Latest in Economic Development

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This week’s blog explores connecting skills to industry needs, up and coming entrepreneurial hot-spots, and the proliferation of incubators and accelerators. Comment below or send to mcfarland@nlc.org.

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Both booming cities and struggling towns are reexamining the linkages between industry and skills development as a gateway to growth.  Although Seattle tends to be on the receiving end of a highly-educated workforce, business leaders in the region note a significant leak in the workforce pipeline.  To meet the increasing demands of local businesses, like Boeing, education leaders and the state legislature recently committed funding to increase enrollment in engineering and technology degree programs, reports the Seattle Times (via Seattle’s Daily Digest).

Places like Dayton, OH, that are on the other side of the attainment gap and are struggling to employ displaced manufacturing workers, are “racing to produce, attract, and retain college graduates as badly needed food for its hungry economy,” reports the New York Times. Through internship programs and restructured “bundles of courses” at local community colleges, Dayton is hoping to retrain and retain its workforce.

Still left for debate, though, is the economic impact and value of certificate programs and two-year technical degrees vs. more traditional four-year college degrees. The more traditional route is thought to have a greater impact, but places like Walla Walla, WA, which transformed its economy into a flourishing wine region, are proving that with strong industry input and reliance on local assets, community colleges can be serious partners for long-term growth and private sector investment, details National Journal.

New Orleans and Pittsburgh are on their way to becoming flourishing start-up havens, and attribute much of their early success to structural changes in the economy.  In New Orleans, “its narrative is embedded in the lore of the city’s post-Katrina recovery: bright newcomers join with returning New Orleanians and newly determined natives to build a new, progressive business culture open to risk and innovation,” blogs Bruce Nolan of the Times-Picayune. In both cities, early stage investors are helping to commercialize ideas, and accelerators, like Pittsburgh’s Innovation Works’ AlphaLab program, are seen as essential to providing the investment capital, office space, mentoring services and a density of talent needed for a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.

But accelerator and incubator programs have come under fire recently. Wall Street Journal notes that critics “question whether some of the programs- particularly newer ones outside tech hubs like Silicon Valley, Boston and New York- have enough access to the right mentors and investors to boost an entrepreneur’s chances of success.”  And even if the program is robust, “incubators tend to look for very specific business models- start-ups that can grow quickly and offer a major return on investment…so if you’re doing something particularly new, you may not be able to get into an incubator even with a truly great idea,” notes Thursday Bram of ReadWriteWeb.

The proliferation of incubators and accelerators may leave entrepreneurs and cities alike wondering whether they need these programs to be successful.  Their effectiveness may be hard to measure since many are new, but on the flip-side, strategies such as streamlining business regulations like in Manchester, NH, or holding community conversations between the Mayor and start-up companies like in Seattle, are certainly time-tested ways to support local growth.