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5 lessons from the startup report

Why do some communities thrive in the new economy and others don’t?

The answer’s not all that hard. The winners have the things that the new economies want – among them, a tech-savvy workforce, a quality of life that makes that tech-savvy workforce want to live there as opposed to someplace else, venture capital to help fund new companies.

OK, well, guess we settled that one, eh? Shall we move on to the sports pages? Not so fast.

We’ve been drilling deep into a new report on the startup economy around the world – “The Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2020” produced by Startup Genome, a San Francisco-based non-profit that studies the economy. Sunday, we looked at how the Washington metro area now ranks as a global tech capital. Monday, we looked at how the world’s economic hotspots today are mostly outside the United States. Today, we’ll conclude by looking at the lessons gleaned from the cities that make the report’s Top 40, because these economically successful cities from different countries and different cultures have many things in common. More to the point, many of those lessons can be scaled down to apply here in Virginia.

1. Universities are economic engines. Yes, this is like saying the sky is blue, yet apparently we need to point that out. Columnist Philip Carl Salzman of PJMedia recently wrote that instead of defunding police, we should defund universities on the grounds that they are breeding grounds for radicals who hate capitalism and lots of other things: “Stop donating to universities. Better, encourage others to stop donating. More important, do not send your children to university . . .” Irony is rich: Salzman is a retired professor. In any case, this report – put together by capitalists with a cold eye for the bottom line – repeatedly credits the universities turning out tech-skilled graduates as the key behind successful economic hotspots. What’s the secret behind Beijing? “Beijing’s greatest innovation asset lies in its preeminent education resources.” What’s the secret behind Melbourne, Australia? “It is only one of three cities in the world to have two top 20 universities in the global biomedical rankings.” What’s the secret behind Stockholm, Sweden? “Almost one-fifth of the entire workforce works in tech, the highest share of any other city in Europe.” They didn’t get there by not going to school. We could go on and on but you get the idea. The real question is what this means for communities that don’t have a university. We’ve seen some localities across the country create incentive programs to recruit more college graduates. Virginia’s tobacco commission – a misnomer because it’s charged with creating a new economy in former tobacco-growing counties – has joined this movement. Is that enough? Before his death last year, former Gov. Gerald Baliles urged a modern-day “Marshall Plan” to dramatically raise the educational levels in Southwest and Southside Virginia. Why haven’t we heard anyone follow up on that suggestion? For that matter, why haven’t we heard more about the campaign promise that Ralph Northam made in 2017 – to transform the University of Virginia’s College at Wise into a major research university with a specialty in renewable energy?

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