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BBA Economic Digest

Back to the 'Burbs

Just like generations before them, as millennials settle down, have kids and look for cheaper houses and good schools, they're migrating out to the suburbs.

Suburban growth had slowed in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Millennials just graduating from college headed to big cities, where the jobs were. Now, they're in a different stage of life, priced out of many cities and, thanks to the good economy, have more location flexibility.

Suburbs with good jobs, relatively easy access to nearby city centers and moderate weather are growing twice as fast as the closest cities, per census data.

"Millennials are people too. There was this idea that theirs was going to be a fundamentally different way of living that was going to last forever. Turns out it's impossible to live in New York City with three kids," said Hilary Spann, Managing Director of Real Estate Investments for CPPIB in New York to Axios.

It's not just young couples and families spurring the suburbs to evolve. Baby boomers and empty nesters are staying in the suburbs and also pushing for more recreation, retail and restaurants.

Grow Your Own

There is no magic button to economic development, no single solution. One thing that often gets neglected, however, is entrepreneurship.

I had a conversation about this recently with an economic developer in Mississippi who wants to jump start entrepreneurship in his community. Up until now, it's really not been much of a consideration.

Consider this: The 55- to 64-year-old age group accounted for 26 percent of new entrepreneurs in 2017, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Research by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor shows the same age group has the highest rate of business startup activity globally over the past decade.

Minority women are starting firms at a pace more than double that of woman business owners overall, and five times the pace of all company owners, according to a recent report by American Express.

If rural communities believe they are being “left behind,” I believe entrepreneurship can do a lot to fill the void.

A SWOT analysis can point out problems and inadequacies in a community that hamper entrepreneurial development, while pointing to assets and resources that can be leveraged in starting a new business.

We do that. Check out our Community Review/Asset Mapping.

A Horse with No Name

Why would an economic development website list the names of board members and sponsors but not the name of the economic developer who runs the day-to-day operations? What possible reason is there for that?

Incredibly, I found that to be the case with two ED county websites that I happened up recently – one in Illinois and the other in Nebraska.

In addition to no staff being listed and a contact box as the only option for communication, the Illinois website had no information on demographics or workforce.

It just so happened that I knew who the economic developer was for the Nebraska County, so I wrote to her to ask why she wasn’t on the website. Thankfully, she replied back immediately and the fix was made.

Bottom line: When entire pages are dedicated to the board members, but nothing on staff, I wonder about priorities. Are we even thinking about the end users, people who might be interested in the community for purpose of investment?

As the “ED Whisperer,” the alternative to the “Horse Whisperer,” I have no one to whisper to with the Illinois county. I won’t be filling out the contact box to ask why no contact information is provided for the person in charge.

At least the Horse Whisperer had a name and a face.

The Message You Send

Economic development organizations, more so than any other group, have the ability to show that their communities are forward-thinking, inclusive places, worthy of corporate investment. (That's kinda the point of economic development.)

But too often they show an exclusive old boys club representing big donors only. I'm looking at the 2019 Executive Committee for an economic development organization representing the largest metro area in a Southeastern state.

There are photographs of 53 business people, of which only four are women. No millennials are represented, nor is there a single minority woman included, (And this in a city where more than 70 percent of the population is black, 30 percent for the entire metro area.)

It is clear that these people represent the large donors of the region, most based in the city. They should be recognized -- give credit where credit is due -- for their giving. I have no problem with board/donor recognition.

But I also believe a governing body for an ED group should reflect the community at large. If your board/executive committee is comprised solely of large donors, you're not giving an representative voice and face to your community.

And whether you like that or not, that sends a certain message to the outside world.

Bottom line: Diversity is not simply a corporate trend. It is a reality that smart companies seek. Having diversity on staff and board makes imminent sense for ED groups as well.

An Age-Old Strategy That Works

People are weary. They're tired and suspicious of most advertising, because we're being bombarded with it constantly. It's now just noise.

