Joshua Kauffman, principle at Wisdom Capital Partners, is a well-respected global consultant who regularly talks about the confluence of global spaces, cultures and commerce. He often uses the example of the city of Buffalo, New York, which has never been the same since Bethlehem Steel pulled out, taking 100,000 jobs out of the local economy. He advises that cities, like ecosystems of other types, require diversity to survive over time. When a city is a “one tricky pony,” there is a real risk in the case of a downturn in one business or industry. Putting thousands of people directly at risk and hundreds of thousands indirectly at risk as newly unemployed people spend less on services and goods in the community.
Think about your own town or city. Look up the list of top employers. Is it diverse enough to weather a storm? In Portland, Oregon, there is a big sports and outdoor apparel segment, a growing technology sector, and a number of thriving healthcare systems. It might be more recession proof than other cities, but is not necessarily bringing new investment into the region as it tends to flux with demographics like population and age.
We know the role that governments can play in building diversity in our communities. But what about the role of the individual? Here are six ways you can build the resiliency and diversity of your city’s ecosystem:
- We can all shop local. Not just the day after Black Friday, but every day. I am guilty of purchasing online for its convenience and sometimes cost savings. However, I’d like to see those big online stores make it easier for consumers like me to shop local using their vast networks. I’d like to be able to filter search results for products that are produced (or even warehoused) locally. I like how UberEats is enabling local restaurants to add a service delivery element, employing local drivers. I’d like to see the same from Amazon, Etsy, and other companies who have the infrastructure and brand awareness to help us invest in our local communities.
- Entrepreneurs play a role in diversifying the business landscape with investments in new segments. This includes spin-outs of other business. My company, Planar, was a spin-off from Tektronix over 30 years ago and we have gone on to spin off other companies, like InFocus. We were recently acquired, bringing foreign investment to our region. Many companies that are now employing people in our area have spun out of Intel, Tek, Nike, and some of the larger employers in the region.
- As employees, we all can work within our own companies to add diversity across different industries and verticals to give resiliency to our own businesses. Are there new ways we can attract new customers, utilize resources and vendors in our local area, innovate for new market or product segments, or think bigger to ensure that we are bolstering our own communities?
- We can make personal investments in education in our communities and our homes, with a focus on the next generation of employees for our respective cities. To this end, I volunteer for and financially support Marathon Scholars, which grows talent starting with fourth graders, seeing them through their college graduation, which helps grow our local economy for the long-term. Similarly, the university systems play a key role in building the job market in the future. Helping to partner on research that fuels local corporate innovation and educating tomorrow’s business leaders, scientists, and industry disrupters.
- We can work with lawmakers to encourage government funding in the region. People might forget that today’s Silicon Valley was incubated in its early days with investments in aerospace by the U.S. government and universities like Stanford. What other impactful “epicenters” can be derived from government funding and local entrepreneurship?
- And finally, we all play a role in promoting our cities as a good place for business investment and tourism. We are all part of the chamber of commerce and the economic development commission. What makes your town a great place to live? What makes your city great for business? How can you let your circle of influence, outside your city, know about the brand of your town to ignite the ultimate word of mouth campaign? For many years the only thing people knew of Oregon was the Tanya Harding ice skating scandal. Luckily, we have transcended this reputation (helped in no small part by the popularity of TV shows like Portlandia and it’s over the top depiction of the city’s quirks). People know us for our abundant rain. They know that it is beautiful here. But do they know world-class sports companies like Nike, Adidas and Columbia Sportswear are headquartered here? Do they know that international brands Leyard and Intel have huge presences here? They know we drink a lot of coffee and are snobs about it, but do they know we are like this about all beverages ranging from tea to whiskey, natural soda and handcrafted beers, each of which have local crafters that have built a thriving business here? Do they know about the innovations happening at OHSU, OSU, UO, PSU, Warner Pacific, Concordia, and other higher education institutions in the region? Do they know why you choose to live and work here? It’s our job to tell them.
It’s true: it takes diligent focus to grow a diverse and financially stable local city ecosystem. There are a lot of variables, but I’m optimistic about the ideals in today’s consumers and businesses to “think local” for the benefit of community members and the business sector. It’s not a fleeting expression: I believe it is here to stay and will benefit us all. Shop local, encourage your company to source local vendors and materials, allow local spinoff companies in your city to thrive, engage your local government officials to bring monies to support your businesses, nurture education opportunities for the next generation of workers, and finally, spread the word about your city’s unique attributes to encourage more growth, investment and prosperity.