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Why Not Innovation?

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

I’m not fond of the idea of paying big money to retail consultants and branding experts to come into a city, telling us all the things we need to do to be prosperous.  They pretty much tell us things we already know or could come up with if we sat around a table at a brainstorming session.   

One of the things nearly all of them say is “You have to figure out what you want to be known for.  What is it that will make your city a destination?”  Cities come up with all kinds of ideas, many based on historical figures or events with which they’ve had some success in the past in attracting visitors.  There are usually other nice attractions in each city and the debate goes on about which one should become “the one thing” for which the city is known. 

The experts stir up the pot, getting everyone discussing what “the one thing” should be and then they leave town to go into the next town to do the same thing.  There are a couple of problems with this approach to choosing “the one thing”.  First, with every passing generation, interest in the historical figures and events will wane.  While it is sad (and perhaps a topic for another time), by and large youth don’t realize the value of history as a great teacher in how to stay out of future trouble.  So, they don’t care so much about the historical attractions.  Second, once chosen, how are the rest of us supposed to go about our daily lives supporting how “the one thing” can attract more interest? 

But wait.  What if we made innovation “the one thing”?  What, if instead of a parochial city by city approach we made innovation “the one thing” for a whole region?  That’s pretty much what Northwest Arkansas has done and it’s one of the hottest regional economies in the United States.  The people there have learned that a culture of innovation can make the whole region become a destination. 

Everyone can support innovation and innovation will never become dated.  Companies that innovate continuously not only stay viable in their markets, but in themselves become destinations for new workers and related suppliers or even competitors to move into the area.  Historical attractions can innovate to find new ways to be relevant to each generation of youth; interactive displays that blend the lessons of history with very effective and exciting experiential learning.  Schools can become innovative in the way they help students learn.  Local governments can be innovative in the way they serve their constituents as customers. 

Innovation provides the “one thing” attraction while allowing all the segments of a regional economy to contribute in their own way.  A region “where innovation happens” attracts tourists, residents and new businesses to the region because they want be where the action is. 

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 or Twitter @jimcorrellks.  

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