Strong Rural America.Com: Resources for Rural Entrepreneurs

This week, the American Farm Bureau Federation, unveiled its new Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative (REI) website:  www.strongruralamerica.com.  The REI is a joint initiative of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the Global Social Enterprise Initiative and Startup Hoyas at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. The Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative is directly tied to AFBF’s mission of building strong and prosperous agricultural communities.  The Center for Rural Entrepreneurship and EntreWorks Consulting are also supporting this effort.

The website is part of larger campaign to promote rural entrepreneurship and to provide a host of tools and support resources for rural entrepreneurs.   These plans include the Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, a nationwide business competition for rural entrepreneurs, and a series of webinars on key topics of interest to rural business owners.   Scheduled webinar topics include:

• Introducing AFBF’s Rural Entrepreneurship Initiative on Tuesday, July 29 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern
• Finding and Using Business Information on Tuesday, Aug. 26 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern
• Telling Your Business Story on Tuesday, Sept. 23 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern
• Finding Money To Grow on Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern
• Finding and Keeping Talent on Tuesday, Dec. 2 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern

You can learn more and register for webinars here.   You can also track the REI’s progress at the Rural Community Building blog.

Posted in Current News | Leave a comment

A Plug for Factory Man

I’m in the midst of reading Factory Man, by Beth Macy—an excellent book that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in economic development or in what happened to the American Dream.   Factory Man profiles John Bassett III and his struggles to keep his company, Bassett Furniture, afloat in the midst of major pressures from globalization and technical change.   Bassett Furniture originally hails from the company town of Bassett, VA and operates its facilities in the border regions of Virginia and North Carolina.  This area faces major economic challenges and has been hard hit by the loss of manufacturing jobs in the textile and furniture industries.   Assessing these impacts can make for depressing reading, but the overall story of Factory Man is one of hope.   As the book’s subtitle, “How One Furniture Make Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local, and Helped Save an American Town,” Bassett has been able to survive and maintain its local operations in Martinsville, VA, Newton, NC, and elsewhere.  This story should offer inspiration to those of us who are hoping that the long-promised reshoring of American manufacturing is underway.   It is an excellent take on what’s required to make it as a manufacturer today, and how a company’s success (or mere survival) has important ripple effects across a community.

 

Posted in Current News | Leave a comment

Small is Beautiful: Innovation Lessons from Smaller Countries

In September 2014, Scots will be voting to determine whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom or embrace independence.  The vote will be closely fought, with voting preferences shaped by years of cultural, economic, and family ties.   Innovation policy won’t be a top factor in the vote, but, if Scotland opts for independence, it will need to embrace new innovation policies quite quickly.  That’s why a new NESTA report, When Small is Beautiful:  Lessons from Highly-Innovative Small Countries, is so timely.

The study examines the innovation policy experiences of Finland, Estonia, Singapore, Israel, and Spain’s Basque region.  All of these nations perform quite well on various global rankings of innovation and competitiveness, and have generally enjoyed extended periods of economic prosperity.  Can Scotland—or other small nations–follow in their footsteps?

These five national experiences offer many useful lessons.  Economies must remain open to the world, and innovation needs to pervade all aspects of government policy.    Effective and well-funded innovation institutions, like Finland’s TEKES or Innobasque, also help.   A strong sense of national mission, potent assets for both Israel and Singapore, also helps spur support for big and audacious innovation investments.  Finally, these nations also excel in downstream innovation.  Lacking the huge R&D budgets of the U.S. and other nations, their innovation policies look at how to turn new ideas into commercial products and services.   They tend to be more about applied research than research for its own sake.   The report offers these tips as guidelines for Scotland, but they would be well applied by many other national, state, or local governments seeking to improve innovation policy outcomes.

Posted in Current News | Leave a comment

Placemaking: What do People Really Think?

