Sunday, July 10, 2016

If Only Slogans and Buzzwords Were Needed For Economic Growth

David Haynes, editorial page editor of the Journal Sentinel, opines a lengthy list of platitudes as a prescription for economic growth in the area. He holds up the Research Triangle in North Carolina as a best practices example or guiding post.
The Research Triangle area of North Carolina — with Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill at its vertices — has long turned good ideas into business enterprises. World class universities attract an enviable supply of talent. and a range of companies — from startups to Cisco, BASF and GlaxoSmithKline — keep that talent anchored. The Triangle has one of the highest levels of educational attainment in the nation.
The Milwaukee region is not the Research Triangle and shouldn't try to be. Southeastern Wisconsin has to call on its own strengths, starting with an economy forged by industry leaders such as Northwestern Mutual, Rockwell Automation, GE Healthcare and Fiserv as well as a growing research presence at its academic institutions.
Marc Levine addressed this leap of faith in The False Promise of the Entrepreneurial University:
In short, university research parks are anything but sure-fire investments in urban or regional economic prosperity. Success is relatively uncommon, as Wallsten’s impact study makes clear. “Game-changing” success – the kind that remakes a regional economy—is even more rare, the product of unique historical factors, good luck, and timing. For example, the North Carolina Research Triangle Park’s oft-cited (and oft-emulated) success, “was built around its first-mover status in the field of science parks,” generous state and federal funding, and a uniquely patient multi-decade commitment by political leadership – and even with all those difficult-to-replicate factors in its favor, it took more than 30 years to see evidence of the cluster development attributed to the park (Weddle, 2007, 7). Universities that cavalierly pursue and oversell URPs as “transformational” economic development investments risk creating white elephants and misallocating millions of dollars that could be better invested bolstering the core missions of their institutions.
Now, Haynes does say we shouldn't try to be the Research Triangle, but that we do need to foster more entrepreneurial activity, and then he uses numerous Research Triangle examples to illustrate the path we should emulate.
The region's poor entrepreneurial performance matters: Research has shown that new businesses account for nearly all net new job creation, according to the Kauffman Foundation, and they juice local economies by boosting competition and innovation. If a region isn't creating enough new companies, it will likely have sluggish growth.
A vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports people who want to take the leap from idea to business formation is one essential element of a strong ecosystem for business development. So is the support of business leadership in the community. These are deep strengths in the Research Triangle.
Research has also shown that new businesses account for most job loss.
The claim that most net new jobs came from new firms conceals the fact that existing firms added tens of millions of jobs in this 25-year period. Of course existing firms also lost tens of millions of jobs. We can say that the net job creation for existing firms was zero, but if we did not have an environment that was conducive for the job adders to grow (how many jobs did Microsoft, Apple, and Intel create after their first 5 years of existence?), then existing firms would have lost tens of millions more jobs.
And, of course, Haynes had to mention venture capital, another one of the economic-clubs pundits continually beat us with whenever they're trying to sell these unsupported ideas.

Josh Lerner, of Harvard, has found the number of exceptional venture capitalists is very small. Harold Bradley, of the Kaufmann Foundation, believes venture capitalists have plenty of money, but allocate it very inefficiently, and therefore should not be receiving additional public dollars with the hope of boosting a local economy. Bradley and Carl Schramm, in an article for Business Week, write that the current focus on fees has promoted start-up flipping rather than nurturing.

In 2013, The Legislature overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to provide $25 million in taxpayer money to start-up companies. And we all know the booming job creation the Scott Walker regime has presided over since then.

Haynes closes with, "That's thinking like an entrepreneur. And it's the kind of thinking we could use more of in Milwaukee."

Let's start with the fact that a lot of economic momentum for a city or region is impacted by state and federal policies. Scott Walker killing the train, which would have better connected businesses and citizens in the region, was definitely not thinking like an entrepreneur. That infrastructure investment would have improved efficiencies, bolstered existing businesses, encouraged start-ups and increased the attractiveness of the region as a place to work and live. It would have been an investment of more than a billion dollars into the economy. I think we would have seen quite a bit of venture capital, start-ups, entrepreneurial activity and the like with an injection of a billion dollars.

So, maybe when our leaders stop cutting off our nose to spite our face we can have a real discussion about what's best for job growth.

For Further Reading:
Another False Idol: Venture Capital
Starting Up More Trouble
Faulty Excuses
A Steaming Pile of Boldness
Venturing Aimlessly
Venturing Wisconsin's Money
Selling Entrepreneurialism
Starting-Up More Trouble 

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