Monday, February 16, 2009

Creating A Check List For The Future

Rather than selling themselves at a discount -- cheap land and cheap labor and tax giveaways – cities that are succeeding are investing in better workers, high-quality universities, quality of life and efficient public services.

So, what should we start doing right now to get ahead? We welcome your suggestions.

Investments in Universities. Universities are seedbeds for the Knowledge Economy. Cities with research universities have a head start in this economy, because they create the innovation and the intellectual capital needed today. At the exact time when universities are crucial to success, state government is slashing budgets of higher education, and we must start thinking now about what we will do to elevate and improve our universities.

Redevelopment in the Urban Core. Memphis has significant underdeveloped and vacant land. The infrastructure in these older areas has been paid for and their reuse makes the wisest investment of scarce public funds. If incentives should be given to anybody, it should be for the redevelopment of our neighborhoods, which are, after all, the backbone of our city's health.

Balanced Transportation Policy. Memphis should lobby federal and state government to revamp its allocation regulations for urban areas. Too often, federal funding has continued traditional patterns of spending on new roads in suburban areas while neglecting the importance of investing in urban redevelopment and mass transit. Local government should encourage maximum flexibility for the use of these federal funds.

Technology Clusters. Wise cities develop an area of specialization within the technology field based upon university research, biomedical assets, etc. Clusters provide a competitive edge and a critical mass that are important to economic growth. That’s why when we want to see the future, we need to look toward the Bioworks Foundation.

Local Innovation. The best answers to the future begin on our own Main Street today. Solutions from another city transplanted or replicated are less successful because they are artificial. Our best answers are our own, authentic answers produced organically from a reservoir of innovation and creativity that is embedded in Memphis.

Understanding Our Competitive Context. Memphis starts by understanding its competitive context, including market and demographic trends in the region and its strengths and weaknesses. Most of all, we need to use new measures that matter in the knowledge economy rather than on the indicators from old-style economic development. Memphis can find its distinctive niche to leap frog ahead of other cities, but it must be equally based on solid research and imaginative strategies.

Fixing the Basics. Local government needs to concentrate on fixing the basics, such as safety, public services, land use, infrastructure and schools. Governments must look for ways to streamline their structure and improve public services. A foundation of efficient, effective public services is what successful economic growth is built on.

Acting (As Well As Talking) Regionally. Memphis talks a good game of regionalism, but we’ve never truly engrained regional thinking into our plans and actions. Too often, we lapse into “we versus them” and “if you’re winning, we must be losing” attitudes. Economic activity and innovation occur in a regional context, and we ignore this at our peril. It is increasingly clear that Memphis and its suburbs are inextricably linked into a single economic unit, and Memphis shouldn't be the only city in the region saying this.

Vibrant Culture and Entertainment Centers. To compete, Memphis must be an attractive, dynamic place. Vibrant arts and culture are powerful ways of creating the appealing, enjoyable quality of life needed to attract and retain the best and brightest young workers. Too often, we treat our distinctive culture as tourist amenities, but in truth, its value can be much broader since mining this special quality of life can be a chief determinant in workforce growth.

Thinking and Acting Collaboratively. This requires a shift in leadership styles from traditional authoritarian models to a new environment of inclusion, mutual influence and community building. Opening the door wider to all segments of the community and inviting new voices to engage in decision-making is the mark of a mature and competitive city. Most of all, we must rid the halls of government with their "it's not your time yet" responses to any initiative shown by young leaders.

A 21st Century Workforce. For Memphis to win in the race for economic prosperity, it needs smart and skilled workers producing goods and services characterized by innovation, knowledge and quality. If we are content to compete in the global economy by offering cheap wages, cheap land and cheap taxes, we are fighting for the bottom rungs of the economy. What’s needed is a team of public and private sector partners dedicated to building the skills needed for quality knowledge-based jobs, providing lifelong learning opportunities, improving the competitiveness of all workers and employers, connecting workforce development to economic needs and building a stronger education pipeline to produce skilled workers in the global economy.

Competition on a Global Scale. To succeed, Memphis needs to develop cooperative networks and more sophisticated strategies for the global marketplace. Too often, international business is treated as an extension of traditional domestic economic development, and as a result, they often fail. Memphis needs a strategic plan of action tailored for the new world marketplace, and this includes helping business clusters gain access to global markets, finding opportunities for trade, investment and international partnerships and lobbying for federal policies that protect workers at high-risk for dislocation.

Developing a Powerful Brand. Cities are no different from business. They need an authentic brand that tells the world who they are and what they stand for. Memphis needs a powerful brand, and it is not a slogan or a bumper sticker. A “real” city brand tells the rest of the country what we singularly stand for.

High-Quality Eco-Assets. Preserved and protected open spaces, safe and attractive public spaces, better quality public sphere, greenbelts, clean air and water and outdoor recreation are not just wonderful public assets. More precisely, they are competitive advantages. Most of all, neighborhood parks must be treated as the heart and soul of our green assets.

A Reputation for Tolerance. Today, new workers are recruited just as often from India as Indiana. Memphis is competing as much with the country of Georgia as the state of Georgia. In order to compete, Memphis must have a well-founded reputation for tolerance and respect for various cultures, races and religions. Cities known for their low levels of tolerance also become known for their low levels of economic growth.


Anonymous said...