That a place is "Open for Business" means nothing to me. Same with "Live, Work and Play." So how can economic developers differentiate their communities? Forge relationships. Find passionate people. Stop the BS. Let me explain.

It's one thing for an economic developer to tell me about how good their workforce training is. It's quite another when a plant manager says, "We tried it, we really liked really it, and we're going to keep using it, because it works."

Testimonials, an age-old advertising strategy, should be the heart of influencer marketing for all communities, big and small. My advice: Find the passionate, true believers who will tell about their experiences in your place.

You find them through a robust business retention and expansion program. When an ED group meets periodically with a business person to see if he or she has any problems or concerns, you're building trust and forging relationships.

Communities can discover their best ambassadors through BR&E. They're there for the finding, and I'll listen to them.

Missing in Action

By visiting economic development websites this past week, I discovered something rather noteworthy -- three men, all in senior leadership roles, who apparently don't take their jobs all that seriously.

One is the president of an ED group in one of the fastest growing counties in a Southeastern state, located in a major metro area.

The other is the interim president and CEO of a seven-county regional economic development group representing the largest metro area in a his state, also in the Southeast.

The third is the vice president of business and economic development for a 10-county regional economic development organization that is centered around a major city in the Northeast.

What these men have in common no longer shocks me, because I’ve seen it before, but it is telling -- None of them are on LinkedIn.

Consider for a moment that LinkedIn is the world's largest professional network with more than 645 million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.

Economic development is much about business outreach and making connections, forming relationships, and making things happen.

If an economic developer is not on LinkedIn, I have to wonder why. What is the excuse for being missing in action? Offhand, I can’t think of one.

Business Climate Matters But ...

Yes, business climate matters. But when asked to participate in surveys that ranks the business climate of the states, more often than not, I will pass.

It's not that I don't have confidence in my judgement. Rather, I don't have all the information for my "impressions" to really mean anything. And I wonder who really does.

(I could always cheat and fill out a survey while looking at CNBC's 2019 ranking America's Top States for Business, which I kinda like.)

It's probably safe to say that Texas is perceived to have a better business climate than California, and South Carolina's business climate is viewed superior to that of New Jersey. That said, higher cost California or New Jersey just might be the best places for certain companies to operate based on their specific needs. Many companies are doing just fine there.

Many variables come with business climate. One state might be higher in one category, lower in another. Even within a state, the differences can be huge. Is the business climate in Missouri better than Kansas? Does Arkansas have a better business climate than Mississippi? Michigan versus Indiana, which is better?

Answer: It all depends on the specific needs of a company. A higher cost place to do business is not necessarily the worst choice for operations.

Business climate is not unsimilar to quality of life in that how you judge it is pretty subjective. The eye of the beholder rules.

What We're Reading

Millions of dollars are missing. The sheriff is dead. A small Virginia town wants answers. Washington Post

Why Are America’s Three Biggest Metros Shrinking? CityLab

How state and local governments win at attracting companies McKinsey

5 questions about labor strikes that you were too embarrassed to ask Vox

How Do You Fix ... All of It? The New York Times

How 5G will revinvent "working from home" Quartz


Robert Hunter, who wrote many of the most vivid and memorable lyrics for the Grateful Dead and helped define the band as a counterculture icon, has died. He was 78.

Jerry Garcia, who died in 1995 and with whom Mr. Hunter usually collaborated on songs, called him "the band member that doesn't come out onstage with us."

Upon learning of Mr. Hunter’s death, Phil Lesh, the band’s bass player said, "As much as anyone, he defined in his words what it meant to be the Grateful Dead."

Mr. Hunter’s songs included “Casey Jones,” “Uncle John’s Band,” "Dark Star," “Friend of the Devil,” and the autobiographical "Truckin'," which included the signature line, "What a long, strange trip it's been."

Mr. Hunter credited some of his songwriting abilities to the C.I.A.-sponsored experiments with LSD at Stanford University in 1962 in which he was a volunteer.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 2015, Mr. Hunter said a line from the song “Ripple” stood out as his favorite.

“Let it be known there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men.”

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