Economic and Community Development
Lessons on Entrepreneurship from MIT
The highlight of last month’s Metro Council CEO roundtable in Boston for me was our trip over the Charles River to MIT. Thanks to Paul Guzzi and the Greater Boston Chamber, our group met with Lita Nelsen, Director of MIT’s Technology Licensing Office to discuss tech transfer and the university’s role in supporting a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. When I say robust, I mean robust. One recent study found 25,800 active companies founded by MIT grads employing 3.3 million people with annual worldwide sales of $2 trillion. At least a million of those jobs are in Massachusetts.
From Lita’s enlightening presentation I took away 3 key points:
- Real estate doesn’t matter that much. Dozens of successful companies were founded in grubby basements around Cambridge. And despite high commercial rent, starts ups still flourish (and mostly stay) in greater Boston. This is not to say that helping provide affordable, conducive space won’t help startup ventures… but a shiny new incubator building does not guarantee any success.
- You don't need a Czar. MIT has successfully maintained a flourishing start up environment without anyone “in charge.” The Tech Licensing Office helps with patents and investment, Sloan Management School has an entrepreneurship track, alumni group runs mentoring, the School of Engineering has shared lab space, the Deshpande Center for Tech Innovation provides grants… but there is no “czar” of entrepreneurship. There is lots of coordination, but faculty and staff have fought all attempts to centralize.
- Successful startup executives matter. Accomplished business builders, marketers and operators - are as important to a robust ecosystem as inventors, research and patents. This is the often overlooked element of MIT’s success and an area where all chambers can add value.
For more on MIT’s support for startups, check out Kauffman Foundation’s report – Entrepreneurial Impact: The Role of MIT.
Regional Cooperation in Waco
An historic announcement from central Texas this week…10 local and ethnic chambers of commerce across McLennan County announced the signing of an MOU to form an alliance. The McLennan County Chamber Alliance forges a closer working relationship (and cements board level cross-pollination) between the organizations on public policy, economic and community development, infrastructure and other key issues.
“We can do special things if we work together,” said Matt Meadors, Greater Waco Chamber CEO. Anyone who’s tried to build a regional coalition knows how many barriers and interests are overcome to get to this stage of cooperation. We’ll be watching as this group evolves.
Recent Poll from Achieve Tracks Voter Perceptions of New Education Standards
Achieve, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit education reform organization, recently conducted a national poll to determine voter perceptions of public education and the Common Core State Standards. Here are some highlights from the survey:
- In the landscape of issues facing the country, public education was ranked on par with the economy and government spending, with 82% ranking improving the quality of public education extremely/very important compared to 88% for job creation and economic growth, and 78% for reducing the federal deficit and government spending.
- About two-thirds (67%) of voters agree that it is better for states to have the same standards in math and English rather than having different standards.
- The majority of those polled (63%) reported hearing little or nothing about Common Core State Standards. Those who were aware were split in their opinion of the standards – 37% favorable; 40% unfavorable.
- However, once the respondents were provided with an explanation of Common Core State Standards and then asked if they would favor or oppose their implementation, a solid majority 69% (36% very strongly) were in favor vs. 23% in opposition.
The poll also tested who voters trusted the most when it came to information about education reform. The most powerful messengers were – in order – teachers, principals/superintendents, educational leaders and college presidents. Local employers also carry a lot of weight, particularly among business leaders.
ACCE’s Education team is working closely with Achieve and other national education foundations to spread word about the critical importance of improving college and career readiness. There are several resources available to help your chamber communicate effectively about education reform and the Common Core State Standards. Achieve has compiled a comprehensive set of tools and resources available at www.businessandeducation.org. You can also check out a previous ACCE blog post on Business-Friendly Tools for Chambers to Support a College & Career-Ready Agenda.
If you have any education-related questions contact Jessie Azrillian at firstname.lastname@example.org, 703.998.3571.
Created in 1996 by a bipartisan group of governors and business leaders, Achieve is dedicated to working with states to raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability. The national poll was conducted in November of 2013.
Grant Opportunity for Transforming Communities
ACCE has recently learned about a grant opportunity that supports communities like yours which are highlighting their distinctive attributes.
ArtPlace America, a collaboration of 13 leading national and regional foundations and six of the nation’s largest banks, is accepting applications for its 2014 Innovation Grants. Grants will be awarded to projects that involve arts organizations, artists and designers working with local and national partners on place-based strategies that can transform communities.
