Tuesday, March 28, 2006

New Approaches to Economic Development

We need to cultivate practices that create open conversations leading to new levels of collaborative behavior. The last two days I participated in an economic development program at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio. The conference was put on by the Institute for Open Economic Networks (I-Open). The conference was principally held to delve into new approaches in regional innovation.

What was so exciting was the breadth of experiences, positions, backgrounds of the twenty-four who elected to participate. There were people from Cleveland; Jefferson City, Missouri; Wayne County; all over Cuyahoga County; Nashville, Tennessee; and Indianapolis, Indiana. There were people who work for the City of Cleveland, TVA, Cuyahoga County, various non-profit organizations, the Cleveland Institute of Art, Case Western Reserve University, Myers University, the Cuyahoga County Library.

There were people who are economic development directors, librarians, students, unemployed, non-profit administrators, small farm supporters, network builders, community development leaders, car restorers, technology directors, bio-fuels engineers, agricultural innovators. There were people in suits, people in jeans, and people in skirts.

We got involved in the discussion of first curve versus second curve innovation strategies, quality connected places, building connected networks, building innovation networks, growing regional economies, appreciative networks, authentic engagement, network weaving, collaborative projects.
All of these people came to the table and participated in open conversations building trust, finding common ground, and building new collaborative networks. We developed new ways to help focus our actions leading to bring innovation to our communities.

Overall, we looked at ways and committed ourselves to teach and encourage new behaviors in regional innovation and economic growth. There will be another conference in June at Baldwin-Wallace and I hope that more will be there because the depth of the experience depends upon the participation, stories, and comments of those at the table.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Needing New Behaviors

I fully agree with Guhan Venkatu who is an economic analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, that the reasons for Cleveland’s woes are not what are commonly cited. Guhan Venkatu presented an economic commentary for the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland titled “Cleveland (on the) Rocks,” February 2006; posted March 2006 which may be read here. However, the reasons put forward by Venkatu fail to take into account what I feel may be the most major factor in Cleveland’s failure to thrive. Cited, but taking a minor position, are lack of qualified workers, the quality of life, access to transportation or distribution networks, or regional regulation and tax policies. Many of those problems may also be more perceived than actual.

Cleveland has long had a problem with the behavior of its leaders in relationship to each other and to new entrepreneurs. The region needs to build an aura of trust and collaboration. The collaboration needs to be that which encourages individual identity without the fear engendered by the thought of consolidation.

Cleveland leaders need to encourage all levels of entrepreneurship from concept, startup, mid-market, and maturity. Open communication also needs to take place. We need to have strategic thinking that leads to strategic doing rather than strategic planning. Time and again over the last several decades consultants have come in issuing strategic plans over eighteen month periods, saying the same thing. The region holds feel good events with little or no focus on how and where we move forward. We finance the flash that brings stars to the eyes but which soon fades. We look for the short term gain, especially for real estate developers and the construction industry which fail to provide for sustainable economic development.

We all need to work with our schools, colleges, universities, and libraries to teach new models of behavior, treating each other in ways that build mutual respect and trust. We need to re-envision our agendas into categories that are less narrowing: envision brainpower versus education, collaborative networks versus hierarchies, wealth creation versus command and control.