If in the (lucky but unlikely) event that you happen to be traveling in Italy next week, let me encourage you to make a stop in Milan for the Global Entrepreneurship Congress (GEC) 2015. GEC is the world largest convening of entrepreneurship and start-up champions and is an event that shouldn’t be missed. GEC started as an annual convening of local organizations involved with Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), a series of global events (held every November) that now promotes entrepreneurship in 157 different countries. While I will miss this year’s GEC, I attended last year’s Congress in Moscow, which was a huge success despite difficult political circumstances. More than 6,000 people (from 153 nations) attended—suggesting that support for championing start-ups crosses all political and cultural boundaries. GEC 2015 should be similarly packed. The event will feature a who’s who of start-up champions—from Italy and from around the world—as well as dozens of cool events and other happenings related to nurturing entrepreneurs. You can get updates here, and if you like to plan ahead, start thinking about attending GEC 2016 which will kick off in Medellin, Colombia, on March 13, 2016.
I’m in the midst of reading Peter Kageyama’s new book, Love Where You Live: Creating Emotionally Engaging Places. Kageyama is well-known in new urbanist circles for his 2011 book, For the Love of Cities, which argued that successful places are built on strong emotional attachments between people and place. Love Where You Live builds on that basic case, offering more pf a how-to-guide for building these emotional links. His claim is that successful places harness the commitment of co-creators, i.e. everyday citizens who are helping to make a community better. These folks could be artists, store owners, or just everyday people, but they all share a commitment to the community and, in most cases, they are already trying to build a better place. This new book offer lots of stories and tips for how to “activate your community.” It’s breezily written and chock full of fun ideas—such as Huntsville, Alabama’s Cigar Box Guitar Festival or Muscatine, Iowa’s River Monster project. It would be a good companion guide to Urban Acupuncture, another hands-on to community building. It would be especially well-suited for use by community volunteers–the co-creators of your own community. It’s a fun and inspiring read.
This blog regularly highlights programs and initiatives that work in promoting economic and community development. As a new study released last week suggests, we need to add the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to our list. The study, led by my colleagues at the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness and West Virginia University, examines the impact of ARC on Appalachia’s economy since the program’s inception fifty years ago. Appalachia Then and Now finds ARC investments have played a critical role in reducing the intense poverty that wracked Appalachia in the 1960s and which served as primary force in spurring the War on Poverty. Today, Appalachia’s economy looks like much of the rest of the US. Poverty rates have been cut in half, and the region’s residents have access to potable water, high quality education and health care, and essential infrastructure, especially via the Appalachian Development Highway System.
Despite this progress, not all is rosy. Much of the region, especially in the core of central Appalachia, remains economic distressed. In Appalachia, 107 counties are still deemed high-poverty. Like many rural areas, the region is also beset by high levels of youth out-migration and by a host of other economic development challenges. Moreover, new challenges are emerging—especially in communities who long relied on the coal industry as a primary economic driver. As this important historical analysis notes, great progress has been made, but there is much more work to be done.
I spent today’s lunch hour at the Kauffman Foundation’s Annual State of Entrepreneurship address. This was a well-run event, with an interesting focus on entrepreneurship rates among millennials and baby boomers. In addition to releasing new data on these demographic groups, the event included an interesting panel discussion on how best to support boomer and millennial entrepreneurs. The luncheon also included some new program announcements from Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and SBA Director Maria Contreras-Sweet. Three ideas jumped out at me as particularly promising:
- New entrepreneurship data: The Census Bureau will now do annual updates (as opposed to current practice of five year updates) of its Survey of Business Owners. While this is not the most sexy issue, we need better data on what’s happening with entrepreneurs. This move will help a lot. You can learn more here.
- Exporting for Start-Ups: Most US export promotion programs deal with more established businesses, but start-ups need to think global from day one. A new Commerce pilot project, Start-Up Global, will bring export promotion tools to new businesses and will kick off later this year in four cities: Washington, DC; Arlington, TX; Cincinnati, and Nashville.
- On-Line Loan Matching: SBA is unveiling a new on-line marketplace for small business loans, SBA LINC. Like other online lending marketplaces, SBA LINC seeks to connect business borrowers to a host of potential lenders.
Over the past couple of years, EntreWorks Consulting has supported several studies of America’s rail manufacturing supply chain. In the late 2000s, the Obama Administration’s push for high speed rail investments triggered a growing interest in the rail industry, but this interest waned as federal funds and public policy attention wavered. That’s too bad, because the potential benefits of renewed investments in US passenger rail are massive. And, the benefits are not just about improving transportation options. The benefits will ripple out throughout American manufacturing sectors. Our own past research, and lots of other studies have already made this important point. And a new study from the Blue Green Alliance and the Environmental Law and Policy Center, adds further fuel to the fire. Passenger Rail and Transit Rail Manufacturing in the US provide the latest data on the scope and scale of America’s rail manufacturing industries, which, even with today’s limited public investment levels, pack a powerful economic punch. The study identifies 750 companies within the US rail manufacturing supply chain today—these firms operate in 39 states and employ more than 90,000 people. The report includes recommendations for advancing the industry and the bottom line is pretty simple. Steady, long term funding for rail is required—with the expectation of a longer-term market, firms can invest and plan for the long haul. This is the best—and perhaps only–way to sustain this important part of our manufacturing base.
