For those involved in economic development, the drumbeat has become louder and louder the last several years: Talent is king when it comes to growing a regional economy. Traditional drivers such as tax environment, regulatory burden and infrastructure are all incrementally important, but the best leading indicator of a community’s economic success is its human capital.
The most compelling exhibit for these trends is, of course, Amazon. After conducting an exhaustive national search for where to place its new headquarters, Amazon chose two high-cost, high-tax markets for expansion: New York City and a suburb of Washington, D.C. Talent is king, and everything else is a distant second.
None of the above will be surprising to the discerning IBJ reader. In fact, it might prompt a reaction from readers akin to my former law school professor J.J. White’s response to students who struggled to provide useful answers in class: “Everything you’re saying is true, but nothing you’re saying is helpful.”
So here’s how to help solve the problem:
We need to develop a profile of the most valuable talent to galvanize regional economic growth, target our candidates in a way that doesn’t boil the ocean, and create a compelling reason for those individuals to visit central Indiana to showcase our most distinguishing attribute—our excellence as event host.
So what is the profile? Most communities have focused on high-skilled workers as the basis for their talent strategy—certain skill sets, advanced degrees, etc. I would submit that not all high-skilled talent is equal. There is a subset of talent—entrepreneurs—on which we should focus, as their potential for community impact is exponentially greater than all others. One only has to examine the outsized legacies of Eli Lilly, Madam C.J. Walker, Carl Fisher, Mel and Herb Simon, and Bill Cook to recognize that, if we could cultivate 10 rather than one of those talents each generation, our community’s trajectory would look radically different.
How do we target entrepreneurs? We focus on institutions that generate a high volume of entrepreneurial talent that has not yet put down roots and where central Indiana is on those folks’ cultural radar: Big Ten universities. Specifically, we identify the Big Ten’s most promising entrepreneurial talent and make those graduates an offer no budding entrepreneur could refuse: participation in the best entrepreneurial business plan competition in the world, hosted each year in central Indiana. While here, these students meet and engage with our local entrepreneurial, business and civic leadership—people who become a financing and mentoring network to encourage the pursuit of these startup enterprises in central Indiana.
Over time, central Indiana becomes the natural home for this extraordinary pipeline of talent, and our brand becomes synonymous with something much more valuable than sand, water, mountains, music or a particular industry: the entrepreneurial spirit.•