Communities that want to compete in the Next Economy need to get a plan—not a fixed blueprint but a roadmap with clear priorities. Support innovation with vibrant, mixed-use focal places and critical infrastructure. Strengthen demand for local goods and services, and support your local workforce.
About 5,000 planners gathered in Chicago last week for the APA’s annual National Planning Conference. Outgoing APA President Mitchel Silver and Rep. Earl Blumenauer welcomed the assembled masses at 8am Sunday, like a church of Urbanism in the birthplace of the “Big Plan”. Prof. Xavier deSouza Briggs of the Department of Urban Studies at MIT kicked off the crowd, though, with some reassurance and some challenge in his keynote titled “Inventing the Next American Economy: Why Planning Matters and Where the Pitfalls Lie”.
I get wary of anybody touting the “Next Economy”, since I cut my teeth in grad school 20 years ago touting the “New Economy”… but we still don’t really get it. Briggs highlighted the challenge of Global Competition, highlighting education, research & development, immigration reform, and fair trade/intellectual property. Again, not much new there… even when he tied it back to Commodities vs Innovation. This ought to be basic Econ 101, but I’m constantly amazed by how many professionals fail to distinguish doing “more” from doing “better”.
We have to do both. We have to increase economic activity. We have to improve economic activity. One strategy or the other, putting all our eggs in one basket, is a dead-end road.
Covering some heady studies from OECD and Brookings and others, Briggs highlighted communities like Boise, Provo, and Seattle, that were doing well across the board with positive indicators like Patent Growth, % of population with a BA, and average annual job growth.
Then back to more Econ 101, with basic vs non-basic sectors (“Traded sector” vs “local service”). Why Rochester, NY, and Kodak crashed and burned compared to San Diego’s sunny sector strategy. Briggs suggests we focus on Traded sector strategies: Cultivate, Leverage, Expand Access (local supply chains), and work on upgrading local services. I felt like I was back in grad school at CU, but otherwise smart people still haven’t got the message. Hence, the good professor’s “Costly Myths About Building Local Prosperity-Economic Growth and Jobs”:
- Our City/Town/Region can compete if we lower the cost of doing business (the old logic of attraction).
- If we invest in education and support “entrepreneurship,” the next economy will materialize (genius-of-the-market logic).
- To get jobs and growth, we need a strategy that’s all about attracting and retaining tech companies (sector logic).
Briggs’ responses are in the prezi linked above, in Part 2, fairly evident and not at all overly academic. Go take a look. I don’t agree with all of it, but overall it’s mostly news because it’s still news. It’ll give you something to think about.
By the way, it was so nice to see the presentation on Prezi. #DeathByPowerpoint