PhD Pre-Defence

July 4, 2011

There are different types of Pre-Defences. In Aalborg is a voluntary event that some people do after delivering the thesis as a rehearsal of the presentation, others do it 1 or 2 months before delivering the thesis. I have done the latter. It was very good and 15 people from different fields participated. I asked them to read different sections of my first draft. I was very pleased.

The presentation here, it was done with the purpose to spur comment.

One of the interesting things is that many criticized the subtitle that I had. I was not sure about it, and at the end I asked for a vote to drop it or not (even though it is not a democratic process). No one voted in favor to have it. So I dropped it from this version.

Now I have a little more than a month to finish it.

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This is a continuation of my last post: Reflections on the IEDC Conference

I attended the roundtable “How effective are today’s incentives in tomorrow worlds?”. There were 9 roundtables simultaneously and this was the largest. It had around 25 people, all from local governments (no State). It was remarkably directed by a gray haired facilitator. I loved the way he facilitated the conversation and asked interesting questions. Now I will transcribe my notes:

Facilitator: Who has free land for potential new comers? 6 out of 28 people.
Who would like to have it? 5 raise their hand.

Who has cash incentives? The majority. In the last 10 years, they have given 500,000$, 2million and one guy said 10 million.

Facilitator: They looked at how much money they have given in the last years, and how much they have collected. They have only gave 600,000$, but that they have got 16 million dollars in tax revenues. “A pretty good return of investment”. (later he changed to over 10 million dollars, so I’m not sure about the figure).

Most of the incentives (which can be tax abatement or other types of support – it is not always cash), is usually done over 3 years. Some said in 7 years or 10.

Usually money is for potential incomers, but sometimes they would give money if a company is planning to leave, and or they have an offer on the table from another place.

They all offer workforce training programs.

They all have guidelines, that is no strict policies (check list)

Tax benefits were usually based on investment, but in today’s economy the main thing is jobs.

They know big companies receive training to get governments money. They know the lingo, etc.

But they know that companies will hardly leave only because of the money. They also know that sometimes they just want attention, not money. “If they call you to complain about traffic, for example, it was advised not to excuse yourself by saying that this is not your department! You have to be the facilitator and help the firms!” (I loved that answer).

One Mayor of a small city in Milwaukee: “I was impressed yesterday, about what the keynote speaker said, that people first choose a city, then a job. I never though in that way!” (Richard Florida influences :)

Lady: How can we promote quality of place?

Facilitator: that’s very interesting, but it’s another subject, let’s stay focused.
Lady, a little in doubt: But, quality of place is also an incentive to bring companies! We have a great living standard, but we don’t know how to market it.
People agreed, this was also important, and the facilitator let them talk a little about it. (they use images with sailboats and kids with tricycles in their pamphlets).

Young fellow: We’re trying to focus on certain industries.
Facilitator: Yeah, we all are trying to do that.
Young fellow: We in Anytown, Colorado, we’re trying green energy, etc.
Facilitator: Yeah, we all try to target industries, the cluster idea, but boy if there is a bakery that will hire 25 people, we all run like…

Facilitator: In a very hypothetical case, that the federal government will ban cash incentives. Would you agree? Yes = 8. No=3. Undecided= A few.

Facilitator: It would be good, because at the end of the road, we’re fighting against each other (Some nodded) But why would it be bad? Let me ask among the ones who said -no-.

Man who raised his hand fastest when answering no: We will lose firms… In this globalized and competitive world, they will leave us.
Facilitator: So you’re saying that other countries will out-compete us with financial incentives.
Man: Yes.
Facilitator: Could not they do it now?
Man: Errr… yes. But… it would be worse…

Facilitator: Many here have not participated. Any of you have any comment?

I raise my hand.
“I’m a phd student, researching on LED, so I’m really happy to be here, because you’re the guys running the real show. My perspective from the academic research is somewhat different. Most research is very skeptical of incentives. Mainly for two reasons, first because as you said, you’re fighting against each other, and second, it’s really difficult to measure the impact of them. I mean sometimes it can be done (pointing with my hand to the facilitator’s example) but it can be very biased”.

(small silence)

3 old guys, including the facilitators, were hard on me.

