TIP Strategies Featured at the Buenos Aires Global Summit: Economic Development Districts

October 2, 2015

By: Jeff Marcell, Senior Partner, TIP Strategies, Inc.

Innovation Districts, Prosperity Zones, Creative Districts or Tech Towns—no matter what the terminology, the concept of concentrating industries, technologists, companies, entrepreneurs, and R&D within a definable geography is top of mind for many in the economic development community. Prime locations are usually dense urban environments offering mixed-use real estate, allowing residents to work, learn, and have fun all in the same neighborhood. Examples and elements of these districts are being studied by economists, think tanks, and economic developers alike. Best practice models are scattered around the US, often led by public-private collaborations. Examples include Seattle’s South Lake Union, Detroit’s Downtown and Midtown developments, and recent developments in downtown Las Vegas. Sometimes these districts are executed by formal, organized efforts with specific boundaries, and sometimes they grow from an organic process with informal boundaries. However they take root, successful districts have generated a lot of attention and inspired many communities to pursue similar approaches in hopes of stimulating job creation.

The Summit

In September, I was honored to join some of the most knowledgeable and successful thought leaders in economic development from across the US to participate in the City of Buenos Aires’s Global Districts Summit in Argentina. The Summit was driven by the city’s motivation to share best practices in the creation and sustainability of economic development districts with a focus on public policy, entrepreneurship, and international business development. My fellow US delegates included leaders from the Research Triangle Park, Ann Arbor SPARK, Creative Oklahoma, the University South Carolina, IAE Business School, and the Center for Strategic International Studies out of DC.

The conference began with a full day tour of the city’s five creative districts dedicated to technology, audiovisual, arts, design, and sports/entertainment. The districts were established in 2008 to address blight, unemployment, and poverty in economically disadvantaged areas. The goal of the districts program is to attract new investment, jobs, and redevelopment. A daylong workshop followed, discussing the districts’ accomplishments and ways in which the city could improve and expand on what has been completed. The summit culminated in a half-day public forum attended by over 200 dignitaries, business leaders, and city officials. This forum is where I and other delegation representatives shared our thoughts on lessons learned from other districts around the world and suggested opportunities the Buenos Aires districts could pursue in the future. An enthusiastic keynote address, about the possibilities that innovation holds for Argentina, was given by Guibert Englebienne. Guibert, who is regarded as the Steve Jobs or Bill Gates of Argentina, is co-founder of Globant, the country’s largest technology company with more than 4,300 employees serving clients like LinkedIn, Zynga, and Google.

The Takeaway

At TIP Strategies, we think about successful economic development efforts in terms of Talent, Innovation, and Place. These three components are critical to a successful economic development district as well as to the region in which that district is located. What follows is an outline of some of what is happening in the City of Buenos Aires and its creative districts, as well as ideas that were shared by the delegation, as they relate to Talent, Innovation, and Place:

Talent: Buenos Aires exudes excitement and energy. Its architectural beauty, vibrant art, culture, and nightlife act as a magnet for the creative class. The city also has over 30 universities and colleges within its boundaries. Buenos Aires has made meaningful commitments to strengthen its talent base. One effort is a partnership with three universities, including the prestigious Technology Institute Buenos Aires, to collectively build a new campus in the heart of the technology district. The production of more trained engineers is imperative; roughly 40% of engineering graduates from local schools leave the country to work elsewhere. This is an unacceptable loss of a precious asset. The delegation agreed that all efforts must be made to keep and grow this engineering talent if the districts, city, and country are to be successful.

Innovation:The rapid success of Globant is proof that innovation and entrepreneurship is alive and well in the Buenos Aires region. The city has received international recognition for its growing software industry, drawing attention from companies and technology leaders in places like Silicon Valley. But recognition and international contracts for only the largest firms is not enough. Technology businesses within the district primarily serve back-office functions for business and government clients within Argentina. If businesses within the district are going to succeed, their customer base must be larger than the opportunities within the country’s borders. The city can help attract international business for its emerging tech cluster. Additionally, the city’s university system has focused its energy on the production of skilled students, which is vital, but not enough to achieve success. The conference’s US delegation encouraged an emphasis on research and development and technology commercialization out of these institutions as well.

The city also has a fledgling entrepreneurship program. The program has limited staff and resources with a broad directive to help the people of Buenos Aires create their own business. The US conference attendees recommended that the program narrow its focus to just serving entrepreneurs in the sectors that align with the districts, rather than a more general approach.

