Economic development is a team sport. Local and state governments, working intentionally with businesses and civic organizations, set the foundation for sustained economic growth. Key elements of this foundation include robust collaborations on key economic development strategies, including key public policy matters, long-term investment strategies, talent development, and marketing.
With the foundation set, the future of the city’s economic strength then depends on the city’s business leaders and investor communities to lean forward with investments that will attract new companies, create new jobs, drive top-notch talent, and foster the pride and energy that sustain the area’s growth. And when tech leaders partner with businesses and startups to innovate, the results can be truly astounding.
I’ve seen a resurgence in my hometown of St. Louis over the last 10 years, thanks in large part to intentional collaboration between the public and private sectors. From tech incubators to transportation companies to manufacturing groups, companies of all kinds, including the energy company I lead, have joined forces to make the city a better place to live and work. For example, the Gateway Arch National Park recently benefitted from a public–private partnership dedicated to revitalizing the park grounds and renovating the museum at the Arch.
Any city can follow the examples of St. Louis and other Midwest cities that have made strides in recent years, but economic development rarely occurs by accident. To kick-start growth, existing businesses — including those in the tech field — must take on the role of a city co-leader and work deliberately to invest in the economic growth of the cities they call home. But they don’t have to go it alone.
Local Businesses and Economic Development
The fact that businesses drive economic development may seem like a no-brainer, so let’s get more specific than that. Consider larger companies with greater notoriety and an arsenal of resources, monetary and otherwise, as well as smaller companies and startups with fresh, disruptive ideas and dynamic teams of eager talent.
Large companies may have more visible roles in economic development, but every local company, from enterprises to entrepreneurs, plays a part. Startups in particular are vital for strong economic growth. Such growth, in fact, could play a large role in the revitalization of Greece following its economic crisis.
In my own experience, my city’s business resurgence is occurring largely because of the startup activity in the area. We are one of the top 40 fastest-growing cities for startup activity in the nation, and that entrepreneurial growth brings a diverse mix of job opportunities to local residents. In addition, these new companies have developed partnerships with larger organizations in the area, providing pathways for disruptive ideas to have big effects. For instance, Ameren Accelerator (an initiative of my company, Ameren), combines the University of Missouri (UM) system and Ameren with accelerator programs to provide opportunities to entrepreneurs and students innovating in the energy field. Innovators who join the program can explore and refine their visions under the guidance of local talent, including my co-workers, Capital Innovators and UMSL Accelerate, in addition to the UM System participants.
This is why the partnership of larger companies is critical in a city’s development: The leaders of large companies have the resources and connections to drive innovation and help tech innovators achieve the results they set out to accomplish. In other words, enterprises that develop better relations with younger, smaller tech startups create a harmony between clout and inventiveness.
Other enterprise-startup accelerator programs accomplish a variety of similarly beneficial outcomes. For example, Cisco Innovation Centers offer post-accelerator assistance to tech startups all over the world. Some large companies open their APIs to startups, which makes it easier for small companies to integrate their systems. In Louisville, Kentucky, one partnership (which includes the city’s government, other public agencies, local companies, and advocacy groups) joined seemingly disparate organizations to create better healthcare tech for asthma patients. And in Atlanta, AT&T, GE’s Current, and Georgia Power have partnered to fit streetlights with sensors in order to track issues with parking, traffic, and crime in particular areas.
Better Partnerships, Stronger Communities
Creating one-off instances of change is incredible in and of itself, but when partnerships such as these become widespread, the cities that host them grow stronger overall. More specifically, areas with companies that step up and deliberately invest in their city’s growth will see a more cooperative and inventive city, creating better local economic health.
This is something I’ve seen develop in St. Louis. Large companies in our area rarely operate as unapproachable monoliths; instead, they join forces and pool their resources to create things bigger than themselves. The city’s Cortex Innovation Community, for instance, brings together larger companies (like Mastercard) with smaller startups, and it’s quickly becoming a premier hub for tech and bioscience. Another group, 39 North, has earned a reputation as a leader in agricultural technology with the help of Monsanto (now part of Bayer), Bunge North America, and Novus International. For us, these are places that bring talent together to drive further innovation and collaboration — and they’re just one city’s examples of how larger businesses can make a significant impact.
Bottom line: When large businesses leverage their influence for the good of their cities, they create an environment where talent can bloom. Community leaders and business leaders, working together, inspire the next generation of success stories, creating something together that neither group could do alone — and again, tech leaders are in the ideal position to have the biggest effect.
This focus on innovation and economic development is not the end game for city and business leaders, though. Instead, it is part of the ongoing evolutionary process of civic and economic development. By putting together a framework that encourages partnerships, these groups can inspire their communities and create a brighter future for their cities.