Workshop at Bioneers: Growing our Next Economy, Locally and Regionally
Robert J. Leaver, New Commons, 10/22/10
Our next economy will converge and unfold…the practice of economic sectors is dying…External conditions are converging…
The next 20 years will be nothing like the last 20 years, so let go of our old assumptions. We need fresh designs. The way out will not be through problem solving, that is a solution readily seen and applied. The way forward requires us to embrace, even stand in our predicaments knowing fresh outcomes are required, but they will not come quickly or easy. Chris Martenson in his data-driven “Crash Course”, challenges us to accelerate our understanding of how 3 external conditions are converging: economy, environment and energy. We can no longer examine each condition in isolation – we must examine them together. And we will need many experiments to find our way forward.
The way forward will be predicated on not assuming a growth trajectory…instead there will be: less energy use, less use of natural resources and less economic growth, even ongoing decline or as Chris says, plan on “reliable economic shrinkage.” All 3 shifts are foreign to our psyche because they “take away/are not additive growth.” Thus, we have to learn how to handle the creative tension between growth – an unsustainable construct – and conservation, especially less use of everything?
The next economy…will integrate our 4 historical economic elements, but blend and morph them in new ways:
- Grow food
- Make things
- Serve people
- Create experiences
Caveat: there is not now, nor ever been or will there ever be, a separate…creative economy, knowledge economy or sustainable/green economy. The only economy there has ever been or ever will be has something to do with one or more of the four elements: food, things, service, or experience. That said going forward our four economic building blocks must be significantly infused with a mix of creativity…aesthetics…knowledge…technology…and sustainability/green….the i-Pod is an example
Character and place are now central…The next economy will be about the symbiotic relationship among the character of people…the character/culture of the place…the ecology and the built environment like buildings, sewers and so on. It is a whole system in action.
In this economy, place matters more than transactions. That said a vibrant place will accelerate transactions.
The future economy will be less about building new industrial parks and corporate office parks…It will be more about cultivating places such as cities and villages as the centers because they are “more naturally sustainable.”
Further, their density creates an entrepreneurial atmosphere where ideas and talent can circulate, combine, divide and, eventually, combust into the next economy.
Think Locally and Regionally…
The local multiplier…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 twice as much. 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.
New England as a “funky” region…This funky region begins on Cape Cod with Martha’s Vineyard and Provincetown, roams through New Bedford and Fall River, travels throughout RI, then up to Worcester, over to Eastern CT…and finally up through the Pioneer Valley. This place is funky because it is full of people who are characters and places with lots of character…and any portion of it is a 2-hour drive from Providence. The next economy for Southern New England will be local and regional…we will actually trade goods and services across municipal and state lines…yes our economy will cross formal boundaries
Our regional economy will most likely evolve in waves:
First wave is most likely:
- Broadband access…well in place with more to come
- Food production and transportation
- Art and cultural experiences
The second wave is most likely:
- Tourism…seeds of this are already present
- Renewable energy production
Third wave is most likely:
- Developing complex regional infrastructure like transit
- Trading of goods
- Learning…our separate state public college systems are not sustainable…UMass Dartmouth is closer to Providence than Kingston
One major part of our future economy will be worker cooperatives.
Use Economic Gardening…
There are 3 strategies for growing an economy: one outside in by attracting businesses from elsewhere… and the second, inside out strategies: grow what you got…start new companies. One of the inside out strategies is “economic gardening”, a new approach to economic development – pioneered in Littleton, Colorado, in the 90’s and now practiced in dozens of communities – focuses exclusively on growing local, high growth companies. High growth potential companies are defined by having at least $1 million annual revenue. In 10 years, Littleton tripled its employment and increased the tax base 2.5 fold…and did do so without one $ in tax incentive such as subsidies or tax breaks – both common government practices for luring companies to leave one state and come to another.
Economic gardening is an inside out economic development strategy which can compliment business attraction – the “outside-in” strategy.
As an inside out strategy, in Southern New England, economic gardening could have two applications:
- Accelerating existing high growth companies
- Starting new entrepreneurial companies
For high growth companies, economic gardening mobilizes…without using any financial incentives…
- Access to the market intelligence big companies get
- Access to best practices for building 21st century companies
- Connect growth companies together to learn from each other…fosters a culture of entrepreneurship to help these companies grow more rapidly to scale
Cultivate the Next Generation…Create “Jobs” in diverse forms
The next economy for Southern New England, as research shows, will be less about jobs provided by a company and more about:
- Creating work and wealth via self employment
- Creating temporary companies composed of self employed people operating in temporary, project-based “companies” and virtual networks
And the next economy will be mostly about small business than big corporations. It will be driven by entrepreneurs – commercial, social and civic – working at various scales and in diverse disciplines.