Place: Buenos Aires benefits from attributes that create fertile ground for innovation districts: a dense population and mix of residential and commercial activity, served by mass transit. In this respect, the city is fortunate; it didn’t have to create this environment, like many other cities with similar ambitions have to do. In 2008, the city took bold steps to establish the creative districts, identifying areas of focus, setting boundaries, establishing tax incentives to encourage investment and relocation, and making the catalyst investment of building a new state-of-the-art city hall in the technology district. The new city hall not only serves as an architectural gem, it is a statement that the city is committed to the districts’ success. Many businesses have responded—with over 200 firms locating in the technology district alone. They are all benefiting from incentives and infrastructure investments made by the public sector. The US delegation unanimously agreed: if the districts are to meet their potential, the business community must now take a larger leadership role. We encouraged a new formal partnership between the city and the business community with dedicated staff and programming to address the districts’ opportunities and ongoing needs. This kind of initiative would require that the city give up some control; this is necessary to achieve the city’s goals for the districts and ensure their sustained, long-term success.

The concept of innovation/creative districts translates around the world. Concentrating industries, entrepreneurs, and technologists creates an abundance of opportunities that may produce new businesses, investments, and jobs. The Buenos Aires creative district program was established just seven years ago, and they have already generated palpable success. These districts serve as an inspiration to communities everywhere. If it keeps on this path, the city will reach its ambition of being the unquestionable technology capital of South America and will provide jobs and opportunity to its people. Buenos Aires is a place economic development practitioners need to watch.

To learn more about the City of Buenos Aires creative districts visit:
www.turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar/en/article/economic-districts
I welcome the opportunity to discuss innovation districts with you and learn about the economic development efforts in your community. Please feel free to contact me at jeff@tipstrategies.com.

Geography of Recovery: Cumulative Job Gains/Losses since December 2007 by Metropolitan Statistical Area

October 1, 2015

By: TIP Staff

When we released the Geography of Jobs in spring 2008, our goal was to visualize the answer to a seemingly simple question: How did the impact of the recession play out across the country? The resulting animated map—which shows the 12-month rolling job change for all US metros from 1999 to the present—was a resounding success. It provides a vivid illustration of the magnitude of pre-recession job growth and the subsequent dramatic job losses. What our approach failed to capture, however, is the recession’s cumulative impact.

In the second quarter of 2014, it was widely reported that the US had “recovered” all the jobs lost since the start of the recession more than six years earlier. But as we traveled across the country, it didn’t take much to see that many areas were still suffering. With our latest map, the Geography of Recovery, we use the same data to explore this issue. As the name suggests, our new data visualization picks up on the question of recovery: How have individual metro areas fared since the start of the recession? Which metros felt the greatest job losses as a percentage of pre-recession employment? Which have yet to recover the jobs they lost? Which areas recovered faster? Were there any that saw minimal negative impact or even emerged unscathed?

How to Read the Map

Unlike the prior map, which illustrates the change in jobs relative to the same period 12 months earlier, the Geography of Recovery compares employment levels in each metro area to the number of jobs reported at the beginning of the economic downturn. To simplify the comparison, the map uses an index to illustrate this relationship. Each metro starts at 100 percent, which represents total employment in December 2007 (the recession’s official start). From that point forward, the size of each metro’s corresponding bubble grows or shrinks based on the percentage of jobs gained or lost relative to the baseline. A red bubble indicates a cumulative job loss; a blue bubble represents cumulative job gains.

Like the original Geography of Jobs, you can hover over each metro bubble and watch the actual percentage change over time. You’ll also notice two animated “dashboard” features on the left of the map that track with the animation’s timeline. The first is a simple percentage, titled “US share of 2007 employment,” which shows the nation’s job change relative to the baseline. The second indicator is a set of bars representing the number of metros above (in blue) or below (in red) December 2007 employment levels.

Revelations on Recovery

The most striking revelation from this visualization is the unevenness of the recovery. By the time the US returned to its December 2007 employment level in May 2014, the majority of metro areas had not recovered. As of July 2015—more than one year later—fully one-third (120) of the more than 300 metro areas analyzed had not yet recovered the number of jobs lost during the recession.

At TIP Strategies, we are always looking for ways to translate data into insights about economic development. We hope you will help us with this task by providing feedback and sharing your insights at the end of this blog post.

Footnote: We recognize the limitations to this approach:


  • It does not account for population change in each metro over time. Because jobs can grow faster or slower than population, the impact of employment change on a metro’s population may not be reflected.

  • We picked Dec 2007 as the starting point, since this was the date that the national recession officially began. But, some metros, such as Detroit, had already experienced significant job losses in the previous 2 years. Detroit was in a recession long before the official national recession began, therefore their bubble does not reflect losses from the time prior to December 2007.

  • Following the 2010 Census, the federal Office of Management and Budget revised the official definitions of a number of metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). This once-a-decade overhaul (released in February 2013) resulted in the addition of a number of new metro areas, the change of metro boundaries, as well as the loss of the MSA designation for a number of existing areas. Some added counties, lost counties, or were combined with neighboring metros to form larger MSAs; others lost their designation due to population declines. In implementing these new standards, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics could not produce seasonally adjusted data for all the affected metro areas beginning with its March 2015 release of data from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) program, the data series used to create the Geography of Recovery. While 69 metro areas without seasonally adjusted data are not included in the animation, we have provided a table [PDF] showing the annual percent change in employment since December 2007 using unadjusted data.