Volume 16, Number 3 – December 2019

Some Holiday Book Ideas

Back in the day, I wrote a weekly e-newsletter for many years, and, in that role, I regularly produced a recommended books issue around the holidays.  I’ve sometimes plugged new books in the EntreWorks blog, but I’ve decided to revisit and upgrade this tradition and offer some tips for the 2019 holiday season in the latest EntreWorks Insights.  This book list is wonky, but it should contain some fun and insightful reads for anyone who’s interested in community building and economic development.   All of the list books are new(ish) and can be purchased at major outlets, preferably at your local independent book seller!

Making Sense of Incentives:  Taming Business Incentives to Promote Prosperity:  Timothy Bartik.  The big national competitions to land Amazon HQ2 and Foxconn have triggered a healthy public debate about the utility—or lack thereof—of economic development incentives.   Bartik’s new book is thus extremely well-timed.  This is the most comprehensive and common sense book on incentives that you can—and should—read. Even better—it’s short and free for download at the Upjohn Institute’s website.   Bartik is rightly critical of many incentive packages, and especially about the supposed multiplier effects of many projects. But, he doesn’t just criticize. He offers concrete suggestions for when and how incentives have the best opportunities to work.   To sum up quickly, incentives should only be used when they attract new wealth and new jobs that will stay anchored in distressed communities, where non-cash incentives (such as investments in training) are more prevalent, and where rigorous systems to evaluate outcomes and impacts are in place.

Jump Starting America:  How Breakthrough Science can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream:  Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson.   The US has been under-investing in science and R&D since the 1970s, and it’s no surprise that the overall slowdown in our economy started about that time.  Gruber and Simon argue that future prosperity depends on our willingness to reinvest in science and technology base.  This won’t be done by corporations—it requires big dollars (more than $100 billion per year) in public science investments with a focus on “spreading the wealth” to diverse regions across the US.  The specifically identify 102 “Places for Jump-Starting America,” regions with the population and talent base to potentially emerge as a new technology hubs.  This list includes places like Albany NY, Fort Wayne IN, Omaha NE, and Boise ID.  They advocate for a strategy that not only lifts the entire US economy, but that also ensures that the benefits from these investments spill over to more communities around the country.

Community Colleges as Incubators of Innovation:  Rebecca A. Corbin and Ron Thomas (eds.).  Since it first launched in 2002, I’ve been a member and close partner of the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE).  That’s why I’m so excited to see that the current NACCE leadership has put out an excellent book, Community Colleges as Incubators of Innovation, which distills lessons from NACCE’s 15 years of work to encourage community colleges to take a leading role in training students and assisting communities to start and grow new businesses.  This excellent edited volume is full of insights that are relevant not only to community college staff and partners, but to community and economic development leaders as well.  Chapters cover topics such as how to build and support regional ecosystems, working in rural regions, linking entrepreneurship and workforce programs, and how to teach and instill an entrepreneurial mindset in students.  Like community colleges, the book offers a great fusion of academic and real-life wisdom, mixing new ideas and approaches with focused case studies on what really works in both colleges and communities.

Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities:  Vaclav Smil.  This one is a challenging but worthwhile read.  Smil is what we might call a “big thinker.”  He has written some excellent works on “big topics” such as energy and civilization, and the rise and fall of American manufacturing.   Growth is similarly ambitious, examining the concept of growth and its role in driving both natural organisms and complex civilizations.  Thanks to this work, I’ve learned a bit about growth in microorganisms and in dinosaurs too.  But, the most important aspects relate to the impacts of growth in population, economies, and societies.  Smil is not a climate change doomsayer, but he does caution that there are natural biophysical limits to growth. He also urges us to deeply consider what a “post-growth” world will look like. 

Palaces for the People:  How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life:  Eric Klinenberg.  The last edition of EntreWorks Insights was triggered by my reading of this interesting book, which builds off earlier research into how and why certain Chicago neighborhoods saw higher mortality rates during deadly heat waves in the mid-1990s.  The short answer is that the better prepared neighborhoods had higher levels of social capital, triggered in part by local community centers—in churches, libraries, and other locations—where local people could convene and hang out together.  Palaces for the People digs deeper into these trends and shows how building “third places” for local connections builds healthier and more prosperous communities.

Strategic Doing:  Ten Skills for Agile Leadership:  Ed Morrison, Scott Hutcheson, Elizabeth Nilsen, Janyce Fadden, and Nancy Franklin.  I’ve been a friend and follower of these authors for many years, and have long been impressed with how well their strategic doing methodology can help communities move in new directions.   After many years of field testing, they’ve shared their ideas and concepts in this excellent guide.  I like this book for its community building insights, but it offers practical guidance for almost any effort where a group of people need to work collectively to address a complex problem or challenge.

Legacy Cities:  Continuity and Change Amid Decline and Renewal:  J. Rosie Tighe and Stephanie Ryberg-Webster (Eds.):  I grew up near what we might deem a legacy city (Reading, PA), and I remain concerned that many of these former industrial centers still face challenges that date back to the early deindustrialization of the 1970s and 1980s.  While many big cities are thriving, small to mid-sized cities, like Youngstown OH, Racine WI, Stockton CA, and Trenton NJ, are still striving to return to economic prosperity.  This edited volume examines the myriad challenges facing legacy cities, who must not only create new jobs and new businesses, but also deal with legacy costs such as blighted buildings, decrepit infrastructure, aging populations, and so on.  This volume focuses on trends in Northeast Ohio, but offers relevant lessons for other legacy cities as well. If you’re interested in this topic, you should also peruse a new and excellent November 2019 Brookings Institution report on small and mid-sized legacy cities.

The Making of a Democratic Economy:  How to Build Prosperity for the Many, Not the Few: Marjorie Kelly and Ted Howard.  The folks at the Democracy Collaborative have been hard at work in promoting a more open and inclusive economy.  They may be best known for their work in developing Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperatives or in supporting creation of the UK’s Preston Model, but they also publish useful work on employee ownership, anchor institutions and community wealth-building. This book summarizes their work and is an excellent introduction to new thinking about how we can build more inclusive economy.

What’s New at EntreWorks Consulting?

We’re closing out the year on a busy note—which is a good thing.  We’re continuing to work on current projects in Southwest Indiana, Central Virginia, Northeast Pennsylvania, and in continuing work supporting the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment. We also continue to provide more regular news and updates at the EntreWorks blog at http://entreworks.net/blog.  Recent posts have discussed the new approaches to foundation program investments, coal communities, small business impact data, the gig economy, and other timely issues of the day. You can also access blog updates at our Facebook and LinkedIn pages.