By Mary Velan
Cities nationwide are constantly experimenting with new strategies to boost economic development and increase job opportunities for local workers. Many of these campaigns focus on innovation, education and financial incentives.
One way municipalities are strengthening their local economies is by embracing the latest trends and technologies in a variety of industries. These cities are not only looking to attract successful companies but also build a strong entrepreneurial population through investment in innovative ideas and small business support. Some cities are creating incubators or innovation districts that cater to the needs of entrepreneurs and small businesses working to get their ventures realized and funded. Others are providing more hands-on support to make their communities as innovation-friendly as possible.
Long Beach, California, has recently launched an innovation team made up of a variety of local stakeholders with unique expertise and resources – such as city government, software development, public health and cultural anthropology. The team will focus on five initiatives to help local entrepreneurs grow their businesses, as well as attract new companies to the city:
- Drafting an economic development blue print to guide citywide economic growth
- Developing the StartupLB Tools for Business online platform to help entrepreneurs take the necessary steps to start a business
- Working with the city’s Technology and Innovation Department to create a high-tech infrastructure plan that connects startups with digital resources
- Gather professionals from all industries and sectors to establish a center for innovation to commercialize ideas and new products and services
The innovation team aims to provide Long Beach entrepreneurs with a one-stop-shop for information and resources to get their ideas off the ground. Long Beach wants to be hospital and accommodating to startups – similar to Silicon Valley – in hopes of driving job growth in the short and long term.
While some cities want to entice young business professionals with tools and expertise, others are trying to build their own homegrown talent. Acknowledging that tech-related jobs are a major growth industry, many communities are launching education and training programs specifically designed to equip the local workforce with the necessary skills to land technology jobs. By building a strong, education workforce, these municipalities hope to attract growing companies seeking skilled employees for long-term growth.
New Orleans has quietly been making a mark for itself in the technology scene over the past several years. The city has reported significant growth in startups which formed at a per-capita rate 64 percent higher than the national average between 2011 and 2013. To accommodate the thriving technology sector during its growth period, New Orleans has invested in education programs to ensure the right skills are available to local startups and small businesses, The Times-Picayune reported.
To grow its own workforce, New Orleans has created a variety of training programs such as Tech Talent South and Operation Spark that offer technology immersion workshops for youths and adults. The University of New Orleans has also created specialized technology courses that teach skills to meet specific job requirements such as information assurance.
Similarly, some states are providing cities with funding to launch training programs for specific industries such as healthcare and technology.
Florida recently announced a $20 million competitive grant program to increase the number of technical centers across the state. The grants will be used to expand and create training programs that meet workforce and students needs when searching for high-quality employment. The training programs will take place at technical centers designed to make Florida students more competitive in the global market and in key growth industries. The goal is to build up a skilled workforce that attracts companies to Florida.
Likewise, Missouri is leveraging a $15 million federal grant to connect low-income residents with training in the healthcare industry. The five-year competitive federal grant will support the state’s Jobs, Education, Training and Supportive Services (JETS) program which will enroll 1,800 workers in job training programs over the next five years.
The simplest way to attract new businesses, entrepreneurs and jobs to a local economy is by providing a financial incentive. Some cities offer industry-specific tax credits to grow certain large markets. Others are providing support to burgeoning businesses and entrepreneurs just getting started.
Detroit’s Motor City Match program provides local businesses and building owners with grants to assist in expanding the company and connect innovators with valuable real estate. How the program works is by connecting local businesses with information on Detroit’s top properties available for new and expanding business.
Building owners looking to lease vacant space to a growing business can apply for the program and be featured on the Match website. Business owners in search of new real estate opportunities can apply for a grant and find a featured property through the program as well. Each quarter the program will provide $500,000 in matching grants as well as small business and construction loans to support both building and business owners.
In the first round of awards, 10 businesses will receive grants from $10,000 to $100,000 to expand operations. These businesses include tech companies, restaurants and food distributors. Furthermore, several other businesses will receive technical assistance from the company to support their growth in the local economy.