The Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) was created twenty years ago by the famed strategy professor at Harvard Business School Professor, Michael Porter. ICIC focuses on economic development strategies for inner cities. Their stated mission is “to drive economic prosperity in America’s inner cities through private sector investment to create jobs, income and wealth for local residents”.
As part of their What Works For Cities series, last Thursday, ICIC held a webinar for about two hundred attendees on “How inner cities can increase the impact of technology clusters”. On behalf of the Intelligent Community Forum, I was one of the invited speakers.
ICIC wanted to address three questions:
- What can city governments do to create technology-based economies in inner cities?
- How can cities ensure that inner city residents have access to technology so that they are prepared, skilled, and able to participate in a tech-based economy?
- What is a local governments’ role in building the capacity of innovative businesses so that they create jobs for inner city residents? What policies have worked?
So I took this as an opportunity to discuss technology-based economic growth from a global perspective, based on my own experience and that of the hundreds of cities and regions who have been identified as intelligent communities by the Intelligent Community Forum over the last fifteen years. My focus was especially on innovation and inclusion.
There were two underlying themes in my presentation.
First, technology-based economic development should not mean solely creating software and other tech companies. Partly that is because good social policy doesn’t just replace current poor inner city residents with newcomers who are programmers and web designers.
Helping existing residents learn programming is a key part of the story that the two New York City public officials presented during the webinar. NYC’s focus is to fulfill the demand for programmers, web designers and engineers from among those who have been unemployed – recognizing that in the tech industry, aptitude is more important than degrees, an important consideration for inner city residents.
I’d add that there are a variety of places and ways that people can learn programming from the Internet, including the well-known Code Academy. In his recent post “Can Tech Help Inner City Poverty?” Michael Mandel reviewed the generally positive results of these programs.
But the world needs more than just programmers, as was well discussed in a recent NPR report, “Computers Are The Future, But Does Everyone Need To Code?”.
A successful technology-based economy strategy for inner city residents should also help non-programmers and low-tech businesses benefit from being connected digitally to the greater opportunities of the global economy.
Second, in this century with its digital, knowledge-based global economy, innovation is the key to competitive success. I described several ways that cities can be an example of innovation and facilitate innovation among their residents, including, or perhaps especially, among inner city residents.
While the full presentation will be on the ICIC website later, here is a summary of the various aspects of the strategy that I presented. The 21st century city:
- connects residents to the global economic opportunities
- connects residents to open innovation
- provides a platform for lifelong learning for residents
- has a culture of innovation
- creates places that inspire residents to innovate
© 2014 Norman Jacknis