Champion the entrepreneurial spirit

Edward Lowe Foundation

Onwards into Michigan to met with the Edward Lowe Foundation and some more incredible hospitality from Dino and the team at the 2,600-acre Big Rock Valley.  The Foundation was established by Ed and Darlene Lowe in 1985 to “champion the entrepreneurial spirit”, after having started and scaled Edward Lowe Industries which invented cat litter.

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Here’s one of the many historic houses on the property.

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The foundation supports the following programs:

All of the above are great tools to utilise depending on what is happening for businesses or locations.  A couple of favourites if I had to pick…

Economic gardening

Economic gardening is “grow from within” strategy targeting existing growth companies and offering them critical strategic information that is customized to their needs.  It was started by Chris Gibbons in Littleton, Colorado who is now the CEO for the National Center for Economic Gardening.  It has achieved some impressive results:

  • “During the 20-year period Littleton practiced Economic Gardening, jobs grew from 15,000 to 30,000, and sales tax revenue more than tripled from $6M to $21M without any recruiting, incentives or tax rebates”.
  • More recently in Utah, 12 companies achieved $16m in sales increases and the creation of 122 jobs, or in Kansas with 28 companies growing both employment and revenue approximately 30% on average.

Data – YourEconomy.org

YourEconomy.org is a very smart tool that gives an overall view of sales, job and business creation.  It drills down to all layers including down to State and most importantly locally.  Pick your favourite location and have a try.

In summary, a couple of insights emerge:

  • Business retention is growth is an often ignored poorer cousin to the more high profile attraction initiatives such as tax incentives.  What a difference can be made in any context by starting with what you’ve got and asking how do you grow?
  • While the Kauffman Foundation (new and young companies) and Edward Lowe Foundation (second-stage entrepreneurs) have slightly different definitions on what companies create the most jobs, they are saying the same thing – entrepreneurs and young companies create the most jobs.
  • Like most places I’ve met the Foundation partners and collaborates with other organisations to achieve their end goal and they have great systems.
  • Data when powered by smart technology showing local information is critical to give context of what is happening in economies.
  • Finally, how do locations educate, retain and attract talent so they create and scale businesses that operate globally?

Strategic doing

This weekend was spent in Illinois having a further look around.  A day exploring Effingham some more, a quick look at the Amish community (it was quite a sight seeing horses and cars on the road together) and The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.  The Museum was very well done and I got a real sense of what Lincoln achieved but just how heavily criticised he was.  It wasn’t until after his assasination that many people realised just what he had accomplished in enabling the end of slavery and the United States staying as one nation.

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Ed, Peggy and Scott were fantastic hosts, giving up a large part of their day to talk me through ‘Strategic Doing’ and the outcomes they have enabled in a number of communities.  Their view combines talent, innovation/entrepreneurship, places and brand, or as they put it better below:
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Interestingly, this started by transferring knowledge from open source software industry to create open source collaboration which goes to show how important creative thinking and learning from outside sources is.  There’s a great opportunity to share the model with universities and spread around the world.
They ask some simple questions to identify opportunities – what could we do and what should we do? Then most importantly there’s a bias for action – what will we will do and when?
What I like about this model is that it is a simple way to collaborate and it is a way of bringing to life the great economic research that already exists:
What I like about the Strategic Doing is that it provides the tools for people to make change, it is focused on outcomes and they are always learning.  The team had some great insights about guiding not facilitating, the impact of just a few people (check out Charleston Digital Corridor) and the psychology of communities – why some places thrive and others don’t!
We talked about the advantages of smaller locations over cities and their insight was that most of these locations share the same thing, quality of life.  But that alone is not enough, you’ve got to find what is unique to only your location.

What makes a Boom Town?

The last couple of days have been in Effingham, Illinois.  Effingham is the home of Jack Schultz, the author of author of Boomtown USA: The 7-1/2 Keys to Big Success in Small Towns and CEO of Agracel, a developer of industrial projects.  Jack and his wife Betinha have been the most outstanding hosts.  Effingham is a community of just over 12,000 people who have committed to creating a better future over a long period of time.  What is most impressive is the difference a few people can make instigating and persevering with projects as times change and reinvention is the new norm. 

I was fortunate to have a number of tours of local businesses.  Pam gave a great insight into the Patterson Technology Center, which started off as a software company and now with a number of activities employs 450 people locally.  It just goes to show how one or two people can create wealth and opportunity for the wider community.  Jack also gave a whirlwind tour of Midland States Bank which has seen some big growth in the last few years and also supports a number of community initiatives (see CEO below).  I even managed a ride on a locomotive.

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Agracel

Agracel has a great niche in providing development services to Agurb® (rural) communities.  They’ve done over 100 projects in 17 states so see all sorts of approaches to economic development outside big cities.  Some interesting insights were around manufacturers preferring to be in rural locations because of costs, workforce availability and work ethic.  Do manufacturers currently in cities consider relocation?  Anything is possible, it just comes down to people…I’d recommend the BoomTown book for some down to earth ideas.

