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Tech and economic development in the inner City

/ February 12, 2014

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Tech and economic development in the inner City

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. The 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, on January 23, 2014 the 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:

1.    What can city governments do to create technology-based economies in inner cities?

2.  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?

3.  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?

I discussed 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 studied by the Intelligent Community Forum over the past 15 years.

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 economic development 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 our digital, knowledge-based global economy, innovation is the key to competitive success.  I described several ways that cities can facilitate innovation among their residents and especially among inner city residents.

The full presentation will be on the ICIC website but here is a summary of the aspects of the strategy that I presented.  A successful, 21st century Intelligent Community:

  • 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

The Intelligent Community Forum can assist a community that wants to implement these strategies. For more information visit www.intelligentcommunity.org.

Dr. Norman Jacknis is Senior Fellow at the Intelligent Community Forum of New York City. 

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