Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Houston Airport System Helps Its Community Soar

By Shannon Prudhomme
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

The Houston Airport System (HAS) is a network of three airports - George Bush Intercontinental Airport, William P. Hobby Airport, and Ellington Airport, serving the city’s over 5 million residents. 

Its mission is to “provide a safe and dynamic air services network that fosters economic vitality for the transportation industry and the greater Houston region.”

Rhonda Arnold, Director of Community Relations in External Affairs Division for City of Houston Department of Aviation, would like Houstonians to know more about HAS’ efforts of promoting and educating the community.

“It is our endeavor to provide a positive impact on the quality of life for Greater Houston and Southeast Texas Region
 and we need the community to thrive,” said Arnold, who has worked with the system since 2009.  “As part of our Strategic Plan we must continue to build a better future.”

Rhonda Arnold of Houston Airport System (HAS)
speaks to high school students during a
Career Day event
Photo Courtesy of Houston Airport System

To accomplish this goal, the department develops and maintains positive, collaborative relationships with business communities, area chambers of commerce, local government, economic development agencies and community organizations in the greater Houston area.


In addition to Mrs. Arnold, Darian Ward, Community Relations Associate and Assistant Public Information Officer, and Mary McKnight, Senior Community Relations Liaison are also members of the dedicated and hardworking Community Relations Department for Houston Airports.

Last year more than 49.5 million passengers traveled through Bush and Hobby, including more than 8.5 million international travelers. The system forms one of North America's largest public airport systems, as well as positions Houston as the international passenger and cargo gateway to the south central United States and a primary gateway to Latin America.

Mrs. Arnold said HAS recognizes its prominence in the travel and aviation community, as well as its ability to serve as an example to others in the industry. The three key philanthropic areas of focus for the Houston Airport System are education, small businesses, and the environment.

“We partner with Houston Independent School District, Aldine Independent School District and Houston Works, Incorporated to raise awareness of community participation and careers in aviation,” Mrs. Arnold said.

To date, the Community Relations Department participated in 43 Career Days and 9 tour-related activities. HAS also supports small business development in the area, which is a sector of increased importance in this economy.

“One of the many things we do to support small businesses is work closely with the Office of  Business Opportunities to support the development of a sustainable pool of Houston-based MWBE Outreach,” she said. “We have also participated in the Runway to Business Opportunities event , and the Government Procurement Connections conference which introduces bidding opportunities available for certified small businesses.”

Houston Airport System's Rhonda Arnold (center)
poses with a local Boy Scout troop after facilitating an
aviation education session

Photo courtesy of Houston Airport System
Mrs. Arnold said one of the most important programs that she collaborates with is the Combined Municipal Campaign (CMC), which is a program to engage airport employees and the general community to contribute to non-profit, charitable organizations. The Houston Airport System holds several community events that support this initiative. 

“During the 2010 contribution year, the Houston Airport System was recognized as raising the most funds of all City of Houston departments,” she said. 

This year the Director of Aviation, Mario C. Diaz, is serving as the co-chair of CMC for the entire City of Houston. Along with Ms. Gabrielle Dirden, the liaison of CMC for HAS, Mrs. Arnold hopes that the local aviation system will continue to be a leader with the campaign for years to come.  

There are three signature events slated for 2012, the Endurance Run to be held at Bush Intercontinental; the 911 Heroes Run and Aeros & Autos are highly-anticipated events, both are held annually at Ellington Airport. The Aeros & Autos event benefits the United Service Organizations (USO) and showcases prized autos along with military and private planes. 

In addition to its charitable giving and volunteerism programs, Arnold said Houston Airport System is implementing measures to protect the environment as well.

“We are very cognizant of the importance of the green initiatives, so we work closely with area schools and chambers with activities to support these efforts,” she said. “In addition to assisting the Humble Clean Up Day with Nimitz High School, last year we launched the more environmentally-conscious Ecopark shuttle service at Bush Airport.”

