Communities and economic development leaders love to talk about innovation. They may go as far as making brochures and websites professing their support for innovation and high-impact entrepreneurship. When it comes down to it, there is a difference between saying something and doing something. Doing it is usually much more difficult. In my experience, only a handful of communities and economic development organizations are serious about innovation.
Here are some signs that I look for when determining whether a community is truly committed to innovation.
Specific actions and goals — You know your community is serious about innovation-based development when it announces specific actions and outcome goals it wants to achieve rather than broad, general statements on the subject. An innovation-focused community will commit to doing all it can to produce specific, measurable results and will even announce them publicly to ensure accountability. This can be scary, but it’s a great way to ensure innovation isn’t just a catch phrase.
Key leadership — A community that prioritizes innovation places innovators and entrepreneurs in key leadership roles. One can look at the governing body of any given economic development organization and tell whether they’re serious about accelerating innovation. You want to see more than one or two token innovators and visionaries helping guide the effort forward. They should be prevalent, and their voices should be growing with each passing year. In other words, innovation development should be led by, you guessed it, innovators.
Focus on talent — An innovation-serious community knows that it’s all about the talent. In other words, people are more important than the facilities, investors, universities and other elements of an innovation ecosystem. They’re even more important than the businesses, themselves. Yet, many economic development efforts remain stuck in the past and still focus exclusively on attracting and retaining companies when their focus should expand to include talent.
Economic development is being disrupted just like the industries it attempts to attract and support. Thus it requires new ways of thinking and operating in order to compete effectively. So, where does your community stand? Is there a lot of talk around innovation or are there signs of real action?
– John Moore is a principal with Momentum Strategies, an Upstate-based consulting firm specializing in helping communities and their economic development organizations build thriving, impactful innovation ecosystems.