Thursday, May 30, 2024
Business & EconomicsCities & Urban PlanningConstruction

Ten Things You Can Hire Me To Work On.

As I have departed my previous role with SEEL (for reasons I can’t discuss at the moment, but suffice it to say that I have glowing recommendations from my manager and other managers), I’m thinking about what’s next, professionally speaking. I’m enjoying working with the Southwest Detroit Business Association on a contract that is occupying some time and headspace as we try to create more affordable, high-quality housing units along several commercial corridors in Southwest Detroit that are vibrant but in need of some economic development cleverness. In the meanwhiles, I am also continuing to write, because that’s what my fine readers pay me for!

So, here are a bunch of things that you can hire me to work on (expanding what I’ve written about on the Consulting page). I’m good at building new and improving existing systems that deal with the sustainability of the built environment, and my overall career mission, however we get there, is to facilitate a global transition to zero net carbon to stop the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change.

 

1. Building Decarbonization Strategy & Implementation.

This is one of the main threads that runs through much of my résumé. I started my career in economic development, working at a neighborhood level. I then worked in real estate finance, figuring out how to assemble, finance, stabilize, and renovate real estate portfolios comprising residential and adaptively-reused commercial and industrial assets. During this time, I got interested in architectural energy and completed numerous technical trainings in BPI, RESNET, and Passive House (PHIUS). I am equally fluent in both the blue-collar (trades, implementation, and construction) side of the work as well as the white-collar (whether we’re talking about corporate-level, finance, or academic analysis).

2. Business Process Improvement & Operations Strategy.

As a digital native planner with an MBA, I understand how complex systems work based on various and disparate inputs and outputs. With years of experience analyzing data for business (and sometimes just for fun, because I’m like that), I have a strong familiarity with data science, databases, and systems analysis to understand how to achieve functional objectives, what kinds of things can go wrong and how to fix them, but also how to improve the operational efficiency of these systems.

I’m an early adopter (and cautiously optimistic skeptic) of cutting-edge technologies like AI and ChatGPT, having in 2019 completed a graduate certificate in fintech from New York University’s Stern School of Business, which extensively covered AI, machine learning, and cryptography. I’ve written extensively about my dabbling in Midjourney on this very blog.

3. Green Stormwater Infrastructure Planning & Implementation.

I have fairly extensive knowledge of how to design systems at an individual residential level but also integrated into a broader neighborhood context to manage rainwater in a way that reduces impact to municipal infrastructure while improving local ecologies. This is vital in jurisdictions that still have combined sewer systems,  are prone to heavy rainfall and flooding, or both. Moving beyond “grey” infrastructure– concrete and steel- toward “green-blue” infrastructure, is a vital objective to achieve both carbon reduction, climate resiliency, and biodiverse local ecologies.

This also includes attention to what kinds of things we plant in cities– what types of trees, flowers, and grasses, and how we regulate these things. Sustainable city planning must take into account everything ranging from urban forestry (for heat island mitigation and carbon absorption) to native plant landscaping (restoring ecologically-beneficial species that have since been crowded out by invasives). This can involve everything ranging from backyard rain gardens to expansive pollinator habitats along city property or streets.

4. Neighborhood Economic Development.

I am committed to facilitating equitable neighborhood development that prioritizes racial, environmental, and economic justice, whether we are talking about building envelopes or CDBG funding. As mentioned above, I am working with SDBA to help reactivate commercial corridors by providing grants to property owners to renovate apartments in mixed-use buildings. I also covered economic development as a beat reporter with the (now-defunct) community newspaper TheHUB, demonstrating my skill as a journalist, interviewer, analyst, and researcher. Specifically, I’m interested in working with organizations to develop and scale plans for programs like SDBA’s, especially focusing on energy efficiency, sustainable sites and corridors, and transportation equity.

5. Sustainable Mobility Planning.

This was the subject of my MBA capstone project— looking at the nexus of transportation and energy infrastructure and imagining a blueprint for how engineers, planners, and private sector capital can put their heads (and resources) together to transform and decarbonize our transportation infrastructure. It is about thinking about “infrastructure for cars only” but also taking advantage of the enormous potential of innovation in both capital and manufacturing within our local automotive sector. I covered everything from high-level conceptual questions about what the most resilient, most sustainable system might ideally look like, to street-level granularity, looking at real-world examples of intelligent transportation systems and V2X connectivity.