In my travels around the country and in my own community of Arlington, I see a great disconnect between us so-called experts and the general public when it comes to issues of placemaking and economic development.   Planners and economic developers have generally accepted that greater density, transit-oriented development, smart growth and the like are the most effective approaches to placemaking and community building.  Yet, in the field, the most important judges—local residents—don’t always seem to embrace this message.  They push back against plans to increase local density and to build busier, more active communities.  They often continue to embrace more traditional suburban living patterns of large single family homes on large lots, and greater separation of various work, play, and live uses.    I’m not making any value judgments here—just describing the reality in many communities.

An interesting new study from Michigan State University’s Land Policy Institute offers some useful insights into this divide. The report, Building Prosperous Places in Michigan, is based on surveys of residents in six Michigan cities and five other Midwest locations.  The survey asked residents to comment on two sets of questions:  1) What kind of amenities (e.g. parks, stores, etc.) do you want in your neighborhood?, and 2)  What is the economic value of these amenities?

The study found, not surprisingly, residents value important amenities, like parks, restaurants, bike lanes, and cultural resources; they also like to have them nearby—within a ten minute walk of home, if possible. They highly value walkability and believe it contributes real economic value, yet, at the same time, they continue to prefer large suburban lots and larger homes, and rural/suburban locations.   In other words, they want to have their cake and eat it too.

This is not the only case where Americans hold widely contradictory views—think of the Medicare security recipients who want to keep the government out of health care.   But, it is a stark reality that will continue to face advocates of smart growth and placemaking.   The report includes recommendations for better education and better outreach, but also hints that the real force for change will be the growth of the Millennial generation and its preference for more urban living options.   If you’re interested in better understanding how people view community today, this study is well worth a look.

Posted in Current News | Leave a comment

EntreWorks Insights, June 2014 edition, now Available.

The latest edition of our quarterly e-newsletter, EntreWorks Insights, is now available here.  This issue looks at how communities are using economic dashboards to benchmark regional performance and to track program results and outcomes.   You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

Posted in Current News | Leave a comment

Dynamic Networking for Small Business Event, June 19th

If you happen to be in or around Erie, Pennsylvania, on June 19th next week, please come join us at the Dynamic Networking for Small Business event to be held at Erie’s Bayfront Convention Center. This is the third year for this event which is sponsored by the Northwest Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission and Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership. This is a matchmaking event helping small businesses find new contract opportunities with government agencies and large OEMs.  I’ll be attending and participating thanks to our continued work in the region as part of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s American Supplier Initiative.  In 2013, EntreWorks Consulting and our partners at the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness were selected to lead one of five national supply chain mapping studies on behalf of SBA.  Our project focused on Northwest Pennsylvania and has developed supply chain maps (and supporting analyses) for two broad industry sectors:  rail and transportation equipment manufacturing and manufacturing industries related to the Marcellus and Utica shale plays now underway in the region. On June 19, I’ll be providing a review of our findings and also leading a panel on rail manufacturing supply chain issues.  We’re also holding a second event focus on shale energy resources at Clarion University on July 15.  More details on this event will be available soon.   You can learn more about the June 19 DyNet event here, and registration information (it’s free!!) can be accessed here.

Posted in Current News | Leave a comment

Metrics 3.0

The Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs is one of my favorite organizations.   ANDE is a coalition of people and organizations working to support the development of small and growing businesses (SGBs) in emerging markets.  While most ANDE members are focused on international development efforts, much of their work has direct relevance for economic development practitioners here at home.  Their new study on performance metrics, The State of Measurement Practice in the SGB Sector, is a case in point.   Many ANDE members are doing very innovative work in terms of measuring performance and this study summarizes their work and lessons learned.

Overall, many ANDE members are moving to what they call Metrics 3.0.  Metrics 3.0 builds on two earlier “platforms.”  Metrics 1.0 was about accountability, arguing that organizations should track their impacts and be judged (and funded) accordingly.  Metrics 2.0 is about shared measurement systems and standardization, where all organizations in a given sectors, such as microfinance, use the same measures so that “apples to apples” comparisons can be made.

