How the Tech Industry Can Help Mitigate the Effects of Winner-Take-All Urbanism

Some strategies and tactics worth considering.

1. Help your Home City or Town Lay Out the Welcome Mat

Setting up a new business or outpost of an existing business in a remote city or town can be a daunting proposition.

To make it less daunting, work with the Mayor’s office, Economic Development, or the Chamber of Commerce to develop a single web page to kick-start business formation.

The ideal page would be created and hosted locally, listing all the resources required to form a new business unit in one place.

On your (digital) welcome mat, provide links to all relevant forms to create a business, understand zoning requirements, find commercial real estate, etc.

List any angel investors, entrepreneurial meet ups, and how to access high-bandwidth internet.

If the city or town does not have coding resources, consider tapping into your personal network and/or reaching out to the local Code for America Brigade if there is one.

2. Work with Venture for America

Venture for America (VFA) was founded because so many high-potential recent college grads were heading to only a handful of cities, like New York or San Francisco, but not many were seeking opportunities in places like Cleveland, New Orleans, or Pittsburgh.

There are two ways to work with VFA. As a Fellow or as an Entrepreneur in Residence.

Fellowship Program
Fellows are graduates coming out of college with a degree in Computer Science and/or Engineering. VFA connects Fellows with startup opportunities in 17 cities across the country. They live and work there, paired with more experienced entrepreneurs. They can learn alongside them and help grow companies to create jobs and revitalize those communities.

Entrepreneur in Residence
This program connects seasoned executives and leaders to the cities that need them. Veteran leaders from companies like Slack, LinkedIn, and others will live and work for one year to serve as resources, mentors and advisors to the innovation and entrepreneurship communities in VFA cities.

3. Create a de-location program for new workers at your company

A de-location program pays new workers a certain amount to move to a low-cost city or town. For example, Zapier is a California company that pays a de-location bonus of $10,000 to any employee who relocates outside of the Bay Area within 3 months of their hire date. You can read more about the Zapier program on Quartz. This works for Zapier because their entire workforce works remotely.

4. Sponsor nanodegrees in specific subjects of interest to major employers

A nanodegree in robotics through Udacity (for example) consists of 2 terms, which are 3 months each. The cost of the program is $1200 per term.

You or your company could sponsor 10 students at a cost of $24,000. These could either be talented students coming out of high school -or- workers from legacy industries seeking new skills.

To keep all the incentives in the right direction, structure the tuition payout as a loan to be forgiven only upon satisfactory completion of all degree requirements.

5. Sponsor a Makerspace

If your home city or town lacks a well-equipped Makerspace, consider creating one. In our book Maker City: A practical guide to reinventing our cities we describe how makers benefit from working side-by-side with entrepreneurs. Placing your Makerspace inside a coworking space may make sense and can keep costs down.

A basic Makerspace can be built out in 750-1000 square feet and can cost as little $1,500. More elaborate Makerspaces can cost up to $1M and–as a result–are often built out in conjunction with a major research university or innovation center. See for example Think[box], a well-equipped Makerspace at Case Western Reserve University that is available at no cost to residents.

6. Sponsor 9-14 Year Tech Academies

IBM has done this to good effect through a program it calls P-TECH. The idea here is that students attend 4 years of high school plus 2 more years that are more career focused, often in conjunction with a community college. Courses taken in community college can receive dual credit towards the student’s high school degree. The goal is to provide more skills training and also free up time the student can spend working on projects to build specific skills and experiences of interest to a potential employer.

Read more about IBM’s role in creating the P-TECH model, sometimes called 9-14 curriculum.

7. Encourage young people to settle in your home town after they graduate from college

The State of R.I. offers loan forgiveness for students who graduate from a 4-year college in the state in a STEM subject and take a qualifying job in the state following graduation.

Native sons and daughters with a background in test-and-learn methodologies are in an excellent position to work with their home cities or towns to create similar programs and make sure the results are measurable.

You or your company could provide capital for the loan forgiveness program -or- you could work as an advocate to create the necessary support through the state legislature.

Learn more about the Rhode Island program.

8. Consider relocating your business

Take advantage of lower-cost labor and real estate available in your home town.

Work with local government officials to make sure the type of skilled workers you need are available.

You can read two very different case studies on how Christopher Alan (AutoParkit) and Jack Scott (Applied Systems and Technology Transfer) did this in Warren and Youngstown, Ohio.

9. Participate as part of a Silicon Valley delegation

Recently we had the opportunity to participate as part of a delegation that visited Youngstown, Ohio. The visit was arranged by a VC with interest in the region (Patrick McKenna) and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio).

A visit like this can be an eye opener, to create greater understanding of the problems facing remote and rural areas that have been ‘carved out’ due to the decline of legacy industries.

Praise for our Work

Press & Partners

This is a wonderfully specific and useful book about one of the most promising economic and social trends in America. The positive prospects that Peter Hirschberg, Dale Dougherty, and Marcia Kadanoff lay out closely match what I have seen in cities across the country. And the spirit of resilient adaptability that they portray, including with practical steps on fostering it, will be an important part in the next stage of U.S. economic growth

James FallowsAtlantic

Maker City is a manifesto for productive change in America's cities. With sharp vignettes and instances from around the country, the book depicts a new groundswell of entrepreneurial and civic-minded energy that is bringing tech people and crafts people together to work--city by city--to create new partnerships to reinvigorate city-based industries.

Amy LiuVice President and Director, Metropolitan Policy Program, The Brookings Institution

Maker City shows with clarity and rich examples ways in which cities can harness the tremendous potential of the Maker movement and urban manufacturing to create a more resilient local economy and more vibrant city.

Kate SofisCo-Founder of the Urban Manufacturing Alliance

Maker City is a must read for anyone concerned with the economic future of their community, city, or nation. I believe that this is one of the most important urban planning books since Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of American Cities. It compels, no… demands that we all go to work on the future of our cities. The Maker City is an achievable vision. If you care about the future or want to help create it… read this book.

Mark HatchCo Founder, TechShop

Chock full of examples of how Maker Cities are getting cities right in ways that are clever, inspiring, highly replicable, and sustainable, not faddish.

Hugh MacworthFormer venture capitalist, tech executive, and father of a 16-year old Maker
How We Measure Results

The number of RESILIENT JOBS created

Take advantage of local supply chain
At least 50% of the product is made locally.
Pay at least $20/hour
Sufficient to pay for a 1 bedroom apartment in most cities and–with two wage earners in the household–sufficient to support a family of 4.
Where workers with different skills are paid more for those skills
Invest in creating talent through an explicit focus on upskilling workers. In today’s economy, skills need to be constantly refreshed to stay current.
Add value beyond routinized assembly or logistics
Low-value, routinized jobs can and will be replaced by robots in the near future.

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