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Don’t teach your children to fish. Teach them to code.

The landscape has shifted beneath our feet. Again. We were aware of it to the point that it affected our daily lives; which means that for most, it was an interesting factoid that came up in our twitter newsfeeds. Many still don’t know what even happened or why it matters.

3D printers began to create food. Or, “food” if you prefer. Either way, an edible food-like product is no longer just available on the shelf of an average grocer; it is now available “hot” off the press. Human technology has come a very long way since Guttenberg’s original printing press made its debut in 1450. Just as Gutenberg’s contraption sparked social and economic revolution (and fueled many more), the 3D printer has the promise of social and economic upheaval hidden within its very code.

Imagine having access to almost anything you want – almost anything – with no need to rush out to the store to get it. Just print it. Think about that.

Think about every job that a general merchandiser supports. Textile manufacturers, plastic molders and assemblers, metal fabricators, shipping and transportation…everyone that is part of producing and distributing the goods to the store – and then, of course, there is the store itself. Consider all of this, and prepare to lose a fair number of those jobs to the revolutionary home 3D Printer. Think also about the food system in America. Think about fast food, “slow food” and everything in between. Think about food pantries and commercial kitchens and food incubators. How will this revolution affect them? What kind of world will we face in 50 years?

All of this is both amazing and intimidating. While it is also mere conjecture, there are folks writing for the Harvard Business Review and the Huffington Post that seem to agree that 3D printing will permenantly change the economic landscape. And printed food? It isn’t something new in the lab – it is all the rage at food shows, is trending in the industry, being contemplated to end world hunger, and is being utilized as a real solution for feeding the elderly in Germany today.

What 3D printers could mean for the global economy (and the Economic Development profession) is staggering. Economic Developers exist to increase tax base and support wealth creation for the constituencies that we serve. With the normalization of 3D printing (even now, basic versions sell for less than $200), means that the way that we measure our work – historically in jobs numbers, square feet of new development, business investment dollars, and tax base growth – will become less relevant.

How to win in the New Economy

Economic Development practitioners have become increasingly aware of the market efficiencies caused by the growth of technology across sectors, and the subsequent contractions in footprint and job growth that result. To account for this shift, alternative metrics, such as income and population (via migration) growth, have become part of a new narrative for measuring success for EDOs.

Trending topics in the Economic Development industry today are the “Skills Gap” and the “Talent Gap,” where manufacturers are missing key skill sets today, and demographic trends point to a lack of warm bodies to fill jobs in the future.

Whether today’s gaps are a result of skill shortages (blame to be placed on the education system) or lack of sufficient wage incentives (blame to be placed on businesses), the core truth is that the market will adjust, and the skill shortage will be only temporary. Workforce Development boards, State governments, and local education institutions have stepped up their programming and responsiveness to the needs of industry.

Up Next: the Big Shift

Just as programs aimed at addressing the skills gap are coming on-line (and governmental bureaucracies are scrambling to keep pace with the speed of business), innovative communities are recognizing that they are only a short-term solution. These communities are recognizing that the true end-game lies in their demographics.

Because of this, the new wave in Economic Development is becoming community development and talent attraction, not business attraction. And, as many have discovered through work and research, the key to attracting talent back into areas that are laid waste by demographic realities is the development of quality places and attractive amenities.

The next generation of workers is more interested in the quality of place and local amenities – including broadband access – than their predecessors were. Where small communities have been operating at an intrinsic disadvantage for business attraction, in the new economy, well-connected, well-invested communities that offer a great quality of life will have a leg up in the race for talent.

With this in mind, the Redevelopment Resources teams are continuously encouraging our client communities to invest in themselves. Recommendations to acquire and demolish blight aren’t based on a personal preference; they are based on market realities. To attract both business investment and talent to your town, communities must be willing to put the first nickel in the bucket. Investors are attracted to places where things are happening – not to places where plans have been developed in a vacuum with no intention for the City to follow-up and invest where they recognized that it was needed.

Winning in the new economy requires foresight, courage, and intuition. Most of all, it requires investment. Is your community ready to invest in their future?

Communities are organic beings. They grow or shrink; they can thrive or become ghosts. They can become physically diseased with blight and outdated infrastructure or face social plagues such as drug dependence, violence or systemic poverty. But like all other beings, they can also find healing by addressing their health problems head-on; strength by challenging their current capacity; and resilience by overcoming mounting adversity.
None of these things – healing, strength or resilience – can come unless the community is first both aware of its challenges and willing to completely let go of what it currently is / has been in order to address them. Beyond this, there must be an understanding that through this process of healing, growth, and change, the community will become something different from what it ever was before.  Undoubtedly, systemic change aimed at healing disease, building capacity, and cultivating resiliency will encounter roadblocks. But it is through these challenges that the true test is met:
“The single factor that will do the most to change a culture toward acceptance of development … is the process of overcoming the challenges that face [the] community in difficult times. If communities come together to face change, they will adapt and thrive. If they don’t come together, they will pass away just like any other organic entity.”-John Woods

Invest in Transformation
The process of overcoming challenges – that is, coming to an obstacle and surmounting it – is the driving factor in transformational change for both people and communities. It is in this process that resilience is formed, and through this process that new, or emergent community identities are forged. By shedding the past and investing in the future, communities can position themselves as home for unmet generations, and improve their odds for survival during challenges yet unseen.

