Tag Archives: reinvention

Inspiration from innovation

Back into Indiana today from Michigan and onto one inspirational place to another.  Here’s a view across Lake Michigan…it’s nearly 100 times bigger than Great Lake Taupo…

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Northeast Indiana Innovation Center (NIIC)

Karl and the team raised the bar again as hosts, giving me the full tour and lifting the hood on what they do.  Karl is the past President of the National Business Incubation Association, so I had assumed it would be a day of incubation.

I was completely wrong.  Karl and the team offer a full range of services to assist entrepreneurs, which have been refined over 15 years.  As Karl puts it, entrepreneurship is a fourth leg in addition to the traditional economic development tools of retention, attraction and workforce development.  NIIC has the results to back it up, having helped over 100 companies grow at an average rate of 79% compounded annually, with 91% of businesses surviving after 5 years and 98% retention within Indiana.

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Karl has authored a number of publications including the Four Levers of Success, which he defines as:

  1. Capital Access and Availability
  2. Knowledge Catalysts
  3. Human and Physical Infrastructure
  4. Entrepreneurial Climate and Values

Makes you think about where you live and if those exist.

Karl had some very insightful and pragmatic views:

  • Even though they have very clearly defined stages, the team “meets entrepreneurs at the stage you find them” and then assist from there
  • The best entrepreneurs are built out of opportunity not necessity, often we hear the opposite?
  • Workforce development (that phrase keeps popping up) is focused on training people to fit the demand for jobs.  But given the changing nature of work…what will that be in future and what about peoples passion?

 

Innovation Connector

Then it was a flying visit to see Ted at Muncie, a smaller rural town.  The Innovation Connector offers similar services to NIIC.

Ted and the team have and strong focus on relationships, collaborating closely with Ball State University (yet again education is a key component).  Ted’s view on smaller communities where knowing their value proposition and not standing still…Muncie lost a huge number of manufacturing jobs but are right in the middle of reinventing.

The closest thing I can think of to the these two organisations in New Zealand is The Icehouse…imagine a few more services like that supporting New Zealand…

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?