on the suburbs, median household income grew 12% within the county. But, county-wide, per capita income dipped by 0.6%: in 2007, per capita income was $25,214. In 1999, it was $25,382.
Question: What do you make of the fact that in the county, median household income significantly grew, while per capita income slightly declined?
Lancaster city is not alone in hearing bad news: Every metro area in Northeast Ohio (in some ways a peer region) saw such a decline. In Wooster, median household income was down 20%.
Lancaster city – City homes declined 20% in value. The median home value in 2007 was $71,300. In 1999, it was $88,724 (in 2007 dollars).
Lancaster County – County homes increased 14% in value. The median home value in 2007 was $169,500. In 1999 it was $148,454.
This disparity in property value trending obviously has massive tax implications. Consider also the difference in aging infrastructure: 63.1% of city homes were built prior to World War II. In the county homes that old account for only 24.3% of the market. In the city, 3.6% of homes were built in the past 17 years. In the county, that number is 23.3%.
Households with Income over $100,000
Lancaster city – In 2007, there were 1,241 households earning $100k or more, representing 5.9% of city households. In 1999, there were 663 measured using 1999 dollars), about 3.1% of households.
Lancaster County – In 2007, there were 30,711 households with income $100k or more, representing 16.7% of county households. In 1999 there were 16,799 (measured using 1999 dollars), about 9.8% of households.
Below the Poverty Line
Even before the economic recession, poverty levels were increasing in both the city and the county.
Lancaster city – As of 2007, 25.4% of individuals in the city were living below the poverty line, up from 21.2% in 1999. Fully 65% of single-mother households (no husband present) with children 5 years old or younger were living below the poverty line, up from 54.9% in 1999.
Lancaster County – As of 2007, 9.1% of individuals in the county were living below the poverty line, up from 7.8% in 1999. Among single-mother households (no husband present), with children 5 years old or younger, 52.5% were living below the poverty line in 2007, up from 43.7% in 1999.
In 1999, the top 3 industries (in terms of number of people employed) were:
Educational, health and social services (19.9%)
Retail trade (13.2%)
…In 2007, the top 3 industries were:
Educational, health and social services (21.1%)
Professional, scientific, and management, and administrative and waste management services (12.7%)
In 1999, the top 3 industries were:
Educational, health and social services (18.2%)
Retail trade (13.0%)
…In 2007, the top 3 industries were:
Educational services, and health care and social assistance (20.2%)
Retail trade (12.0%)
It’s great to see the city’s #3 industry as of 2007.
Because I am smug enough to highlight these stats, I will. As of 2007, 11% (2,456) of us city dwellers were walking to work. That was only true of 3.5% of the county population. Another 5.2% of city dwellers were taking public transit, as opposed to 1.3% county-wide.
What’s your response to this data? Lancaster city is more vulnerable to the effects of the recession than we previously realized. Is there any way the 2010 census data can possibly look even a little bit better?
“When it gets rough out there, a lot of business leaders get out of the car and say, ‘We’re OK with minor reform,'” Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s appointed chief of staff, recently told The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council. “I’m challenging you today, we’re going to have to do big, serious things.”
I agree with Emanuel. Looking at the economy as it stands (and is forecasted to play out), it’s hard not to.
The problem is that on the whole, senior managers of established businesses do not like big, serious changes. Stability and predictability is almost invariably in their best interest. When they do get behind big, serious changes, it is often because the change will lead to more stability and predictability.
I would like to suggest two things for the consideration of my fellow Lancaster County citizens:
Our county’s economy does indeed need some major changes, and
Allowing unions to form through a “card check” system may be a good such change.
Yes, Lancaster is doing better than many other areas of the country. Forbes named the county one of the ten best places to weather out the recession, and then Kiplinger’s said our city is one of the nation’s “six real estate safe havens.”
For a long time, a remarkably low unemployment rate in the county has, to an extent, offset concerns that median household income is just as remarkably low. A lot of people aren’t working for much, but hey, at least they’re working. That has now changed. Even our unemployment numbers are beginning to rot: in October unemployment shot up to 4.7% in the county, meaning we have 12,800 people actively but unsuccessfully looking for work. That’s more than the entire population of Elizabethtown.
