Today I served on a panel and focus group for Thrive, an economic development group here in Madison. They are working on a plan for economic development for Madison and its surrounding counties called “Advance Now”, which is described as follows:
Advance Now: Madison Region’s Strategy for Economic Growth is a comprehensive, action-oriented regional economic development strategy that will systematically move the Madison Region’s economy forward. The eight-month development process will engage citizens, as well as public- and private-sector leaders from throughout the region, to define a shared vision for sustained economic growth. The project will culminate in a detailed implementation plan that includes tangible performance metrics, capacity assessments, and one-to-five year action plans.
The panel was interesting to me, since it was composed of entrepreneurs and fellow CEO’s of small businesses in Madison, including friends of Hardin DD Matt Younkle from Murfie, Chris Meyer from Sector67, and others. They were interested in what we thought was Madison was doing right to encourage entrepreneurs, and what it wasn’t. This led to a much more interesting discussion, which is: what is economic development? Most economic development committees I have encountered in the past have been devoted to encouraging real estate development and thus driving tax revenues for cities, but it seems like a more hybridized approach is necessary to build not just real estate and tax revenues, but also continue to create true prosperity by actively encouraging other businesses by making capital more easily accessible, and by enhancing the hiring process beyond simple job fairs at the university. I’m not implying that Thrive is necessarily the answer for Madison, but they do have some interesting ideas:
Advance Now will position the Madison Region as one of America’s leading job creation engines and most livable communities. It is our goal to build a world-class business infrastructure as seriously as we invest in our quality of life. To this end, we’ll focus on such outcomes as business retention and expansion, sector development, and capital attraction.
In the tech space, our biggest issue is finding and retaining talent. Unlike some other fields, we see almost full employment, and so it is vital that the city of Madison help us as its tech employers not just hire entry level talent from the UW, but also find ways to help attract existing talent from other cities. Madison is an amazing city to live in, with an incredible average overall quality of life. I hope that the city’s economic development plans take advantage of this and recognize that bringing in and retaining talented employees is every bit as vital as constructing new buildings.
If you’re interested in sharing your thoughts on future economic development in Madison, I’d encourage you to not only post here but also take Thrive’s economic development survey, which will be used to help make decisions and prioritize the development of future economic development programs.