The Latest in Economic Development

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This week’s blog explores creating an innovation culture, closing the talent gap, “ideation” and Bloomberg’s Mayor’s Challenge. Comment below or send to

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Creating a culture of innovation can sometimes look a lot like “old” economic development. The city of Grove, OK is targeting entrepreneurs using typical “large catch” recruitment tools, such as giving away space in its industrial park (BusinessWeek).  And just this week, D.C. city council approved a $32.5 million tax credit to keep “daily deal purveyor LivingSocial headquarters in the city” (Washington Post).  The impetus: the threat of LivingSocial moving across the border to lower-tax Virginia and disrupting the burgeoning tech scene.

But what do innovative industries really want? In D.C., the tech community responded to the incentives deal with a letter outlining several ways economic developers should support them: sublease commercial office space to young tech firms at below-market rate; use city-owned land to create a “tech hub”; and use business development programs to encourage major industries to invest in information technology (Washington Post).  In Seattle, the major players of the tech industry are pushing for a greater supply of homegrown talent in high-tech disciplines.  In an interesting twist, Boston’s Northeastern University is stepping in to help fill talent gap by opening a Seattle campus offering specialized degree programs (Xconomy via Seattle’s Daily Digest).

Closing this talent gap has become a priority of cities and regions across the country, with many new strategies popping up to overcome an outdated workforce system. The New York Times recently profiled an effort, Year Up, which “makes it possible for poor high school graduates to land good jobs. It does so, in part, by imparting important soft skills that the upper-middle-class takes for granted, like how to interact with colleagues in an office setting. A second aspect of the program involves teaching marketable skills in such areas as computer support, say, or back-office work at financial firms.” Efforts such as Year Up are clearly a step in the right direction, but unfortunately are only a drop in the bucket.

The National Fund for Workforce Solutions is working to connect and leverage programs like Year Up with other regional resources, industry, funders, educators and the workforce system to build stronger and more sustainable regional funding collaboratives. “At the heart of this is really making sure that the partnerships support the work and the needs of the local community,” said Damian Thorman, national program director at the John L. and James S. Knight Foundation and chair of the Investor Committee for the National Fund for Workforce Solutions (The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta).

What does “ideation” mean to you? Yes, that’s a real word, at least according to the Bloomberg Foundation. With an Innovation Delivery Team grant from Bloomberg, the city of Memphis is boosting businesses in struggling, but transitional neighborhoods.  Governing profiles the city’s ideation process to engagestakeholders, peers, experts and others for ideas and data about an issue and use that information to rigorously examine those ideas before choosing a direction.” For example, Memphis convened local employers to discuss the challenges they face, goals for the future and specific policies they would like to see implemented. As a result, the city is developing strategies, such as “pop-up retail,” to allow start-ups to test the waters in vacant and underused locations.  The city is also undergoing a major overhaul of its business development agency to provide improved market data and customized assistance.

Also from Bloomberg, if your city has a bold idea to make government work better, solve a serious problem or improve city life, apply for the Mayor’s Challenge. RSVP due July 19!