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The Latest in Economic Development

February 14, 2013

This week’s blog discusses the merits of German and Swiss apprenticeship programs and college credentials, heartland startup culture, a new incubator program in Arizona, and a community benefits agreement between Columbia University and West Harlem. Comment below or send to common@nlc.org.

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A recent publication by the Richmond Fed describes the merits of German/Swiss-style apprenticeships for students, helping them transition into the working world more easily. The results speak for themselves; unemployment for ages 15-24 last year in Switzerland was 7.7%, 8.5% in Germany, and 17.3% in the US. Other factors are surely at play, but on-the-job training makes a big difference. The US still focuses largely on the attainment of traditional university degrees, leaving high-tech manufacturers looking for qualified applicants and creating a stigma that technical education is a step down. That’s not to say that college isn’t worthwhile, as university graduates tend to have better job prospects and higher earning potential in the long-term. There doesn’t have to be a trade-off though; the best approach is likely “not an either-or, but a dual system.”

Over at Bloomberg, Peter Orszag takes the view that more college graduates would contribute to faster economic growth.  He reckons that a slowdown in the rate of college degree attainment has made income inequality worse and stifled growth.

A new network is forming in Arizona called the Alexandria Network, which will place incubator-style co-working spaces in public libraries.  It’s a collaboration between Arizona State and ASU Venture Catalyst, along with the Scottsdale Public Library. The plan is to eventually scale the model across the state. The pilot program will have the support of the City of Scottsdale’s economic development team, and ASU will use “proven startup content, experienced entrepreneurial mentors, and ‘pracademic’ teaching modules” to support the new spaces. According to Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane, “we are creating an ecosystem for success to occur in Scottsdale, and many companies here are benefitting from that.” He also adds, “…the free resources and opportunities to connect and learn from fellow business people provided through the Alexandria Network will be a powerful asset for them.”

If you’re interested in startups, entrepreneurship, and accelerators, particularly in destinations that aren’t Silicon Valley or New York, the Wall Street Journal has a whole host of articles for you to peruse.  One of the locales WSJ features is Omaha, Nebraska, a middle-American city not exactly known for its dynamic entrepreneurial climate. But there are advantages to Omaha that aren’t always that obvious. For one, “while more and more startups are drawn to Omaha, it’s not quite as saturated with competition like New York City or Silicon Valley. That makes new businesses strong magnets for talent who are looking for fresh opportunities. Not only is it easier to recruit local talent, Midwestern transplants on the coasts are often looking for opportunities to come back home, where the cost of living is lower.” Also, in Midwestern tradition, “there’s an incredibly strong work ethic,” and “the community support for local businesses is…pretty powerful.”

Columbia University’s expansion in New York City has been a point of contention in West Harlem, but a community benefits agreement is allowing community groups access to much needed funds. The agreement between Columbia and the West Harlem Local Development Corporation entails $76 million to be disbursed to the WHLDC over 16 years. The money is handed out to community applicants in grant cycles, and the applications “paint a nuanced portrait of West Harlem.” Some of the proposals are for elbow-grease projects in community development, while others are for creative projects such as a proposal to “teach about 25 youths how to raise organic fish and produce using an aquaponic system.”

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