Reflections on the IEDC Conference

June 8, 2011

The International Economic Development Council’s 2011 spring conference, held June 5-7, in Indianapolis, IN.

Understanding Tomorrow’s Industries Today: The Landscape of the Future.

My wife wanted to come to Indiana to visit her family, anytime in spring/summer 2011. We made it coincide so I could attend the IEDC conference, that by coincidence was taking place in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, I found that my PhD student fund for the 3 years had ran out, so I weighed if I REALLY wanted to attend to that conference, and I decided most of it was not really relevant for me, specially in the very last stage (hopefully) of my PhD. But I wanted to attend to a couple of sessions. So, after a lot of though, I decided to attend, and I openly confess my fault, I decided to crash a couple of sessions. (I’m a poor phd student ok!?). It was a little bit uncomfortable to be the only one around the conference of around 200 attendees without a name tag. I though, in case they catch me, with my Spanish accent I could always pretend I was serving water or something.

I was really happy I attended, and if you’re interested in local/regional economic development (LED), I highly encouraged to learn more about this outstanding organization. (A little advertisement to cover for my conference fee :) I would not mind to join myself.

I think there were only a couple of academics, the vast majority were practitioners of local governments, and a few were from consultancy companies.

The LED literature says that there is a big disconnect between academia and practitioners. I confirmed this when I conducted some interviews with public officials in USA and Denmark. Attending to this conference was just a big confirmation stamp of the stereotype.

University LED researchers and LED officials are two worlds apart. Almost like the astronomical bodies and the astronomers. I know it sounds ridicule, but what I’m trying to say, it’s that there is not much communication among them. Well, at least astronomers seems to admire the sky, something that LED researchers not always do.

At the conference, I performed two informal interviews to LED experts. I asked them several things, but concerning the topic I’m blogging today I asked them if they found in their sphere a disconnect from the academia. They both have certain links with the universities, but they said that they’re “in their world”, “ivory tower”, “disconnected from reality”. One explained how in her hometown “the professors in the field (usually in planning), have their network, they all come from the same prestigious university, they recruit themselves, and live by and for them. There are some younger PhD students who have more involved projects, but not the professors.”

The dislike of the people in the field for the academic research is matched if nor surpassed by the professors for the field. In Berkeley, I interviewed one prominent professor on economic geography and regional development. When I asked him about his feelings about LED, he said “Much prostitution!! Much prostitution!! (not literally) These guys will do whatever to please companies!”

Both positions are wrong and right. I belief the way forward is to combine both views. It’s true that the academic world can really suck to come up with useful things for the economic development of cities and regions. Academics much focus on concepts and discussion, but the governments cant make little use of that. In the case of more public funded universities (European), many professors have not in their agendas help cities. For the ones more based on private and quasi-public grants (US), they’re neither motivated to do the applied research on the field.

The lack of rigorous research and fluffy concepts are the the main courses in the practitioners’ menu, while professors and their phd students have endless discussions about the ingredients of the onion soup. Then we have the consultants, another amazing world, that I can not reflect upon in this post.

In one of the sessions I attended I heard this quotes from the speaker:

a) Today the world -of business creation and growth- does not depend on geography.

b) How do we train for jobs that don’t exist yet? (question posed for the organizers)
You don’t! you focus on lifelong learning, curiosity, trust, etc.

–I think it would be pretty cool to be able to write academic papers like this :) —

note: I talk about two worlds, as dichotomy, but there are actually a big scale of grays.


One Response to “Reflections on the IEDC Conference”

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