Monday, January 18, 2016

Greensboro Not Ranked Future Ready: Part 3

In Greensboro Not Ranked Future Ready I shocked Greensboro leaders when I informed them the New York Times is working on yet another story that won't look good for Greensboro. In Greensboro Not Ranked Future Ready: Part 2 I told you how Greensboro's current economic development strategies have proven to be "An Epitaph for the Past" based on the research available. Today we look deeper into the white paper Enabling Economies Into The Future.

From Page 5:

"The city of the future looks very different from the one that has been the cornerstone of society for the past centuries.  The 2015 Strategic Innovation Summit revealed several trends that represent a fundamental change in how citizens use and interact with their cities.  No longer are cities merely functioning as sources of infrastructure and services – and as common, centralized locations for brick-and-mortar companies. They are now becoming hubs of social cohesion. Citizens choose to live in them based on the availability of amenities and social and economic opportunities.  Some examples of changes include:
•Gig Economies : People work on small jobs, rather than for a full-time employer.

•Virtual Economies: People work for companies thousands of miles away, or perhaps in a distant city across the state.

•People-Centered Economies:  9 to 5 workdays have become a relic of history. Many people now work longer hours, and they may also work  in smaller increments of time throughout the entire day.

•Frictionless Economies: The traditional barriers that represented economic opportunities for many companies are fading away. Now anyone can buy and sell globally and anyone can design and build from anywhere in the world.

What does this mean for a city?  How can a city chart a course to not only prepare for the future but also thrive in the future?  The Summit convened a diverse group of city stakeholders including Chief Innovation Officers, infrastructure providers, educators, and successful entrepreneurs. The purpose was to discuss – and strive to answer – the profoundly important question of how cities can best prepare themselves for the innovation economy of the future."

Now I can't say that I necessarily like their vision of the future in its entirety but let's be honest with ourselves. Change is scary but change happens whether we like it or not. And I've learned the hard way those who refuse to change get left behind. And it is the refusal to change Greensboro's economic development strategy that has led to Greensboro becoming the #1 Hungriest Metropolitan Statistical Area in the United States today.

Our Elites and elected leaders can twist words and point their fingers at the naysayers like myself all they want but the truth is: we naysayers have lost every significant battle to date so the fault can only lie with those who won. Get it, Mayor Nancy Barakat "Grasshopper" Vaughan? Get it, Councilman Tony Wilkins?

Also from Page 5:

"This whitepaper is a distillation and examination of the Summit discussions.  It attempts to capture the spirit and the ideas expressed and shared during the Summit, during formal presentations as well as informal discussions. In reflecting on the Summit and reviewing the excellent videos, I found five themes that permeated the discussions across several speakers and forums.  I have included those as Innovation Insights which summarize these overarching ideas:

•The challenge of experimentation and risk for innovation in the public sector.

•The critical need for business model innovation.

•The focus on utilization versus availability of technology and infrastructure,

•The emerging importance of people-centered infrastructure.

•The role of disruption in innovation

This Summit was an exciting and engaging two days, for myself and all of the other participants. While it is not a conclusion, it succeeded in starting a discussion that addresses a future that will change not only how we live, but how we think about the role of our cities."

Now allow me to explain what that last quote means to Greensboro:

Real winners fail more often than they win. If you look at the records of professional basketball players like say Michael Jordan, he missed roughly as many shots as he hit but "Jordan holds the NBA records for highest career regular season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and highest career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game)" If you don't shoot you don't score and if you don't score you lose the game.

Our elected leaders are scared to shoot the ball, scared to do anything other than what the TREBIC development cartel tells them to do. And because of that Greensboro gets left behind.

According to the white paper many successful cities are appointing Chief Innovation Officers. Googling City of Greensboro Chief Innovation Officer returns no such person in Greensboro as of January 18, 2016.

Does Greensboro need to do the same? We need to find out.

Interestingly enough Page 7 brings us this about Riverside, California:

"How do you define innovation and what programs do you focus on?


The CIO manages the IT department as well as a nonprofit called SmartRiverside, which is aimed at narrowing the digital divide in the community by providing free computers to low-income families who complete a minimum level of computer literacy training. The CIO also manages and supports innovation programs across the city. The focus is on developing innovative programs within the city as well as in the community, whether they are city-sponsored or not.  Examples include business incubators, technology boot camps, maker spaces, hack-a-thons, coding programs, etc. Riverside’s philosophy was perhaps best put by Lea Deesing who said, “I think it’s a great time to focus on our human capital by empowering citizens through technology and education.”

And in Burlington, Vermont:

" As a newly created position, the CIO is working with the mayor to define a solid foundation for innovation. Initial focus has been on resident-city interaction and service outlets – trying to find ways to make it easier for citizens to receive city services. In addition, the focus is on improving infrastructure within the city and becoming a proactive participant in planning for new assets and infrastructure improvements.  “Innovation shouldn’t be something special, it should be part of
everyone’s day to day,”
summarized Beth Anderson."

It's not like there's no one in Greensboro smart enough to think up these things. The problem is: Greensboro's leaders won't listen to the smart people. For example: Roch Smith Jr beat his brains out designing a city wide wireless Internet system that would cost the City of Greensboro next to nothing to build as the City already has such a system in place for City business as part of the Strong Cities, Strong Communities Challenge but the City not only screwed Roch out of the grand prize money but they gave first place to yet another downtown development project proving once again innovation is not in their vocabulary.
Roch made the point time and time again that basic Internet service should be considered infrastructure, not a luxury only available to those who can afford it. Roch has preached Internet as infrastructure for as long as I've known him. And in places where free Internet is more readily available the economy tends to improve.

But here in Greensboro the County Schools give away free laptops to kids who go home to houses without Internet connections. At least the County Schools tried, the City did nothing but give more money to developers.

Now Riverside and Burlington are not among the Top 25 but at least they are trying. From Riverside's Chief Innovation Officer, Lee Deesing:

"Studies show that there may be over a million unfilled high-paying technical jobs in the United States by the year 2020. SmartRiverside, a nonprofit aimed at empowering the community through education and technology, created a new “Code to Careers” program which consists of a community-based team of Riverside’s educational, private, nonprofit and public partners. They have come together to create computer programming (“coding”) programs for youth in Riverside. Their aim is to empower Riverside’s youth with the coding skills required to apply for such high-paying jobs."

Are we doing the same in Greensboro? I think all reading know the answer: Greensboro leaders will be happy to help fund construction of a new building Downtown for any such program while existing buildings in our neighborhoods sit empty.

Of course we must keep in mind this study has been funded by Dell Computers who obviously want to use the information gathered to sell more computers-- I take everything with a grain of salt-- but there remains lots of insight here and we'll look into more in Greensboro Not Ranked Future Ready: Part 4.