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 :)

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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.