Under Metrics 3.0, measures move beyond individual organizations with a focus on value creation.   There are a lot of ideas under the concept of Metrics 3.0, but I was most taken with the ideas around integration between organization-level evaluation and ecosystem-level evaluation.  Instead of simply measuring an organization’s impacts, we should also assess its role in a larger ecosystem in terms of both building a stronger network and in generating collective impacts.   These collective measures help organizations learn from each other, while also improving the overall effectiveness of the entire ecosystem.   ANDE and its partners point to the Initiative for Smallholder Finance wiki as an early example of this model where the wiki allows anyone to review a whole range of evaluations that help us to better understand what works and where gaps in service delivery and support exist.  Using this model to share and disseminate assessments of domestic initiatives, such as business accelerators or cluster programs, makes sense.

 

Posted in Current News | Leave a comment

New Resources for Rural Entrepreneurship

My colleagues at the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship have just published an excellent case study of Kansas’ experience with supporting rural development via entrepreneurship.   The study focuses on the work of Network Kansas, aka the Kansas Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, which has been operating for a decade in a tough political environment.  Kansas’ current governor, Sam Brownback, is no fan of publicly funded economic development program. (After all, there aren’t many governors who have created their own  Office of the Repealer).  When he entered office, many excellent programs, such as the Kansas Enterprise Technology Corporation (KTEC) and the world-class Pipeline entrepreneurial immersion program faced the budget ax.  But Network Kansas and its programs have survived and now manage a host of programs, such as a statewide resource navigator, various investment funds, and economic gardening efforts, focused on transforming rural Kansas.  The case study provides an excellent history and lessons learned from this experience.

While I’m at it, let me also offer a hearty if belated plug to the new edition of the center’s guide to rural entrepreneurship, Energizing Entrepreneurs.  If you’re looking for a guide to transforming your community via entrepreneurship, start here.  It’s written in a understandable, folksy style and is based on real life examples and years of experience in the field.

You can access these report and more at the Center’s website:  www.energizingentrepreneurs.org

Posted in Current News | Leave a comment

Innovation Policy in Maine: A Deep Dive

The latest issue of the Maine Policy Review (Vol. 23, No. 1-2014) provides a deep dive into the state of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Pine Tree State.   The issue includes a review of innovation in key state clusters, like agriculture, forestry, and energy, as well as excellent contributions on key issues like innovation culture, university tech transfer, workforce development, and the pre-20th century history of innovation in Maine.   I suspect that many readers won’t have a personal connection or interest in what’s happening in Maine, but this special issue is still worth a look by the more skeptical or non-Mainer.  The essays provide an excellent introduction to many of the key challenges in building an innovation economy, and the recommendations will be useful to anyone working in a state or region that lacks many of the competitive advantages found in better publicized innovation hotspots.   Moreover, the publication of an in-depth and comprehensive assessment like the one found here is something that would benefit all states.   Mainers are doing their best to build a strong innovation economy and, to do so effectively, this requires the kind of well-informed public debate and discussion that this special volume of Maine Policy Review should help generate.

Posted in Current News | Leave a comment

FDI for the Little Guy

Foreign direct investment (FDI) promotion has traditionally been a game for the big boys with large multinational corporations as the primary business recruitment target and large cities, states/provinces, and countries as the prime recruiters.  A series of articles in the April/May 2014 issue of FDI magazine examines a growing trend where inward investment agencies are turning their attention to supporting and attracting small and medium-sized enterprises.

The issue includes a series of articles that offers a general update along with more background on efforts in Finland and the U.K. (Note:  Article access requires registration).  Small firms entering global markets have many unique needs.  Of course, capital access programs matter.  In fact, some industry experts find that these programs matter more in FDI than in domestic markets as available capital may persuade a firm to enter a previously neglected foreign market.   When combined with other consulting services, such as the programs now underway in Leipzig, Germany, these efforts can prove quite attractive to SMEs.  They help encourage managers to consider locating in cities and regions outside of the usual suspects.

These efforts also need to be much more customized and hands-on than traditional FDI programs.  In Finland, the Helsinki Business Hub team focuses heavily on contact facilitation, linking overseas entrepreneurs into the local ecosystem.    Lastly, successful initiatives provide hands-on guidance about local rules, regulations, and business customs, so that SMEs can achieve a  ”soft landing” in new markets.

 

Posted in Current News | Leave a comment