  Energy-efficient shuttles for the
Bush Intercontinental Airport's Ecopark
Economy Parking Lot
The shuttles run on compressed natural gas (CNG). The vehicles were made available due to a partnership between the Houston Airport System (HAS) and Houston-based energy giant Apache Corporation in an effort to support the City of Houston’s Green Initiative, which aims to reduce particulate matter and green house gas. The buses transport an estimated 676,000 people, operate more than 1 million miles annually and reduce fuel costs by an estimated $2 per gallon.

The 20-year community leader said her work with HAS is fueled by her genuine passion for giving back, and also allows her to express her personal beliefs about philanthropy.

“My philosophy is 'pay it forward by enriching others and you, too, will find happiness'.”

To learn more about the community programs implemented by Houston Airport System, visit the Fly2Houston website

Video of the Houston Airport Systems September 11, 2011 Heroes Run at Ellington Airport:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dallas Violinist Nurtures the Musical Talents of Youth

By Shannon Prudhomme
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

Richmond Punch (far left) poses with participants
of the Dallas Urban Youth Orchestra
Photo courtesy of Richmond Punch
Violinist Richmond Punch is quickly becoming a recognizable name and face in Texas and beyond. The Founder of Richmond Punch Productions, he has traveled the world to perform for audiences consisting of up to 16,000 people.  The 30-year-old musician also lends his time and talents to nurture youth through the Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra, a program of the Punch Family Foundation. The philanthropic entrepreneur graciously shared details with Gulf Coast Philanthropy about his family’s charitable organization, as well as his journey to becoming a highly sought-after Violinist. Scroll to the end of this feature to view a performance by the Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra.

Gulf Coast Philanthropy: You were essentially a child prodigy. When did you first pick up the violin and what prompted you to continue playing?

Richmond Punch: I was introduced to the violin at age 5 in public Montessori school by a teacher with a amazing dedication to each one of her students. It was in that environment, combined with the nurturing upbringing of my mother, that allowed me to fall in love with the instrument on a personal level. After participating in my first summer camp at the University of Texas at Austin, I studied at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, Southern Methodist University Pre-College, and Aspen Music Festival. I also got to play in England, France and Scotland with Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra. Combined with hard work, this type of exposure and the free lessons offered by a program of the Dallas Symphony helped me to be able to go to my first choice school, The Juilliard School, which is one of the most prestigious schools in the world. I also completed my master's degree at Yale University, a peaceful place to hone your skills academically and artistically.

GCP: When did you launch Richmond Punch Productions and how has it grown since then?

RP: In 2005 I started Richmond Punch Productions after facing difficulty finding a job as a member of a major symphony orchestra. When I became an entreprenuer, I had only a violin for the events I wanted to do and some jazz and classical music under my belt. Now, in 2011, I have Violin, Violin with DJ, Jazz Band, String Quartet. At a recent event I played everything from New Orleans Jazz and Devil Went Down to Georgia to I Want You Back [by Jackson 5] and Black Eyed Peas' I Gotta Feeling.

GCP: Who are your musical influences?

RP: I love the music of “Stuff” Smith, my favorite violinist, but I am also influenced by Itzhak Perlman, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Quest Love, Esperanza Spalding and others.

GCP: When was the Punch Family Foundation started, and why was it launched?

RP: Punch Family Foundation was started meet my financial needs to be able to graduate from Juilliard and Yale, and it continued thereafter because many musicians back home in Dallas had similar needs. We sought a way to help others and began with a partial college scholarship initiative and then continued with the Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra. We also are excited about the growth of our community service and doing workshops, concerts and summer camps in Houston and around the U.S.

GCP: Do other companies collaborate with you to support your Foundation? 

