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I recently realized that Rhode Island is like the Chicago Cubs of the economic- development world. We never win the prize.
Our record of underachievement in the economic-development space is astounding. For decades the collective genius and energies of governors, legislators, union leaders, policymakers and others have unintentionally misspent our time and fortunes trying to move the economic-development needle of the tiniest state in the nation forward to no avail.
How could some of the smartest people in the state, working for decades, rack up such a dismal record? While I am not an economic-development expert I have been involved in the conversation to varying degrees for 30 years.
I’ve built many organizations in the state, as an entrepreneur and consultant; I served on the Economic Policy Council for several years and spent five years as the chairman of a large industry cluster that is still helping Rhode Island’s IT and life sciences industries grow.
This experience has led me to conclude why all our efforts at economic development have essentially failed.
Simply put: We have been playing the game all wrong.
Our road to recovery begins by applying three quotes from Einstein and adopting a strategy for “winning while small” from Major League Baseball.
First the quotes:
• “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
• “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
• “A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be (or wants to be).”
The first two quotes tell us we must think and act differently if we want different results.
The third quote suggests we accept and enthusiastically embrace the reality that the largest economic engine Rhode Island will ever have is our small- and medium-sized businesses
There’s no shame admitting Rhode Island isn’t attractive to mega-corporations and that entrepreneurial startups are too risky, resource-needy and too slow to grow for what we need. Both are important, but neither are solutions.
Einstein’s third quote tells us that it doesn’t matter whether or not anyone likes this fact. What is so, is what is so.
Therefore, any successful ED strategy must focus upon making our existing small businesses and medium-sized businesses very successful. This is really good news for several reasons. They’re already here; they’re tough and smart (they survive in the country’s worst economy); they’re loyal and they’re like Clydesdales when it comes to building things!
These folks have everything necessary to rebuild a devastated economy - as Ernesto Sirolli’s Ripples from the Zambezi so deftly proves.
“Moneyball” is a David vs. Goliath strategy described in Michael Lewis’ best-selling book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.”