What Makes an Entrepreneurial City?

I accepted the invitation to Kansas City last year and to the second conference held recently in Louisville because I believe we have something to share AND something to learn about growing jobs and creating opportunity for Metro Lansing residents. I have always considered economic development my top priority as mayor, after public safety. And while I am proud of the jobs that have been created and the private-sector investments that have been attracted to Lansing on my watch, there is always more to learn and more to do. I believe it is crucial to investigate, compare and benchmark against the policies, practices and results of other cities.

I was both excited and a little nervous about moderating a panel of experts in front of mayors and economic development practitioners from around the nation. As it turned out, my authentic, hands-on experience as mayor seemed as valuable to the conference participants as the expertise of corporate CEOs and ivy-league Ph.D.s. City leaders are on the front lines and must deliver results. Therefore, cities are laboratories of innovation and action on economic development and across the board. From form-based code and overlay districts to innovation zones and regionalization, cities are all about reform and results.

One thing is clear: No one has this all figured out. In this fast-changing, global economy there are no guarantees, no absolutes, and no one path to success — for a city, a company or an individual. There are theories. There are “best practices.” There is “what worked” here or there in the past. But Kauffman, in addition to gathering folks together to compare notes and share ideas, is researching the issue of what works and what doesn’t. Its work will add to a large body of research on economic development techniques from a variety of experts around the country.

While there is plenty of robust debate about tax policy, the role of education and infrastructure development, etc., certain common themes are emerging that give us some clues on where our focus must be for success in the future: Promoting innovation and the Makers’ Movement; attracting and retaining young talent; promoting higher education and apprenticeships and focusing more than ever
on Placemaking.

Metro Lansing is ahead of many communities in that we have regionalized our economic development efforts through the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, rather than competing with one another as municipal adversaries. In this global economy we are properly focused on big, regional wins for our economy and our residents. If we can build on this model of cooperation, collaboration and consolidation, there is hope that we can truly become one of the great mid-western capital cities, like Indianapolis, Madison and Columbus.

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