City of Effingham Economic Development

Todd and the team gave a overview of some of the tools they have in their incentives toolkit, including Business districts, enterprise zones and tax increment financing districts.  Their insight about advantages of smaller locations were simple – quality of life.

CEO (Creating Entrepreneurial Opportunities)

Craig is incredibly passionate about the importance of kids learning entrepreneurship through learning and changing the way kids view the world.  Students have 90 minute classes each day, are integrated with the local business community and every student starts their own business.  It is similar to the Young Enterprise Trust in NZ.  Do you see value if children learning entrepreneurship for 90 minutes a day, even if their business fails at the end of it?  If you fancy yourself as an entrepreneur, take the Gallup Entrepreneurial Profile 10.

Tuscola Chamber and Economic Development, Inc. (TCED)

The last session of the day was with the very passionate and saavy Brian.  After years of hard work, they have recently secured investment in a Cronus $1.4b fertiliser plant.  Brian gave his thoughts on success – knowing your local strengths, learning from failure, community engagement and just how much of a long term commitment economic development is.  He is another believer in the small town advantage.

Leaving a legacy – entrepreneurship and education

I’ve moved from the West Coast over to the Mid-West, if you want to take a look at how the 50 States of the US are grouped, here’s a good image.  The temperature here is pushing 30, with high humidity which is a different heat!  Kansas City has some outstanding art, particularly the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

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Kauffman Foundation

Dane, Jonathan, Mette and the rest of the team were fantastic hosts at the inspiring Kauffman Foundation which has three focuses — educational achievement, entrepreneurial success and Kansas City.  The founder Ewing Kauffman, believed that entrepreneurship and education were critical in developing self-sufficient people and a vibrant economy and society.  Ewing Kauffman was an entrepreneur who founded Marion Laboratories Inc and the Kauffman Foundation is one of many enduring legacies.  The closest thing I can think of in NZ is the Tindall Foundation.

To say the Kauffman Foundation are experts on research and the practical application of it are understatements.  If I had to sum up what I learned it is this: 0-5 year old companies + talent = main source of job growth.

A couple of my favourite insights:

If you’re interested in this type of stuff I recommended signing up to their policy digest…don’t be put off by the ‘policy’ word…they are very easy two page reads, most with infographics.

I also managed to sit in on a talk from John Tammy about his new book Popular Economics, his view on barriers to growth were taxes, regulation, money and non-free trade.

There’s something about those ‘C’ words that keep popping up – collaborating, coordinating, connecting, convening.  Smart people working together on innovative solutions for complex problems.  Not once so far have I heard words like structure or process mentioned.

Rural, workforce development and best places

So it’s a broken record but another day from dawn until dusk including an overnight flight from the West Coast to the Kansas City in the Mid-West (what was I thinking when I booked that?).  Tuesday was a day of the usual inspiration I’ve come to expect from the people I met tempered with missing loved ones back home on my birthday and then losing my camera…grrr!

Rural Development Initiatives (RDI)

First up this morning was Craig, who is the Executive Director of RDI.  They run a number of programs in Oregon and across other states.  Essentially their focus is on people and enabling them to develop resilient communities.  Craig has some great views on the importance of locally based staff (very applicable to NZ given the NZ Initiatives great work on localism) and the interdependence of urban and rural on each other.  Collaboration is key part of their organisations success and the education sector was identified as vital to enabling communities and businesses.  Oregon is big on ‘buying local’, and a great example is Country Natural Beef (previously called Oregon Country Beef) which is a cooperative that has some similarities to the origins of Taupo Beef.

Worksystems

Next up was Tricia, Chief Operating Officer of Worksystems.  This was a very intriguing meeting as it is whole industry that doesn’t really exist in NZ.  Worksystems exists to improve the quality of the workforce, broadly focusing on dislocated workers, adults and youth.  There’s some very innovative program designs, my favourite is Code Oregon which is getting more people coding to meet the large current and projected shortage of skills in IT.  The buzz word collaboration surfaced again but it really is everything in economic development.  I was impressed by their partnerships with industry and all levels of government, whilst they are doing some great work in measuring success or effectiveness of programs.  Tricia (like me) believes the quality of life better in smaller locations than cities… will people move for it though?

Bestplaces

Bestplaces is the go to site in US for where to live.  They’ve done some very smart things using a of range data, smart insights like a stability index and more importantly they provide some great insight.  I wonder what a similar website would look like in NZ?  Bert, Gretchen and Bertrand very kindly gave me a complete tour of Portland from mid afternoon well into the evening.  Like all the people who I’ve met on this trip, I hope to repay the favour some day “down under”.  Portland is often held up as an example of great urban planning and it’s obvious to see why with some great mixed use buildings and high density buildings (only planners will know what these mean) combining to create some very funky neighbourhoods.  The urban city limit is presenting some challenges as the city tries to intensify…sound familiar Auckland?  The overriding insight from Bert on small towns was having quality of life and strongly marketing that as a point of difference – how do you stand out from the crowd though?

Reinvention – the new normal

The weekend was full of lots more driving and some sightseeing, but most importantly time to recharge the batteries after an incredibly demanding week.  There was probably no better place to do it than in Oregon (photo of Smith Rock).

