Local Impact Analytics: How Two Southern Miss Business Alumni are Enhancing Communities, One Grant at a Time
Thu, 11/30/2023 - 02:11pm | By: Bailey Harris
Amidst the challenges of funding vital community enhancement projects, Local Impact Analytics has emerged to aid in solving infrastructure problems, turning the ambitions of small cities into tangible solutions.
This Hattiesburg-based consulting firm has mastered the art of securing grants, with more than $160 million in total grant wins for cities across the southeast, including Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Co-founded by University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Business alumni, Josh Sullivan and Alex Pickle, the organization has pioneered a path in the competitive world of grant work.
Just acquaintances when they began at Southern Miss in 2009, neither Pickle nor Sullivan saw themselves pursuing careers in economic development. Sullivan earned his undergraduate degree in audio engineering, driven by his love for music. His college years were marked by playing in punk rock and hardcore bands with the thrills of touring during summer breaks. Meanwhile, Pickle embarked on a journey of exploration, dabbling in various majors before settling on interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in economics and sociology.
Pickle’s diverse interests led him to pursue a master's in economic development at Southern Miss right after earning his bachelor’s degree. It was here that his passion for community development and economic analysis began to form. As a graduate assistant, Pickle immersed himself in benefit cost analysis (BCA). His research not only expanded his understanding of economic evaluation but also laid the foundation for the future of their company, as this unique combination of skills set the stage for the birth of Local Impact Analytics. “Without the MSED program, our company would not exist,” he said.
Meanwhile, the uncertainty of a career in the music industry led Sullivan to seek opportunities elsewhere. While attending a community event in Hattiesburg, the two reconnected and Pickle introduced Sullivan to the MSED program. Sullivan decided to enroll in the program, and his tenure as a graduate assistant proved transformative. His research focused on analyzing the defense industry in Mississippi, which honed his skills and prepared him for the intensity and challenges of economic research and analysis. “I still use these skills every day as we're working on projects,” said Sullivan.
Pickle and Sullivan continued to stay in contact, and they discovered that their shared passion for economic development could impact not only their community, but many small towns and cities around the country in need of the same type of assistance. This is when the idea of pursuing a shared dream took root. Local Impact Analytics was created in February 2016 while they continued working their full-time jobs. They juggled responsibilities in their professional roles and the launch of their new company for over a year before the growing demand for their expertise prompted Pickle and Sullivan to commit fully to their venture.
While assisting the City of Hattiesburg with a BCA to secure an infrastructure grant through the Department of Transportation, they were contacted by an engineering firm in Birmingham, Alabama, for help. They were awarded their first infrastructure grant later that year with the Alabama Department of Transportation for more than $10 million. In 2019, they won their first grant for the City of Hattiesburg for a railroad overpass and another shortly thereafter for a second overpass.
As of today, they have been involved in securing countless grants for cities across the southeast and into the Midwest. Some of their most notable achievements to date have been due to their involvement in securing sought after grants from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program. With only 10% of submitted projects receiving funding, this initiative is highly competitive.
Over the last four years, Local Impact Analytics has secured five grants from the RAISE program, a testament to their expertise and dedication. This grant funding success impacted cities in Mississippi like Hattiesburg, Jackson, and Ripley.
Although most of their clients have been in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, they accept projects nationwide and have worked on proposals for locations like Indiana, Missouri, and even Puerto Rico. They shared that they would even be interested in taking on international clients as an added challenge.
Their company’s strategic focus on benefit cost analysis (BCA), a niche market often overlooked, has become the cornerstone of their success. This comprehensive evaluation considers much more than the monetary gain, but extends to factors such as travel time savings, emissions reduction, and safety benefits. With few experts in the industry, their knowledge on the topic has proven to be invaluable.
Their commitment to helping local governments bridge the gap between their needs and federal funding agencies has become part of their mission. They have become an integral resource for those city officials struggling to know where to start. Sullivan shared that they are not only helping cities determine how to fund certain solutions, but also determining what those solutions look like.
“For example, they may come to us and say — we don’t have enough pedestrian infrastructure, what can we do about this — and we will help them figure it out,” said Sullivan.
In 2022, they decided to explore the idea of having an intern join their small team of two. A’Miracle Fagan, who had just completed her finance degree at USM, joined their team and worked with them for a year before they convinced her to go back to school for her master’s in economic development. They were delighted to give back to the University and support A’Miracle by sponsoring her assistantship. After completing her master’s degree, she rejoined the team full-time. Now, they are a team of five, all of which are proud Southern Miss alumni. The collaborative spirit that defines their company culture also transcended geographical boundaries, with the team working 100% remotely from Hattiesburg, New Orleans, and Atlanta.
When reflecting on the difference they are making right here in Hattiesburg, Sullivan and Pickle marveled at the tangible impact of their work. Their projects, once mere concepts on paper, are now vibrant realities, transforming the landscapes of the city they call home.
"We get to say that there is something in the city of Hattiesburg that now exists, and we had a significant hand in supporting that and making that happen," said Sullivan.
Pickle echoed Sullivan’s sentiment, emphasizing the personal connection he felt with their projects, especially the bridge overpasses in Hattiesburg.
“It isn't the first project we have won funding for that is under construction, but it is the one that I get to drive by,” Pickle shared, his voice reflecting pride and excitement. “We will be driving over that bridge pretty soon, and it will be a fun little thing to be able to tell my daughter as we go over it.”
As they look toward the future, Sullivan and Pickle are enthusiastic about the opportunities presented by the bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021. The addition of 15 new programs broadened their scope, opening doors to diverse projects. They will continue to leverage these opportunities and secure funding for initiatives that ranged from on-demand transit services to electric ferry programs.
“There are a lot of places around the U.S. with really cool, nice transportation assets that really improve the quality of life for the people that live there,” said Sullivan when discussing the eligible project activities offered. “I am really looking forward to making a difference like that."
With their eyes set on the horizon, Sullivan and Pickle continue their quest, knowing that each project they take on is a step toward a brighter, more prosperous future for the current and future communities they serve.
Learn more about Local Impact Analytics.