The farmers didn’t lead us through the Industrial Revolution. They saw it unfolding around them, and some embraced the newfangled machinery to improve their own productivity and remain competitive. They weren’t leading the revolution. The innovators of the industrial age were.
Zoom forward to today (yes, pun intended) and we see the same movie playing out but with different actors. Technology innovators in fields like software, biotechnology and robotics are creating new tools and ways of doing things which, like during the industrial age, are revamping practically every facet of our lives and thus the world economy. Whether we know them or not, these are leaders of today’s economic revolution. They can see the future because they are creating it.
We have amazing innovators here, disrupting mobility and transportation, manufacturing and health care around the world. They are important leaders in the innovation economy and a relatively untapped resource for our region. One of the most important actions we can take for improving our economic competitiveness is to engage more of these innovators in the economic development and community planning processes alongside our existing, incumbent leadership. Inserting more innovation leaders on our region’s governing boards, planning committees, etc., will be critical to our success.
When NEXT was envisioned and founded over a decade ago as an economic development platform for attracting and supporting innovation-based entrepreneurship, we instilled this principle into the very DNA of the organization by ensuring that the entrepreneur voice was the loudest and most important in the room. This was not well understood at the time and viewed as very unconventional for an economic development organization. Yet it made all the difference in the end, resulting in hundreds of ventures supported and thousands of new high-paying jobs for our area.
For us to be more competitive going forward, we will need to be more intentional and aggressive at pulling successful entrepreneurs, innovators and disruptors inside the Upstate leadership tent. After all, who better to help guide us forward than the folks blazing the trail?