Global Entrepreneurship Congress 2017: Coming Up!

If you want to learn the latest and greatest about what’s happening in the world of entrepreneurship, you still have time to book your flight to Johannesburg, South Africa for the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, to be held from March 13-16, 2017.  These Congresses began nine years ago, and have since been held around the globe.  This is the first time that GEC has come to Africa–a recognition of the start-up boom that is ongoing across the Continent.  A big show, with thousands of attendees from more than 100 nations, is expected.  The South African host delegation has produced an excellent video on South African entrepreneurs to help introduce the event.  The agenda is chock-full of great speakers and cutting edge research, and I’ll be providing updates on this front in future blogs.  And, if you can’t make it to Johannesburg, plan on attending GEC 2018, which will be held in Istanbul in March 2018.

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Research Round-Up

This blog post summarizes a few recent research reports that contain some interesting findings (to me, at least) but have not received a lot of coverage in the more popular blogs and e-newsletters floating around the internet.  Happy reading and researching!!

Do Self-Employment Assistance Programs Work? A new Mathematica Policy research paper takes a deep look at the US Labor Department’s Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) programs.  These efforts began in the 1990s as a pilot project that allowed unemployed workers to use their unemployment insurance (UI) funds to pursue self-employment opportunities.    This was a big shift in UI policy as recipients are typically required to pursue training or to be engaged in active job searches.  How has the SEA effort worked?   To date, the results are somewhat mixed and uncertain due to data limitations.  However, a few findings stand out.  Very few unemployed people—far less than 1%– opted to use the program.   In this group, SEA program participants tend to receive more UI benefits and have lower wages than comparable UI recipients.   Only about 1/3 of participants started a business in the first quarter of receiving SEA benefits, but 40% of those who started companies were still in business at the end of the year.   A few states linked SEA to other training and support services.  This help seems to improve business outcomes, but is typically not a required part of the program due to budget limitations.   These early findings suggest that self-employment programs can work in helping the unemployed pursue entrepreneurship.  However, these programs often require added investments and consulting services that may not always be readily available due to budget constraints.

How Much Demand for Middle Skill Jobs?  We’ve all read numerous articles outlining the boom in demand for middle skills jobs, i.e. occupations that require an associate’s degree or other training short of a four-year college degree.   A new Federal Reserve research paper examines the details on market demand for middle skill level workers.  It finds that demand levels vary greatly by geography.  In dense metropolitan areas with high numbers of college graduates, employers are much more likely to require a college degree as a prerequisite for middle skill level jobs.   In rural regions, the demand for college level training is less common.  To give one specific example of potential “requirements inflation,” Seattle-based employers are 21% more likely to require a college degree for retail supervisor jobs than employers found elsewhere in the US.  These results suggest that middle skill workers may face more economic mobility challenges if they live in metropolitan areas where training requirements for middle skill jobs are more stringent.

States and the Gig Economy:   Observers have long noted that state and local governments are “laboratories of democracy” that test new policy ideas and approaches that might not fly in Washington.   A new Stateline analysis examines how states are considering new ways to provide benefits to gig or independent economy workers.   A newly proposed bill in Washington State would require companies like Uber, Etsy, and Lyft to make contributions into an independent fund that would then be used to pay for health insurance and other benefits for their contractors.   Much recent legislation has focused on benefits for free lancers; this proposal is one of the first to look at new ways to provide a social safety net for those involved in the platform economy.

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Try This West Virginia

Work took me to West Virginia yesterday, and along the way, I was introduced to a great website, Try This West Virginia, that has been running for about a year but that was new (and exciting) to me.  Try This West Virginia lists dozens of ideas for how to build healthy communities.   It is focused on fitness and personal health—big issues in West Virginia and across the US—but it about much more than that.  It provides cheap, relatively easy, and actionable things that anybody can do to make their community a better place.  This is wonderful set of tools for communities and citizens who don’t know where to get started on the journey to transform and improve where they live.   If you’re stumped for ideas, try something like this:  Start a bike club; Advocate for daily recess in the schools; Create a regular community conversation or Open up access to local lakes, rivers or waterways.   These are all ideas that you can find at this site, and none of them are unique to West Virginia.  So, if you’re looking for good community building ideas, don’t forget Try This West Virginia.

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February 2017 Issue of EntreWorks Insights Now Available

The latest issue of our quarterly e-newsletter, EntreWorks Insights, is now available.  You can access it here and subscribe here.   This issue assesses what might–and what should–happen with manufacturing policy under the new Trump Administration.

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Infinite Earth Radio Podcast: Check it Out!

Last week, I participated in the always excellent New Partners for Smart Growth conference held in St. Louis.  This was a great event, but even better, I was able to get engaged with the folks behind a new podcast called Infinite Earth Radio.   The podcast is “dedicated to spreading ideas about how to lift up and revitalize marginalized communities by focusing on building human and social capital in a way that respects the earth we live on.”  I had the pleasure of participating in a podcast focused on the important topic of “Entrepreneurship and Place-Based Economic Development.”   You can access my podcast here, and you can subscribe to the podcast here.  This is an excellent podcast that is well worth your time on a regular basis.

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Balancing Nature and Commerce in Rural America

This week I will be heading out to Shepherdstown, WV, to be one of the trainers in a very interesting program sponsored by The Conservation Fund.  Balancing Nature and Commerce in Rural Communities and Landscapes is a training program designed for community leaders who are pursuing economic development opportunities that align with and support their region’s scenic, natural, and recreational assets.    The program has been underway for several years, and this year’s program includes teams from Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.    I learn a great deal at these events as the teams are among the nation’s leaders in promoting new thinking about rural economic development.   They are part of burgeoning movement that is seeking to use natural assets as a driver of rural prosperity.  Lots of great new information seems to be coming out nearly every day.  For example, check out this piece on small town trail development.   While it’s too late to apply for this week’s event, you can learn more about the program and (hopefully) its future iterations here.

