Tech Based Economic Development and an Old Friend
Because economic development is so fickle, typcially occurring in maddeningly unpredictible and often illogical sudden fits and stops, everyone competing in the game scrambles to find that elusive secret password that is sure to unlock the key for their city. It actually resembles those weekend youth soccer games where masses of 6 year olds flock around the ball kicking and flailing with eyes half closed and shins aching hoping to make contact with the ball before the next kid and then through some mix of luck and divine intervention have the ball actually inch closer towards their goal. Meanwhile kids, coaches and parents shout at one another, adding to the sense of melee on the field, with the certainty of their convictions and prescriptions for how they would do it, hoping to incite that miracle moment when a stumbling child will trip at just the right angle and at just the right time to send the errant ball past the mosquito distracted goal keeper and into the back of the net.
Economic development may be all about numbers but at the end of the day it feels more like playing in those soccer games than solving a math equation. It is a field dominated by the polarities of irrational exuberance and excessive desparation that leaves most of its suitors in a state of exhausted mania. I know, I’ve been there, and I’m a very stable person.
The trouble is we want to make economic development play by our rules but it comes from a stock of wild mustangs that choose the ranges they roam on their own terms. Experts emerge like Dr. Doolittle offering their interpretations as professional horse whisperers, and I am as fascinated as the next guy by their insights, but I’m also always left with a sense of tautological errors in their conclusions, e.g., the horse likes these kinds of fields because the horse is there, which typically leave me wondering which came first the field or the horse.
Still we go about the business of economic development with a dogged determination to tame that buck so we listen to experts and chase our dreams kicking and flailing as we go. The funny thing is, as much as we try to turn science loose on economic development, studying its entymology and anthropology, I am more and more convinced that it descends from a different lineage altogether. This is a people business and people rarely do predictible things, especially when it comes to mixing money, risk and reward. Things go crazy quickly . Its the gambler’s mentality that leaves us shaking our heads but back at the tables for the next hand.
I’ve rambled on a bit but these were thoughts that bubbled up as I (in my eternal search for the holy grail of economic development) Googled my way to powerpoint presentation offered from the great state of California where the mix of technology, storytellers and dreamers hold the promise of sure fire answers to this enigma of technological development. And lo and behold, straight out of a Disney story, I discovered that the author of the presentation was an old friend from graduate school, Joe Raguso. I will admit that I haven’t stayed in touch with Joe but he was, and obviously still is, a guy of unbelievable energy and intellect. The guy always seemed to be working on another degree and as a result his credentials are amazing. But lest you think he’s just a ivory tower academic, he’s quite the opposite. Joe was always out starting things, doing things, making things happen.
So it was with great curiousity, interest and pride that I read Joe’s Technology Presentation. It’s been 15 years since I last saw Joe but he’s still as smart as ever. Not surprisingly one of Joe’s conclusions is that those cities with Universities hold a distinct advantage in our new era of innovation and technology economy. This is no news flash but it should make us all feel good about where we can go with the Kent community in the years to come.
Interestingly, as the former Deputy Commissioner for Economic Development in California, Joe injects a number of northeast Ohio references in his report. As we tend to hold California up on the technology pedestal as a model to borrow and steal from, it turns out that many smart people in California are watching what we’re doing right here, right now, for guiding where they’re going to go with their own practices to leverage the economic horsepower of their universities just like we’re doing with ours.
It can be exhausting to chase the ball around the field or trying to ride the bronco but it’s always nice to discover that we are admired for what we do by the very people we admire.