RP: Yes they do. In 2007 we started what is today our largest program, Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra. In transitioning from giving scholarships to training students in an orchestra, we needed to find a place to teach our Youth. Since 2007, The Trinity Trust, which funds the Trinity River Project in Dallas, lent their space to our non-profit. Next, we were able to use space at a church, St. Paul United Methodist Church, and we've spent the last two years at The Point Center for Arts and Education at C.C. Young retirement community. At present we are searching for a new home in Dallas because of C.C. Youngs need to bring more seniors into living spaces and provide activities for the seniors themselves. These partnerships have worked well. In each venue we would give free community performances as a thank you for their lower rent and fully donated properties for our use. Since we presently searching for a new practice facility, we are asking for any suggestions in the Dallas, Uptown, North Dallas and other centralized locations so that we can find a new home for our 2011-2012 Season.

GCP: There are essentially three programs associated with the Foundation, but you are specifically the Artistic Director of the Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra program. Tell me about this initiative and your involvement with youth.

RP: Dallas Uptown Youth Orchestra is a music program for youth ages 5-18. We teach kids orchestra, private lessons, music theory through classical music and styles of music that young people today are listening to. We want each kid to have a chance at a music scholarship to college and our focus is Violin, Viola, Cello and Bass. We work with Southern Methodist University and other local colleges where we seek volunteers and pay other teachers to teach our students. A Violin is as low as $100.00. We welcome sponsors for all our areas of need.

GCP: Growing up in Dallas, were there any individuals and/or community organizations that nurtured your academic and skill development? 

RP: Yes. Individuals who have made a difference in my life include Isabell Cottrell. Organizations such as United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Sponsors of the Dallas Symphony and local arts in Dallas, The Brotherhood Inc. of Anchorage Alaska, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters Dallas and National have also made a difference in my life from giving my single parent mother resources to hiring me for corporate and special events entertainment.

GCP: What is your philosophy about giving back?

RP: Great question. I donate to many causes as I have constantly expanded my window of opportunity and I notice that my life and career is growing as a result. My philosophy is this: give back to something new such as Punch Family Foundation, give wholeheartedly and your best, and expect a return because it will happen.

GCP: What is the ideology by which you live by each day?

RP: Well I am a Christian and I believe that God has placed me on this earth for a reason. I also believe that even if I can touch one person in an audience of 10,000, I am doing God’s work. I am able to do it in so many styles of music, venues, and reach so many cultures. It is an honor to do something you love. God is good!

To learn more about the Punch Family Foundation, please visit the organization's website.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Art & Inspiration: Houston Art Gallery Supports Local Lecture Programs

By Shannon Prudhomme
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

The most effective initiatives often utilize the appeal of popular social events to inspire and motivate community development. Houston’s Wade Wilson Art Gallery is doing just that: leveraging the vibrant art community to support nonprofit programs. Founded by longtime art critic and enthusiast Wade Wilson in 2006, the gallery is located in the city’s historic Montrose area. Wade Wilson Art Gallery showcases painters, photographers and sculptors whose work “reflects current movements in international art circles”.

 “Houston has an extraordinary art community and a great community period,” Wilson said. “It’s rare that you’ll ask someone to step up and they don’t - that’s what I love about philanthropy in this town.”

Wade Wilson,
Owner of Wade Wilson Art Gallery

Photo courtesy of Wade Wilson
Wade Wilson Art Gallery is one of many supporters of the Brilliant Lecture Series, a Houston-based non-profit organization whose aim is to motivate and inspire by presenting national and international leaders, role models, philanthropists, artists, humanitarians, authors, and entrepreneurs. 

Scott Brogan, Founding Director of the Brilliant Lecture Series, said the organization accomplishes this goal through its educational programs, including an International Youth Leadership Exchange, the Brill Talks in-school interactive dialogues, and the quarterly Conversation with… series. Previous speakers include international luminaries Diana Ross, Sir Sidney Poitier, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Global Colors Founder Barton Brooks and Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan to name just a few.

“We provide a unique forum in Houston that integrates education and entertainment without social or political agenda,” Brogan said. “The young and the young at heart come from across the United States and around the world to share these rare and candid conversations with the most fascinating people in the world.”

The collaboration was launched when Wilson and Brogan were introduced by mutual colleagues. Both shared the belief that one person can initiate change, and are committed to inspiring and motivating people to achieve their goals.