Past recipients of the grant and types of projects supported include:
- St. Claude Arts District and Parkette Program (New Orleans)
St. Claude Main Street, Inc. (SCMS) and CivicCenter
To encourage commercial and cultural revitalization along a pivotal corridor in New Orleans, St. Claude Arts District and Parkette Program will unify and support the corridor’s creative endeavors and promote its activities through innovative marketing, visual identification and community engagement programs developed in partnership with internationally-renowned artist and designer Candy Chang.
- REVOLVE Livernois (Detroit)
Detroit Economic Growth Association (DEGA) REVOLVE Program
REVOLVE Livernois will match world-class designers and artists with local university students, residents and entrepreneurs to activate vacant storefronts and public spaces with pop-up artinstallations, businesses and events to transform Detroit's historic "Avenue of Fashion."
- CreateHereNowCT (State of Connecticut)
State Dept of Economic & Comm Development/CT Office of the Arts
CreateHereNowCT is a pilot program of the State of Connecticut DECD/COA that will build a network of distinctive, artist-repurposed vacant spaces statewide in 20 participating towns and cities, for the creation and growth of businesses and sustainable placemaking initiatives by fostering cooperative partnerships among municipalities, artists, entrepreneurs and property owners.
According to ArtPlace America’s website, “the Innovation Grants program is designed to invest in creative placemaking projects that reach for new possibilities and involve a variety of partners who together are committed to increasing the vibrancy and diversity of their communities.”
Listening to Leaders: Regional Stewards & Civic Innovators
ACCE’s Regional Strategies Division is launching a new series of Leadership Profiles focused on how regional leaders across the country are “making it happen.”
By Shelley Lauten, partner with triSect, LLC, a strategy consulting firm focused on civic innovation (www.trisectinnovates.com).
Regional collaboration, as theory, makes a lot of sense. Communities come together to share resources. Partnerships are formed to leverage assets. Public agencies and private companies come together to build stronger economies and enhance their communities’ quality of life.
Why then, is “regional collaboration” so darn hard? ACCE’s Regional Strategies Division launches this quarterly series to interview regional practitioners who are breaking down barriers and creating innovative partnerships—and showing specific and measurable impact in their regions.
Who better to begin this series than the leaders of the Greater Des Moines Partnership—winners of the 2013 Organizational Champion Award for its work on behalf of “Capital Crossroads”?
I sat down with leaders of the Greater Des Moines Partnership—Jay Byers, CEO, Eugene Meyer, president and Susan Ramsey, senior vice president of communications and marketing, to get a clearer understanding not only what they’ve done, but how they’ve done it.
SL: Let’s start from the beginning. The Greater Des Moines Partnership was created by the leaders of the Greater Des Moines Chamber Federation, which had been in existence for over 100 years. Susan, you were there through the transition. Why the change?
Susan: In the late 1990s, our business leaders saw the writing on the wall. They were serving on multiple boards and supporting multiple organizations focused on very similar business and community issues. We had two separate economic development groups, one focused on the downtown core and one focused regionally; a separate chamber federation; and a separate downtown events and neighborhood improvement group. The organizations’ missions and goals were complimentary, but strategically, they were fragmented. Our investors’ time commitment alone was untenable, but they also felt they weren’t getting the best bang for the buck.
SL: So, where did you start?
Susan: The Chamber Federation chair led a core team of community leaders in reviewing other cities’ experience with similar growing pains, as well as the national trend towards regionalism. Improved efficiency was an important short-term goal, but ultimately they wanted improved economic competitiveness, with our communities coming together and collaborating for greater success.
SL: OK, but the Des Moines Chamber Federation had 125 years of tradition and institutional pride. Was that hard to overcome? How did it happen?
Susan: Very thoughtfully. While the details of the organizational merger were being finalized, a new investment initiative was launched to fund a five year economic and community development plan with clearly defined goals. The campaign raised a record (for the time) $10 million. Simultaneously, that same core team conducted an executive search for a proven regional leader. The combination of secured funding and new leadership created a win-win opportunity. At the end of 1999, three of the four groups formally dissolved to create the umbrella organization called the Greater Des Moines Partnership. The downtown group moved into the Partnership offices, but remained organizationally independent until its board approved the merger in 2003.
SL: Jay, how has the Partnership grown?
Jay: Creating a thriving business environment, for organizations large and small, is crucial to the overall success of the region. We began in 1999 with just over 2,000 business members and a fairly traditional member benefit program. Today, we work regionally with 20 affiliate chambers of commerce, representing 4,700 business members who wish to grow their businesses, grow their community, and grow economic opportunity for Central Iowa. By collaborating with local chambers, communities, and other local economic development groups, we have helped drive over $3 billion of capital investment since we merged in 1999.
