04 Sep GYA: Grow Your Assets
On a pleasant June day in Fitchburg, Secretary of Commerce Cory Nettles talked about a “diverse portfolio” approach to economic development. His logic? Invest in Wisconsin’s economy as you would your personal investments: some moderate but time tested winners, some intermediate growers, and a few bucks to riskier ventures.
I can buy into this…with one caveat. Before making a single dollar of investment, Wisconsin must abandon gap analysis as an economic strategy tool and refocus its time, energy and money on mapping its assets.
Wisconsin is notorious for acknowledging – and focusing on – its gaps. Brain drain. Loss of manufacturing jobs. High taxes.
Don’t get me wrong; gap analyses are wonderful for:
A) Protestants – “Show me where I can work really hard and achieve only modest results!”
B) Catholics – “I feel so guilty about my gaps!”
C) Sado-masochists – “Gaps feel good.”
D) Professional politicians – “Gaps scare my constituents and get me re-elected.”
Gap analysis – by its nature – keeps Wisconsin focused on WHERE WE STINK. What’s worse, gaps are nearly impossible to climb out of in lean times – even with a doctrine – and don’t lend themselves to “quick fixes.” Forget the gaps; draw an asset map.
What is an asset map? It’s a list, diagram, chart, or visual that shows where Wisconsin’s GOOD NEWS is. Once your assets are known, they become your best bets for strategic action and up-tempo economic growth. For example, New Orleans is building a brand new, completely digital video recording studio on one of its university campuses. That’s an asset that New Orleans can immediately position for complementary business growth, and can pitch to Hollywood and all of her creative talent. It’s already working.
At my firm, we structure asset maps for clients around the seven community indicators that attract young talent: Earning; Learning; After Hours; Around Town; Vitality; Social Capital; and Cost of Lifestyle. Within these indexes, we find and map the community’s assets.
An asset map will be great for Wisconsin because:
A) Assets give us tangible things to talk about RIGHT NOW with VC’s and people on Midwest Airlines flights.
B) Assets energize all but the naysayers. And naysayers are just human versions of gap analysis – they should be ignored.
C) Asset maps uncover the investments that are the immediate best bets for further growth and development.
D) Investing in assets shows measurable growth more quickly, because you’re starting from a solid base of proven performance.
E) There’s a one-to-one correlation between your growth in assets and your growth in gap areas. But you must start by fertilizing the assets.
Rebecca Ryan is founder and partner of Next Generation Consulting. She drinks coffee from a mug that says, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Next Generation Consulting is a thinkubator committed to building Next Generation Companies and Communities. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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