Most recently, the two organizations collaborated to host an educational program focused on Haiti at the Wade Wilson Art Gallery. Wilson said he has been especially impressed with the school-based inspirational lecture programs of Brilliant Lecture Series, and how the speakers really impart the idea that one idea and one person can change the world.

“That sort of empowerment can create a level of confidence that doesn’t exist in many students these days,” Wilson said. “That’s the beauty of the Brilliant Lecture Series: it inspires people to be better, to do better with what they have, and to try to stretch beyond their limitations.”

Scott Brogan,
Founding Director of
Brilliant Lecture Series

 Photo courtesy of Phoebe Rourke-Ghabriel
 Scott Brogan launched the Brilliant Lecture Series in 2005 after recognizing the lack of opportunity most have to hear from and speak with such influential people. “If our speakers came to Houston, most of them spoke at private, black-tie events.  At such events, these icons of our society are not sharing the unique journey of their life but are telling the dinner guests how wonderful they are for attending the event and supporting that particular cause,” he said.  He found that these events, while worthwhile, are not accessible to most people, especially our youth who need to hear from these role models now more than ever.

“Prior to the Brilliant Lecture Series, there was a huge disconnect between their powerful stories and the people that need to be in the room to hear and receive those messages,” Brogan said. The former political strategist decided to leverage his connections to address this need and ensure that these types of stories were shared.

For Wilson, this collaboration with his art gallery allows him to continue his support of local organizations. During his career in the arts, Wilson has helped to support fundraisers generating over eight million dollars for community initiatives since moving to Houston in 2000. Wilson asserts these community involvements efforts have been mutually beneficial. “Corporate support for programs like this is invaluable,” he emphasized. “It helps me to be a part of something bigger and engages the community I want to engage.”

For both Wilson and Brogan, this partnership effectively merges the creativity of the art world with the inspirational stories of people who manifested their basic ideas into global movements.

“I really love the idea that we’re changing the public’s vision of people who are changing the world,” Wilson said.

Brilliant Lecture Series will host an evening with Dr. Maya Angelou on Thursday, September 22nd. To purchase tickets or sponsor this program, visit the organization's website or call (713) 974-1335.

To receive notices about events at Wade Wilson Art, subscribe to the gallery’s mailing list

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sales Executive Leverages 'Sphere of Influence' to Benefit Charities

By Shannon Prudhomme
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

The best way to describe Susan Casias’ energy is to think of a latte with a double shot of espresso. Yes, it’s that jolting and vibrant! Her zest for life and passion for supporting charities are infectious and magnetic.  

“I often hear ‘I want what she’s got’,” Casias said. “I tell people ‘you have it, you’ve just got to pay attention and tap into it’.”

She graciously uses her ‘it factor’ to benefit Houston area non-profit organizations by tapping into her business connections and hosting high-profile Shred Days to raise money for non-profit organizations. Casias held her first fundraising Shred Day in 2008 while working with a large Houston-based recycling and shredding company.

In addition to serving on various community boards and mentoring youth in her church, she currently donates 20 Saturdays annually to coordinating and promoting the shredding fundraisers for non-profit organizations. Individuals donate a minimum of $10 to the selected organization, and their documents are then securely destroyed.

Casias’ journey to hosting these events was a logical transition, considering her background. She has always had an interest in sales and increasing public awareness about important issues. “I was doing these shred days for the public on weekend because I have a passion for the security of information, having been a victim of identity theft a couple of times myself,” Casias said.

In 2008, a colleague suggested raising money for non-profit organizations and she quickly began working to implement the concept.

The first organization she sponsored was Memorial Assistance Ministries, which was the “Charity of the Month” for the Houston West Chamber of Commerce. The first Shred Day was a huge success. “We raised $2,000 for that first event!” she said. An additional benefit to the organization was increased public awareness due to Casias’ large professional network.