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Happy 10th Anniversary to Pipeline!

This month marks the tenth anniversary of Pipeline, a fellowship of great entrepreneurs building world-class businesses in Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.   Pipeline began as a pilot project of the now defunct Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation, but it’s now a core part of the booming entrepreneurial ecosystem developing in the Midwest.  It has helped spawn some of the region’s great entrepreneurial ventures, and its track record would be the envy of any business acceleration program.   I’ve had the pleasure of working for the Pipeline team on several occasions, and I’m ecstatic to see the great work led by Joni Cobb, Pipeline’s President and CEO, and the whole team.

The Pipeline family will be in full celebration mode over the next couple of weeks.  The program has just received cover story treatment in the Kansas City Business Journal, which also profiled many of the program’s most successful entrepreneurs (Note:  most of the stories require sign-in or subscription).  On January 26th, the annual Pipeline Innovators Award Dinner, at Kansas City’s Midland Theater, will be bigger than ever.  This will be a wonderful opportunity to celebrate a great decade, and to look ahead to another great ten years.


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A Guide to Smart Specialization

You don’t hear about it much here in the US, but smart specialization strategies have been a hot topic in European economic development circles for some time.  Smart specialization strategies, or S3, are an approach designed to help economically challenged regions identify priority areas for research and innovation investments.  The S3 process is designed to help regions identify their comparative innovation advantages via what is referred to as the “entrepreneurial discovery process.”  Regions then focus investments on specific core activities—as opposed to sectors or clusters.  The ultimate goal is to target investments into “specialized” regional competencies (e.g. design, marketing, distribution) as opposed to spreading investments too thinly across multiple areas (e.g. R&D, workforce training, higher education) or industry sectors.

In my mind, there is too much EU bureaucratic jargon in the smart specialization literature. But, if you can plow though the acronyms and EU-speak, there are some worthy nuggets of learning in the S3 model. That’s why the EU’s new Implementing Smart Specialization Strategies:  A Handbook is worth a look.  This handbook explains the S3 model and offers real life examples of how it works in practice.   For US readers, I think the S3 model offers some useful insights in a few areas where we also face challenges.  These include:

  • Identifying regional priorities for innovation-focused investments
  • Setting up governance systems that engage multiple economic and workforce development partners
  • Measuring impact and progress via effective metrics
  • Working across borders in a multinational context

While it’s unlikely that we’ll bring the entire S3 model here to the US, it contains many useful insights that can and should be applied to our work.

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Citizen Perspectives on Economic Development: Virginia 2017

Here in Virginia, we’ve been in the midst of some tough public debates on economic and workforce development.  The statewide economy has not been performing as well as hoped, and some regions, especially coal-dependent areas, are facing very tough times. Meanwhile, some of our state agencies have been facing tough scrutiny over botched incentive deals and other issues.  But, a recent survey from Virginia Commonwealth University offers some potential good news not just here in Virginia but in terms of public attitudes to economic and workforce development more generally.

The study, undertaken after the elections in December 2016, surveyed the general public about economic and workforce development in Virginia, and here a few quick hits:

  • Less than half (47%) of respondents think Virginia is doing a good job in recruiting businesses to the state,
  • But, at the same time, 58% of those surveyed would be willing to pay more taxes to support workforce training and development programs,
  • About half of respondents want new investments to be targeted to workforce training, as opposed to tax incentives or other approaches,
  • More than half (55%) of those surveyed are not familiar with the training, job search, and education opportunities available in their area.

I think these results show a fairly sophisticated sense of what’s happening with our economy.   We need to do a better job of preparing people for the new world of work.  But, at the same time, we face a big outreach challenge as a large share of people still aren’t aware of the opportunities already available on this front.   And, if they can learn about and tap into good programs, residents appear to be willing to make the needed investments to support them.

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The End of Clusters?

If you work in economic or workforce development, a good part of your life is spent talking about clusters or sectors, i.e. industry groups that we target in our various programs and initiatives.   Rapid technological change has meant that many traditional industry groupings matter less.  In fact, we may be reaching a point where we are at “The End of Conventional Industry Sectors.”   That’s the message that comes out of a new PwC Report called The Future of Industries:  Bringing Down the Walls.  This study looks at the contours of what they call “the new industrial order.”  According to this view, we are in or soon entering a new industrial revolution where the barriers between industries disappear.

Let’s look at two examples.  In the automotive sector, the rise of autonomous vehicles and other factors means that car makers are now software firms as well.  They are now in the business of mobility solutions, which may require making cars or other solutions too.  What about additive manufacturing?  Once 3D printing becomes ubiquitous, manufacturers can conceivably make everything and no longer need to specialize in making cars or appliances or medical devices or whatever.  The market sector becomes less important.

The PwC report focuses on how business should respond to this coming shockwave, but economic developers need to rethink as well.   Clearly, our past focus on clusters and sectors needs to evolve.  We’ll need to build companies and people with something like a “plug and play” capability. They will need the talent and capacities to work with different kinds of platforms, technologies, and markets.   These are not necessarily new insights—concepts like 21st Century Learning and Skills seek to train people to operate in this kind of fluid environment.  But, the pace of change is increasing and the relevance of many of our old models is eroding at a more rapid pace.   Economic and workforce development will need to evolve as well—and much quicker!

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