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Many of the people I’ve spoken to in Idaho and Oregon talk about the Oregon Trail, which previously I knew nothing about.  Can you imagine emigrating over 2,000 miles in a horse for 4-6 months?  Then get to the mighty Columbia River and being faced with a decision of whether to the run one of two gauntlets – down the river or over the mountains!  Learning more about the pioneers in the US puts into perspective the country it is today and it helps place life into perspective.

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Staying in Bend, Oregon showed what is possible when towns are faced with changes in industry.  Bend was founded as a logging town and now has a massive tourism industry, a growing technology sector and is a popular place to retire.  My meeting destination for today, The Dalles, Oregon is similar.  It’s been a trading town for 10,000 years but what trades hands is changing, from wool to aluminium and now technology.  Insitu started here and now has 800 employees whilst Google also located their first data centre here (one factor that helped was access to energy).  In the face of adversity communities are playing to their strengths and being creative to enable industry to develop.  The only constant is that change will keep happening.  How do recognize when that change is coming and what do you do?

Mid-Columbia Economic Development District (MCEDD) and Columbia River Gorge Technology Alliance (GTA)

The MCEED has been going since 1969, which shows how young economic development is in NZ.  They serve five Counties in two different states so collaboration is their strong point.  Amanda and the team focus on:

  • business financing, which has great payback and is changing with the likes of crowdfunding.  They explained the concept of Enterprise zones and how it can be used when a community is economically distressed through either high unemployment or low wages.
  • Industry development.  Jessica talked about the GTA as an example of industry collaborating in a cluster.  I suspect we will hear a lot more about STEM youth robotics, it is definitely preparing kids to work in the workforce of the future (or is that today?).
  • Regional coordination including strategy and ensuring enabling infrastructure is provided like transport, broadband, and financing.

From the outside looking in the team were deliberate about where future lies and I can see a lot of potential for this region as different industries continue to intersect.

The Dalles Port

Started in 1933, The Dalles Port has seen a lot of change.  They focus on bringing jobs to region through land sales and it’s fair to say they’ve succeeded.  Google is the high profile one but many of the other businesses are “small business” .  As an aside, it makes you wonder about classification of small business – how useful is it knowing that 97% of businesses are small, perhaps we can make it more commonly known the difference between no employees, micro (1-5 people) and small (6-19 people)?

Andrea and Kathy had some great insights:

  • Places need to find their niche – sounds easy!
  • Time and perseverance
  • Importance of community support, which I get the sense there is a lot of in The Dalles
  • Collaboration with local agencies, putting together a team to work through problems while cutting through bureaucracy

The Dalles is just over an hour outside of Portland, and we discussed how urban people can perceive places outside cities as “rural”…how do you overcome that perception, whether you’ve reinvented yourself or not?

Beautiful Boise, events and the end of week one

The last day of the first week offshore and I’m not sure if it feels like just yesterday I left home or a month ago.

Today was in Boise, Idaho which is a beautiful ‘city of trees’.

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Idaho Commerce

First up was the team from Idaho Commerce for a very productive conversation, given the remoteness of Idaho and the challenges that brings.  The team has a strong focus on supporting job creation.  There are some interesting initiatives including Accelerate Idaho, a reasonably new tax reimbursement incentive and the Idaho rural partnership fund.  Rurally we talked about moving agricultural products higher up the value chain which when combined with tourism can create even more value (e.g. niche food, craft beer and wine).  Education and the war for talent was raised as a big challenge in the future.

Boise City

From there it was on to meet Nic, ‎Director of Economic Development at City of Boise.  Nic gave me a great overview of the layers of government in the US and how they interact.  Some great ideas flowing from Startup in a day, Obama’s government startup and the Mayors Innovation Project.  Nic reinforced the importance of having good data balanced with customer insight.  My favourite project was a Spring Into Code, which introduces kids to computer science at a young age which is what industry is asking for.

Boise Valley Economic Partnership (BVEP)

I met Jana, who had lived in Tokoroa on an exchange as a secondary school student.  BVEP is a regional economic development agency covering a number of counties and the City of Boise.  Jana reinforced the importance of business attraction by proactively prospecting for new business and working with ‘site selectors’, which is a big industry in the US.  They have some very insightful data and geospatial information combined with customer insight to help identify the sweet spot of what Boise Valley can offer.  In other words, understanding the behaviour and perceptions of prospective and current businesses, rather then using assumptions.  Broken record…but skills and workforce development raised again as key for the future.

International Festivals and Events Association (IFEA)

Taupo District has a strong affinity with IFEA, having previously won an IFEA World Festival & Event City Award.  I was hosted by Nia, including a tour of the beautiful Boise Depot.  IFEA have a great range of great education, information, conferences and awards to name a few and as a result I came away with a ‘to do’ list for when I return.  On the new idea front, it will be interesting to see if crowdfunding for events takes off.

So that is week one done and dusted…it’s a weekend away from work, exploring and driving in Oregon and definitely some downtime before another huge week.  Thanks for all the messages, it’s great to hear from you when travelling solo.  The Friday night thing to do in Boise is float down the river in an inflatable with a chillybin onboard…

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