At the time, she was working with a larger company, but eventually transitioned to working with Texas Security Shredding (TSS), a smaller company. Due to the cost of providing the shredding materials, TSS was only able to subsidize the cost of providing the resources for each Shred Day at a cost of $450.

Faced with this dilemma, Susan set out to research options that would allow her to still support local organizations. “I couldn’t find anyone to do this for free, and Texas Security Shredding charged the least amount for this service,” she said. In addition to reaching into her own pocket, Casias said she also recognized the power of her “sphere of influence” and opportunities to tap into her resources.

“My former clients from my previous employer hunted me down,” she said. “I realized companies didn’t care what company I was working for – they just wanted to work with Susan,” she said.

She decided to roll the dice and reach out to her colleagues to donate the funds needed for the first Shred Day she planned to host with Texas Security Shredding. “The first time I e-mailed my business friends, it took less than thirty minutes to get the underwriting the organization needed,” she said.

Casias also sent word out to her business colleagues to ensure a large turnout for the event. Sara Rice, Volunteer Coordinator for Memorial Assistance Ministries, said the organization has hosted eight events with Casias and Texas Security Shredding, which has exposed more people to her organization.

“It’s been a new way for people to come out and learn about us,” Rice said. “We also pair the shredding events with Houston Computer recycling, so it’s a green and environmentally-friendly event.”

For Casias, the Shred Days have affirmed her belief that “there is always a way to help a charity.” She provided the following suggestions for individuals seeking to support non-profit organizations:

  • Think beyond money and large amounts of time. “Dedicating just an hour a week to volunteering for a local charity is a great way to help.”
  • Co-op your efforts to maximize the impact. “Combine your funds with friends and contribute your funds to one organization,” she advised. 
  • Use your voice to support an organization’s fundraising or public awareness initiatives. “Find a charity who needs people to make phone calls,” she said. “Let’s say you’re homebound; this is a great way to support a charity and interact with people.” 
  • Reach out to your circle of friends. “You’d be surprised by how many people in your circle already contribute to a charity, and don’t say anything about it,” she said.
Casias said these events have reinforced her spiritual values. “To be forthcoming, I wasn’t always the best citizen,” she said. Since turning her life around, she said she feels empowered by her ability to give back and watch her efforts grow through the organizations she supports. “When you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do, God just puts things in front of you and gives you everything you need.”

Epiphany Community Health Outreach Services (ECHOS) is currently seeking underwriters for a June 18th shredding fundraiser with Susan Casias and Texas Security Shredding. To support this event, please contact her at susan@sitesbysusan.com or (713) 320-8019.

Guest Feature: Continuity of Plans for Nonprofit Organizations

By Sharie A. Blanton
Guest Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

As we embark upon the month of June we are reminded that hurricane season is upon us once again. Luckily for south Florida, our major disasters are somewhat seasonal and predictable and therefore we should be better prepared than some of our neighbors facing unannounced tragedies such as earthquakes, flooding and tornado damage.  

As community based organizations we have a responsibility to: 1) protect our staff and property (physical assets and agency records); and 2) also to serve as a resource to our community in times of need. In my area, the Miami Dade County Office of Emergency Management has a template for organizations to use. Organization may also design their own plan or to update/strengthen your existing plan using the Continuity of Operations Plan provided by the Virtual Community Action Network

According to the county-provided Continuity of Operations Plan, “the plan should develop procedures for alerting, notifying, activating and deploying employees; identify mission essential functions; establish an alternate facility; and roster personnel with authority and knowledge of functions.” 

Disaster and emergency preparedness should not be limited to the hurricane season and wind and water damage.   Fire, electricity outages and hazardous waste spills are probably more likely to occur than an explosion at Florida's Turkey Point or a tsunami in Biscayne Bay. Having mission-critical information stored in a secure and accessible off-site location or on the “cloud” are great first steps to ensuring data is not lost and downtime can be minimized. 