Experienced man: “You got your research wrong!! In terms of recruiting, we have got many jobs because of the incentives we have given…. ”

Me: “Just to clarify, I’m talking about cash incentives”.

Experienced man: “Cash incentives, we rarely do it, but they are important…”

Facilitator (looking at me): “I tell you, we gave so little money, and we have got so much! It really works!!

Another guy also was hard on me, I could see his lips moving, but at that point I could not really hear much more nor take notes.

It would have been completely futile for me to quote authors and years, to prove a point, like in an academic conference. These people, they knew, they have been there, they have seen it with their eyes…

Two worlds. I hope you get my point, regardless of what field you come from.

One of the most interesting questions was when the facilitator asked who will increase/the same/decrease their cash incentives the short term future.
Decrease = 8 (our current economic situation won’t let us do it)
Increase = 8 (we have to do it, we have no option)
The same = 4

What a great topic for research, uh!! It would be great to see in 5 years, how these cities have performed in several aspects. It would be such an interesting and publishable paper :) I thought about asking for their business cards, but first I ran out of biz cards (I forgot to bring extras!), and after my controversial question, I don’t know how happy they would be to give me info. I’m sure, like always, some researchers have already done that. I have to find these papers… For my post-doc :)

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.

This is a couple of paragraphs which won’t fit in the paper I’m finishing but I think is cool to put it online, and won’t fit in twitter :)


In the last decades, consultants have been taken a more relevant place. In the 1959, there were consultants who designed the mammoth downtown renewal project. Outsourcing to “professionals” is something widely used in the nation, but Vallejo massively uses them. As the ViceMayor said after loosing a close vote against the renovation of the firefighters contracts, “I’m going to say something many here won’t like: The elephant in the room is that the City is run by consultants” (Gomes, 2010)

(…)

In acquiring external knowledge many cities, especially in the US, rely on consultants. The city management of Vallejo, as many others, openly confirmed that they prefer to hire contractors instead of offering city jobs because it is cheaper for the municipality budget. While it is important for cities to obtain knowledge from outside, the case study of Vallejo has shown, that they should be careful not to trust any sole architect, economist, lawyer, arbitrator, planner or academic. Local officials should also contrast information from different groups, which does not necessarily have to be highly paid, or even paid as they can be volunteers concerned about their city or city region.

After leaving the US by the end of July, I spent two weeks in Madrid, Spain for holidays. I always love to go back home and visit family and friends.

Regarding the studies of my PhD, that is, learning how cities can develop their economies or not, I found always interesting that when I go back to home my ideas hardly come. That is, when I have visited North and South America, Japan or different European cities, automatically ideas about economic development pop-up, however when I am at home the ideas kind of freeze. It is not that they completely evaporate, but I can tell they simply come much more slowly. In one way it is because I know more about Madrid and its surroundings, but in another way I believe in the saying “ignorance is a bliss”. Then I wonder if it is easier to innovate when you’re out of your comfort zone. I hope you know what I mean.

I have been back in Denmark for two weeks, I had a lot of paper work waiting for me, 4 papers, and projects too. Everyone asks me about my experience in UC Berkeley, and I have to make two minor presentations with the phd students and the Geography group. Being in Berkeley was a great experience, but it’s also nice be back at home (now Denmark).

Most of the academic things are going ok, yesterday I submitted a working paper for a workshop and this next week. This paper involves some healthy academic risks. Soon I will also resend another paper, that a top journal rejected on the basis on the opinion of one of the referees.

Almost every day I spend some minutes on Twitter. It is an interesting tool. I have now 129 followers. I don’t know if they really like it. For me I only use Twitter to take notes of things that can be somewhat related to my studies, and sometimes as my life as phd candidate.

I really enjoy having Birgitte Gregersen as my main supervisor, which is currently the Head of the Department. For other projects related to the university some have not been doing that good, for example, I wanted to get some funding for a project collaborating with some colleagues from University of Barcelona, but it seems it won’t be possible now. I do not know too much of major fund applications, and being abroad, has limited me to work with my co-workers at Aalborg, as we say Geography matters.

