This space has been used for the past month or so to talk about the need to increase competitiveness and always be improving, whether you’re talking about aerospace or any other major industry cluster we have here. Of course, even if you believe that, there are a number of opinions about exactly what that looks like, whether it’s lowering business costs or investing in innovation or ensuring a highly educated workforce.
The truth is, “it depends.” Individual companies make their decisions about location based on a number of factors, some financial, some more qualitative. One of the reasons people bemoan when local companies are bought by national institutions is the belief (sometimes true, sometimes not) that local companies are more likely to factor in a “hometown discount” when making these choices.
So what does a region do to ensure its competitiveness if a) it doesn’t know what its companies truly want and b) multiple companies value different things. The answer is simple and hard at the same time: as much as possible. There is no silver bullet to staying competitive, and no easy choices, especially in this economy. Everything has an opportunity cost, particularly in the broad strokes of huge budget cuts vs. tax increases. For every road you build to ensure the efficient movement of goods and services, that’s money not spent on funding a bachelor’s degree in math, science or engineering. Keeping business costs low while figuring out how to ensure enough budget stability to make investments in workforce, infrastructure and innovation is a delicate balance, and that doesn’t even touch on the important work of partnering with the private sector to leverage investments, create efficiencies and harness the power of entrepreneurship to achieve newer, cheaper, better products, services and systems. And we need to factor in planning for the future; maybe there are things we can’t do this biennium but as long as we make a clear commitment of future expenditures, that counts too.
Sure, this is all business school and civics 101, but I think it’s important to remind ourselves not to look for “the answer” and not expect to “fix it and be done.” You all know my bias is to set a long term strategy, figure out an action plan to get specific parts of that strategy accomplished along a reasonable timeline and get working. It’s not only a great way to make progress but an effective way of benchmarking yourself along the way. And, to be honest, that’s what it’s going to take.