Can a conference jumpstart a national movement of city officials supporting local entrepreneurs? It can if national support is connected to local commitments to action.
Last month at the Mayor’s Conference for Entrepreneurship, 65 mayors committed to specific policies, programs, and practices that will provide support and resources to those in their communities starting a new business. Together, these cities are home to an estimated 36,000 entrepreneurs. If even a fraction of these companies access new resources that help them grow, these mayors will have transformed the economic trajectory of dozens of communities.
Supporting entrepreneurs and young businesses is the key to employment growth and economic opportunity in cities around the country. While many communities pursued Amazon’s HQ2, growing your own young companies is the more resilient and inclusive approach for a robust local economy. This is a new form of economic development—focused on people rather than firms—and it requires mayors to rethink their growth strategies.
It’s one thing for local elected officials to understand the importance of entrepreneurship, but what exactly can mayors do to actually help grow young businesses in their communities? In the seventh year of the Mayor’s Conference, local leaders worked with national experts on proven solutions to support entrepreneurs.
The conference featured 10 tracks for mayors to choose from—each program, policy, or practice was distinct, but all model the new form of economic development. In each, the mayors committed to pursuing the next steps in the program. For example:
- Seattle, Morgantown, the Town of Holly Hills and others will examine existing regulations and procurement requirements to make it easier for new firms to sell locally;
- Pittsburgh, South Bend, Hartford and others will identify ways to partner with a local university to sponsor visas for immigrant entrepreneurs to stay and grow their business locally;
- Providence, Riverside, Indianola and others will hire or appoint an Entrepreneurial Ambassador to connect and support entrepreneurs;
- Baltimore, Philadelphia, Nashville and others will identify and measure the success of existing programs to better allocate resources.
These mayors are committed to being champions of entrepreneurship and we’re committed to helping them succeed. With support from the Kauffman Foundation and Schmidt Futures, and by partnering with national experts, the National League of Cities will provide specific and unique support to each commitment-making city. Over the next year, we will track their progress and report out on their successes.
To stay competitive globally, cities need to support innovation and the creation of new businesses locally. When local elected leaders make specific, measurable commitments, you can mobilize your city’s government but can also galvanize the other sectors and stakeholders that matter in the community. Uniting this whole ecosystem behind a shared vision for success is the key to creating a place where new businesses can thrive.
For more information, see NLC’s City Innovation Ecosystems program.
About the Authors:
Scott Andes is the program director for the City Innovation Ecosystems program. The program, which looks to foster local innovation, entrepreneurship and STEM learning opportunities, is currently accepting applicants. Please visit the program’s web page to learn more.
Evan Absher, Senior Program Officer, Entrepreneurship at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
Kumar Garg, Senior Director for Technology and Society, Schmidt Futures
Alex Jones is a manager in the NLC Center for City Solutions. Previously, he was a senior policy analyst at the Brookings Institution and strategic adviser to its Centennial Scholar Initiative.