Last week the Greater Riverside Chambers of Commerce hosted the 38th State of the City address, and close to 1000 civic and business leaders attended the event.
During his address, Mayor Rusty Bailey expressed a number of ambitious goals for the city. One of particular interest to me is making Riverside more business friendly. I’ve been a vocal critic of the “warehousing” of our region, and have expressed in this column and elsewhere, the need to build on the diversity of our regional strengths including our stellar colleges and universities. Combined, these institutions are graduating thousands of students every year who in turn take their newly-minted degrees to other regions and states, in part because we do not have enough diverse jobs right here. Of course, students leave the region for other reasons – they return “home”, they want to live in larger cities with more amenities, they prefer a different climate, they have amazing job offers out of state, etc.
I recently shared an article “Forget Silicon Valley: 7 Better Cities for Start-ups” with a young tech entrepreneur who like me grew-up in San Bernardino, graduated from UCR, and is now working for himself and living in the IE. We meet and talk regularly about the need for Riverside and other Inland Empire cities to be more business friendly, especially for entrepreneurs and small business owners. The article highlights some of the findings in a new book by Tim Sprinkle, Screw the Valley: A Coast-to-Coast Tour of America’s New Tech Startup Culture that should be of interest to the leaders of our cities as they seek to attract a diversity of businesses to our region.
The cities featured in the book are not the typical metropolitan superstars:
Austin built on its base of tech firms that have been there for decades like IBM and Texas Instruments and the popularity of the SXSW festival. (We have our own powerhouse tech company Esri, the world’s fourth largest privately-held software company right here in Redlands.)
Boulder has a compact tight-knit downtown where entrepreneurs share ideas and make deals. And Brad Feld, the founder of the incubator TechStars and venture capital firm Foundry Group, is located there. (The company SendGrid, founded in Riverside by UCR graduates moved there to build their company as part of the TechStars accelerator program. SendGrid now employs over 162 people in Boulder, Denver, and Anaheim.)
Raleigh took advantage of its close proximity to the Research Triangle Park – three major universities within 30 minutes of each other – UNC, Duke and North Carolina State. The universities provide a steady stream of new talent to local startups and growing firms. (We have UCR, CBU, and LaSierra in Riverside, U of R in Redlands, Loma Linda University, and CSU San Bernardino.)
Detroit…Yes, Detroit! Entrepreneurs who grew-up in the area and consider it home are committed to a renaissance of the city including one entrepreneur who moved his company there, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, who is also investing his own cash to attract other entrepreneurs. (Sprinkle says there is a “contagious optimism” that all the Detroit entrepreneurs share “of being part of something bigger than just starting a company.”)
Other cities on the list are New York City, Kansas City, and Las Vegas. If Riverside is serious about being more business friendly, city leaders will work closely with the Chambers of Commerce and listen to the needs of business owners and entrepreneurs. They will also meet regularly with the leadership of our local colleges and universities to discuss how we can best retain some of the talented graduates who are leaving our region every year. And they can continue to develop innovative programs like Riverside ExCITE, but make sure the voices of the young entrepreneurs are heard. Perhaps Riverside (or another city in the IE) will be able to join the list of Better Cities for Startups as well.