Want Your City to Be An Economic Catalyst? Be CIVIC-Minded

December 10, 2012

[Editor's Note: Stephen Jordan participated in a panelist discussion at the CityAge conference on Dec. 3-4, 2012, in Kansas City. This post is excerpts of his prepared remarks. Read full prepared remarks here.]

What makes a city an economic catalyst?  Cities as varied as New York, Austin, and Kansas City have figured out strategies for catalyzing economic activity.  You can’t go wrong if you pay attention to five core concepts and be C-I-V-I-C minded.

The first C stands for Culture. San Francisco and Austin have very distinct cultures. So does Nashville, and it has been very successful in creating a booming portfolio of economic catalysts from CMT and Bridgestone to Humana. Different kinds of cultures attract different kinds of demographics and industry profiles. Culture gives people emotional cues about where they might fit in and enjoy life with people who share their values.

The first I stands for Infrastructure Systems. Austin, Charlotte, and Atlanta will tell you that their airports helped them attract business. New York and Racine both brag about the purity of their water. Oklahoma City and Purcellville, VA, will sell you on their sustainable systems. Businesses study these things. They look at the total cost or productivity of a given community’s infrastructure – particularly those businesses with big capital and employment requirements.

The V stands for Vision. One of my favorite examples of this is the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina. When the RTP concept was first proposed, North Carolina was in the bottom five states in literacy and per capita income.  Now, that region is a recognized center for academic and research excellence. Major companies employ thousands of people, and per capita income in the region is $10,000 over the national average. The vision of the 1950s has become the economic powerhouse of today.

The second I stands for “Interconnectedness.” So many cities keep thinking they have to be destinations – great places to work, play and live. A city’s value does not just lie in its parts, but in how they connect to each other, and how the city connects to its region and to the world. Dallas, Atlanta, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago are not just destinations, they are hubs. Google has helped Kansas City gain a first mover advantage by helping the city build out its IT infrastructure. There are possibilities in Kansas City for connected firms that did not exist before. That will attract people.

And that brings me to the last C for “Capital.” How does Silicon Valley go from defense tech to IT hub? Venture capital feels welcome there. Drive around Palo Alto and Mountain View and you will see as many high-end financial service firms as IT firms. The reason the bank robber Willy Sutton robbed banks was because “that’s where the money was.”

There’s a great deal of strength and benefit for cities to sharpen their CIVIC brands and differentiate themselves clearly in the minds of entrepreneurs, growth companies, and job seekers. 

Score well on the CIVIC scale, and good things should happen economically as a result. 

Read full prepapred remarks.