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The Coming Jobs War and Akron’s Serious Boot Camp
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Earlier this month, Jim Clifton, Gallup CEO and author of The Coming Jobs War, spoke at the University Park Alliance (UPA)’s annual conference. Clifton stressed the importance of fostering economic development and job growth at the local level, particularly through the nurturing of local entrepreneurs. In the blog entry below, Dr. Eric Anthony Johnson, Executive Director of UPA, reflects upon Clifton’s presentation and likens Clifton’s statements to the work UPA is currently undertaking in Akron, Ohio.
By Dr. Eric Anthony Johnson
On May 10th, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton spoke at the annual meeting of the nonprofit University Park Alliance (UPA) in Akron, Ohio. Here is a man who travels the world, gathering information about cities, countries and economies. Engage him in conversation, and he can quote economic statistics from a dozen different locales.
So when he spoke to nearly 600 people at our annual meeting, it was encouraging to hear him speak of many of the same elements for economic success that we are building upon in Akron.
Clifton, who has just written the book, “The Coming Jobs War,” argues that America’s future economic strength and standing as the world’s largest economy depends on whether we can nurture entrepreneurs on the local level. In his view, innovative, proactive and collaborative leadership within the nation’s cities will be essential to our prosperity and ability to create new jobs.
“Innovation has no value whatsoever until it has a customer next to it,’’ Clifton said. This is why local leaders should embrace entrepreneurs, so that innovation, particularly emanating from universities, translates into jobs and economic growth at home, not afar.
Clifton recognizes Akron as an example of a city with an “intentional” strategy to draw on existing strengths to revitalize the economic base of our core city.
In my job, as someone working in urban revitalization at the local level, Clifton’s points resonate deeply, because my task is the practical work of putting high economic ideals into practice. UPA’s vision for economic growth relies on a “coalition of the willing” consisting of local leaders, businesses and residents eager to support entrepreneurship, good housing, education, walkable neighborhoods and an overall high quality of life.
Our redevelopment plan for a 50-block area in Akron’s core centers on the idea of creating a holistic environment that inspires entrepreneurial activity. UPA’s partners include The University of Akron and three local hospitals as key institutions in a biomedical corridor. Because of this alliance, supported with economic data analysis and architectural plans, we have attracted the global real estate firm KUD International as project manager and financial guarantor for millions of dollars in redevelopment.
We were honored that KUD executives joined us at our luncheon, along with officials from the company’s Japanese parent, Kajima Corp.
The presence of international guests speaks to Akron’s vision. In decades past, our city suffered the pain of globalization with the loss of much of our manufacturing base related to rubber. Now we are looking to fully engage once again in the global economy, by drawing on polymer expertise at The University of Akron, the biomedical expertise in our hospitals and the entrepreneurial energy emerging from our collaborations.
Clifton’s comments validate our basic premise: That it’s up to local communities, and local leaders, to set a new economic course. Some cities will succeed in this and others will not. Success is about a roadmap. It’s about seed money, mentorship and incubation for start-up businesses. It’s about STEM schools, such as the one we have in University Park. It’s about scholarships for students, and grants to young entrepreneurs -- such as those we announced at our luncheon. And importantly, it’s about the coalition of the willing.
In practice, the work of getting organizations to work together is tedious and often difficult. Ultimately, team leaders are those who are willing and those who believe.
At our luncheon, KUD’s CEO, Marvin Suomi reinforced the value of the coalition of the willing and how rare a thing it is. KUD chose to invest in Akron, he said, because our civic leaders worked together to develop a clear vision, backed by solid planning. In short, they applied the same due diligence that investors expect before committing to any new business venture.
Because local leaders took initiative, Akron’s entrepreneurial plans are now financially supported by a global real estate developer.
All this is happening in a city that could be called the Rustbelt. We think of ourselves as putting on a new belt. We invite you to subscribe to the CoreMatter blog to follow our progress.
Dr. Eric Anthony Johnson is executive director of University Park Alliance, a nonprofit community development corporation funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
BY Guest Blogger on May 24th, 2012
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