Saturday, January 23, 2010

Bookshelf 1-23

Sorry for the lack of posts this week. I was jammed up finishing up one project and starting up another. Both of these will be the subject of posts in the near future.

I looked in my "to read" stack and found a few things worth sharing.

I just picked up Dan Pink's new book Drive. I'm always a bit leery of author-gurus but after his relentless promotion across several NPR programs I picked up Pink's latest. He is focused on evidence about the role internal motivation plays in the modern workforce. My interest in this topic stems from my participation in a project looking at faculty involvement in community engagement activities. Traditional professional incentives not withstanding (i.e. publish or perish) many faculty do take up engagement activities. What's driving them? Maybe Pink will help us figure it out.

I also just picked up the an article on career ladders in the recent edition of Economic Development Quarterly (subscription required for full text). The authors Marla Wilson and Laura Wolf-Powers measure economic development impacts of employment growth in hospital sector through method of "job chain" analysis. Increasing I see projects coming across my desk where the university can link up with community colleges to build stronger partnerships with industry in support of educational pathways and/or career ladders. (The big new project I alluded to at the top of this post involves something like that with the construction industry.) I hope Wilson and Wolf-Powers offer some tools that can help me quantify the potential benefits of these opportunities.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Happy Birthday Ben Franklin

The founding father whose story every economic developer should know was born 303 years ago today on January 17, 1706. He had already made his money as an entrepreneurial printer with an eye for market opportunities and an ability to deliver solutions. A brilliant inventor, he was the first open source advocate, never patenting some of his most useful innovations like lightning rods, bifocals, or vastly improved wood stoves. At the same time he was a forward thinking civic entrepreneur whose innovations like lending libraries and fire departments vastly improved the quality of life in his community that made it a great place to live and work.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why is firm formation constant?

Interesting new Kauffman study.

Key findings:

“According to a new study released today by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, however, new-business creation in the United States is remarkably constant over time. Exploring Firm Formation: Why Is the Number of New Firms Constant? reveals that none of the factors that might bear on prospective entrepreneurs' decisions to form new companies—recessions, expansions, tax changes, population growth, scarce or abundant capital, technological advances or others—has much impact on the pace of U.S. startups.”

So can we all go home now?

“… the study showed that entrepreneurship education and venture capital, two indicators that have received heightened attention in recent years, had no appreciable impact on entrepreneurial activity in the United States."

Not quite...

"However, the authors point out, it could very well be that entrepreneurship education, venture capital and similar entrepreneur-friendly measures have helped maintain a constant level of firm formation.”

*Sigh* What was it Truman said about looking for a one-handed economists?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Clean Tech Manufacturing Grants

A nice success for the Shenandoah Valley!

AAF-McQuay, Inc. located in Verona was the only Virginia firms to secure a federal tax credit to support clean tech manufacturing projects. AAF received a $774,937 credit. The company plans to re-equip a manufacturing facility to produce Next-Generation Centrifugal Chiller Rooftop Air Conditioning systems. The chillers are significantly more energy-efficient than those currently on the market.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A long road back?

Some of you may be familiar with the City of Franklin, which is a community of 8,000 over in peanut country in the eastern part of the state. International Paper, the major employer in the City, announced last October the plant will close ending more than 1,000 jobs.

The Virginia Pilot carried a couple of pieces recently that were focused on lessons to learn from the experiences of Martinsville after the closure of textile factories there in the 90's. The unemployment rate there still typically leads the state. The community has some successes to celebrate in terms of new firms, but these are typically much smaller than plants that were lost. There are also some hopeful stories related in the article about individual entrepreneurship. Bottom line however, is that it's a long road back form a loss like that experienced in Martinsville and Franklin.

If you think about the long term there are important things going on in Martinsville that didn't get covered in the story. Community foundations, higher education, and business-focused non-profits are doing important work for building the community's economic future.

I know Franklin was working on support for entrepreneurs before the closure. In the crush I know they're under to deal with the immediate crisis I'm hopeful they'll be able to keep these longer term projects on the agenda.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Has Richard Florida jumped the shark?

Reactions to this article in the American Prospect generated a lot of interesting reading for me over the holiday. I participate in a planning academic listserve that has been non-stop on this for weeks. Florida has been taking hits for the academy since day one, but perception of his work in the popular press remained pretty laudatory until quite recently.

I fall in what the Prospect identifies as a common critique...

"In a standard version of this critique, Amy Liu of the Brookings Institution -- with which Florida was once affiliated -- praises him for debunking 'smoke-stack chasing' as economic development but says he has replaced that with another flawed 'attraction' strategy."

Do jobs follow people or the reverse as traditional perceptions would hold? Of course the answer isn't so simple but nuance doesn't sell books.

The Prospect story also draws a parallel I've long been thinking about exploring further....

"There is a long tradition of charismatic economic--development troubadours. In the 1990s, it was Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor who swept into inner cities with his theories of industry clusters."

Porter was coming on strong as I entered this field and arc by which these theories disseminate into practice says something about economic development. When I figure out what I'll let you know.