An Emergency Communications Plan should be in place to share critical information with key people and agencies. Defining, in advance, what role your agency can serve in the event of a localized disaster is another value-added sign of your organization’s commitment to the community’s well-being.  Residents might seek your agency out in a disaster as a communal gathering place and a source of information and safety whether you plan for that to happen or not. Is your organization ready?  

Sharie A. Blanton is Managing Director of Conscious Connections LLC in Miami, Florida. She provides strategic advisory consulting to local and international nonprofits and emerging social enterprises.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Texas Entrepreneur and Prairie View Graduate Inspires Austin Youth to Achieve

By Shannon Prudhomme
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

Cover of Mittchell's self-published
book. To win an autographed copy,
scroll to the end of this article.

Photo courtesy of R. Mittchell
Most people never refer back to past homework assignments for inspiration, let alone to just review them. However, Ramont Mittchell, owner of Austin-based Supreme Clientele Hair and Massage Studio, referenced an assignment from an old college course and converted it into a successful business.

“A friend and I developed the idea for the business for my engineering economics course while at Prairie View [A&M University],” he said. “I am literally carrying out the exact concept now.”

The project detailed futuristic barbershops that included innovative technology for clients. “My business actually has a cafĂ©, private TV rooms and Wi-Fi internet for clients,” he said. “People can come on their lunch break and get their hair done.”

In addition to his salon, Mittchell is also an author and fitness trainer. “My philosophy is that everything I can do well, I will turn into a business,” he said. “I am essentially turning myself into a walking portfolio.”

The 35-year-old Detroit native said he committed himself to retiring at this age when he was a teenager - and he did just that! “Last year on my 35th birthday, I submitted my 30-day notice to Dell,” he said. “I figured whatever I was doing for myself at the point, that’s what I would do.”

The young entrepreneur honed his skills perfecting the hairlines of his undergraduate classmates while studying electrical engineering at Prairie View A&M University. “I realized I was good at it and enjoyed it, so I planned to open a barbershop after I graduated.”

After receiving his Bachelor of Science degree, he worked for Fortune 500 companies, including Dell, for three years to secure the capital he needed to fund his business aspirations. In 2006, he secured a facility and worked as the lone barber in the shop. “I started off with one person then, and now I have thirteen employees in 2011,” he said

Mittchell is just as proud and proactive about his charitable work as he is about this business. After recognizing his unique position as a barber and the potential to impact the lives of young males, he decided to use these opportunities to encourage and inspire his clients.

“People talk in salons,” Mittchell said. “I realized I had the opportunity to speak with so many male high school students who come in for haircuts.”

The multi-talented entrepreneur first decided to focus on having constructive dialogue with his clients, and serve as a positive role model. . “I wanted them to see that I own this business, and that I don’t just talk about success – I am success,” he said. “I started asking young black males about school and their favorite subject before discussing the latest basketball game.”  

Mittchell’s commitment to youth stems from his upbringing in a tough Detroit neighborhood. “If you think of the worst neighborhood scenario, that’s where I lived,” he said. “I want to show young people that they can be a success no matter where they come from.”

This philosophy and his desire to change the lives of young people motivated him to launch the Ramont Mittchell Foundation in 2006, which promotes “continuous investment in the development of self” to high school kids through academic, aptitude and attitude awareness. " 

Initially the organization offered free hair cuts and hair styling to high school students throughout the academic year, provided they maintained a certain grade point average. “That was the backbone of the Foundation,” he said. Mittchell also began to host annual school supply drives to provide resources to students in need.

Now, the organization is developing monthly sessions on leadership development, money management, healthy eating and entrepreneurship for high school students. “I try to get it in these young people’s heads that ‘hey, you don’t have to just cash the check – you can write the check’,” he said.

His salon staff and operations also serve as a positive example to his clients. Supreme Clientele’s maintains a strict dress code policy for both staff and clients, and only Rhythm and Blues music is played throughout the day. “I want both a child who is five-years-old and an 80-year-old to feel comfortable in my shop,” he said.

His future plans? “I’m working on two more books and I plan to franchise,” he said. His goal is to become what he refers to as “the Wal-Mart of barber shops.” In essence, he wants to offer clients everything they could possibly need from a personal service with regard to hair and nails.