We need to change directions. This state of affairs cannot continue. Unions may not the the idea change agents, but at least they are change agents. Unions of middle-class workers have given us enhanced social security, medicare, and a minimum wage. Unions make sure workers can take care of themselves and their families, and that the people who produce gains in productivity receive the rewards of productivity. Importantly, middle- and working-class union members spend their income.
Unions are not that big of a deal
We all too often make a goblin out of unionization. Right now no more than twelve percent of American workers are in unions (those workers include Lancaster County educators, and local employees of Armstrong, Kellogg, car shops, construction companies, manufacturing plants, and service firms). That twelve percent is down from a historic high of thirty-three percent. Not exactly a cause for alarm today.
What’s more, the number of unionized workers sits at twelve percent today in significant part due to illegal practices by employers. In 1969, there were one thousand infractions of the laws protecting the formation of unions. In 2005, that number was more than thirty thousand.
Ben Eisler makes a big deal of this on his blog at The New Republic. He suggests that one solution is to increase the penalties for these crimes and ramp up enforcement, which is currently lax. But, he says, the cheaper solution is the so-called card check.
The idea is this: Right now workers have to tell their company’s senior managers if they are going to try to form a union. It’s like having to announce, “Hey! We’ve been trying to work with you to get a fair shake here, and you’re not giving it to us or listening to our input on how our company can do better. We’re going to try to start a union! You’d better get moving if you want to stop us!” Under the card-check system being worked on in the U.S. Senate, employees can sign a legal document (a “card”) to indicate that they want to form a union. If a majority of employees sign it, the union is considered a legal entity that the employer has to work with.
Imagine it like this: If we’re in a company of one thousand employees, there may easily be six hundred or more of us who think that our bosses are mismanaging things. Their leadership skills are wanting, they don’t listen to input from those of us on the ground, and they don’t share profits in a fair way. We all want to address it with the directors, but we don’t have any ability to insist on even two of us meeting with them at the same time. They can say, “Sure, we want to hear from you, but we want to meet with you six-on-one. And if we don’t like what you have to say, we reserve the right to let you go.”
There is a lot of baggage that goes along with unionization today, but at their hear the only thing that unions inherently do is allow for employees to have a collective voice in discussions with upper management. Employees today fin it nearly impossible to form new unions. (Employees at Wal-Mart know first-hand the most agreesive anti-unions efforts found inside any company.) There are a number of decent ideas of how to remedy this situation, but allowing employees to band together into an official group by signing a petition is the least expensive and most efficient.
Best of all, it is middle- and working-class people who, increasinlgy, have the least to lose when the economy is already bad. That means we are willing to take risks and push our companies to take risks. I think we ought to consider giving those change agents just a little bit of assistance, for the sake of our economy.
The Lancaster County Community Foundation announced its latest round of grants in a press release dated Friday. Here is what I consider to be especially notable. My comments are in italics below.
From the press release: “Arts and culture non-profit organizations play a significant economic development role in Lancaster County, contributing $28 million to the community and creating 800 full time jobs. The Community Foundation is committed to bolstering the economic impact of arts organizations and arts-related businesses by encouraging their sustainability and growth.”
2008 COMPETITIVE GRANT AWARD RECIPIENTS
Water Street Rescue Mission – $27,000
To create a Client Management Database, which will enhance homeless data collection for Lancaster County. Funding provided by the Margaret R. Eppihimer Fund. I have no doubt that we are going to see nonprofits evolving greater capacity as “think tanks.” In a knowledge economy, the collection and intelligent interpretation of information will become both possible and necessary to improve services and to achieve community goals. People solving problems need information and good ideas.
Lancaster Investment in a Vibrant Economy (L.I.V.E.) – $27,104
To help organizations implement environmentally preferable practices through The Green Facilities Partnership between LIVE Green, the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Green Seal Inc. Funding provided by the Lancaster Environmental Fund. We’re all interested to see to what degree businesses de-prioritize greening their operations, given the current economic climate. Many are already putting short-term survival over solving longer-term problems.
