The Latest in Economic Development – 4.9.2012

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This week’s blog highlights an innovative high-school training program in Seattle, a “big data” partnership at Rutgers, the development of “frugal innovation,” Midwestern foreign investment, and small business jobs numbers. Comment below or send to

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Many workforce development initiatives focus on job training for older, recently unemployed workers, or concentrate on continuing education through community colleges, but what about starting in high school? There has always been resources at public high schools to train young people to do real-world jobs (think auto shop, or other work-study classes), but they usually don’t focus on high-growth industries. Seattle has introduced a Public Schools Skills Center to prepare students for jobs that will likely be in demand when they graduate. Nick Schiffler writes that students in the program “will still take most of their regular high school classes, but will be bused to their individual Skills Center in the afternoon.” Some of the courses have ties to local companies like Boeing and Microsoft, and they are currently focused on aerospace science, digital animation and game programming, health sciences, and the Cisco/Microsoft Information Technology Academy. (TechFlash) via (Seattle’s Office of Economic Development)

“For years, universities have worked with businesses to produce joint research and educational programs. But these days there’s a new imperative: we must create collaborations aimed at producing economic development and jobs.” These are the words of Rutgers professor Manish Parashar, writing about the university’s new partnership with IBM to create a new high-performance computing center in the Huffington Post. The rise of “Big Data” and supercomputing has opened an opportunity for universities to connect with industry, educate students, and compete for research dollars. This will undoubtedly help universities improve the commercialization of their research efforts. Parashar explains, “the (Rutgers Discovery Informatics Institute) will foster and nurture partnerships with industry around their large compute and large data needs.”

“Frugal innovation” has been thriving in the developing world, and it is only a matter of time before it heads west.  Frugal innovation is generally the act of developing a consumer product that is vastly more affordable due to its “stripped down” nature. The Tata Nano is one example, which is a “no frills” Indian-developed car with a price tag of only $2,000. The Nano didn’t initially catch on, mostly due to miscalculations of consumer preferences and the tendency for the Nano to catch fire, but the concept lives on through other products like Haier’s cheaper appliances and Mahindra & Mahindra’s small tractors. The Schumpeter blog at the Economist thinks that because “the West is doomed to a long period of austerity, as the middle class is squeezed and governments curb spending,” demand for frugally innovative products will soar. (The Economist) via (Innovation Daily)

Just how critical is foreign investment to local economies in the US? In the case of the Dayton-Springfield area of Ohio, pretty darn critical. Scott Koorndyk of the Dayton Development Coalition says that the Dayton area has “about 175 foreign-owned businesses from 21 countries with more than 28,000 jobs.” Drawn by the region’s “rich manufacturing heritage and key location,” companies from Japan and Germany are finding fertile ground to set up operations. (Dayton Daily News) via (Economic News from Ohio’s Regions)

In March, small business employment increased by 0.3%, according to Intuit, Inc. While that seems like a rather negligible amount, it was the “highest single-month growth rate in more than two years.” Small business employee hours worked also increased, as well as compensation. The figures are based on data from small businesses with fewer than 20 employees, and while Susan Woodward, who helped to create the index says the numbers are a positive sign; she also says that the increase in employment “will not get us back to full employment anytime soon.” (MarketWatch)

For more concerning small business and entrepreneurship, check out NLC’s new publication: Supporting Entrepreneurship and Small Business: A Tool Kit for Local Leaders and this corresponding blog post.

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