Monday, May 02, 2011

1099 Economy And Rust Belt Revitalization

A well-educated and flexible workforce should attract business. That's the theory. I've encountered plenty of evidence that the quality of the talent pool weighs heavily on firm relocation decisions. However, that tale of the tape isn't turning the "art of economic development" on its head. The regional job count is the metric that matters. Governing surfing the bow wave of the "1099 job" trend:

What happens when there really is no such thing as a "job" anymore? How do you practice the art of economic development?

The answer is that even though there may not be jobs in the conventional sense, there is still work. That's the whole idea of the 1099 economy. It's just a different way of organizing the economy. Businesses need economically valuable work to be done, but instead of employing people full-time and permanently, they contract with individuals to do the work temporarily. The work ebbs and flows, the businesses come and go, and the 1099 employees work for a while and then move on. It’s a lot more fluid -- and seemingly uncertain -- than the traditional economy.

What this means is that economic development efforts become much less about individual businesses and much more about the underlying infrastructure -- the dynamic flow of business growth entrepreneurs, financiers, public infrastructure) as well as the labor force (skill levels and the density of the labor supply). The "ecosystem" of economic growth becomes more important because a fluid economy requires this system to be operating at all times -- and most of it is in the community or the region, far beyond the factory gates.

To summarize, development is more about people than places. How can infrastructure help to better develop talent? Think in terms of growing 1099 workers instead of increasing the number of jobs.

The Governing article poses a few rhetorical questions that I think Rust Belt cities such as Pittsburgh should try to answer:

Having watched both her parents work in the 1099 economy throughout most of her childhood, my daughter isn’t particularly afraid of 1099 jobs. But she, like everybody else in the so-called Millennial generation, is a little uncertain about where this will lead. How stable is 1099 work? Will she ever have a full-time job? What will she do about medical insurance once she turns 26 and is no longer eligible to be on my policy?

Cities, and I mean the urban core, could offer medical insurance to residents who toil in freelancing. The carrot could be used to entice people to live in certain neighborhoods in need of revitalization. That's where you build the 1099 economic infrastructure. This will unleash geographic arbitrage because a lot of the work can and will be done via telecommuting.

I think city life dovetails well with the 1099 economy. Cheap rent lends itself to valuable third spaces and a concentration of other services that would benefit from the scaling that density provides. The knowledge spillover potential is the icing on the cake. Oh yeah, and food trucks. Lots of food trucks peddling Rust Belt Chic cuisine.

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