Public Libraries and STEM Education

I have been a lifelong aficionado of public libraries and continue to believe that economic developers don’t do enough to tap into this critical community resource.  In today’s world, there really is no other public place that is open to all, and where folks from all walks of life can spend time without buying something or being part of special club or organization.  There are lots of great resources on how to tap into public libraries to support economic development, and the range of potential program options is massive.  Among other things, public libraries provide research and market analysis to companies, host maker spaces, and help to sponsor community dialogue.  As a new policy brief from Harvard’s Global Family Research Project shows, they can also be an invaluable resource for promoting STEM education.  The report, Public Libraries Engage Families in STEM, how libraries can design and promote programs that engage young people—and their parents—in STEM education efforts.   The report reviews dozens of programs and offers great tips on how to raise funds, how to engage rural families and how to ensure that diverse groups of students can tap into these resources.  It’s an excellent hands-on guide with real-life tips on what works.  Check it out!

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The Gig Economy in 2019

As 2019 opens for business, public debates about the size and importance of the gig economy are likely to remain in the news.  I expect we’ll see several trends over the next few months.  Certainly, we’ll see continued debate on the size of the gig economy.  Just last week, the authors of a major gig economy study, Alan Krueger and Lawrence Katz, have retracted their original findings, arguing that they overestimated the number of gig economy workers.  They now estimate that 2% of the US workforce has non-traditional employment—as compared to their earlier assessment of five percent.   A Bureau of Labor Statistics study, released last summer, found that about 10% of US workers in non-traditional employment situations.  But, these studies are certainly not the last word—as solid data on the gig or 1099 economy is still lacking.  For example, the Federal Reserve’s annual survey of household economic well-being finds that 31% of Americans engaged in gig work in 2017.  So, we can expect to see continued debate—and varying estimates—on the size of the gig economy.

Meanwhile, local leaders will likely plow ahead and simply assume that, regardless of size, the gig economy is with us and that new programs and policies are needed to address its impacts.  On this front, I’m heartened by Brooklyn’s new Freelancers Hub, a joint effort of the Freelancers Union and the City of New York.  This is one of the nation’s first workforce development efforts specifically targeted to freelancers.  It operates as a coworking space, so, in this sense, it’s not unique.  But it is unique in that it provides specialized training and support programs for freelancers, much like what you would find at typical workforce one-stop center.  The hub is booming, and it already has 4000 members since it opened in October 2018.  Hopefully, more communities will embrace this kind of new and innovative thinking about the gig economy in 2019.

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Bold (and/or Misguided?) Predictions for 2019

For some reasons, I’ve decided to take a chance and make some predictions for what might happen in economic development policy discussions this year.  Given our current volatile political climate, this task is somewhat risky, but I’m still giving it a shot.  Below, you can see my take on some policy issues and debates that I expect to heat up this year.  Feel free to share your reactions or your ideas as well.

  • Second Thoughts on Opportunity Zones?

Opportunity Zones have received a lot of hype this year and rightfully so.  They have the potential to bring significant new investments to many distressed communities.  I want this program to succeed, but I still remain nervous about its prospects.  I have little doubt that investors are flocking to these funds, which offer generous tax breaks.  I’m less certain that catalytic investments will reach areas that really need it.   The jury is still out on the program, so I’ll remain optimistic for now.  But, I do see an increasing potential for an opportunity zone backlash to emerge, especially if the heavily hyped benefits of zones are slow to emerge.  (One example:  Here’s a recent piece that refers to “Trump’s gentrification scheme.”   This pushback may also be melded into wider critiques of the Trump tax cut plan (which included the original Opportunity Zones language) and wider concerns about the overuse of economic development incentive programs.

  • Rural Housing Gets Attention

We’ve heard a steady refrain from employers for at least ten years:  “I can’t find workers with needed skills or work ethic.”   I still hear this complaint, but now I also hear: “Even if I find workers, they have no place to live in our community.”   Housing affordability and availability has been a huge problem in hot urban markets for some time.  It’s now recognized that similar problems exist in rural regions where housing for families or professional workers is in short supply.  At present, there appears to be little White House interest in tackling these issues, but I do expect more public debate and discussion on the role of housing as a key driver for economic in rural communities.  We can also expect housing (in all communities) to be an important agenda item for the 2020 elections.

  • Occupational Licensing Debates

There continues to be a lot of bipartisan support for cutting back on occupational licensing rules, which are deemed by many as a bureaucratic obstacle for many budding business owners.   We hear lots of horror stories about long and costly licensing procedures for massage therapists, manicurists, and the like, but we also know that there is voluminous evidence that shows that credentials and accreditations offer a huge lift for disadvantaged workers seeking better paying jobs and careers.  While it’s unlikely that the US Congress will make licensing reform a priority this year, we can expect that state legislatures will continue to work on these issues.  If you want to track these efforts, I highly recommend the National Conference on State Legislatures Occupational Licensing web portal.

  • New Federal Program Opportunities

Ongoing political turmoil in Washington means that the potential for new federal programs is pretty limited.  But, there are two areas where I expect we’ll see some activity or even some new funding opportunities.  The newly enacted Farm Bill includes a new Rural Innovation Stronger Economy (RISE) grant program that could provide new funds ($500,000 to $2 million) for “rural jobs accelerator partnerships” that focus on supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in rural areas.  This program will need to be further developed in 2019, but it offers potential.  A second opportunity focuses on defense-related manufacturing.  The FY2019 Defense Authorization bill includes provisions for a Defense Manufacturing Communities program, somewhat similar to an earlier Investing in Manufacturing Communities Program (IMCP).   Funding and program design questions are still being debated, but I expect to see some new defense manufacturing-related investment programs in 2019.

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Our Holiday Book Guide!

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 GrowthThis 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 FarmI’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 PolicyI’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.
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Strategies to Support Economic Diversification: Webinar Recording

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.

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EntreWorks Insights, November 2018 edition

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.

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New Book Release: Investing in America’s Workforce

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.

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Global Entrepreneurship Week 2018

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.

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Nurturing Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Appalachia

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, 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.

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On the Road in October

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.

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