What I’m Thankful For – Economic Development Addition

So, we here at the Prosperity Blog love cheese, in all its forms. Cheesy 80’s music? I’m listening to Flock of Seagulls right now! Delicious dairy goodness? I’m a conference attendee! (Ed. Note: Do you think this is the Society for American Cheese or the American Society for Cheese?) But most specifically, we’re not ashamed of being cheesy with our emotions, especially around the holidays. And the cheesiest thing you can do at Thanksgiving – besides potato gratin – is talk about what you’re thankful for. So here goes: I am really grateful that our region and state are a great place for economic development!

“Now, hold on one moment,” you’re saying, “Our state is terrible for economic development. No TIF, no lending of credit, underfunded economic development organizations and no marketing budget for attraction of new firms. Not to mention the high costs of doing business and overly inflated sense of exceptionalism that makes us apathetic and lazy when it comes to working it like other states do with no shame.”

Sure, absolutely. We’ve got our issues. Who doesn’t? But there’s a difference between acknowledging our issues, and letting those issues keep us from recognizing and capitalizing on our strengths and assets. I have heard it on very good authority that one of our region’s major CEOs has said, “We can’t go out marketing ourselves to recruit other companies…we have too much to fix first.” Which is crazy. Do you think that Texas is doing too much navelgazing before it goes out and tries to steal business from other states?

My point is that we’ve got a lot going for us. We’re a leading region of technology and innovation, of talent and highly educated workers, of culture and quality of life. And everyone else objectively thinks so. The Kauffman Foundation just released its State New Economy Index, and we’re #2. Now, I know that, in the past, I’ve railed against awards and rankings, but they’re using 26 indicators that cover a variety of the innovation economy, and we do pretty well on all of them. And, as much as I downplay the rest of those lists and rankings, it’s not a coincidence that we keep ending up at the top.

We absolutely need to address those issues, which is going to be a major focus of the new Regional Economic Strategy. Call them “cross-cluster initiatives” or “economic foundations” or “competitiveness issues,” but it’s clear that there are a number of leverage points that can help us both maximize the strength of our existing clusters and boost the growth of our emerging clusters. I’ve listed a couple of thoughts on what those might be already (a better system of regional export promotion, a better attraction strategy for talent, venture capital and foreign direct investment, a much better strategy for – and investment in – regional marketing to site selectors, just to name a few), but there’s a big difference in how you frame what it means to address these issues. Someone once told me that this region is really good at addressing problems, but bad at taking advantage of opportunities…which, for the most part, are just two sides of the same coin. Saying that we’re bad at export promotion is just a negative way of saying that, if we can significantly improve our export promotion system, we’ll create a lot of jobs. Same issue, but you’re going to tackle it with different perspective and probably take better advantage of the asset you have in place to achieve that goal.

Rose-colored glasses, idealist/optimist, call me all the names you want. But we’ve got a strong economy, especially relative to the rest of the country, and a lot of things that make the attraction and retention of high-demand workers and employers easier than in other places. We just need to align our resources, focus our collective action and get past process to tangible action. And I’ve had a lot of conversations with many key stakeholders who feel the exact same way. We’re keyed up and ready to take the next step in economic development to grow prosperity for our region’s residents. And I’m thankful to be a part of it. Pass the cheese.

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