Round 1: What is the Next Economy?
Provocation 1: Providence is the hub a regional economy that includes 3 states
Jane Jacobs, in The Economies of Cities, argues that healthy city regions are the most viable economic unit. City regions are not just about geography, or about exporting, or serving as the tourist attraction.
Rather, a city region:
• Readily replaces imports from far away with locally/regionally produced goods and services
• Engages in reciprocal trading among regional trading partners
• Holds community and community building as central
• Makes entrepreneurship the core driver of vitality
• Provide diverse services and products – a healthy mix with no single engine/cash cow
As economic entities, city regions don’t have to respect state lines. Providence is the hub of the Southern NE city region that includes southeastern MA, parts of central MA, eastern CT and even the Cape and Islands. Our regional economy will not thrive if it is seen as confined within the borders of Rhode Island.
Provocation 2: Some sectors are more important to a regional economy than others
Not every economic sector can contribute to a regional economy in the same way, nor can every sector benefit in the same way.
Local agriculture is key to a regional economy because it draws concentrated urban income out to the broader region where farmland is located. On the other hand, because so much of IT work is essentially placeless, that sector will contribute minimally to the evolution of a regional economy.
Provocation 3: “Buy Local” programs are essential for a healthy regional economy
Money spent in the local economy has a powerful effect. Of each dollar spent at Starbucks, 38 cents circulates locally. That same dollar at an independent coffee shop circulates 73 cents locally, or almost twice as much.
But consumers often equate buy local with limited choice. Also, consumers may be apprehensive about trying new products or brands whose quality is unknown to them.
Official “Buy Local” programs are essential to educate consumers about the availability and quality of local products, and to communicate the benefits to the regional economy.
Round 2: What Needs Doing?
Provocation 1: In the next economy, place matters more than transactions
21st century economies require place to be at the center. Villages and cities are natural incubators of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial companies because their density creates an atmosphere where ideas can circulate, combine, divide and, eventually, combust.
But not all cities and villages attract and hold entrepreneurs equally. More and more, overall quality of life is the factor by which potential locations are judged. Creating an attractive regional economy requires an expanded understanding of place that includes economy, ecology, culture, community people and geography. In this way culture, people and land become mutually dependent.
Put another way, the more Providence becomes a whole place, the more it will drive its transactional economy.
Provocation 2: There is no separate creative economy
There is no creative economy that exists or will exist apart from the overall economy. Creativity has been vital to our economies throughout the world since day one. The creative economy, even the knowledge economy is not the next economy.
Instead creativity will be infused across the board to bring back and enliven all 3 of our historic economic eras:
• Grow food in new ways and in new places
• Make things that are smarter and smaller
• Serve people with grace and in community
Provocation 3: We are already at the beginning of the next economy
Almost any activity could be a path to the next economy because almost everything needs innovation. The overall challenge with everything we do next is: when we innovate, how can we source it or sell it regionally? Whatever “it” is.
All of these economic needs require innovation and could have or already do have a regional component:
• Make things smaller and smarter so we use less and reduce waste
• Oil supplies are past peak: build local renewable energy facilities
• Make water – we are going to need it
• Energy retrofit existing buildings - 50% of current buildings will last 25+ years
• Make more houses for more people in tighter spaces
• Community activists, artists, and immigrants are becoming small-increment commercial developers
• Most places have too many cars; create new on-demand forms of transit: bicycles, Pedi-cabs and so on
• Place-defining experiences in neighborhoods: coffee houses, green grocers and boutique hotels….new public places for public meandering and public conversation
• Develop adult literacy education for immigrants without grants
• Alternative education and afterschool programs for at-risk youth
To reach the next economy, we do not need to create new industries, new companies, or new markets. We simply need to take the economy we have now, the needs for innovation we have now, and regionalize as much as possible.