Mittchell said he also aims to have a sustainable impact in the greater Austin area. “I’m here to support my community for the long haul, and I honestly just want people to remember me as being sincere,” he said. “Everything that I do comes from the right place.”

* CONTEST: Gulf Coast Philanthropy is giving away an autographed copy of Ramont Mittchell’s self-published poetry book, The Collection: Everyday Poems. Everyday People. To qualify, please complete the following steps: 1) Subscribe to our blog; 2) E-mail the Editor with your twitter name; and 3) Tweet our blog handle (@GCPhilanthropy) through Wednesday, June 1st at noon. The subscriber with the most tweets will win!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Flex space and mixed-use buildings: changing times, new opportunities

By Dodie Jiffar
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

Business incubators have been around a long time. They provide office space for small businesses and start-up companies that is shared, making it more affordable than locating office space individually.

Business incubators are usually sponsored by community organizations that promote entrepreneurship through education and mentorship. There can be intense competition for spots in these coveted incubators. But where there’s competition, there is innovation.
Enter the flex space. The term flex space typically refers to larger offices that have been updated to allow several types of business in a single location such as light manufacturing and shipping. But today’s flex space is more versatile and more accessible.

Americans are working from home in record numbers, either as a telecommuters or as a self-employed contractors. This shift has led to home offices becoming the norm, either as a stand-alone room in a home, or simply a small area carved out for a small workspace that can also serve as (or flex) as living space. This idea has also merged with the rise of mix used buildings.

Land developers and city planners across the U.S. are embracing the idea of mixed-use buildings, which allow consumers to live, work and shop in the same area in some cases. These buildings typically feature an anchor business, such as a bank or grocery store, as well service-based businesses, such as dry cleaners and restaurants. These anchor or service-based businesses may be located on the ground level, while the apartment or condo units are on the upper floors. This flexible model has been expanded to include the small business owner. Mixed-use buildings seeking to attract small business owners often provide an apartment or condo that is attached to a business space, which has a separate street level entrance from the living quarters.

A few examples of various mixed-use buildings in Gulf Coast states include Houston’s CityCenter, the Downtown Development District in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the award-winning Tapestry Park European Village in Jacksonvilla, Florida.

Depending on the type of business and location of the building, the cost of renting or buying this type of flex space in a mixed-use building is often much less expensive than seeking out a separate office. This concept allows more people to bring their business aspirations into reality. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cooperatives: Models of Community and Sustainability

By Dodie Jiffar
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

Today’s businesses are in fierce competition for customers. More and more, customers are aware that what they buy and where they buy it has a direct impact on our communities through sales tax and how businesses reinvest in the communities they serve.  Common ways that businesses reinvest in the community include offering scholarships, donating a percentage of their profits, or simply making regular contributions of money, services, or volunteer hours to charitable organizations. However, cooperative businesses go even further, defining their purpose and success in terms of how they support the community.

Cooperatives, commonly called co-ops are, “autonomous associations of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprises.” Examples of co-operative businesses include credit unions (this is why members of one credit union can use teller services and ATMs from another credit union free of charge), as well as some grocery stores and apartments complexes in large metropolitan cities. 

Cooperative businesses are based on 7 principles
1.      Voluntary and Open Membership
2.      Democratic Member Control
3.      Member Economic Participation
4.      Autonomy and Independence
5.      Education, Training and Information
6.      Cooperation among Cooperatives
7.      Concern for Community

Modern cooperatives typically view the seventh principle, concern for community, in terms of their relationship within the community and sustainability. They strive to build relationships with other coops and local businesses and to serve the people who live in the communities through charity events and education. Further, their business model is based on environmentally conscious growth that is sustainable and equitable.

To find cooperative businesses in your area, enter the following terms in a search engine:
“Cooperative + type of business/service + city”

Already know a great cooperative in the Gulf Coast Region?
Leave a comment on GCP!