My swan song.

It’s time!  After almost 26 years, five governors, eight directors, six department name changes and hundreds of workshops and presentations, the time has come to put away my three-legged stool theory of economic development. Yes, the rumors are true that at the end of this month, I am retiring.  I will feel like an alien from another planet, leaving the comforts of state government that has supported me for more than two decades and stepping off into the unknown that is retired life. This blog shall serve as my swan song, which causes me concern, largely because I am neither swan-like nor can I sing. I’ll gladly blame the Greeks and all their mythology for this, of course. They considered the swan a symbol of beauty and harmony. As for the idea of the swan song itself, well, it is supposed to be a final gesture, the final number in a last performance. Given its gravity, I thought long and hard about what to write in the first place. I could have done an In Memaury-am piece. But that seemed a bit self-serving. I also could have done a big thank you as my sendoff, thanking everyone who helped me throughout my economic development years. But I would not want this to sound like I just won the Academy Award for Best Performance in an Economic Development Role. My work at Commerce was rewarding but was it really award worthy? Anyway, I don’t want to embarrass Linda, Karen, Terry and Robb for making me the man I have become as a result of their guidance and partnerships over the...

WWMD (What Would MacGyver Do?)

Take a roll of duct tape, some Post-It Notes, a couple of toilet tubes and an empty soda can and what have you got? We’ll if you’re MacGyver, you have everything you need to do in the bad guys, rescue the requisite damsel in distress, save the world and whip up a soufflé for dinner. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll probably be able to cobble together a new business idea, create a bunch of jobs and help your community grow. But if you’re an economic developer, you’ll end up trying to do all these things at the same time, except perhaps rescuing that damsel in distress, which is sad because it’s the only reason I got into this profession in the first place. If you’re not familiar with MacGyver – and I can’t imagine anyone who isn’t – he’s a fictional secret agent whose mission is to set everything right in the world. Think James Bond without the big budget. No beautiful women by his side, no huge R&D team, no sleek Aston Martin to drive around in, unless he carves one out of a bar of soap while he’s locked away in a seemingly inescapable tomb of doom. In an age of dwindling budgets and ever-changing priorities, we’ve all had to become MacGyvers in our respective jobs. We are asked to do more with less, watching our budget dollars shrink while expectations rise. True, I don’t have any real data to support this, but certainly the anecdotal evidence is there, and if that’s good enough for MacGyver, who am I to argue? While I think it’s safe to...

It’s the talent, stupid!

Are you sitting down? Good. I want the world to know that I think recruiting business is the most effective economic development strategy around. What? Has Maury finally lost it? For years you’ve heard me speak and write that recruitment is the devil’s work. And now I am opening my community door to the devil. No, not yet. If you read carefully, you’ll notice I didn’t say recruiting a business. That one little word makes all the difference in the world for economic developers. The ‘a’ was left out intentionally because while it is fun to land that ever-elusive big fish that promises to bring hundreds of jobs to town, we all know it’s the small businesses, those grown right in your own backyard, that are the true job creators in our economy. Businesses are a legal structure, nothing more, nothing less. They can be a corporation, a sole proprietorship, what have you, but they are not a living, breathing person no matter what Mitt Romney says. Businesses can’t be successful without talented people, the ones who show up day in and day out to deliver on the company’s promise to its customers and help them grow through continual creativity and innovation. They are the lifeblood of any business; its heart and its soul. Just as the heart pumps blood throughout the circulatory system to keep people alive, employees pump creativity and innovation throughout the company to keep it sustainable. Without people, there would be no business. Without people, there could be no economy to grow. Let’s focus for a moment on the first employee of any new company: the...

The art of successful economic development.

Last month, I finished my blog with lyrics designed to encourage parents to teach their children to grow up to be entrepreneurs. Frankly, I was surprised by the response. Within minutes after publishing it on social media, I was inundated with hundreds of messages from readers (O.K., so I may have rounded up a bit). Some offered to buy me a one-way ticket to Nashville; others suggested I keep my day job and that my momma should have read more Dr. Seuss to me as a child. Taking the life coach suggestions out of the mix, what I found interesting was that most people who took the time to write wanted me to mention that the arts are an essential component of any economic development strategy and that it also plays an important role in entrepreneurship. Investment in the arts, which is often referred to as the creative economy, is not only about producing jobs and revenue for a community, but creating a sense of place for its residents. According to a recent study by Arts Fund, the arts sector in King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties of Washington generated $2.4 billion in business activity and supported more than 35,000 jobs in 2014. Studies have also shown that communities that support a vibrant arts and culture environment are more attractive to companies wanting to plug into a local economy. Support for the arts implies numerous other positive elements that work as a magnet for businesses and workers looking for the next great place. The arts are not just for urban centers. In fact, the arts are even more important...

Time to start a resolution!

January!! It’s the time for the thousands of years old tradition of making resolutions for the coming year. It’s the time of reflections and promises. And, for me, it’s the time to promise eating fewer chocolate chip cookies—oops, already broken—and for some, it’s a new determination to exercise or work at some self-improvement activity. But as the author Wes Moore put it, “resolutions are promises that sound hopeful in December, challenging in January and historic in February.” As economic developers and leaders in the community, let’s consider taking seriously an idea of making “community resolutions.” Communities are always making resolutions throughout the year but we have come to call them strategic plans. As we know, many strategic plans go the way of many personal resolutions. Perhaps the only difference between the two is strategic plans are more public and get to sit on a shelf accumulating dust as opposed to the personal New Year’s resolutions that sit in your mind gathering guilt. I think that it is time for economic developers to proclaim a set of community resolutions that will make a difference where each of us respectively live. And not the usual predictable resolutions that we find in strategic plans but regular achievable, simple and inexpensive activities that contribute to community improvement.  I would like to start such a list by suggesting a Top 10 of specific changes in practitioners’ to-do routines that can lead to community sustainability. Promote your community every chance you get by updating your web page with local new, highlights and successes. Recognize the importance of the local library and identify it as a...

Ideas, innovations & inventions, oh my!

My children had such great ideas. They were so good that I thought they would grow up to be famous inventors. My one son dreamed of inventing the perfect time machine, one that would whisk him briefly back to 1975 so he could buy Microsoft stock 11 years before it went public. My other son wanted to create the world’s first invisible windshield wiper, which, by the way, is a real product these days. And here I hoped they would grow up to be professional ball players. Sadly they learned that just saying something did not make it so. Through their groundbreaking work as children, I can make an important distinction here. The time machine would be an invention. The windshield wipers, in contrast, would be an innovation. Often we use these words interchangeably but since part of my job here is to educate as well as entertain you, I thought we should visit this important difference. Inventions are the creation of something entirely new. Innovation is the continued improvement of an invention. Neither have any more value than a child’s bright idea without an entrepreneur to pursue them and bring them to life.  In an episode of the Twilight Zone many years ago, an inventor locks himself in his laboratory to focus on new ideas.  After many years, he comes out to share his ideas (TV, computers, etc.) with mankind, only to learn that while he was isolated, entrepreneurs had already manufactured the same inventions and were selling them to consumers. That episode was a lot scarier when I was watching it when I was 8 years old.  But...