It’s the holiday season and you may be on the lookout for gifts for family, friends, and colleagues. If you’ve got a policy wonk on your list, EntreWorks Consulting is here to help. I’ve made my list of new and notable books—all of which I read at some point in 2018. Take a look and if any of these mini-reviews entice you, go out and buy a copy—preferably at a local independent bookstore or other small business. Best wishes for happy holidays filled with good reads!
- Jay Shambaugh and Ryan Nunn (eds.). Place-Based Policies for Shared Economic Growth. This edited volume comes from the Hamilton Project. I don’t always agree with every idea from this team, but I respect them for taking on tough issues and offering concrete and realistic policy recommendations. This volume examines issues related to the Geography of Prosperity, which is also the title of its introductory chapter. That chapter itself is well worth reading, as it ably distills the major challenges facing distressed regions today. Other essays examine related issues and causal factors such as racial segregation, the role of higher education, and new government grant programs for lagging regions. The volume is available as an e-book too.
- Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Thomas Ramge, Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data. We hear a lot about how robots are coming for our jobs, but I’ve always felt that, beyond the hype, the rise of AI will have a more nuanced impact on our economic lives. This book, which doesn’t shy away from big questions, offers a fascinating take on how big data and AI will transform capitalism. It’s hard to briefly summarize their case, but let me try: they argue that data will ultimately supplant money as the market’s key driver and as the source of wealth creation. In data rich markets, data supplants money as the conveyor of information and value. If you buy this premise, you can imagine that the transition to data rich markets will be interesting, and perhaps terrifying. The authors offer their own guidance on how we can manage the transition, and capture the benefits of rich data, which should ultimately yield richer and more efficient markets.
- Mike Madison, Fruitful Labor: The Ecology, Economy, and Practice of a Family Farm. I’ve been fortunate to work on an agriculture-related project this year, and have thus been attracted to related books. I thoroughly enjoyed Fruitful Labor, which was a fascinating real-life guide to what it’s like to actually run a family farm. It didn’t convince me to take up farming, but it did increase my already high admiration for what America’s farmers do to put food on our tables.
- Maria E. Meyers and Kate Pope Hodel. Beyond Collisions: How to Build Your Entrepreneurial Infrastructure. This one was published in late 2017, but I read it in 2018 and am thus including it hereJ I’ve plugged this book before, but it deserves two plugs! This is an excellent playbook and how-to guide on building local networks and ecosystems to help people start and grow new ventures. Easy to read and full of great tips and insights.
- Harold Wolman, Howard Wial, Travis St. Clair and Ned Hill. Coping with Adversity: Regional Economic Resilience and Public Policy. I’ve plugged this one before as well, but again, it deserves the attention. This is a comprehensive look at how communities deal with economic shocks, such as a major plant closure. They find that the most resilient communities share a number of characteristics: they are home to a better educated workforce, enjoy more industry diversity among their export oriented sectors, and provide a perceived business-friendly climate.
Since 2014, I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in a large project focused on “Building Stronger Economies in America’s Coal-Reliant Regions.” As part of this project, we’ve worked with dozens of American regions dealing with the aftermath of a coal mine closing or the shutdown of coal-fired power plants. It’s been an inspiring and educational process. Despite many challenges, these communities are coming together and building new community narratives in the face of economic adversity. As part of this work, we’ve recorded a series of webinars that examine various topics related to economic diversification and effective approaches for responding to economic shocks. The latest webinar, “Strategies to Support Economic Diversification,” is now available. This is something of a primer on economic diversification, sharing what we’ve learned from working with coal-reliant communities and others. While our project is focused on coal-impacted regions, the lessons presented in the webinar are relevant to any community facing economic shocks due to plant closures, natural disasters, or other factors. We find that economic diversification is a critical factor in a region’s resilience and its ability to prosper over the long term. Great resources can also be accessed at the project’s website: Resources for Transitioning Economies.
The latest edition of our quarterly e-newsletter, EntreWorks Insights, is now available. This issue examines the great economic development potential of the agbiosciences, the industry sectors where plant science, animal and human health, and high-tech agriculture converge. You can access past newsletters and sign up for future issues here.
