In the comments section of my last post, we began to discuss ideas for future business development in Amsterdam. I’d like to get into this topic in a little more detail because I believe that our current “default” strategy in this area is incomplete and out of date. I believe that there are great opportunities for Amsterdam to take advantage of the trends in the current economic climate, but to do so requires an entirely new game plan.
Our current situation has us relying on the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency (AIDA) to lead in the area of business development. AIDA’s benefit to the city can be seen primarily by the ten or so businesses that occupy the Edson St. Industrial Park which is administered by AIDA, as well their role in helping several other larger businesses within the city.
A majority of the companies in the park, such as Fiber Glass Industries, Breton Industries, Power and Composite Technologies, Saratoga Horseworks, Mohawk Sign Systems, and Fort Miller Company, are manufacturing businesses. All the buildings in the park are very large in size, and I would venture to guess that most of the businesses employ 100 people or more (either at their Amsterdam locations alone or the total for all their locations).
Based on these observations, I think it is safe to say that our city’s “default” strategy for business development is currently geared toward larger manufacturing (ie “industrial”) companies. This is precisely what I believe needs to change in order to jumpstart our city’s economy. We need to broaden the scope of the types of businesses that we work to attract.
Most people are aware that manufacturing jobs have been declining in America. This graph illustrates just how steeply they have plummeted since 2001. Going forward, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of manufacturing jobs will continue to decrease. Overall GDP of the manufacturing sector continues to rise due to increasing productivity (that’s a whole other topic), and no doubt manufacturing will continue to be an important and sizable part of our economy. But based on the employment numbers, it should become obvious that we cannot continue to look at only manufacturing companies to create jobs.
According to the BLS, the types of jobs that will be growing in numbers include those in the fields of healthcare, science and information technology (especially network systems, data communications, computer software and application engineers). In the area of healthcare, we have St. Mary’s Healthcare as the largest employer in the area which provides a base for this industry in the region. My hunch is that this industry will continue to grow just fine in Amsterdam on its own. What I don’t see is any progress toward or vision for attracting science or information technology jobs.
The other problem is the size of businesses that AIDA appears to be geared for. Crucial to creating new jobs are new business startups. According to research done by The Kauffman Foundation, most startups average between 5-8 employees, and the trend shows that number has been getting smaller over the past few years. What resources does AIDA have to attract and assist this type of small business?
Another emerging trend in businesses startups in the increasing percentage of sole proprietorships, otherwise know as self-employed workers or “freelancers”. According to the same research done by the Kauffman Foundation (cited above), single employee businesses now make up more than 27% of new business startups, and the number of multi-employee startups has actually fallen in comparison. So the question has to be asked again: what resources does AIDA have to attract and assist these types of new businesses?
The Kauffman Foundation sums up their research this way…
… policymakers’ focus on big changes in employment because of events such as a new manufacturing plant or the recruitment of a business to a community ignore the more important fact that our jobs outlook will be driven more by the collective decisions of the millions of young and small businesses whose changing employment patterns are not as easy to see or influence.
Given that idea, I believe our city can become more attractive to smaller science and information technology based businesses. Here’s what I believe needs to be done…
- Clearly define AIDA’s mission to focus on large manufacturing businesses (or other large businesses). Pursue integration of AIDA with the Montgomery County IDA to facilitate funding of larger projects.
- Create a separate entity to attract and assist small business. The incubator center that Flippin proposes as part of his Big A initiative is exactly what we need. While other incubator projects in the area have had less than desirable results, I think Flippin hits the nail on the head as to how this idea would be different:
Where will companies come to occupy the incubator? They will originate from various venture and startup programs at local universities. The incubator will recruit firms from the surrounding area (even westward) as it will have what startups want: dollars to invest and space. The fact that funding exists acts as a big differentiator to other programs.
- In addition to an inventory of the larger structures and property available for business use, an inventory of smaller spaces, including rentable space (such as in the Clock Tower and Noteworthy buildings) must be made available online and updated regularly.
- In order to attract self-employed entrepreneurs, fund the formation of a co-working facility such as this one in Fort Collins, Colorado.
- Form a business organization similar to a Chamber of Commerce, but exclusive to the city and which facilitates more structured networking between businesses, markets the city’s business opportunities, and serves as “welcome wagon” to new businesses moving into the area.
I believe these initiatives will put our city on the right track to taking full advantage of the emerging economy. Other ideas? Post them in the comments section!