Big Ideas of (the First Half of) 2011

June 17, 2011

I promised in my last post that I would do one final entry on the Prosperity Blog before I leave the PSRC. And, since today is my last day, there’s no time like the present to make that happen. I also promised that this last post would be entirely self-indulgent and nostalgic, and I can think of no post that fits the bill more than the annual Prosperity Blog Year In Ideas feature – the yearly tradition in which I point out to you all how good my thoughts on economic development are, in Top Ten format.

Since it’s only halfway through the year (June 30 is less than two weeks away!), I’ll cut that Top Ten down to Top Five. And so, without further ado…and with no more ado ever again by me on this blog…here are the best practical proposals for improving our region’s business climate and competitiveness (and the most impractical, sky’s-the-limit ideas) I’ve had so far in 2011.

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“The Goal of Business isn’t to Create Jobs.”

May 6, 2011

Yesterday was the kick-off meeting of the Regional Economic Strategy Technical Advisory Group…or, as I like to call them, the RESTAG (you already know from things like B-MOW and REDEW that I’m terrible at acronyms). For those of you who have been reading about our preparations to start developing a new Regional Economic Strategy, you’ll be happy to hear that we’ve moved from talking about doing it to actually starting!

And start, we did. With about 50 people packing the PSRC Boardroom, we introduced our consultants – TIP Strategies of Austin, TX – and got people thinking about the major issues that are going to frame our thinking about the strategy: things like the increasing divergence in economic opportunity between people with and without college education, the impacts of our aging workforce and trends (both positive and negative) with regard to manufacturing.

But what stood out the most from the TIP Strategies presentation wasn’t any of those, but rather a point so simple yet fundamental that it was almost revolutionary to hear. And, with full attribution to them, I wanted to share it with all of you: “the goal of business isn’t to create jobs.”

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Economic Development Through Tax Incentives

April 8, 2011

Often, us in the Washington state economic development world mention the challenges that we have in not being able to engage in traditional economic development incentives. Because of our state constitution, we can’t do a lot of the direct financial offerings to companies that other states do, as it violates our “lending of credit” provision.

But this article in the trusty New York Times points out that using incentives to lure companies across state borders can be a tough way to do economic development“:

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DIY Economic Development – The Tourism Industry Way

March 8, 2011

We live in an interesting time for the public sector. Local and state governments are struggling to allocate scarce tax dollars to a variety of important programs and needs, and often short term issues (public safety, social services) are winning out over long-term investments like higher education and economic development. Whether you think that’s the right way or the wrong way to approach it, that’s what’s happening, and so it’s interesting to see how economic development organizations are dealing with the new reality.

And one of the most interesting reactions that we’re seeing is “Fine, if you won’t help me, I’ll do it myself.” Like the tourism industry is proposing to do.

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Three Interesting Economic Development Findings in the GAO’s “Government Duplication” Report

March 2, 2011

It’s time for everyone’s favorite game show, “Pretend that the federal budget problems can be solved by eliminating waste!” And by “everyone’s favorite,” I’m referring to the “60 percent saying the federal budget’s problems can be ameliorated by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse.” Which is right up there for me with “government should be run more like a business” on the list of things that people who don’t understand government like to say.

IMHO.

Which is not to say that there aren’t opportunities for streamlining and improving government, like the ones pointed out in this new GAO report, poignantly named “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue.” Among the many parts of the federal government examined, there’s a section about how “Efficiency and Effectiveness of Fragmented Economic Development Programs Are Unclear” (starting on page 42). Here are three interesting things about that section:

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The Worst Best News

February 28, 2011

So, I was at an event on Thursday where it was announced that a new company was moving to our region that would be employing 400 new software developers and engineers. Great rejoicing occurred, especially since this was only hours after the big tanker contract announcement. And look, 400 new jobs is a lot of jobs, especially high demand jobs that will have multipliers throughout the economy.

But I might be the only person in the room who heard this news and got worried. How the heck are we going to find 400 software developers in this region?

