Sunday, September 05, 2010

Economic Development Mesofacts

I'm a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the professional football season kicking off in a few days, I thought I'd use an article about game strategy to make a point about regional economic development. The game is slow to change:

Despite reams of data generated by economists and computer programmers indicating that coaches would improve their chances of winning by attempting more 2-point conversions or punting less often, the conventional wisdom of play calling remains more geared toward dodging disaster than encouraging innovation.

Upon reading that paragraph, approaches to economic development immediately leaped to mind. David Campbell, an economist based in New Brunswick, explains:

I had a long talk last week with one of New Brunswick’s foremost CEOs and his message to me was that for 40 years governments had made job creation - at all costs- their #1 priority and that now the focus has to fundamentally shift towards better quality economic development. Buying low end jobs with taxpayer money, in his view, should be over.

Like NFL head coaches, politicians and economic development professionals are risk averse. Compelling numbers don't tend to result in a new path to success. In my world, job creation and population numbers dominate the discussion. A lot has changed in 40 years, in both the game of football and regional economics. But the craft is largely the same.

Those who court failure via unconventional means will have a short career. Thus, there is a paucity of innovation. Regions duplicate the same lackluster initiatives year after year in hopes that lightening will finally strike. There is a herd mentality, such as the biotech bandwagon.

Citizens are beginning to question the efficacy of economic development. Conventional wisdom can't hide in the black box forever. Chronically struggling cities need new ideas. What everyone else is doing won't work for your region.

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