Last month, I attended the International Economic Development Council’s 2018 Leadership Summit held in Las Vegas (January 28-30). This annual event offers the opportunity for economic development’s senior-most leaders to share their experiences and talk about the future of the profession.
The following are a few of my key takeaways from the event.
Disruption creates just as many opportunities as challenges.
It’s easy to get caught up in a “sky is falling” or zero-sum mindset when traditional industries are disrupted by new technologies and business models. Uber vs. taxis. Amazon vs. bricks-and-mortar retail. Social media vs. traditional media. This is especially tough when your community is home to one of these traditional industries that loses jobs due to disruption. But as economic developers, your mandate is to stay ahead of the curve and focus on the opportunities created by changes in the economy. Amazon is a great example of the new opportunities for economic development, both “upstream” (IoT and connected devices, cybersecurity, advanced data analytics) and “downstream” (fulfillment centers, warehousing, pop-up retail).
No one knows what “Smart Cities” means.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. The public sector has a big role to play (with private sector involvement) in the development and deployment of new technologies that improve urban infrastructure and systems. The City of Las Vegas is one of the leaders in this space, with a range of innovations including the largest network of smart traffic signals (traffic signals that can “talk” to vehicles) in North America and the first autonomous public transit vehicle operating on city streets in the US. The challenge for Las Vegas, and the dozens of other cities making similar “smart city” investments, is to ensure that public investments are worth the cost. City-led programs must ultimately improve the operating efficiency of urban areas, enhance public safety, and create a more welcoming environment for businesses and residents.
Talent is still the top issue for economic development.
Quality of place is still an essential component of the talent equation. With it, your community can attract the best and the brightest. Without it, your city is likely to struggle to retain top-tier talent. A walking tour, organized as part of the IEDC Leadership Summit, led a group of 20-25 participants through The Downtown Project in Las Vegas. The tour provided an overview of the real estate developments and urban revitalization strategies being employed to attract talent into downtown. Conversations with economic developers throughout the event made it clear, however, that talent strategies must be part of a larger dialogue about social equity and supporting economic mobility for a broader population.