Still Mill: Stories from Bucksport, Maine

Thanks  to a family home in the area, I get to spend a good amount of time in Bucksport. Maine.  Bucksport is small Midcoast Maine town of nearly 5,000 people. It’s a nice place, but not a tourist haunt.  Since 1930, it was home to a large paper mill which shut down in 2014, slamming the town’s economy and putting about 570 people out of work.  The town has been in a major rebuild mode ever since, and I’ve been inspired and impressed by how the community has come together in groups such as Bucksport Heart and Soul and Main Street Bucksport.

A new book, Still Mill:  Poems, Stories, and Songs of Making Paper in Bucksport, Maine (1930-2014) is another recent result of the community’s healing and rebuilding processes.  The mill’s closure was not just an economic shock; it was a blow to the community’s culture and heritage as well.  Still Mill is a testament to that culture, and something of a time capsule for future generations.  It’s a motley mix of poems, stories, plays, historical facts, remembrances, and even recipes—all of it serving as a means to honor the past but also to move the community forward.  Contributors include school age children, former mill workers, and folks who’ve lived in the region for their entire lives.   While I doubt that Still Mill will ever be a best seller, it’s a small but wonderful example of how to help communities heal and recover in the face of wrenching social and economic changes.

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Stronger Economies in Coal-Reliant Places

As regular readers of this blog know, I’ve been involved for several years on a major project to provide technical assistance to America’s coal-reliant communities as they seek to retrain displaced workers and develop new economic engines.   A new summary of our work to date has just been released, and it provides a good snapshot of both the challenges and opportunities facing America’s coal regions.  This project is still underway, and we’ll be hosting training sessions in Montana and Wyoming in Spring 2018.   You can stay updated on the project, and learn more about economic diversification more generally by signing up for our project e-newsletter, Growing Stronger Economies in our Coal Communities. You can learn more and sign up here.

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Congress: Getting Serious about Evaluation?

The US Congress is not a very popular institution, and the list of its neglected policy work is pretty long.   As a program evaluator, I’ve been disappointed in the longstanding lack of interest and support for serious program evaluations and assessments.  I’m old enough to remember when Congressional committees dug deep into the issues, and groups like the sadly lost Office of Technology Assessment did excellent in-house policy research.  So, I’m very pleased with a newly-introduced bill:  HR 4174, the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2017.   The proposal has high-level bipartisan sponsors in House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), and it contains a lot of good ideas.   It builds on the ideas of a bipartisan White House Commission on Evidence-Based Policymaking, convened late in the Obama Administration.   Among other things, the bill would push agencies to build evaluation into all new programs, and provide adequate funding to support this work.   It would also improve researchers’ access to data and allow better cross-agency sharing of information.  These are all excellent and sensible ideas that shouldn’t be partisan.  After all, all sides want to know if new or existing programs really work.   I’m pleased to see this bill introduced and encourage you to advocate for its passage.

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EntreWorks Insights, November 2017 issue now available

The latest version of our quarterly e-newsletter, EntreWorks Insights, is now available.  This issue looks at the question of how best to revitalize the economies of our smaller legacy cities.   You can access the newsletter and subscribe to future issues here.

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Made in Place: A Renaissance for Small Manufacturers

Economic developers are rightly excited about the prospects of restoring America’s manufacturing prowess.  These industries provide good jobs, good careers, and good spin-off business opportunities throughout the supply chain.  They can also contribute mightily to urban revitalization.  That’s a core message from the new Smart Growth America report:  Made In Place:  Small-scale Manufacturing and Neighborhood Revitalization.   The study reports on the prospects for small manufacturers operating in urban neighborhoods and business districts.  There’s been a boom in this sector in recent years, thanks to sectors like brewing, distilling, baking, and crafts people.   These entrepreneurs bring huge benefits to neighborhoods.  In addition to providing jobs and paying taxes, they repurpose old buildings, revitalize street life, and help build a more diverse and inclusive business community.  The study also reports on field work in four urban locations:  Knoxville, TN; Lowell, MA; Twin Falls, ID; and Youngstown, OH.  The report offers great tips and ideas for jumpstarting manufacturing activity in your town, and it’s well worth a read.   (DISCLOSURE:  I served as an outside technical advisor on this report.)

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Global Entrepreneurship Week is on the Way!

This post serves as my annual reminder to participate and spread the word about Global Entrepreneurship Week which will occur from November 13 to 19, 2017.  This year marks the tenth anniversary of the event, and it boasts a pretty impressive (some might call it entrepreneurial) growth streak.  Since GEW was first created in 2008, this effort has engaged 170 different countries, worked with 20,000 global partners to hold 35,000 events that have engaged more than 10 million people.   That’s impressive, and I expect GEW’s second decade will be similarly stellar.   As you’ll see at the GEW website, lots of events are already underway. If you want to track what’s happening in the US, visit the GEW USA site.   Hope to see you at one of these fun and inspiring events.