SL: Wow. 20 Chambers coming together. How does the affiliated chamber relationship work?
Jay: In 2007, we joined forces with our regional chambers to develop an improved membership model that created the best value for the individual business and the region as a whole. With efficiency and effectiveness driving our discussions, we identified competing programs and services between the Partnership and our local chambers. We agreed to divide and conquer with a “dual membership” model we launched in 2008.
The affiliate chambers now sell all memberships, offering those services so important at the local level: networking opportunities, community engagement, and local leadership. Those members receive regional benefits from the Partnership at no additional cost: regional economic development, workforce attraction, downtown development, small business development, international programming, public policy, long term visioning, and more. Under this model, you have all the business-to-business connections of your local chamber, as well as the collective economic impact of the regional Partnership. Our regional work is funded primarily by over 300 public and private investors who want to see Greater Des Moines grow.
SL: Gene, how did all this lead to “Capital Crossroads,” your award-winning visioning process?
Gene: Capital Crossroads capitalizes on this new regional identity and buy-in to ensure Central Iowa continues to grow and prosper for current and future generations. The vision plan was developed by a steering committee that included the Partnership, but also involved other key community organizations: Bravo Greater Des Moines, Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, Des Moines Area MPO, Iowa State University, Prairie Meadows, and United Way of Central Iowa.
We very intentionally expanded the scope of the plan to a geographic region that is within a 50-mile radius of the state capitol. We evaluated input from close to 5,000 citizens on everything from infrastructure to community culture. It took a year to get from input to implementation, but the time was well spent. Today, we have over 500 community and business leaders working on short and long-term projects with significant community support and momentum.
SL: What have you accomplished?
Gene: In the first year, we were able to complete 34 initiatives from across our 11 core areas or “Capitals.” More importantly, we’ve progressed on a number of key benchmarks, including graduation rate, employment, population growth, and per capita personal income. You can read the report online at www.capitalcrossroadvision.comand you can hear Jay discuss them further during an ACCE webinar happening Nov. 8, at 2 p.m. ET.
And our efforts are paying off. Here are just a few of the community recognitions we’ve received this year:
- #1 "Best Places for Business and Careers" - Forbes, 2013
- #2 "Strongest Local Economy" - Policom, 2013
- #3 "Top 15 U.S. Cities' Emerging Downtowns" - Forbes, 2013
- #1 "Best Midwest Cities for Young Adults" - The Business Journals, 2013
- #2 "Best Cities to Start a Business" - The Street, 2013
SL: Jay, what advice do you have for others who might be interested in making regional partnerships work?
Jay: I’ve always believed in Peter Drucker’s quote: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” That’s what we are trying to do in Central Iowa. We’ve set measureable goals, and we’ve been very open about our process. Our business and community leaders have asked us to look at everything: structure, process and programs… and evaluate ourselves against the best in class regions around the world. By doing so, we can build on this momentum and achieve our vision of a world class region where you’ll find big city opportunity in a place where you can breathe, a region where a thriving and robust economy equals greater prosperity and vibrant, safe, diverse neighborhoods, where talented, hardworking people collaborate to build successful businesses, and where we honor our heritage of education and stewardship of our natural resources in a clean and sustainable environment.
Thanks for letting us tell our story.
Listening to Leaders is written by Shelley Lauten, partner with triSect, LLC, a strategy consulting firm focused on civic innovation (www.trisectinnovates.com). If you have a “Listening to Leaders” idea or have a regional success story you’d like to share, please email Shelley at Shelley@trisectinnovates.com
Chambers... Still on Top
It’s like deja vu. Late last spring I wrote a blog post praising chambers of commerce and their affiliates for dominating the list of top performing economic development groups. A year goes by and I’m writing practically the same blog post.
- Austin Chamber of Commerce
- Baton Rouge Area Chamber
- Economic Futures Group at the Spartanburg Area Chamber
- Metro Atlanta Chamber
- Mobile Chamber of Commerce
- Pittsburgh Regional Alliance
- Siouxland Initiative at the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce
- Southwest Louisiana Economic Development Alliance
That’s right folks, 8 out of the top 10 economic development groups in the country are chambers of commerce or are affiliate entities housed at chambers. The dominance continues in the second 10 where half are chambers of commerce or similar private sector lead regional entities.
- Cincinnati USA Partnership
- Dallas Regional Chamber
- Greater New Orleans Inc.
