Last week United States Conference of Mayors President Kevin Johnson delivered a major speech about his new agenda, Cities 3.0 at the nation’s mayors annual conference in Dallas. Johnson, mayor of Sacramento (and yes a former professional basketball player), told the more than 200 mayors present:
Cities 1.0 were built around ports, rivers, and transportation routes…Cities 2.0 were fueled by big factories, big industry, and became destinations for the fulfillment of the American Dream…Cities 3.0 have to become hubs of innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology, that must provide a new kind of infrastructure citywide and become the laboratories and incubators of change.
Also released at that conference was a forecast of the metro areas projected to be the fastest growing in the country. Not only is rapid growth projected for the Inland Empire’s economy for the next six years, it is expected to be the fourth fastest growing in the nation and first in the state of California with a growth that is expected to outpace both Houston and Phoenix. Metro areas account for:
• 86 percent of all jobs
• 90 percent of GDP
• 92 percent of economic growth
So if Cities 3.0 must become incubators of change and the Inland Empire is one of the fastest growing metro areas in the country, what does that suggest for our future? What can we do to become a place where good ideas are not just born, but where they can thrive, develop, and grow? What should our cities’ leaders do now to prepare for a diverse, strong and knowledge-based economy as we grow?
A few months ago I attended an event at the UC Riverside Alumni Center organized by Louis Stewart, Deputy Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship for Governor Brown’s administration. As the director of the state’s iHub initiative, Louis is helping develop innovative ecosystems in the state, with a specific interest in colleges and universities as major assets in job creation and development in a region.
One of the presenters at that event was Terry Bills of ESRI. Founded in 1969, ESRI is an international supplier of GIS software and the second largest privately held technology company in the world and it’s headquartered right here in the Inland Empire. The company has 9,000 employees worldwide with 2,500 people based in Redlands. I had one question for Mr. Bills: why did the company remain here and not move to a more glamorous or technology focused region? His response: because Jack Dangermond, the founder and president, wanted the company to remain in his hometown, the place where he learned his business values growing up in his family’s plants nursery.
I posed the question to Mr. Bills because as a small business owner whose business is documenting the stories of this community, I am painfully aware of the “other” start-up stories. The ones that begin with the bright, talented young people who either grow-up in this region or attend one of our institutions of higher education, have a good idea, bring together a team to execute it, and then leave the area in order to grow the idea and the company. The SendGrid story immediately comes to mind because I know two of the founders Issac Saldana and José Lopez. Both Issac and José worked with Elmer Thomaswhen they were students at UC Riverside on other business ventures out of our BPC office.
In the summer of 2009 the guys founded SendGrid, a transactional email delivery and management service, and by December 2009 they applied and were accepted to the TechStars accelerator program and moved the company to Boulder, Colorado primarily for the “support” and “mentorship.” Just four years later SendGrid has raised over $27 million in investment funding, with offices in Boulder, Denver, Anaheim and London and operations in New York City and San Francisco, and now handles 1% of the world’s emails. They are the classic story of guys with a good idea and very few resources who had to move somewhere else to make their dream a reality.
Last week an article published on The Atlantic’s CITY LAB site (featuring an interactive map made with support of ESRI), argues that the ability to attract skilled workers is a key factor – if not the key factor – in the growth of cities and metro regions. “Means migration,” author Richard Florida explains, is the movement of highly educated and highly skilled people and is the key factor that shapes which cities will thrive and which will struggle. For every ESRI that stays here in our region to bring high quality, skilled, and knowledge-based jobs, there are hundreds of SendGrids that leave. We have to look at the tremendous growth of our cities here in the Inland Empire not as an opportunity to build communities of warehouses, but knowledge and technology hubs building on the assets we already have in abundance: our strong colleges and universities – UC Riverside, Loma Linda University, CBU, La Sierra University, University of Redlands, and CSU San Bernardino.