This past week, I attended my ninth Maryland Economic Development Association (MEDA) annual conference. Each time I attend, I come away feeling smarter and better networked into the community of economic development. This year’s conference theme, “Research to Revenue: Harnessing Maryland’s Intellectual Capital for Economic Growth,” was very timely and interesting. The panels and speakers ranged from venture capitalists to entrepreneurs to practitioners.
One of the key takeaways from the conference speakers and panels was that conventional thinking and practices will get the same outcomes. If everyone is doing the same thing, nothing will change. The opening keynote speaker challenged the way economic development practitioners view technology transfer projects. The closing keynote, a venture capitalist, suggested that economic development may have added success if states or localities invest in start-up companies outside the region and, if successful, then bring them to the state or locality to permanently set up shop.
I had the opportunity to present our work on the National Establishment Time Series (NETS) data. These data have 45 unique attributes for each company such as number of employees and sales from 1990 through 2012. Moreover, all the data are geocoded, a feature that enables us to analyze business trends at the sub-county level. We hoped that this availability of data and our analytical and mapping expertise would enable local economic development organizations to have better information about their counties and the business districts within their counties.
Entrepreneurs at MEDA
There were several panels of entrepreneurs who spoke of their challenges with funding, hiring, and the culture within their organizations. While the cultures in each varied dramatically—from a very cerebral quiet office to a rather loud and rambunctious shop floor—all were in agreement that the state and local resources used to assist entrepreneurs were instrumental in their collective success.
Finally, the closing speaker offered a great story of combining a family business with technology. Hooper’s Island Oyster Company was started by a waterman using technology, university scientists, and passion to create a sustainably farmed oyster sold locally as well as in the mid-Atlantic region. Moreover, I can attest that the oysters were absolutely delicious. So, all in all, this past MEDA conference was a great success both for the mind and taste buds.