Tag Archives: community development

Smart cars, civic innovation and makers

Todays destination was Columbus, Ohio for a mix of disruptive technology, urban regeneration and a maker organisation.

Tesla

If you don’t know what these are – you should because Telsa is changing cars and driving as we know it.  In summary, this was seriously amazing.   Their second quarter sales released today increased 52%…bear in mind the average sales price is USD $100k and their nearest top selling rivals average price is around a third of that.  I had a 20 minute test drive of model 85D.

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The standout features are:

  • Design…very simple but smart looking both inside and out.  You can custom build your car and the retail experience was more like browsing a clothes store than a car yard.
  • Smart technology is the second thing that confronts you…the door handles pop out, a huge 17 inch screen replaces all the clunky knobs and dials, while software updates constantly add improvements.
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  • Speed is what you notice when you put your foot down…the model I test drove does 0-100km in 4.4 sec, the next model up does it in 3.1 sec (i.e. it is quick!).  Car geeks check out all the specs!
  • Distance wise they do up to 270 miles on a charge and they have a great network of charging locations.

As I mentioned in Nevada, this is changing the way travel occurs and locations need to be thinking creatively, planning ahead and building partnerships with the new wave of transport.

Forge Columbus

Reese operates Forge Columbus, which is a civic innovation program collaborating with a number of partners.  We toured one of the projects they have been involved with in the East District of Franklinton which won a American Planning Association award last year.  The redevelopment is in the early stages and you can already see the rejuvenation occurring, much of it centred around a converted factory housing an award winning restaurant, recording studios, event space, cowork space, office space, a yoga / trapeze studio, and over 100 artists studios.  It will a place to watch in a years time, let alone five years…there’s that reinvention theme again…  Read more on Reese and Forge Columbus.  Here’s an outside snap of the building.

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Columbus Idea Foundry

Lastly, Alex gave me a tour of their setup which in Alex’s words has been built on hard work and luck.  The Columbus Ideas Foundry is the biggest ‘maker’ space in the US.  Read Time magazines take on makers or a view from The Atlantic about how makerspaces help local economies.  As one person put it to me “we are learning as a culture how to manufacture again”.  Check out this 3D printer which was made by a 3D printer…

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Alex shared his thoughts around the emergence of the maker movement due to the intersection of:

  1. free information and education – Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)
  2. open source software
  3. prototyping tools such as 3D printers
  4. crowdfunding

So what do all these have in common?  They are all led by creative and passionate people changing the world we live in even if we can’t see it yet where we live.  Will we resist or adapt, and what are the opportunities we can create?

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.

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?

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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