Millennials, Makers, and Manufacturers: This Month in Economic Development

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Our monthly roundup of the latest news in economic development filtered through a city-focused lens. Reading something interesting? Share it with @robbins617.

(Getty Images)
Cities that are able to create nimble environments for innovation and skills acquisition can build on their manufacturing assets and adapt to the new needs of advanced industries. (Getty Images)

Cities Drive the Maker Movement. Cities are recognizing the power and potential of the maker movement, both as a placemaking strategy and as an economic and workforce strategy. The growing public support for the maker movement was captured in NLC’s new report, How Cities Can Grow the Maker Movement. The report details how ten U.S. cities leveraged public resources and private partnerships to grow a successful local maker movement. A TechCrunch article from NLC’s Brooks Rainwater and Emily Robbins explores how cities are driving the maker movement by creating makerspaces in public libraries and supporting educational workshops for young tinkerers.

A New Era for Economic Development. The role of economic development in cities is changing. Amy Liu, Vice President and Director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, recently released Remaking Economic Development about how traditional roles of economic development – like incentive deals to attract large businesses or tax increment financing to build stadiums or office parks – are not creating an inclusive economy. As Liu describes, “Top-line economic growth does not ensure bottom-line prosperity.” Cities all over the country are figuring out this new paradigm shift towards economic development that improves the quality of life for all segments of the population. Christiana McFarland from NLC shared how Austin is taking the lead on this with programs like the Einstein Project, which connects youth in poverty to free career development training from local tech industry leaders.

Closing the Digital Divide for Small Businesses. Kansas City, Missouri, well-known for its status as a “Gig City,” has the surprising challenge of a digital divide among small business owners. Local business and entrepreneurs have access to a high-speed broadband network that makes all aspects of e-commerce more accessible, such as online sales, advertising, and customer support. However, many mom-and-pops are not taking advantage of the internet to support their businesses. And they are not alone. Almost half of small businesses nationwide do not have a website. Kansas City took action with a plan to drive broadband utilization across all industries and business types. The program, called the Small Business Growth Plan, helps businesses understand how to better use the internet to boost marketing and sales.

Some Local Governments Appear to be on Hiring Sprees. NLC’s Trevor Langan analyzed the first quarter of monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics data on local government employment for NLC’s latest Local Jobs Report. A total of 41,900 jobs have been added in the first quarter of 2016. These data are a welcomed sign of a local recovery that is finally taking hold. However, national jobs numbers tend to smooth over complexities at the local level. Changes in the local government workforce are often the result of a complex set of factors including budget cycles, employee-related cost pressures, service needs and strength of the overall economy.

Is Manufacturing a Viable Path Forward for Cities? A key consideration facing policymakers right now is whether or not it’s worthwhile for cities to continue to focus on manufacturing as a path toward economic vitality. One question often asked is: Are these old manufacturing jobs just never coming back? The answer is that a new wave of advanced manufacturing is poised to create new job growth and economic opportunity. Cities that are able to create nimble environments for innovation and skills acquisition can build on their manufacturing assets and adapt to the new needs of advanced industries. For example, Waterbury, Connecticut, launched the Waterbury Career Academy High School to train the next generation of manufacturers, computer specialists and allied health workers. The very first class of students will graduate from the manufacturing program next spring with a leg up to hopefully gain employment within the city. This new vocational high school is just one prong of a multi-strategy effort to revive a modern manufacturing economy that lost 5,000 manufacturing jobs over the last two decades.

Innovation Districts: The Chattanooga Story. Just over a year after its official launch, NLC’s new report provides an inside look at the formation of the innovation district in Chattanooga and the city’s plans for its future.

For a Laugh. Inexplicably, the “musical PSA” became trendy for a week or two in late winter. These music videos inform residents about things like school shutdowns and freeway closings. Check out L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti’s slow jam about the 101 Freeway and a snow day announcement from a school in Clarkesville, Georgia.

What We’re Reading. Boston’s citywide Small Business Plan. A white paper from Etsy on how to support the maker movement and creative entrepreneurship. An article from Ilana Preuss at Recast City on how to provide affordable commercial space for small-scale manufacturing. A piece on how Philadelphia is attracting millennials by NLC’s Trevor Langan.

About the Author: Emily Robbins is Principal Associate for Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter @robbins617.