- Indy Partnership
- Nashville Area Chamber
What’s the basis for all this recognition you ask? Well it’s pretty rigorous. Here’s how Site Selection describes the ranking process:
“As in past years, the top performers were evaluated on a variety of criteria, with four objective measurements counting the most: jobs, capital investment, jobs per capita, and investment per capita. In addition, Site Selection looked at creativity of economic development strategy; depth and breadth of project activity; ability to generate breakthrough deals; and the ability to properly document the contributions of the economic development organization to actual project results.”
Objective criteria, creative innovation, breakthrough deals and documented leadership… if you want to model the best in economic development, you have to look at chambers.
Employment Growth Snapshot
Garner Economics this week released a report digging in to the jobs picture for 372 regional economies in the United States. As you’d expect, the finding are a mixed bag.
First, the good news: employment figures are up in 80% of U.S. metro regions in Q1 2013 compared with Q1 2012. The majority of regions are adding jobs year over year and that’s an unequivocally good thing.
Compare current employment averages with pre-recession figures and the picture is less rosy. Employment is still below Q1 2008 levels in roughly 70% of U.S. regions. Many are within 2-3 percentage points of pre-recession employment levels, only a handful are still 10-15% down.
Of the 102 regions that have exceeded pre-recession job levels and continue to grow, most of the strongest performers share a significant energy sector presence. Midland and Odessa, Texas lead the pack with 21.8% and 20.3% job growth since Q1 2008 respectively.
Innovative ED Metrics
Of course jobs and investment are key outcomes of successful economic development, but they’re not the only outcomes worth measuring.
Listen to this webinar recording from March 28, 2013 as Mac Holladay, CCE, president and CEO of Market Street Services shares some of the innovative ways chambers and regions are now measuring economic development success.
Click to watch - ACCE Economic Trends: Economic Development Metrics
Headlines and opinion from around the economic and community development world...
The Greater Des Moines Partnership was in Austin last week repping Central Iowa's start-up scene and arts/culture vibe at South by Southwest , the music, film, technology and innovation festival.
Market Street Report blog introduces readers to fiber house, the newest noun in entrepreneurship.
The Dayton Area Chamber and its education partners have a huge success in associate degree attainment, worker retraining, and career academy high schools. Lumina Foundation devoted an entire issue of its magazine to Dayton's work.
Citiwire's Curtis Johnson examines how a market driven, "place-making" approach to development is paying dividends for smaller communities and big regions in Texas
Advocacy is Essential
Government advocacy is essential to economic development. We all know that what happens at city hall, in the state house or in Congress has a significant impact on our ability to retain and grow jobs. And lest we forget, our elected leaders continually find ways to remind us.
The $85 billion in indiscriminate federal spending cuts known as sequestration is the most recent and broadly felt case in point. Like it or not, federal spending in vital areas like defense and research support thousands of private sector jobs in many communities. Business expansion decisions have been stymied by the extreme uncertainty in the healthcare market created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Other companies have been forced to invest abroad because our federally regulated immigration system still won't allow them to hire skilled workers who happened to be foreign-born. While reduced government spending is a reality, our ability to educate government on economic impact is crucial to getting our economy growing again.
Unfortunately our government challenges are not limited to the federal arena. Many states have slashed the incentive programs needed to close deals, and they've cut funding to the universities that produce the talent companies need to hire. Often those cuts have come while pension liability and retiree health costs remain unaddressed. Local government is not immune from bad public policy either. Some cities have effectively hung an "Unwelcome" sign by passing English-only ordinances. Others have pushed "local-only" public contract bidding preferences that completely ignore the reality of our regional economies. The list could go on and on.
We can't fight all of these battles alone, but we also can't expect that others will take care of these problems for us. As area/regional chambers of commerce and economic development organizations, we must lead the charge in educating our local elected officials. If we're not the "Voice of Business," then who will be? We should partner with like-minded, pro-growth organizations to amplify our voices at the local, state and national levels.
Of course, government advocacy isn't just about fighting wrong-headed, job-killing government actions. It's equally about promoting smart public policy and supporting wise investment of public funds. Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio and a handful of other states have recently bent their steep prison spending curve by implementing smart corrections reform efforts supported by state and local chambers. Students in Dayton, Milwaukee, Spokane and scores of other cities are making serious strides in STEM education thanks in large part to productive partnerships between chambers and schools. Oklahoma City, host of the 2013 ACCE Convention, is a role model for cooperation between the public and private sectors to win overwhelming voter support for vital, job-creating infrastructure investments.
If your organization isn't sounding full-throated opposition to onerous propositions at all levels of government and leading the charge for smart policy and investment, you're not doing everything you can to support job growth in your community. Government advocacy is essential to economic development.