Lancaster Symphony Orchestra – $22,000
For the Music Discovery Experience in the City of Lancaster. The program includes 3 performances at McCaskey High School, 20 instrument petting zoos, and the Symphony’s instrument loan program in the fall. Funding provided by the Sam & Verda Taylor Fund for the Performing Arts. I will be watching this program with interest. When funds are limited for education and the arts, I wonder what is a better approach—a “shotgun” attempt to expose lots of kids in a shallow way, or a highly-focused attempt to give talented kids a huge boost (e.g., sponsoring intense private lessons).
Fulton Opera House Foundation – $11,600
Will support and expand the theatre’s Audio Described, American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreted, and Spanish Interpreted performance programs. Funding provided by the Sam & Verda Taylor Fund for the Performing Arts. One question is, will this actually help people, or just make Fulton patrons feel better about themselves?
SouthEast Lancaster Health Services – $33,890
SELHS’ Healthy Start Program is designed to improve children’s health from age 0-5 through a comprehensive approach including prenatal care, parent/child education and pediatric care. Funding provided by the Better Lancaster Fund. From everything I hear, SELHS sounds like one of the best charitable operations going in the county.
MANAGEMENT & ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT GRANTS
Demuth Foundation & Museum – $20,000
To implement new graphic and web identities to align the museum’s public image with its mission and programs, and generate local and national interest, membership, and sustainability. It’s unfortunate that while this museum is important, it’s not great. It should be great. I wonder if projected-image enhancement is the best use of $20,000.
Council on Drug and Alcohol Abuse – $20,000
To bring expert guidance to their current transformation from a program-focused to a community and relationship focused organization. I like the sound of that.
Lancaster Day Care Center – $14,790
To hire a consultant to prepare a comprehensive Strategic Plan. Critical issues to be addressed include a plan for succession, facility improvements and fundraising analysis. I’d much rather see funds going to training women who already provide informal child care, so they can run legitimate, safe child care operations.
Southern End Community Association – $20,000
To hire a professional consultant to develop a new strategic plan. This will give the agency a redirected focus and strengthen its ability to better serve the community. This is only one of six grants that were given to help organizations with strategic plans. The Obama campaign didn’t have a strategic plan, and did not emphasize formal strategy. I think we’re going to see “strategic planning” go out of vogue, and I say good riddance.
Lancaster County Conservancy – $20,000
To conduct a feasibility study for new headquarters integrated with an innovative Environmental Center on an urban forest nature preserve.
Sounds cool to me.
BUILDING COMMUNITY THROUGH THE ARTS AWARD RECIPIENTS
Franklin & Marshall College – $249,992
To create “Poetry Paths” across Lancaster City to introduce poetry by eminent and local writers into the daily lives of Lancaster’s residents and guests. Stands and pavers will be used to permanently display the poems. Hmm. I want to learn more. I’m a poet, and I’m far from sold based on this description.
City of Lancaster – $200,000
To develop a public art department. The department head will manage city public art projects, coordinate with other community public art efforts, develop public art policies and infrastructure, and function as an information clearinghouse for public art information in the community. Two hundred thousand dollars for an arts bureaucracy? Again, I’m far from sold, especially based on that whole thing about how good art is created bottom-up rather than top-down, and how art is everyone’s business, not something that can be sequestered off.
Fulton Opera House – $120,000
To expand the arts education staff at the Fulton, and enable their historic theatre to better serve and engage the Lancaster community. An Education Department will allow the Fulton to maintain and solidify this programming, while increasing capacity and effectiveness. I think we should match students with the real excitement in the arts world. I hesitate to endorse the idea that that excitement is to be found in an institution that runs mass-audience Broadways standards.
Pennsylvania College of Art and Design – $150,000
Funding will develop three programs: 1) Mosaic Engagement, a series of three exhibitions that will connect audiences from the county with vibrant art by successful artists; 2) Mosaic Middle School and High School Programming, providing 150 School District of Lancaster and Pequea Valley middle and high school students with unique educational opportunities; 3) Mosaic After Program, providing further art education and resources for these same students. Remember what I just wrote about matching students with the real excitement? This sounds much closer to the target to me.
