Tag Archives: business retention and growth

Tourism and niche food – a powerful intersection to build on

After a full day travelling I arrived on the island of Bornholm and cranked into another packed day of meetings all over the island and yet again more productive discussions and outstanding people.  Bornholm and Taupo share a lot of similarities, including population sizes and dominant industries.  Bornholm is the same size as Lake Taupo.

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Destination Bornholm and the Business Center Bornholm

First cab off the rank was tourism with Peter and economic development with Jørn.  Bornholm has encouraged people to purchase vacation homes out of the main centres, perhaps a solution for the Auckland housing “crisis”.  Bornholm is trying to extend stay to shoulder season and leverage off the growing outdoor tourism market.  There’s one main visitor centre open all year round with others only seasonally.  Economically there is a big focus on proactively working with existing businesses and providing a one stop shop.

There were both differences and similarities to NZ and the topic of collaboration surfaced consistently.  How easy is collaboration in tourism compared to other industries?   Do more accommodation or activities grow or hinder industry?  Does necessity drive people together or apart?

Bornholms Middelaldercenter

Next stop was Niller from the medieval centre and a great example of what happens when you mix passion with authenticity.  The centre blends historical and cultural tourism delivered in way where all ages can actively engage.

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Gaarden

Then onto meet Mikkel at a food and culture house.  The food industry here is a outstanding showcase of adding value to primary product having developed from almost nothing 15 years ago to the place to be in Denmark for niche food.  Gaarden is a great intersection of regional food and historical heritage and an example of very collaborative industry in action where activities are as close to producers as possible…aka localism.  Like Oregon, there’s a lot of potential for transfer to NZ, and one that the Food Innovation Network is tapping into but I believe has considerably more scope in rural locations, especially to get away from price-taking commodity trading.  Here’s one bit of the Gaarden store selling local products, not bad for an island 588km²!

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Go Bornholm and East Winds

Finally I spent time with Jonas, a local entrepreneur who simply gets on and does stuff.  In addition to the East Wind activity business he has recently launched Go Bornholm, and online booking plaftorm, I lost count of how many bookings flowed through during our discussion…the digital age is now the norm.  If destinations don’t offer bookings direct from their website, where is the call to action?  It’s like not being able to book a room on a hotels website.

So what?

Whilst tourism is “lower value” as pointed out by Sir Paul Callaghan, it’s still the starting point for many communities rather than simply trying to parachute into something new.  Combining tourism with adding value to primary produce, locations can move up the value chain, and then overlay technology to step up again – it just takes market focus, capital, time, persistence…

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Independent, Insignificant and International

Independence Day

Over the weekend it was onwards to the East Coast to mark the halfway point with my sister and her husband in Maryland.  I had a great peek into the star spangled banner that is Independence Day which was full of red, white and blue and more fireworks than I’ve ever seen before.  I was also fortunate to have tour around a Camp/Retreat Centre, which Kiwis would know as a Summer Camp or Camp America.

Washington D.C.

Today is was onwards to Washington D.C, which is a stunning capital city.  There’s so much history here and it is made all the more accessible by the 17 Smithsonian museums being free.  Amazing what that does to enable tourism, the museums and the City were packed.  The Smithsonian museums came about through a gift from James Smithson, who had never been to the United States.  It took the US government of the time 10 years to decide whether to accept the gift and then decide what to do with it and another 9 years before the first building was completed.  New Zealand doesn’t quite make the cut on the world population map unfortunately, shows how insignificant we are.

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International Economic Development Council (IEDC)

I met with the IEDC who provide a large range of services to over 4,500 members worldwide.  They have literally written the ‘how to guide’ on economic development.  As part of my visit I also reciprocated with a presentation of New Zealand, Taupo and my observations/comparisons so far.  Their office is just around the corner from the Whitehouse which was a little surreal.

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Lynn, Scott Tatiana and the team shared some of their key learnings from dealing with organisations all around the world including:

  • taking care of existing business
  • understanding who you are as a location
  • developing a plan with clear priorities
  • how success is often a combination of things, economies work as systems (aka systems thinking)

Insights for smaller locations:

  • connectivity to broadband to enable home based businesses
  • the tension that sometimes arise from some in communities that don’t want growth but want good infrastructure – how do you afford that?
  • relationship between cities and rural areas – should cities subsidise rural areas given they are providing most of the food?
  • creating places where young people want to live

Many of the above have surfaced through other conversations, so some clear themes are emerging.

One thing that puzzles me is that remote working was supposed to be widespread now and it is still predicted to be in the future.  Is that really happening?  If so, cities wouldn’t be growing as fast as they are, so what is holding people back from doing it?

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.

The pack of cards…when in Reno

Another full on day with a lot driving made easier with the freeways, beautiful scenery and very welcoming people.

Sacramento County

I sought out Rami as he was recently named one of the Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Doers by Govtech and Sacromento County has won numerous tech awards.  We discussed digital government and I came away with a huge amount of confidence that the team at Taupo is on the right track.  Current and future focuses centre around regular website refreshes, the need for mobile apps, linking data (e.g. Crime and graffiti), the intersection of Geospatial and data and a single view for customers.

Nevada Governor’s Office of Energy, Carson City

Paul the Director and his team hosted me in the early afternoon for a quick overview of Nevada energy.  I was primarily interested in geothermal, given Nevada is the number one in installed geothermal per capita and Taupo’s strength in this area.  A highlight was by pure chance meeting and talking with Governor Paul Sandoval and witnessing the launch of the Nevada Electric Highway.  Note the highway “is expected to link rural areas and bring business to those communities from EV owners who make the stop to charge their cars”.  Electric vehicles are going to take off in some shape or form and communities should be taking action now to dip their toe in the water, ready to embrace what may become the norm.

Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), Reno

Mike graciously shared his views on economic development and they have definitely stepped it up a level from when we last spoke in 2013. Mike is incredibly humble, and our meeting was definitely a lesson in leadership. EDAWN has five key strategies: retain and grow, attract, entrepreneurship, workforce development and community development.  What also impressed me was their great handle on metrics to track progress.  When Mike started there was 14% unemployment and now it’s down to half that and going lower.  A very bright future is on the horizon with Tesla building their gigafactory which will create 6500 jobs!  Their entrepreneurship program started from scratch and won Innovation Ecosystem Award.  A gem they showed me was the Reno startup deck which is an innovative way of integrating Reno’s gaming history and useful tools for startups – genius!

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