On a note on my personal life, our daughter turned 1, and she’s a great walker. This Saturday we’re moving to downtown. This will require more biking from me, which is not that bad, and will also help my wife having things closer, also from her work. We’re excited to live downtown, although we’re going to miss good neighbors. Again geography matters :)

Every time I get into a second hand book I always find something ‘super interesting’. My wife picks on me about it. Earlier this semester I found the book of The Prince [Translated by Daniel Donno. Bantam Classic. 2003], for 1 dollar. I already read some parts but now I want to read the whole thing. I liked most of it, and it is true, that he is not that “Machiavellian”, as the people say. Come on! he was born in 1469! Governments were all about realism.

Because he was leaving in near poverty, he was trying to find a position back in the government. He had to convince the guys in power that, he was a good and useful guy, and even if they tortured him before!

I transcribed the last paragraph of the Chapter 21, ‘What a Prince Must Do to Be Esteemed’. Here it is Machiavelli discussing entrepreneurship policy, local economic development, “cultural economy”, and the importance of having a charismatic/catalystic local government.

For the ones unfamiliar with the term, a prince, was what he was referring to the man in power of the Italian city-states. And the Lorenzo de Medici, which he (or one of his friends) later hired Niccolo.

A prince should also demonstrate that he loves talent by supporting men of ability and by honoring those who excel in each craft. Moreover, he ought to encourage his citizens peaceably to pursue their affairs, whether in trade, in agriculture, or in any other human activity, so that no one will hesitate to improve his possessions for fear that they will be taken from him, an no one will hesitate to open a new avenue of trade for fear of taxes. Instead, the prince ought to be ready to reward those who do these things and those who seek out ways of enriching their city or state. In addition to all this, at the appropriate time of year, he ought to keep the people occupied with festivals and spectacles; and since every city is divided into guilds or other corporate bodies, he ought to take these into account and assemble with them on occasions, thus giving proof of his affability and munificence, yet never failing to beat the dignity of his position in mind, for this must never be lacking.

Niccolò Machiavelli, 1513

In his grave it says: TANTO NOMINI NULLUM PAR ELOGIUM (No eulogy would be adequate to praise so great a name)

Books recently read

July 20, 2010

Books I’m about to return to the library (actually 4 different ones) on the Berkeley campus:

  • Goodman, Robert, (1979) The last entrepreneurs : America’s regional wars for jobs and dollars [In the book he refers to the local and state government workers, and how they act as bad entrepreneurs. I quoted him here once talking about energy]
  • Richard D. Bingham, Robert Mier (1993) Theories of Local Economic Development: Perspectives from Across the Disciplines. [I started reading their books in 2006, and I love their different perspectives. When I grow up I want to be like them]
  • B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore (1999) The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage [If you want to know more about this, see my slides about it]
  • Daniel Hjorth and Monika Kostera (2007) Entrepreneurship and the Experience Economy [Their point of view on “The Rise of the Experience Economy”]
  • Norman Walzer (2009) Entrepreneurship and Local Economic Development. [Very good book, with out of the box ideas. Recommended reading for LED specialists]
  • Henri L. F. De Groot, Peter Nijkamp, Roger R. Strough, and Roger Stough (2004) Entrepreneurship and Regional Economic Development: A Spatial Perspective [It includes 25 contributors, including my affiliated supervisor Phil Cooke. It has a focus on quant research]
  • Jane Jacobs (1983) Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics. [She should have got the Nobel Prize in Economics, even if she was not an economist. Here I comment on one of her books.]
  • Jeffrey Scott Luke, Curtis Ventriss, Betty Jane Reed, and Christine Reed (1988) Managing Economic Development: A Guide to State and Local Leadership Strategies (Jossey Bass Public Administration Series) [This book is made by these four authors. I recently commented on this book]

  • Richard Walker (2007) The Country in the City: The Greening of the San Francisco Bay Area [This is from my advisor here at the Dept. of Geography in Berkeley. He recommended to me, in order to learn more about the efforts that the Bay Area have had on trying to promote a more cohesive regional government. Too bad they failed. See more on chapter 6. The book explains why San Francisco has so many parks (relatively) and nature around. I theorize this makes it different and attracts people. Excuse, DW, to mention Richard Florida, but he would say that these outdoor amenities attract the creative class. And I think it’s right in this one. It’s a good reminder for cities to keep green places.]

Ok, I admit it, I have not read the whole books. But I tried to find the useful things for my project and papers I’m working on now.