Changing energy markets are having a big impact on communities around the country. Some regions, like South Dakota, have been booming (at least until recently) thanks to new shale energy resources. But, other regions are being challenged in new ways. Regions long dependent on coal, in Appalachia and elsewhere, are facing serious transition challenges as they seek to diversify their local economies. A new US Economic Development Administration-backed effort, led by the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) will work with coal-impacted communities seeking to identify new economic engines and innovation opportunities. The project is sponsoring an Innovation Challenge competition that will provide technical support and other assistance to communities around the US. The Challenge competition is just underway, and project organizers are encouraging communities to consider participating in this important work. If you are interested in learning more about the Innovation Challenge, you should join a webinar being held tomorrow, January 22, 2015 from 2-3PM Eastern Time. You can sign up here and learn more about the effort here. (NOTE: EntreWorks Consulting will be providing consulting support for this project, and we will be offering regular updates on this work in the coming months).
For the past year, I’ve had the pleasure (with colleagues from Georgetown University and the Center for Rural Entrepreneurship) of supporting the American Farm Bureau’s Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge. This exciting initiative had a lot of cool aspects, but the most fun for me came from the Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, a national competition for the best rural entrepreneurs. This was a very hotly-contested competition, and we had applications from around the U.S. and from every kind of business you can imagine.
On Monday, the four finalists faced off at the Farm Bureau’s national convention in San Diego, and, just like Ohio State’s football team, a national winner rose to the top. Lone Tree, Iowa’s ScoutPro, a maker of software for crop maintenance, took the top spot. All of the competitors were impressive, but ScoutPro was a deserving winner. They have developed an excellent technology platform already in use in Iowa and elsewhere, and had strong projections for future growth. They are just another example of the many exciting companies being created and prospering in rural America.
There are many things I wish were true. I wish Santa was for real and I would love to see Bigfoot in the wild. When it comes to public policy, my most fervent wish is the long-touted US manufacturing renaissance is for real. There’s lots of great anecdotal evidence for this claim, but it’s not a slam dunk. But, I really want it to be true as this is one of the best means we have to create better jobs at home and help long distressed communities seeking a new economic lifeline.
Sadly, two new reports raise more questions about the present and future of US manufacturing. A.T. Kearney’s Reshoring Index, released last month, finds that offshoring to overseas manufacturers is still outpacing reshoring back to the US. Meanwhile, the pace of reshoring—at least as tracked by AT Kearney– appears to be slowing. Similarly, a new Information Technology and Innovation Foundation report, The Myth of America’s Manufacturing Renaissance, is similarly pessimistic. It contends that many of the often cited trends that foster reshoring, such as lower energy costs at home, higher Chinese wages, and higher overseas transport costs, are not of sufficient scale to change the basic equation related to the location of manufacturing facilities. The authors conclude that the slight recent uptick in US manufacturing is a cyclical adjustment and not the harbinger of positive structural change.
These studies are not the last word, but they do suggest that we have more work to do. While the jury is still out on new directions for US manufacturing, that doesn’t mean we should simply throw up our hands in despair. Continued efforts to spur the revival are needed, and, in fact, are essential if we want this wish to come true.
The January 2015 edition of our e-newsletter, EntreWorks Insights, is now available. This issue examines how the changing world of work is affecting the commercial office market. In short, it’s creating a lot of challenges for the commercial real estate industry. But, at the same time, it might create exciting opportunities for communities that respond effectively to the workforce and workplace revolution. You can access the newsletter here and subscribe to future issues here.
A new study from the UK’s Institute for Public Policy Research examines the state of self-employment in Europe and finds that, as in the US, self-employment or freelance work is the fastest growing segment of the workforce. Across Europe, 14% of all workers are now self-employed, and interest in self-employment is growing. In fact, 45% of survey respondents expressed preference for self-employment over a traditional “real job,” and a large share of the currently self-employed express strong job satisfaction.
The challenges facing Europe’s version of the 1099 economy as similar to those found in the US. A fundamental trade-off exists: swap flexibility and options for steady pay and security. Independent work can be fulfilling and exciting, but it can create lower pay and tougher working conditions. For most Europeans, the trade-off may not be as stark as we find here at home. Thanks to more solid social safety net programs, many of the concerns faced by America’s self-employed—how to pay for health care, retirement, and education—are less pronounced. On the flip side, many European nations are actively encouraging more start-ups and seeking more flexible and dynamic economies. So, Europeans may benefit from an even greater upside of a strong freelance economy. In the end, the growth of Europe’s self-employed workforce offers further evidence that these trends are not unique to the US, but are about an ongoing transformation in the world of work.