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 entrepreneur. These people might look like you and I, but they have a dream that burns passionately inside them. Their idea needs to be brought to market. Everything else in life comes in a distant second.
These are true entrepreneurs, not Trumpreneurs. They aren’t in it for themselves or to feed their ego. The whole scheme isn’t to make as much money as possible in order to build their own brand like a bunch of blood-sucking sharks. It’s about making something amazing, even something that changes the world.
In Washington, we’re fortunate to have an entrepreneurial culture that is ingrained into our economy. Our state’s history is filled with legendary entrepreneurs who marched to the beat of their own drummer. People like folk singer/restaurant owner Ivar Hagland and his outrageous publicity stunts to get people to eat at his Acres of Clams restaurant. Floyd Paxton, who created the plastic bread clip because he wanted to be able to reseal his bag of peanuts on an airplane. Eddie Bauer, who not only invented the down jacket and an outwear industry, but the shuttlecock still used in Badminton play. Or Greg Komen, who forever changed the way we think of cinnamon rolls with his now world-famous Cinnabons. (This paragraph is making me hungry).
The list could go on and on of our innovative dominance by our non-trumpreneurs (and they do, on the Choose Washington Innovations and Inventions page). Washington entrepreneurs trumpet not themselves or their wealth but the problems that need solving (O.K, maybe we didn’t need a bigger cinnamon roll but the company spreads warmth not only in its bakery but also in their community through the Daisy Foundation and Operation Gratitude).
Innovative people create successful companies in Washington. We are not just coffee-making, backpacking, alpaca-raising techies. We create companies like Janicki in Sedro Woolley, Schweitzer Labs in Pullman, Brucker in Kennewick, Ag Energy in Spokane, Colmac Coil in Colville, Key Technology in Walla Walla, 3DX Industries in Ferndale and many, many more scattered throughout small communities across the state.
Let’s face it, successful people like to be around successful people. As do creative geniuses. Top tier talent tends to be drawn by a can-do culture, and that culture is driven by owners, bosses, managers and line staff who have a passion for what they do and who are driven to deliver excellence and caring in everything they do.
Which brings us full circle here. As I stated so boldly at the outset, economic developers need to focus on recruiting business. That not only includes nurturing the entrepreneurs in your community, but creating an ecosystem where talent is molded and available when needed to fill key roles as a company grows.
Building this ecosystem includes working with local high schools, community colleges and trade schools to align the workforce with the marketplace. It means promoting events such as ideation activities, business plan competitions and lemonade stands that engage youth early on, teaching them the idea development and business skills they need to either start a business themselves or be successful in someone else’s business.
To attract new talent to town, economic developers need to set their communities apart. Every community, no matter how large or how small, is unique. Zeroing in on your unique assets and articulating them clearly is key to attracting and keeping talent. Seattle is a good example as shown in the recently released video We Make Seattle.
Yet, not everyone is a Seattle, Tacoma or Spokane nor should they want to be. We live in a wonderful world these days where people can literally work and live anywhere.
Stand out from the crowd. In my many travels over the years I’ve certainly seen my share of amazing communities throughout Washington State. I sometimes wish they would step out of their own world and see their community as the crowned jewel or diamond in the rough that it is. Or at least bring someone in from the outside who can show them what their assets are and what their niche could be. Mystery shopping is not just for shopping. It can also transform a community with fresh eyes and a new perspective. Suddenly I’m seeing a new business plan in my own future (cue the dreamlike harp music).
The simple truth is, the talent we recruit into our community today will be the foundation of the entrepreneurs of our community tomorrow. Entrepreneurs are the job creators and wealth builders for a community but getting them in place and funded and focused and organized is a series of challenges. To an observer, it may look like a trick of magic but it is just, by intention or not, having the right variables and, always, a bit of lucky timing and happy accidents to have everything come together in one place.
The good news is that we live in amazing times. The bad news is, in these times we’re often too busy trying to catch the big fish to spend the time necessary to nurture the fingerlings in our own community. But with time, a bit of support and the right talent, these fledgling businesses will deliver on the goods – continuing to be the driver of our local economies, creating those ever elusive jobs in the process.
Yes, I could go on and on with the fishing line and maybe throw in a red herring or two, but I thought this time I’d let you off the hook. After all, the devil made me do it.