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Review of “People and the Competitive Advantage of Place” by Shari Garmise 2009/12/09

Posted by brisell in Economic Development.
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Shari Garmise has written an intriguing book for planning professionals called People and the Competitive Advantage of Place: Building a Workforce for the 21st Century which introduces the concept of a people centered approach to economic development planning.

Garmise believes that equity is the essential component of a successful economic development strategy because without talented, creative people, the United States would not have the skills to compete globally. Garmise states that people “create, innovate, invent, repair, maintain, nurture, apply and transfer knowledge and then find economic and social uses for knowledge.” These are all things that people can do that technology cannot. This is why Garmise believes that creating a strong workforce of knowledgeable people should be the main objectives of an economic development planner. We need entrepreneurs who will merge resources and implement and advocate new approaches and tools that enhance labor force mobility and transparency. We need to implement strategies that will focus specifically on expanding and widening the talent pool

Garmise sees place as not a set of physical attributes but a complex set of physical, human, social and economic attributes. Place is centered on the livability and the creativity of the human environment. What makes a city dynamic, sustainable, exciting and just place is the people who live there, not the buildings there.

Garmise believes that we need to become a community that puts equity alongside the pursuit of wealth. We also need to be a society that enhances the talents of all, not just a few. A city should be able to adapt the character, culture and amenities of place to serve a diverse range of people

She lists many strategies we can use to accomplish this goal of a more people centered approach to planning: 1. Develop and strengthen intermediaries as system entrepreneurs, because they broker information across the labor market and create new opportunities. 2. Enhance labor market mobility by increasing skill standards and providing a common language in training options to align workers expectations with business needs. 3. Implement workforce talent expansion strategies by increasing college access and attracting and retaining skilled workers. 4. Engage the business community in system design and train consumers. We need to appoint the business community to shape the talent pool employers are looking for because without including employers, your plans for workforce development will fail. 5. Create a linked workforce by using economic and social services to support labor market mobility, advancement and lifetime learning. Workforce strategies need to service all skill levels and ages because talent development is continually in motion and requires a range of adaptable skills.

With a people centered approach to planning there are several roles for planners to take on. They should use land development to increase regional knowledge assets. They should build research parks to encourage commercialization of new ideas and inventions. Planners need to revitalize downtowns to increase their attractiveness to young professionals. They should also plan competitive places that will have to include the infrastructure to support people’s development. For planners getting into the field of economic development, they should realize that making deals to increase physical assets should no longer be the core need. Planners’ main goals should be to find new ways to build knowledge, influence human behavior, and develop human assets.

In the past, location strategies have aimed to minimize place differences to make some places more attractive to investors. In this innovative book by Shari Garmise she has brought in the wonderful idea that now strategies should try to differentiate place by creating specializations that shape local markets and brand their unique characteristics. This is a must read for any planning professionals, especially those getting into the field of economic development planning.

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