Work isn’t exactly a new concept. By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread was Adam’s punishment in Genesis after all. What work looks like, though, has changed dramatically in the past century and even more so in the last decades. After moving from the fields to the factories, today’s workers have not only left behind the factory floor for the office, they are switching offices and jobs more frequently and redefining what an “office” looks like. For city administrators, the new face of work calls for new solutions to promote business development within their communities. At a meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, the leaders of American cities from around the country heard about new ways to help build their area economies by focusing on creative spaces rather than courting industry.
“We used to think–we were taught–that we needed to chase these big corporations, give them tax incentives, convince them that if they come to our cities, things will work out. I have a new plan for you guys: what if instead of chasing the organizations, you control the brand of your cities?” said Adam Neumann, the Israeli-founder of WeWork, a company that is dramatically changing the concept of an office.
Neumann described how cities could attract creative workforces by building on their unique strengths and providing an environment in which entrepreneurship was welcomed. Instead of attracting a major employer and hoping that workers would follow, he described a situation in which cities attracted a particular type of worker, betting that employers would follow the labor pool–a fascinating concept as so many cities vie for Amazon’s second headquarters.
This understanding of the new economy also radically shifts the decision-making power away from policymakers in Washington, back towards the local level.
“It is critically important that the country understands that the rest of America is not waiting on Washington to be creative,” said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, president of the Conference of Mayors. Landrieu described how the role Washington plays in incentivizing growth was decreasing, particularly as regional sources of business financing cropped up. As a result, cities were empowered more to shape their own futures through policies that incentivized business development.
Laws alone can’t make innovation happen, however. Unlike more traditional small businesses, startups need capital to launch. For years, these funds have been primarily centered on the coasts. In fact, in 2017, 75 percent of startup capital went to only three states: New York, California, and Massachusetts. The remaining 47 states battled for only a quarter of the startup venture capital funding pie.
“If the jobs are being created by start ups and the money follows that, we shouldn’t be surprised that the rest of the country feels left behind,” said Steve Case.
This has dramatic effects on job creation around the country. Increasingly, young people with career ambitions are being pressured to relocate for jobs while their home cities and states struggle with tax revenues. What many people may not realize is how recent a phenomenon this is. As one of the founders of AOL, Case has had a front row seat to how the technology industry has not only changed the economy, but has changed itself. He described how during the first “wave” of the internet, when a mere 3 percent of the population was online for even an hour a week, major companies like AOL, Microsoft, Compuserve, and Dell were based around the country.
The second wave of the internet relied more heavily on apps and programmers which led to the domination of Silicon Valley. The dawn of the third wave of the internet, in which these new programs will be integrated into other sectors of the economy, can happen anywhere, says Case.
This is the goal behind his nationwide campaign, the Rise of the Rest, which looks to partner with regional venture capital firms to create funds that promote innovation in cities around the country. Case, who started the fund with $150 million in seed money, has a goal of providing only 10 percent of the capital in any given investment, with the remainder coming from regional players.
What Case and his campaign realize is that successful startups will foster additional innovation, growth, and employment.
“Part of what makes an successful entrepreneur and what makes the ecosystem a success is the connectedness,” says author J.D. Vance, now managing partner of Rise of the Rest, who described how a vibrant startup economy helped individual businesses to attract talent. In part, this is because workers are aware of other opportunities in the area if one particular job does not work out. This means not only that workers are more likely to come to the area, but that they are also more likely to stay.
“As soon as you get a critical mass of exciting opportunities, you will get a talent boomerang effect and then capital will start to flow,” he continued.
In the past year, many headlines have focused on the jobs that left Middle America. Rather than fixating on manufacturers who are unlikely to return, visionaries today are pushing for a new way of looking at work, which understands the attraction to place and the desire for flexibility. The last tech revolution took place in Silicon Valley, perhaps the next one will be in the Ohio Valley.