Transition or Transformation?

January 8, 2018

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.”
-Oprah Winfrey

Welcome to 2018. Economic development has always been of the utmost importance to leaders and citizens locally and around the world. How we develop our economy is also becoming increasingly important. Are we doing so in a way that brings everyone along? Are we doing so in a way that is sustainable? Are we globally competitive or are we living in a vacuum?

There are positive signs that show that the economy is producing plentiful jobs, creating investment and entrepreneurial opportunities, and generating wealth. In some ways, the immediate economic future seems to be more certain than it was 12 months ago, yet incredibly volatile at the same time. Technology advancements continue to upend whole sectors of our economy – small and large businesses alike – and create uncertainty about the jobs of the future. Technology is also challenging communities to think differently about their infrastructure and public policies. Additionally, political and social instability around the world, including right here in our own cities, threatens to undermine the best intentions of civic leaders.

Developing and executing an economic development agenda can determine whether your community will make the transition to a new economic order on its own terms, or whether it will be subject to the transformation. An economic development agenda should include:

  • Workforce: The availability of a talented workforce coupled with changing workplace norms will remain a point of differentiation for communities and a challenge for employers. Communities that curate a culture of openness, align the needs of job creators with workforce development efforts, and lean into the future will attract and retain talent of all kinds and will secure a business advantage.
  • Global trade and investment: Foreign direct investment and trade will remain a key driver of successful state and metro economies. Regions that help existing companies enter and succeed in markets around the world will likely produce more jobs at higher wage levels, and they will innovate more than those that do not. Regions that are competitive and actively seek to attract foreign direct investment will continue to diversify their economies and their business cultures. And regions that attract and retain a globally diverse workforce will more likely succeed at meeting the workforce challenge noted above.
  • Keeping pace with infrastructure needs: This has always been difficult, and the growth of smart and connected infrastructure is quickening the pace. Technology is creating new ways for workforce, goods and services to be moved and delivered. The integration of digital technologies like 5G and the Internet of Things, and integration with “hard” infrastructure like buildings, electrical grids, natural gas lines and public utilities will transform how we build and maintain foundational elements of a good economy. Creative solutions are needed to imagine, develop, and finance globally competitive infrastructure including airports, roads and bridges. If done well, new infrastructure will create value for government and businesses and increase resident access to education, healthcare and employment. If done poorly, it will be a drain on public finances and the business competitiveness of an area.
  • Winning the high-tech game: High tech has never been more important to communities. Technology companies – both start-ups and digital behemoths – have the greatest potential to create dynamic growth and generate wealth. Regions that are nurturing the technology community and focusing on commercialization through universities and medical centers have the potential to create not only the next big exit, but the next Fortune 500 company. How technology companies and cities and states interact will be a key storyline of 2018.
  • Manufacturing as an innovation strategy: Cities and states must pursue manufacturing not only for the jobs that it creates, but for its ability to drive innovation and overall competitiveness. Manufacturing continues to change, adapt and thrive in America. Areas that produce manufacturing talent, have tax policies favorable to manufacturing, and have robust and competitively priced utility infrastructure will retain and attract manufacturing. They will also likely attract additional operations that need to be close to supply chains, and operations eager to conduct research and development with nearby universities and technical schools.

-Kenny McDonald

Recommended Reading:

One Columbus Update

  • 2017 was quite a year for the Columbus Region. Innovative, market-leading companies chose to locate and expand in the Columbus Region, talented residents were recognized for their work and ideas, and major milestones were achieved. Take a look back at last year.
  • This week, the One Columbus team will host companies evaluating the Columbus Region.