All in all, I think the Community Foundation is doing awesome work. I can’t wait to see more innovative organizations springing up to go the extra mile and take greater risks toward making “extraordinary community,” which is the Foundation’s goal. What are your thoughts on these grants? If you had money to give, what would you want it to go toward? Do you have an idea you’d love to have funded one day?
On November 11, 2008, as many as 275 Lancaster residents attended a day-long summit for local leaders, Lancaster2020. They identified four pressing issues for county leaders to rally around: education, economic development, streamline bureaucracy, and rethink zoning policies.
The event was run by AmericaSpeaks, and participation was by invitation only. The invitations came from a steering committee composed of representatives from the three sponsoring organizations—the Lancaster County Community Foundation, the United Way of Lancaster County, and The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce & Industry
The organizers were hoping for a turnout of 350 participants. Part of the participation shortfall came from a lack of private sector leaders accepting invitations, and another part came from a near-total lack of elected officials (Mike Sturla being the only exception).
At any rate, here are more details on the top four opportunities as identified during that day-long summit (and no, I was not a participant):
Ensure access to quality education
Promote strong and purposeful partnership between school district and community-based programs focuses on successful youth. Provide school districts with resources to improve graduation rates.
Attract and grow business
Make Lancaster County a viable place for businesses. Create policies and tax opportunities to attract established businesses to the area. Promote and support entrepreneurial businesses including cultural and arts businesses.
Reduce duplication and improve efficiency of public services.
Improve communication efforts within sectors, i.e., municipal governments, school districts, nonprofits, and for profits. Reward collaborative efforts by aligning funding sources (not-for-profit, for-profit and public/government) and reducing duplicate services. Create tax incentives that encourage governments to cooperate with each other or consolidate services.
Establish innovative land-management zoning practices
Encourage collaborative land-management programs and policies that address issues such as high-density housing, increased brown field and urban development, rehabilitate/reuse policies, farmland preservation, and municipal partnerships.
Another interesting detail is the breakdown by age:
65 & older: 29%
The list of “honorable mention” opportunities, which were identified but did not make it into the top four, is also interesting:
Improve financial stability of residents
Ensure basic needs are being met through opportunities to work, finish school, or enroll in vocational training. Increase residents’ financial literacy so sound financial decisions are made.
Increase equity and inclusion
Create and implement cross-cultural events to enhance positive intercultural relationships to reduce discrimination. Provide a safe forum for dialogue. Encourage policies that promote justice, inclusion and understanding of all people regardless of race, gender, religion, culture, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc. Increase collaboration between community, government, and faith-based leaders to reduce fear and promote inclusively.
Recruit and train next generation leaders
Recognize and support the community’s young leaders. Develop a young leader’s leadership program and fold these people into significant leadership gatherings. Recognize and promote leadership voices.
Increase citizen involvement and volunteerism.
Promote active citizenship and public participation as the responsibility of every individual. Ensure opportunities for citizen dialogue, participation and engagement via public forums and flexible regulations and policies.
Improve infrastructure and public services
Invest in infrastructure improvements, such as, roadways, water, sewer, bridges, broadband services, etc. Invest in an expanded, countywide public transportation system to increase access to job opportunities in hard-to-reach locations.
Align economic development activities across sectors
Align economic activities across not-far-profit, for-profit, and public/governmental organizations. Build on the county’s economic plan to enhance regional prosperity.
Create safe and attractive neighborhoods
Implement a neighborhood (city, suburban, and rural) plan that includes safety precautions via lights and built environment (e.g., hedgerows, natural surveillance systems) and promotes aesthetics and beautification. Ensure that streets, footpaths, and cycle paths are well lit and well maintained. Increase citizens’ sense of community pride and promote citizen ownership of the neighborhoods.
Invest in sound environmental practices
Reward efforts to improve air, water, and soil quality. Provide tax incentives far sound environmental practices such as green roofs, rain water run off collection systems, green buildings, lower emissions, and enhanced public transportation.
It’s worth mentioning that some participants were bothered that health care did not make it even to the “honorable mentions.”