Investing in America’s Workforce is a new book released last week by the Federal Reserve and a number of key partners. If you’re looking to understand today’s workforce development system, start here. In fact, the book could easily be subtitled: “Everything you ever wanted to know about workforce development but were afraid to ask.” Investing in America’s Workforce actually consists of three volumes, covering the topics of “Investing in Workers,” “Investing in Work,” and “Investing in Systems for Employment Opportunity.” Each volume contains anywhere from 10 to 15 contributions on key issues facing the field such as engaging employers, investing in technology, strengthening regional partnerships, and closing talent gaps.
I’m fortunate to have a chapter included in the volume in the sections focused on “Investing in Rural Work,” which is prefaced with an excellent review of rural workforce issues from Brian Dabson. My piece, “Igniting Rural Entrepreneurship: Where do Workforce Development Program Fit In?” examines the intersection of three of my favorite topics: rural development, workforce development, and entrepreneurship.
I expect that Investing in America’s Workforce will become the “go-to” guide for the current state of play in workforce development. It’s well worth a read or at least as a background reference guide. With the holidays coming up, you might even consider it as a gift for the policy wonk in your life! Even better, the book is free for download here.
November is upon us and you may be starting on your plans for Thanksgiving. But, don’t forget another “big” holiday in between: Global Entrepreneurship Week 2018 will be celebrated from November 12-18, 2018. Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) has been celebrated for more than a decade, and it’s become something of a big deal. GEW events this year will happen in 170 countries, engaging more than 20,000 partners sponsoring 35,000 events that are expected to engage as many as ten million people around the world. This year’s GEW events are focused on several key themes, especially in terms of developing more inclusive approaches to entrepreneurship and in engaging more women and youth entrepreneurs. GEW partner organizations are also embracing new strategies to link entrepreneur ecosystems across borders. The development of the gAsia Pass is one of the coolest ideas to emerge from this work. The gAsia Pass will provide Asia-based entrepreneurs with a membership card that gives them expedited access to entrepreneur support services and networks across nations in Asia. This effort will make it much easier for innovators and entrepreneurs to work in multiple locations across Asia. You can learn more about GEW events in the US at GEW USA and find more on global events at GEW GLOBAL.
For the last two years, EntreWorks Consulting has led a major Appalachian Regional Commission-sponsored research project entitled Documenting and Strengthening Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Appalachia. With our colleagues at the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness and the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, we’ve been engaged in a deep dive to understand the entrepreneurial economy across the 13-state, 420-county, Appalachian region. The results of this work were released today at an event in Cattaraugus County, New York.
This work, which can be accessed at www.arc.gov/ecosystems, contains lots of interesting insights and data. For those interested in the state of Appalachia, you’ll be interested to know that our research finds that most Appalachian counties perform well, and host levels of start-up and high-growth business activity that are similar to those found in other regions of the US. The project also produced a report, Building an Entrepreneurial Future: Ideas for Appalachia’s Ecosystem Builders and Champions, that offers policy recommendations for building stronger regional entrepreneurial ecosystems across Appalachia.
Community leaders and economic developers may be most interested in our eight regional case studies that examine the challenges and opportunities around regional ecosystem building efforts. They can also tap into a working resource inventory that provides background and contact information for key ecosystem partners operating in every county and state across Appalachia.
Last but not least, data geeks and policy wonks may want to check out the project’s data dashboard that tracks the entrepreneurial economy in every county across Appalachia. For the first time, data on start-ups, high-growth companies, and Stage 2 businesses (with 10-99 employees) is provided for all 420 counties in Appalachia and their performance is benchmarked against state, regional, and national averages. In addition, a project literature review assesses what the academic and policy literature tell us about nurturing entrepreneurial ecosystems.
This has been a fun and rewarding project that we hope will advance the conversations about innovation and entrepreneurship in Appalachia and across the US. A thriving entrepreneurial economy is emerging in Appalachia. This project details these trends, and will hopefully help support continued success and economic transformations.
October is shaping up to be another busy month on the road. Here’s some of my upcoming speaking gigs. Hope to see you on the road.
There aren’t a lot of books that discuss the daily life and work of economic developers, so I’m always on the lookout for new ones that offer some insights and useful work tips. If you’re looking for similar sources of new ideas, two new books are worth your time. Maury Forman’s self-published The Wit and Wisdom of an Economic Developer distills Maury’s many years of working to advance economic development in the state of Washington and beyond. It’s a funny—and insightful—series of essays on what works and what doesn’t work in the real world of economic development.