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Celebrating Taxes and Economic Development

October 15, 2009

OK, I’m going to continue my modest proposal/rant from yesterday about getting everyone on board if we want to truly achieve our vision for a prosperous metropolitan region. I was at the Leadership Tomorrow Economy Day today, where the 80 young leaders spend a day learning about our region’s economy, and it was fascinating to listen in on the conversation. Read the rest of this entry »


Investment Advice from the Prosperity Blog

December 31, 2008

That is to say, never take investment advice from the Prosperity Blog…you’ll end up daytrading WaMu stock.  However, I thought this story was worth noting, not only because it’s great that biotech companies with strong links to our region did well financially.  The interesting part is why they did well: because biotech companies are, by their very nature, a long term investment.  Everyone knows that it takes years and years and plenty of patience to coax a new drug through the R&D process and the federal approval process, so they’re looking beyond the current downturn.  It’s a great reminder for economic development in our region, to remember to focus on the long term as we work to grow and sustain those industries (like biotech) in which we have or hope to develop a competitive advantage.

For example, it’s a hard time for clean tech startups to get venture funding or credit and low oil prices are a disincentive for alternative energy investment, but we believe that this is the industry of the future so we have to find ways to continue to develop it.  As Bob Drewel recently said at the Prosperity Partnership luncheon, “Now is not the time to take a step back on the investments that are going to ensure our future. Now is the time to double down!”


Alaska in the 3rd D

September 22, 2008

As the last speaker on the last panel of the last day of the Alaska State Chamber’s Conference, the diehards among us were listening to Bill Popp, Pres./CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation; explain his new online tool for professionals looking at their marketplace.

Popp, in trying to help those Alaskans among his audience understand the density of their marketplace to provide workforce or a consumer base, said, “(y)ou could take the entire population of Alaska and place it in Tacoma-Pierce County, and have some beds left over. Or, you could take Alaska’s population and fit it in 10 blocks in Beijing.”

That got me to thinking of the dynamics of Alaska. Most recognize the “D” of distance. We in Washington cope with it as international traders and as suppliers for Alaska. Many Washingtonians and Alaskans are making their fortunes in distance. Another “D” is diversity. Alaska has diversity with its attendant community benefits and social challenges. Alaska’s diversity profile doesn’t look like the U.S.’s, but the U.S.’s doesn’t look like any other countries’ either.

But an even greater “D” is depth. Alaska is one of those places where the bell curve of normal distribution is inverted. It has more than the normal ratio of people there who are the very best at what they do. And, at the other flange of the bell you find that grouping of very individualistic people, most appreciatively exemplified by Dick Proenneke.

This is not an unusual phenomenon. The Last Frontier is much like all the frontiers of America have been throughout its history. And, especially in much of the West, but also in smaller states that have remained on the American frontier, you find the same situation. Few states have the fortune to have so much of its leadership play on the national stage, as Alaska’s Gov. Palin is now. One exception that proves the rule may be Washington‘s Sen. Magnuson and Sen. Jackson, where circumstance and talent coalesce. (The only like comparison that comes to mind is Massachusetts’ Sen. Ted Kennedy and Sen. Kerry. Help me out with other examples.)

A politico recently told me the best elective job in the nation was as Senator of Vermont. That’s a state that has retained its frontier mentality over the centuries. Just recall Sen. Jeffords for an example. The rationale was that it’s a small state, in the same time zone and close to D.C. but far enough away that it takes a constituent’s sacrifice to come there and has a smaller workload that is shared with another.

At a long ago camping trip, when someone left a bit of Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler available for breakfast, a fellow camper helped me understand that state. He said, everyone in the world thinks of a Yankee as someone from the USA. But here, we think Yankees are people from north of the Mason-Dixon Line. In that quarter of the country, a Yankee is someone from New England. And, in New England, a Yankee is someone from Vermont. But in Vermont, a Yankee is only someone who eats pie for breakfast.

For Dutch Oven Peach Cobbler, this PNWer is willing to be called a Yankee.