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It is time, as a nation of business leaders, to roll up our sleeves and get to work on the very real economic problems the U.S. is facing – to finally move the needle on the economy, wages for our workers and jobs for the un- and under-employed.
We need to address our issues as a nation of business leaders and stop what has been termed “economic development”, a zero sum game of regions pulling jobs from each other with expensive, unproductive tax incentives, instead of working to maximize the U.S. economy as a whole.
As a nation of business leaders, we need an approach to our problems that involves real expertise, where success can be measured, cross-fertilized and replicated from one location to another. And we need an approach that is agile, productive and cost effective. In short, we need a solution that makes sense.
A new plan, right in front of us, will roll out soon. An “enterprise development and market competitiveness project” is being launched with specific goals in mind.
“The project is designed to raise incomes and employment…. Focusing on the role of small and medium-sized enterprises … the [project] will facilitate the development of competitive enterprises … by stimulating innovation, enhancing workforce skills, accelerating new enterprise formation, improving access to finance, and addressing shortcomings in the business environment. The [project] will provide technical assistance, training, and grants to … [expand] sales in new and existing markets. The [project manager] and [the U.S. government] will mobilize additional resources from other sources to accelerate growth.”
The manager for this project has been chosen. And work will begin soon.
Armenia (in rough figures) has a population one-hundredth the size of the U.S. (3.2 million people versus approximately 311 million here). The workforce is roughly 7.1% unemployed versus our July figure of 9.1%.
As all experienced leaders know, one way to solve big problems is to break them down into smaller ones. Another way to solve problems is to copy concepts that work in one arena and apply them, with some adjustments, to other situations.
If we can define a project like this for Armenia with a population one hundredth the size of ours, why not define 100 regional projects of this type for the U.S.?
Of course, to move on such an undertaking requires agility, expertise, funding and a minimum of bureaucracy. The projected cost for those running the project in Armenia is $17 million. The U.S. would need 100 Armenia-type projects; $17 million times 100 is $1.7 billion.
As a benchmark, similar projects have been done in the U.S. for $10 – $15 million in the past. One such example is the Oklahoma City miracle which noted economic development expert Ed Morrison, now Economic Policy Advisor at the Purdue Center for Regional Development, spearheaded with the involvement of business leadership — in particular, Charles Van Rysselberge, who headed the Oklahoma City Chamber at that time.
Where could we get $1.7 billion?
Just as Van Rysselberge did in Oklahoma City, the initial cash could come from business leaders. If CEOs of the Fortune 500 each pledged $1 million per year over the next five years, that would amount to $2.5 billion , more than enough to take on the task. Then, any infrastructure spending could come, just as it did by the efforts of Van Rysselberge in Oklahoma City, from passing local sales taxes to fund those programs. (If you think sales taxes can’t be raised for the right efforts, think again. Van Rysselberge, who moved to Charleston to head up the Chamber there, says that Charleston just this last November passed a one cent sales tax to build new schools and create jobs there.)
Before Oklahoma City, Van Rysselberge had used Morrison to help turn around Shreveport, La, when he was CEO of the Chamber there, and the plan Morrison built was “recognized as the most creative economic development plan in the U.S., for which Morrison won a national award” says Van Rysselberge.
Following his experience at Oklahoma City, Morrison, a Yale graduate and former strategy consultant for Telesis, a spinoff from the Boston Consulting Group, sat down to figure out what had made Oklahoma City and his other successes possible.
He recognized that there was a methodology and, if he could teach it to others, his work could be replicated. (His approach is called “Strategic Doing”.) Strategic Doing is a “lean and agile approach to strategy development”, Morrison says. The process is “open source” and Morrison has established a certification program in “strategic doing” at Purdue University. The idea is to have a way to guide complex adaptive systems, like open networks of people, to take action along the lines of the rules that guide software development in open source environments.
Morrison recognizes that what makes real progress possible in the knowledge economy is not hierarchies nor specific institutions. What makes it possible are networks of passionate individuals supported by passionate leaders. “In a knowledge based economy, networks are the curators of wealth, not hierarchal systems,” he says. “We need collaborative investments, horizontal networks. Entrepreneurs get it,” he says. “Strategic doing” helps these collaborations of individuals “quickly move to co-create value and measurable outcomes” he says.
Strategic doing has now been adopted by an entire network of universities interested in economic development. The initial brainchild for meetings between the universities came from Tim Franklin, director of the Office of Public Partnerships and Engagement at Pennsylvania State University and his wife Nancy, director of Outreach sustainability initiatives and assistant director of Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment (PSIEE). They set out to create a national model and make it replicable. Tim Franklin, who is passionate about regional economic development and whose own work in Virginia has won recognition, worked with Morrison to “not just focus on policy” but build a network of universities focused on economic development called TRE Networks, “a system with capacities”, Franklin says. “Now the network provides a neutral space where collaboration can occur and a set of resources for anyone wishing to tap into it”, Morrison says. “The Presidents of the Universities participating have been key. They are the passionate leaders supporting these efforts.”
Several weeks ago a solar summit was held in the football stadium at Arizona State University using the strategic doing approach under the leadership of Todd Hardy, Arizona State’s Associate VP of Economic Affairs in the Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “Using the approach, facilitated by Morrison, a group of 120 people met and 40 have signed on to help move forward an agenda to develop Arizona’s leadership and expand its business opportunities in solar energy development”, Hardy says. Hardy was impressed that so much could be accomplished in such a short time. It provided Morrison “a reaffirmation of his approach” Hardy says. “We made a great deal of progress in just a day and a half”.
While the capability exists, funding remains an issue. And that’s where business leaders need to step up, as they did in Oklahoma City.
In 1927, the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce set out a plan for renavigation of the Red River. They held firm to that goal. 68 years later, persistence paid off and it was accomplished, Van Ryssellberge says.
Holding fast and being nimble. As a nation of business leaders, we need both to confidently meet our future and contribute to our future prosperity. Some university leaders have stepped forward. Where will the next crop of Van Rysselberges, from the business community, come from to support these important efforts?
Another version of this article is published here. http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2011/08/23/what-would-real-economic-stimulus-look-like/
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