Eric Canada is another long time economic developer, and his firm, Blane Canada, is well known in the field. His new book, Economic Development for the Team, is a similarly useful guide to the reality of economic development. This guide is especially useful in its recognition that teamwork and partnerships are the reality in today’s world. It offers tips not just for the professional economic developer, but also focuses on roles and activities for board members, elected officials and other partners. This guide is especially useful for folks who are brand new to the field and need an introduction to leading practices, procedures, and terminology.
Finally, a colleague recently recommended a newish book that I’ve found quite interesting: What I Found in a Thousand Towns by Dar Williams. Williams is a popular folk singer who spends a lot of time on the road in smaller towns like Phoenixville, PA, Moab, UT, and Gainesville, FL. She’s become something of community revitalization expert along the ways as she’s seen what works in building vibrant towns and communities. The book’s subtitle does a great job of summarizing its content and conclusions: “A Traveling Musician’s Guide to Rebuilding America’s Communities—One Coffee Shop, Dog Run and Open-Mike Night at a Time.” This is an interesting and entertaining read.
In my quest to get a better understanding of the new federal Opportunity Zones program, I’ve been attending an excellent forum sponsored by the Council of Development Finance Agencies. As a reminder, this Opportunity Zone program was created by Congress last year. It provides generous tax credits for those who invest in projects located in opportunity zones around the US. These zones are intended to be areas of high economic distress with unmet demand for equity investments in businesses and real estate projects. This spring, states identified more than 8700 zones around the US, and most outside analysts think that they did a good job of targeting areas of great need.
But, now the devil is in the details. My time at the CDFA event and outside research suggests (to me, at least) that the success of the Opportunity Zone program is going to depend highly on how key federal agencies opt to regulate and manage the program. These decisions are still under consideration so we’re in something of a waiting mode.
While we’re waiting, there are key questions still on the table. The tax benefits for the program are generous, so it seems likely that investors will be attracted to Opportunity Zone investments. But, can we ensure that the investments make a difference in distressed communities? After all, that’s the program’s purpose! Here the jury may still out. A few key issues include:
- Geographic Diversity: How can we ensure that these investments don’t just go to major urban markets, but also hit rural areas and zones located in smaller communities? There is a short timeline for deploying funds, and this tight deadline may limit the ability of investors to seek out deals in out of the way places. Here’s another good look at these issues.
- Small Business vs. Real Estate Projects: Opportunity zone funds can be used to finance small businesses, but the market for these equity deals may be small. There may be few companies located in zones that are seeking major equity infusions. If this is the case, we should expect most investments to be targeted to real estate deals. (This is the case with funding from other new programs like EB-5, the New Markets Tax Credit, and the Community Development Financial Institutions programs as well.) Of course, real estate projects can have transformational impacts, but we need more business investments too. Also, if the funds are used to invest in luxury real estate (as we have seen in many EB-5 projects), we’re missing the purpose of Opportunity Zones.
- Tracking Impacts: At present, the program contains no mechanisms, beyond tax audits, to track whether and how investments help low income people and communities. Many advocacy and research groups are seeking to address this problem by developing project clearinghouses and other tools. We will clearly need better tools to understand if and how Opportunity Zones are bringing real benefits to at-risk communities.
While I have many questions, I’m still optimistic. I think Opportunity Zones have potential, but they won’t be a panacea. But, if we can find new and effective approaches to invest in and nurture distressed regions, let’s do it and let’s do it right!
If you want to track future directions, I can highly recommend Enterprise Community Partners Opportunity Zone Platform.
As the long hot summer winds down, my work and travel schedule pick up. I’ve got lots of speaking engagements planned for the fall. In September, you can find me at the following events and locales:
September 18: Presenting at the Community Indicators Consortium 2018 Impact Summit in Minneapolis.
September 20: Presenting at the National Association of Counties’ Strengthening Economies in Colorado forum in Delta, CO.
September 30-October 3: Attending the annual conference of the International Economic Development Council in Atlanta. On October 2, I’ll be chairing a panel on “Supporting Rural Entrepreneurs.”
If you happen to be at any of these upcoming events, please stop by and visit. Hope to see you on the road!