I would add to your statements under the heading Local Innovation that solutions failing to look at what others do in other cities is myopic. To be sure, we shouldn't blindly copycat, but how often have we seen projects that leave us wanting to ask what we know that other cities fail to see.

Would you consider, also, adding a category called Abolishing Fiefdoms? Various commissions and institutions with quasi-public purposes affect the fabric of the city greatly but often serve just a few interests. If officers in these commissions and institutions were paid at the same rate as city employees, the impression that they are mere fiefdoms would dissolve and generate public support for their purposes.


Wow, the list is too long!
It's hard to believe or even comprehend that a city in the 21st century is actually still standing at all with that many problems needing attention. No?
Unfathomable, preposterous!
I guess if the problems are so numerous, or, big that no one would believe you if you had to describe them and/or asked for help, you could be victimized for a protracted period of time without relief.
I've looked back for a while here and everything you need to make Memphis survive is already here, good stuff and problems that can be made into assets, and you can't see that it's all right under your nose.

If you can't see it you can't use it.
There is a mechanical process for de-concealing what is concealed to your mind, but, no one is interested in giving it a try.
Too bad.


In order, by the numbers:
1. • Understanding Our Competitive Context.
This is step one in my view. You need to know where you stand in the community of cities and the context of competitive attraction. Until you understand that your only competitive edge is "cheapness", not quality, you will never understand the values of the customers you've been attracting and why they find it too easy to live with the institutionalized policy of educational failure. Until that is done, nothing else is possible due to a lack of "perceived need".

2. • Fixing the Basics.
Infrastructure, SAFE Sustainable Neighborhoods for the labor force, EFFECTIVE Transportation of labor force, EFFECTIVE Training of labor force, Cross Training of labor force, these things make your labor force valuable, not, cheap labor force, but, effective labor force.

3. • A Reputation for Tolerance.
With a general population of badly educated labor force, you're basically cultivating the worst instincts of mankind, people as animals, uneducated and full of superstitions about modern life.
When your community of businesses has no reason to utilize an effective labor force, you get an institutionalized policy to create a cheap one via the education system by default.
This doe not breed tolerance which does not foster an atmosphere for collaborative responses.

4. • Thinking and Acting Collaboratively.
Of course there are some people that have not felt the effects of the "system" here that still have shot at collaboration, however, they are the minority an they will not effect the majority of people or their issues. The people MOST EFFECTED by the problems of Memphis are locked out of the process by the psychological effects of prolonged close exposure to the problems. They, just like the people who haven't had such proximity, will come up with solutions that are nothing more than knee jerk responses to our problems that will be wholly ineffective in the long term.

• Local Innovation.
There are plenty of local innovators here, but, they get ignored. Nepotism, privilege, that's what gets ideas listened to in Memphis and it's no secret. Creating a population through a system that can not be perceived by the privileged as "believable", is a way to sabotage innovators from low income backgrounds. Keeping them at arms length is a way to make sure they can't understand how you think.

• High-Quality Eco-Assets.
Memphis is full of these. Hot air, horse manure, bull manure, when generated by city hall is worthless even in the copious amounts they generate, but, the zoo could make it's own mulch pile and bio-methane fueled generator. We already make Bio diesel. Although the charts say that Memphis is not in the best wind generator area, I doubt anyone has made 1 measurement here. In midtown, there is enough wind to tear the shingles off your house during the fall, winter, and spring, enough to generate electricity to heat a home, 20 ft up, is almost constant here. Vertical axis generators have a footprint the same size as the pole they mount on and can be very attractive.

• Balanced Transportation Policy.•
Well, if we are actually so worried about earthquakes, a light-rail system is a dumb idea, sell it to someone who can use it and use the money to build up a STELLAR BUS SYSTEM. Want to "Memphisize" buses?
Put in AC and a good PA system that broadcasts Memphis Music and wifi.

• A 21st Century Workforce.
Once the first few points are addressed, then you can get to this one, but, not before. The good news about the bad news is that it can literally be completely effective the moment it is implemented.

• Technology Clusters.
These are side effects of modern technology and the modern workplace. I don't think they worked as well as planned, mainly due to the availability of high speed communications tech in the house. That is not a problem, that is an asset of Memphis.

• Acting (As Well As Talking) Regionally.
Once the city is working as it should from the ground up, all sectors of society, we can talk about regional stuff, but, I bet we don't have to talk about baiting people to come here then, i'd be willing to bet that Memphis will be desirable for all the right reasons.

• Competition on a Global Scale.
That is not even an issue. Connectors are going to handle this if we get the basics handled right.

• Vibrant Culture and Entertainment Centers.
These are side effects of a healthy society. We don't have that here yet. We still have to much of effects of institutionalized policies of the past and not enough successful culture. We do have some stellar museums, the zoo, an Imax, gardens, parks, we're close on this one, but, that can't be use as an insincere whitewash of the facts on the ground.

• Developing a Powerful Brand.
Really, we don't need to do one thing to work on that. It's right in front of your face. You generate a powerful brand every day. Right now it's the brand of apathy, hope, failure, culture, anger, reconciliation, effects and anger over the legacy of slavery and lies created around that and the work being done to move past it and the racism it has generated on both sides of it. All you have to do to create a powerful brand is look at what is, and that's how people outside Memphis see Memphis when they come here, stay for a while, and see what's in the hidden underbelly.
The good news is hat once these issues are addressed, our brand will be clear and desirable.

Now, let's get to work and stop talking about work.