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Building A Cluster (For Economic Development)

So I’ve been think about this for a few years now. The idea that I could engineer an ecosystem that builds people and economies. Something the professionals call a cluster. I’ve long admired some of the heavy weights in business and economics. The Steve Schwarzman, Mark Kramer, Michael Porter, and Larry Finks’ of the world (if you don’t know who these people are, you should. Google them please). They seem to always be thinking of ways to solve problems on a global scale. I call these people “leaders of the human race.” Bill Gates took it upon himself to eradicate polio from the earth with his foundation. Elon Musk took it upon himself to transition the world to sustainable energy with his company Tesla. These people are having an impact on another level with mission statements that are larger than life. I feel like I can do the same. I too, can have a global impact. My mission: to build scalable models for regional cluster-based economic development.

Let me explain. Based on my research, economic development on the regional level is the most impactful. And in order for regional economic development to be sustainable, you have to build a cluster. So what is a cluster? It’s an ecosystem that has elements which reinforce each other towards building a common economic goal. For instance, there could be a beach town with beautiful beaches and blue water. But this alone is not enough to create a tourist destination. To create a tourist destination you need a cluster or a coordinated ecosystem. This means that in addition to the beautiful beaches, you also need hotels, restaurants, nightlife, transportation, roads, etc. It’s the coordination of all these industries that make for a good tourist destination.

This understanding is the basis for my hypothesis. I believe we can coordinate multiple areas of community engagement, layer it with strategic partners, and create a cluster that empowers the people in any community. We can lift underserved communities both economically and socially with this model. We can build our ecosystem from the ground up using certain time-tested pieces as foundational building blocks. Those time tested pieces can be universal truths for a particular community, or an organization, or a government agency. The key is that any foundational piece we use must be authentic, and able to coordinate with the other pieces we put into the cluster. If built properly, each cluster should be sustainable and continue to produce positive outcomes into the future. Also by using one model that empowers multiple regions, we can connect our learnings and outcomes. We have been testing this model on a small scale for the past three years. We have learned that this is not only a viable way to reach underserved communities, but also a way to create new innovations that solve problems in a sustainable way.

What are the foundational pieces we need to start developing our cluster? Two key elements are entrepreneurship to build economics, and strategic partnerships to achieve scale. Entrepreneurship is the only way to organically grow any economy. We’ve learned that one of the best ways to empower a community is to find ways to cultivate ideas and knowledge from that community. Focusing on entrepreneurship gives people a pathway to innovate and solve problems using a business model, which makes it sustainable. Strategic partnerships allow us to scale these actions throughout the entire region. We have also learned what makes for a good strategic partner. Our strategic partners must have scale in a region as well as trust in that region. They also must be aligned with our mission. The last thing they must have is an active focus on the area we are going into.

The foundations of this idea comes from me doing years of community engagement initiatives. I’ve worked on both sides on these partnerships and there is a certain way to engage for maximum impact. Things like leading with empathy and being authentic, are paramount when building a cluster for economic development. The regions that house the underserved and disenfranchised need a holistic approach that accounts for social disparities as well as economic empowerment. Our model addresses these areas in a collaborative and connected way.

This year (2022) will be exceptional. We are testing the viability and scalability of our model in multiple regions around the US. We have lots of great partners that are participating in this effort. We will be processing a lot of data throughout the year, on how to build this kind of cluster. Our goal is to be the go-to organization for developing sustainable economic development strategies. Our model will be repeatable anywhere around the world.

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