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The Future Requires A New Kind of Economic Development Thinking 

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

We’ve explored previously the need for a new kind of work force development thinking due to the changing economy, technology and the advent of automation and artificial intelligence in the workplace. Also fueling the need for change is the changing attitude of youth entering the workforce. Workforce training needs to include an introduction to a variety of skills and knowledge, making trainees more agile in coping with disruptive changes in the marketplace. 

Likewise, the new economy is forcing us to rethink the way we think about economic development. The old model has become outdated and there is no exact recipe book for the new model. Many politicians and policy makers at the state and national level don’t fully realize this need for change. They seem to think recruiting manufacturers and “bringing back our jobs” is the answer. Manufacturing is important but manufacturing jobs alone will not provide for a robust economy. 

Fortunately, here in Montgomery County, Kansas, we have an example organization that recognizes the need to change the economic development model to include tools for encouraging, inspiring and promoting entrepreneurship and small business development while being on the lookout for larger businesses that might want to relocate to the area. Montgomery County Action Council (MCAC), one of the few organizations that works on behalf of the entire county, received a grant to hire a consulting firm, “Ady Advatage”, to do an on-site analysis and assist in a county-wide economic development strategic plan. One of the “Ady” people came to Fab Lab ICC with MCAC representative and stayed long enough after the tour to understand what we’re trying to do with our entrepreneurship and small business development programs. An article in the Independence Daily Reporter on September 24, recapping a recent MCAC meeting states “The Fab Lab at Independence Community College is considered a key player in cultivating small business entrepreneurism (sic) and start-ups in this region.” This represents the new thinking that’s needed. A realization that in addition to recruiting companies to come into an area, there must be a hefty effort to promote start-ups and small business development. 

I believe that a maker space, like Fab Lab ICC or smaller in every rural community in Kansas, indeed America, could have a huge impact on economic development efforts. It can’t just be a geek maker space though as we see in some cities. It has to be a maker space obsessed with promoting entrepreneurship and small business development as we have been from the outset.  

Fortunately, we have three state-wide organizations that are very interested in our model and helping us spread the word around the state about the economic, and other, benefits of a maker space in a rural community. Network Kansas has been a supporter since just about the beginning, allowing their E-Communities around the state use some of their funding to send people to our Maker Space Boot Camps to learn how they might get something started in their communities. The Kansas Small Business Development Centers are developing a series of “Rural and Independent Innovators” (RIIC) conferences around the state to attract the rural and independent innovators we know exist but sometimes don’t know about. In November, I’ll be traveling to the RIIC in Dodge City to do a lunch-time program about how Fab Lab ICC has benefitted our region. Finally, the Kansas PRIDE program has just contacted us and is interested in promoting and educating the PRIDE communities in Kansas about Fab Labs and maker spaces. 

The time is right to change our thinking about economic development. In the words of a white paper I remember from back in the days of the 2008 recession it’s time to “Bring in the entrepreneurs.” 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu or Twitter @jimcorrellks. Archive columns and podcast at jimcorrell.com. 


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