Efforts that can be made at the local level to foster economic growth
Innovation and entrepreneurship are the forces that propel the U.S. economy. Today’s best and brightest minds will sustain that momentum, but they need access to resources, opportunities, and programs at a local level. They’ll never develop into tomorrow’s industry leaders without the help of their communities.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to create an environment that fosters that type of growth. It requires collaboration, coordination, and investment from the government, academia, and industry. Many moving parts have to meet and work together to produce the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.
So, how can communities change their current practices to promote and inspire the next generation of professionals? We’ll answer that question and others like it by looking at some of the challenges cities and towns have to overcome, as well as three of their solutions.
1. Allow for Flexible Zoning
The Kauffman Foundation and Mayor Sylvester James convened the very first Mayor’s Conference on Entrepreneurship in 2013, which included city leaders from around the country. They gathered to discuss small businesses, new and young companies, and entrepreneurship, reviewing research with worrying implications.
At a national and metropolitan level, rates of business creation had been slowly falling for the past two decades. Only one of more than two dozen metros in attendance claimed a higher rate of entrepreneurship in 2011 than in 1990, which was independent of the 2008 recession. Naturally, this started a conversation.
During the conference, they concluded that entrepreneurship was challenging to balance with a strong preservationist bias at a local level. In other words, the desire for preservation and consistency is often counterintuitive to change, and the “not-in-my-backyard” mentality is restrictive when it influences policy making.
Running with this insight, community leaders should take a more balanced approach with flexible land use policies. As an example, flexible zoning can allow joint residential and commercial use in a single structure, attractive to “cultural entrepreneurs” like artists and writers. Many other solutions are just as viable.
2. Support Students With Innovation Districts
It’s common to hear college students complain of “useless degrees” after they’ve graduated, unable to find positions in their industry where they can apply their education. Innovation districts account for this issue, providing opportunities for students far in advance of graduation. Three models of innovation districts exist:
- The Anchor Model: A university and proximal tech, science or business institutions join grounds in the center or along the outskirts of an urban area.
- The Re-Imagined Township Model: Corporate and educational entities lease warehouses in an urban setting to create a new innovation district.
- The Science Park Model: Universities, businesses, and labs come together on suburban office parks to combine efforts for mutual benefits.
When communities embrace an innovation district, students gain industry experience while networking with professionals from their chosen sector. They secure contacts with potential employers and learn what their career path is like before they leave college. It readies them for the realities of the workforce.
More than that, each job in an innovation district generates roughly 2.57 jobs in a corresponding industry. Since they employ more than 300,000 people across North America alone, this number translates to more than 750,000 industry positions. So, what does this mean for the communities that support these districts?
Students at innovation districts often remain local due to the opportunities in their area. They have less motivation to move to another city for employment, which has a positive effect on the growth and development of their community. It’s an investment that feeds back into itself, helping everyone involved.
3. Facilitate Walkability in Urban Areas
The relationship between urban design and entrepreneurship deserves more attention than it receives. Of all the strategies for promoting entrepreneurship, it isn’t often a popular topic of discussion, but walkability in business districts improves their value. The logic behind this fact is simple enough to understand.
In neighborhoods with concentrated restaurants and shops, passersby are more likely to stop at multiple businesses than if they were driving. Auto-oriented areas don’t allow for this type of browsing, and, naturally, it results in less attention and profit for isolated stores. Plus, these accessible neighborhoods attract young professionals in greater numbers, letting working and living happen in the same well-developed space.
Walkable neighborhoods in cities across the country demonstrate greater tax revenue per square foot than any other kind of development. Community leaders can take steps to adjust the design of their areas, though changes in the existing infrastructure might require substantial investment.
Updates include wider sidewalks, the installation of public benches and planters, as well as other elements that slow cars. These modifications might prove challenging to budget for with the scale of the project, but they encourage entrepreneurship and are beneficial for long-term growth.
How Communities Can Grow
Innovation and entrepreneurship can thrive in any community with enough investment. It was evident at the Mayor’s Conference on Entrepreneurship in 2013 that we need to rethink how we support leadership, and the issue is no less relevant today.
The business leaders of tomorrow sometimes just need the opportunity to dive into a new challenge. Whether we redesign our city centers, build research opportunities for students or create unique spaces in otherwise unchanging areas, we can carve out real estate that boosts growth.
Written by: Holly Welles, BOSS Contributor
Holly Welles is a real estate writer who covers the latest market trends in everything from residential to commercial spaces. She is the editor behind her own blog, The Estate Update, and curates more advice on Twitter.