Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Revitalizing Braddock

Revitalizing Braddock

Braddock was once a bustling steel town.  It is the home of Andrew Carnegie’s first steel mill, his first public library, and one of the country’s first Chevy dealerships at Superior Motors.  However, with the decline of the steel industry, 90% of Braddock’s population left the town in the 70’s, and it has been declared a ‘distressed municipality’ by the state of Pennsylvania since the 80’s. 

In 2005, John Fetterman was elected mayor of Braddock, with a vision of revitalizing the town of 2300 people.  One of his first strategic decisions was to offer free studio space to artists in the 80 year old abandoned Ohringer Building.  This move attracted more than 30 artists to the city, who used money from their grants to redesign the building.  This community enterprise now owns the building, and pay taxes to the city on the property.  In 2007, Braddock partnered with Grow Pittsburgh and converted 10 acres of the city’s empty lots into a community garden, Braddock Farms.  This garden is managed in the summer by young locals who are participate with the Braddock Youth Project, teaching them skills they need to grow organic fruits and vegetables. 

More recently, in 2013, renowned chef Kevin Sousa decided to pursue his next project in Braddock, and raised over $250k for this venture through a Kickstarter campaign.  Kevin’s vision was not due to the competitive advantage that no other restaurants are operating in the area, but that the town was the perfect place to build a business model around social innovation, which unifies a for-profit business with the goal of doing social good. 

The restaurant, known as Sousa’s Superior Motors, named after the historic car dealership which houses it, has three strategic goals: offer culinary training, provide employment, and ensure access by giving a discount to community residents.  This company strategy is very clear with its mission objective, scope and advantage.  The objective is to be a for profit business that can help to economically revitalize the local community; the scope is to source labor and materials locally while providing a high end dining experience (most of the produce will be sourced from the Braddock Farms, while Sousa has a unique employment model which will be described below); and the advantage of being positioned in a town that needs the economic growth this business can provide, while teaching people the requisite skills to open their own businesses in the future – all work together to help shape Sousa’s Superior Motors into a sustainable business model for local economic development and as a profitable venture. 

Sousa plans to hire people to work in his restaurant locally, offering them a rotational program to learn every aspect of running a restaurant.  People will have the opportunity to work in the community farms, front end of the restaurant, and will have access to professional culinary training in the kitchen.  This rotational program will teach unskilled local Braddock people the skills they need to find employment or even open their own businesses in the future.  Sousa also plans to partner with the Braddock Youth program, to garner early involvement from the youth members of the community, which will help to keep them out of trouble or involved in gangs. 

In addition to providing training, Superior Motors will also offer free housing to anyone who is involved in the program.  This will help to foster a community environment that promotes hard work towards helping each other.  Superior Motors will also offer 50-75% off on meals sold to local people, or those who have low incomes, subsidized by the price of high end diner’s meals. 

There is a clear value proposition to this type of community involved business model.  Sousa’s Superior Motors will provide much needed jobs in the area, while offering people outside of Braddock an incentive to visit and dine there.  Being an acclaimed chef, Sousa will be able to use his name and culinary expertise to create unique menus that use the locally produced materials, while satisfying high paying customers.  Unifying all aspects of the business, into a social innovation project, Sousa will be the only business in the United States currently able to provide this experience.  His integration with the community will provide Sousa with near free labor, in exchange for housing and training, access to quality produce at a cheap price from the Braddock Gardens, and a constant supply of new workers and innovative ideas from the people who come through the program. 

Sousa’s Superior Motors should also be well positioned to successfully deliver their strategic ambition.  Their value proposition and strategic vision is very clear; the organizational framework is in place both for the business and community to adopt this change; and the business is flexible enough to adapt to changes in environmental conditions (Braddock is so poor that if this business takes off and is successful, things can only go up from here).  This strategic implementation seems to follow a dynamic approach, where there are no specific milestones in place that need to be met by a certain time.  The direction of the ship has been set, and the framework is in place to accomplish these goals, now with time the business can figure out exactly how to make it all work.  By working closely with the community, and hiring people who do not have any other options and are in great need, the business will be able to increase adoption of these ideals and have their workers focused on long term strategic outcomes, while investing their time and efforts into obtaining the new skills required to better themselves, the business and the community.  With everyone looking out for the company’s interests, should things start moving in the wrong direction people will be aware of the change and assess what is needed to right the ship. 

Braddock, by attracting skilled artists and entrepreneurs, is in the midst of a revitalizing transformation of their city.  By partnering together, and working towards the community good, with an availability of resources and outside interest, Braddock is able to take a failed city and provide new opportunities through sustainable profitable business models that are not available elsewhere.  If successful, Braddock will have implemented a new social model for a way of living, and will have developed an economic viability through sustainable practices not found in other American cities.  Perhaps people in Detroit or other impoverished regions could learn how to implement similar social initiatives in their areas, and pull away from old traditional business models.  Although Sousa’s Superior Motors is not yet open, it holds a lot of promise to the local people of Braddock and possibly even further outside the city as well.

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