Incentivize Change
Encouraging the types of investment required for sustained, systemic change may require the investment of public funds in the form of incentives. Incentives are a critical factor for projects that would not gain traction in the private market, yet serve the broader public good. By leveraging public dollars for the purpose of engaging in transformational investments, a community can take a proactive role in shaping their future.
Incentives are a topic of debate among economic development professionals as well as the public at large. Beyond the stated standard practice, I would contend that so long as the incentive is an investment – a strategic choice that results in growth (i.e. increased monetary base, enhanced workforce skills, etc.) throughout the broader system, they are a wise choice. Cultivating change is a difficult task, and is nearly impossible if a community asks the private sector to bear the entire burden.

Initiatives for Youth
Systemic change initiatives face a myriad of challenges – vested interests, conflicting opinions and comfort zones tend to muddy the water for the folks burdened with developing policy and/or implementing plans. Often, community leaders are well-seasoned, experienced people with a well-developed (and somewhat static) vision for what the community is – or can become. While dialogue may include topics such as empowering or engaging youth in the process, it is generally done via the bureaucracies of the school system, rather than engaging the under-25 year-old population directly.

This, of course, encourages the disengagement of a critical population in communities that are seeking healing from current physical and/or social disease or future growth. Community leaders must engage their prime customers – under-25 year-olds – in planning and implementation if they are to have any hope of retaining them as a quality future workforce and future leaders. Direct engagement is not without challenges; but without this critical piece, the broader challenges will only mount.
Interestingly, youths are generally endowed with an incredible capacity to adapt and change as obstacles or challenges impede their goals. This particular trait makes the youth in a community an invaluable asset when mental fatigue gets the edge on tenacity when implementing change. The ability to bounce back – to identify solutions and alternatives at each roadblock – is critical to building community resilience and strength when engaging in community healing.
Though it has become cliché to pound the ‘invest in our youth’ drum, is it not also interesting that sustained efforts to do so are fewer in number and often piecemeal or limited in scope? This paradox feeds generational stereotypes, limits a community’s boomerang capacity, and ultimately erodes the quality of the workforce for the long-term.
Mary Rajek, Economic Development Specialist and Blogger

While traveling in Ireland recently, I was intrigued by an article in the Irish Times newspaper entitled, “Immigration policy must target entrepreneurship”. While one would first think this article is about Ireland targeting entrepreneurs through their immigration policy, a majority of the article referenced the environment for entrepreneurs in the United States. It stated that 52% of the start-ups in the Silicon Valley from 1995 to 2005 have been founded by immigrants. Also, 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by first-generation immigrants or their children.

Toward the end of the article was finally the point that Ireland should open the door to all of Europe and the rest of the world, inviting entrepreneurs from all over go there to start their businesses. While the United States is deciding what to do about immigration, other countries are poised to capitalize on our indecision and invite entrepreneurs in. Having an entrepreneurship strategy, and opening the door to skilled talent will boost economies wherever they land, according to entrepreneur turned academic, Vivek Wadhwa, who was interviewed for the article in the Irish Times.

But it’s not just immigrant entrepreneurs communities should be inviting in. It’s any and all entrepreneurs, resident or immigrant. A recent discussion on a Linked-In group asked the question, “What if communities recruited entrepreneurs the way they recruit auto parts plants? What would an ‘incentive package’ look like, one that would attract high-growth entrepreneurs?” Does your community have a strategy to attract entrepreneurs?
A great discussion ensued, including input from an entrepreneur who claims a customer base and privacy are what’s desired by entrepreneurs. While this is one person’s opinion he speaks from the experience of owning a startup and looking for a place to grow that business. While other entrepreneurs and inventors will tell you access to capital, technical assistance and low-cost barrier to entry are also keys to startup success. Does your community need an incubator to foster the entrepreneurial community? Incubator success is dependent upon the support from a board and staff that coach and mentor the tenants, as well as a solid funding model. Communities can be successful without a facility in which to grow businesses but results from the “incubator without walls” concept are more difficult to measure.

The entrepreneurship leg of the economic stool in your community is too important to disregard. Make sure your community is serving the innovators and entrepreneurs to the extent possible. Helpful online resources include:

Shoppers are becoming more and more savvy and difficult to reach through traditional media. Consumers are paying attention to the internet, social media and on a smartphone in addition to in stores and mass media like television and radio. While growth in e-commerce is not a new trend, its impact on how retailers get the right products to the right customers at the right time for the right price is becoming more substantial. Retail environments are going from bricks-and-mortar (single channel) to online (multi-channel or omni-channel). Consumers can order online and pick up at the store, visit the store and order at a kiosk, visit the store and order through mobile phone, visit the store or online and price compare and purchase at lower-priced store, and any other combination of options.

In a recent Deloitte study, survey respondents expected the percentage of sales generated by bricks-and-mortar stores to plummet in the next five years from 91% to 63%. Traditional retailers may end up staging showrooms for consumers to feel and touch the product. Online retailers have leveraged this trend to siphon customers away from category killers such as Best Buy.

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