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Enlightening, entertaining, plain weird

From the Ground Up

In this column I would like to share a sample of some real estate and economic development items that I didn’t get to write columns about this summer. Some are enlightening, some entertaining and some just plain weird.

Let’s begin with tobacco settlement money, a subject that has gotten a lot of attention in Mississippi. Other states have used it for various purposes other than health-related items. Virginia is crowing about using it for economic development.

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner announced June 18, 2004, that his state will use tobacco money in a way that will provide a model for rural economic development, according to PR Newswire. In announcing a $12-million economic development and technology infrastructure initiative, the governor said, “This investment, serving as a model in the South and our nation, will certainly get the attention of new employers and investors looking to tap the potential of southside and southwest Virginia.”

The so-called Regional Backbone/Roots of Progress Initiative (RBI) will create 700 miles of new fiber optic cable that will connect five cities, 20 counties, 56 industrial parks and provide high-speed Internet access to nearly 700,000 citizens and more than 19,000 businesses throughout Virginia at a 20% reduction in high-speed Internet access costs. Construction is scheduled to begin in October and expected to be completed by January 2006. Officials said that it will create 1,560 new jobs.

Affordable, available housing

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., the House Committee on Financial Services: Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity held a hearing on low-income housing on July 20, 2004. The reason was to figure out what to do about low-income housing rental developments that are scheduled to reach maturity in their mortgage.

The Government Accounting Office reports that over the next 10 years, low-income tenants in more than 101,000 units may have to pay higher rents or move to more affordable housing when HUD-subsidized mortgages reach maturity, and, of course, the question would be: Where would they move to find affordable housing? Nationwide, 21% of the subsidized properties with HUD mortgages are scheduled to mature through 2013.

This is a significant portion of this country’s affordable and available housing stock.

Meanwhile in Louisiana…

Next door in Louisiana it seems that part of the cure for Louisiana’s ailing jobs outlook can be found in the healthcare industry, according to several panelists at an August 2 economic development forum in Hammond.
The forum at Southeastern Louisiana University, led by Rep. David Vitter (R-Metairie), included several officials active in workforce development in Louisiana, including Michael Olivier, the new economic development secretary and former executive director of the Harrison County Economic Development Commission.

“In Louisiana, the healthcare industry needs about 10,000 workers statewide,” Olivier said. “The 11-parish area surrounding New Orleans lost $270 million in payroll from unfilled healthcare jobs in 2003. By 2008, the elderly will account (for) 13% of the population. As we market Louisiana as a retirement community, how can we provide the services that are going to be required by the retirees who are seeking good healthcare services?”

To address the shortage, Louisiana officials are trying to leverage state and federal work force development programs to pay for worker training.

Be careful what you ask for

Out on the Left Coast, the Los Angeles City Council is trying a new tactic in the escalating battle over building or banning the new jumbo-sized Wal-Mart stores, according to an article in the August 16 edition of The Los Angeles Times.
Rather than blocking superstores outright, the council passed a law that bars construction of retail-and-grocery superstores if a newly required analysis finds that they will harm a neighborhood economically more than help it. Be careful what you ask for.

In San Diego, there is an effort to get people out of the house and walking around the neighborhood. An August 10 PR Newswire report says that lack of physical activity in daily life is impacting the health and wallets of communities and companies across the country.

Now, a new online tool can help government leaders, policy-makers and businesses calculate the financial costs of a physically inactive population or employee base. Active Living Leadership and Fifty-Plus Lifelong Fitness, with the support of more than 20 partner organizations, launched the Physical Inactivity Cost Calculator, available free at http://www.activelivingleadership.org. Check it out and hit the sidewalk.

These are just a few of the items that never made it to full-blown column commentary, but are interesting enough to merit mention. If nothing else, they prove that there are as many ways to deal with communities as there are communities.

Phil Hardwick’s column on Mississippi Business appears regularly in the Mississippi Business Journal. His e-mail address is phil@philhardwick.com.

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