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Rural Manufacturing Matters, Part 2

Over the past month or so, the US Department of Agriculture’s Economics Research Service has been releasing some new and interesting data on the state of rural manufacturing.  The upshot is that rural manufacturing matters—a lot—for the economic health of rural America.    The annual report, Rural Manufacturing at a Glance, finds that manufacturing employment is nearly twice as high in rural America as urban America.  It accounts for 14% of non-farm employment in rural regions, and 7% of jobs in urban areas.  It also accounts for 21% of rural earnings, versus 11% in urban areas.   Since the Great Recession, rural regions have lost manufacturing jobs.  However, a related study finds that rural firms have significantly higher survival rates than their urban counterparts.  One reason for this steady performance may be that many of these rural manufacturers are particularly entrepreneurial and innovative.  A final study examines innovation in the rural economy and finds that the long-touted urban innovation advantage may be overstated.  Smaller urban manufacturers and service firms tend to be more innovative, but, among larger manufacturers (with more than 100 employees), the urban-rural differences remain minor.  A majority of large rural manufacturers were considered to be “substantial innovators.”

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Startup Act of 2017

Like many people, I’ve sadly lost much hope that Congress will ever pass any legislation that addresses issues that I care about—tackling inequality, supporting economic development, creating new job opportunities across America.  But, I’m going to try to overcome my reservations with a strong vote of confidence for the new Startup Act of 2017 (S. 1877).  This is a bipartisan bill introduced by Senators Moran (R-KS) and Warner (D-VA), along with Senators Blunt (R-MO) and Klobuchar (D-MN).

The Startup Act is a bit of a grab bag, and it’s unlikely that the bill can or will pass in its present form.   However, sections of the Act could be passed on their own or be included in other bills as they move through Congress. Thus, it’s important that economic development advocates voice their support for the bill and its key provisions.  These include:

  • New visa programs to attract foreign entrepreneurs and high level graduate students seeking degrees in STEM-related fields.
  • Additional funding for the Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation initiatives.
  • Promotes accelerated commercialization of taxpayer funded research
  • Creates new mechanism to assess the impact of new federal regulations on entrepreneurial companies.

The bill was introduced in late September and we’ll continue to provide updates on its progress in the 115th Congress.

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Research Roundup: New Business Data Resources

There has been a mega-dump of useful and interesting economic data resources over the past few weeks.  Here’s a few that are worth a look and a bookmark for future use:

  • OECD’s 2017 Entrepreneurship At a Glance: This annual report from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development offers a deep dive into what’s happening with start-ups and small businesses across the 35 OECD member economies.  This year’s edition includes new data on the gig economy and also takes a look at the state of women’s entrepreneurship as well.
  • New CDFI Data:  The Urban Institute is involved in a major project assessing the impact of US Community Development Financial Institutions.   It has released a new fact sheet on CDFIs that has some interesting data.  The data show some impressive results and impact from CDFIs.  Overall, they show that CDFIs lent more than $34 billion between 2011 and 2015.  But, they also show that CDFIs remain limited in geographic scope as 27% of all US counties have seen zero CDFI activity during this time period.
  • Distressed Communities Index: The Economic Innovation Group’s Distressed Communities Index is rightly getting a lot of media attention.  The most depressing headline?  52.3 million Americans—17% of our population—live in distressed communities.
  • US Census Business Dynamics Statistics:  The US Census Bureau has just released the latest edition (2015 data) of its business dynamics statistics.   The latest figures are sobering.  There is a lot of good news, as the number of startups is rising and their job impacts are also growing.  But, the growth rates remain low and below historical averages.
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Can Entrepreneurship be Taught?

Economists and academic researchers have long been consumed with the question: “Can entrepreneurship be taught?”  I’m not too concerned with this issue as I’ve seen numerous examples and programs that successfully to teach people of all ages and backgrounds on how to be successful entrepreneurs.  But, this sterile nature-nurture debate avoids a more important question:  what is the best way to teach entrepreneurship?  That is the focus of an interesting study in the new issue of Science.  The article reports on an extensive randomized controlled trial in Togo where large groups of business trainees (500 people in each group) were assigned to three different training approaches.  One group received no training before starting a business.  The other groups received a traditional business training program, where they learned about topics like business planning or marketing, or a curriculum that focused on personal initiative, goal setting, and persistence in the face of setbacks.   The results suggest that this latter focus on psychology and motivation trumps a focus on teaching business skills.   The group receiving psychology focused training started businesses that showed average annual profits of 30%, far exceeding the 11% found with firms started by other trainees.  The group enjoyed higher sales levels and were also more likely to introduce new products too.   This one study is not the last word, but it offer further evidence that successful entrepreneurship training builds new mindsets and perspectives as much as it imparts new skills.

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