I’ve also been a steadfast advocate for better transportation policy including working with Transportation Riders United in Detroit on outreach and advocacy around the RTA transit infrastructure expansion efforts, and lobbying MDOT to suggest that VMT reduction be mandated for statewide transportation planning efforts. Finally, I supported Ford Motor Company’s efforts in transforming the quarter-century-vacant Michigan Central Station into a “mobility” hub. 

6. Partnership Strategy.

I’d like to think that we are especially good at this in the Rust Belt and other capital-constrained markets– whose scarcity conditions necessitate innovation at a social level before innovation at a technical level. In other words, we have to be clever about how we get stuff done because we don’t have much stuff, and this translates to a lot of valuable partnership thinking as we think about how to optimize resources and combine forces– to become an organizational Voltron, if you will, as needed.

I navigated this extensively with Southwest Housing Solutions, where I contributed to the foundations of what would become the Detroit Home Mortgage Program (which eventually received $75 million from the Clinton Global Initiative), the Quicken Loans Rehabbed-And-Ready partnership with the Detroit Land Bank, and the well-intentioned-but-ill-fated Building Detroit Futures program jointly funded by IFF (CDFI) and the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, a first-of-its-kind workforce and neighborhood economic development initiative. I have also worked through extensive negotiations for partnerships and collaborations in energy and utilityworld.

 

7. Writing & Communications.

I write a lot. You may have noticed.

I’ve also worked on communications and comms strategy for nonprofit organizations and private sector companies over the years, ranging from writing newsletters and social media, to extracting valuable information from structured and unstructured data and figuring out how to talk about it to disparate audiences.

 

8. Land Use Planning & Policy.

Whether we’re thinking about small towns or big city, we’re I wrote a blog series to create a development atlas of Detroit’s parking lots, illustrating how much of the city’s space is dedicated to a land use that is neither economically productive nor ecologically beneficial, and how it could be improved by, well, developing those parking lots into buildings. As an active participant in land use planning efforts to promote parking policy reform, I have been a fierce advocate for ending parking minimums

9. Energy & Utility Policy.

I’ve been actively involved in public policy discussions for the past decade, since I started working in energy policy advocacy in Chicagoland in 2013 and 2014 as the city began to implement energy benchmarking ordinances and other programs to promote architectural energy efficiency and next-generation energy innovation. In Detroit, I advocated for better design standards and received an honorable mention from the governor’s office at a statewide awards banquet for energy innovation, while also actively contributing to Detroit’s first climate action plan.

While at Pepco (Exelon), I worked with policymakers and technical professionals at the cutting edge of utility policy. We navigated complex questions around the transition from MWh savings to GHG mitigation, how to shape and shift loads and reduce peak demands while minimizing adverse ratepayer impact, and how to achieve carbon-neutral energy. I also represented the company as a subject matter expert working on issues of decarbonization and energy justice for low to moderate income customers.

10. Training, Leadership Development, & Public Speaking.

At SEEL, I (re)built a team of field installers for a multimillion dollar energy efficiency direct install program for an investor-owned utility. We improved programmatic efficiency by routinely exceeding our weekly performance targets by 10-20%, even when operating well below the target staffing numbers for the program. I attribute this to me having built a quality team of professionals, but also to having been able to do it in an environment that encouraged innovative thinking and problem-solving. This was my first experience managing a big team over which I had direct managerial authority, and I loved every minute of it. I led trainings for our team and participated in ongoing organizational process improvement and strategy sessions.

Combining points from this one and my work in communications strategy, one of my favorite things is figuring out how to build basic consensus around complex and often controversial topics, even in our age of hyperpartisanship. I’ve written about this extensively in the past and I enjoy any opportunity to take a good idea, run with it, and achieve buy-in, in collaborative or public settings.

Get in touch!

Perhaps you have some of those good ideas, or need some help developing them. If any of these things sound like they might be of interest to you or anyone you know, I hope you will e-mail me or call me to chat.

Nat M. Zorach

Nat M. Zorach, AICP, MBA, is a city planner and energy professional based in Detroit, where he writes about infrastructure, sustainability, tech, and more. A native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, he attended Grinnell College in Iowa, the Kogod School of Business at American University, the POCACITO transatlantic program, the SISE program at the University of Illinois Chicago, and he is also a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow. He enjoys long walks through historic, disinvested Rust Belt neighborhoods at sunset. (Nat's views and opinions are his own and do not represent those of his employer).

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