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The Secret Sauce For Creating Quality Jobs

In this election season no domestic issue is more critical than that of creating quality jobs. The national candidates talk about it and propose “macro” solutions – deregulation, infrastructure investments, changes in tax policy, etc. While such national policies can impact the environment that hampers or enables job growth, the more important policy issues and actions are those taken by local policy makers at the state, county and city levels. It is these decisions by local policy makers in business, government, education and not for profit organizations that will determine whether a community is a winner or loser with respect to new job creation and economic development.

A new book, Growing Jobs: Transforming the Way We Approach Economic Development by Thomas C. Tuttle tackles this question. Tuttle highlights two cities – Austin, Texas and Dubuque, Iowa as a way to show what works. These two cities have become widely recognized as successful economic development case examples and they are both different and similar. Austin is the fastest growing of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. and has a population of 931,830. Dubuque has a population of 60,595 making it the 10th largest city in Iowa. They differ in size and rate of growth however what they share is a commitment to the “place” and a willingness on the part of policy makers to place the interests of the place above their own self-interest. This leads to cooperation between leaders in business, government, education and not-for-profits with respect to policies and actions and this cooperation for the greater good is what both communities tout as their “secret sauce” with respect to economic development.

Dubuque has made the community vision quite explicit through it focus on “Sustainability” proposed by the Mayor upon his election but defined by a broad-based citizen commission engaged to define the meaning of Sustainability for Dubuque. This definition was accepted by the City Council and formalized in terms of concrete actions through their comprehensive plan.

In Austin the “vision” is somewhat less explicit but it has evolved through the years and is informally captured by the slogans to “Keep Austin Weird.” and “Austin-the Human Capital”. The city creates its unique attraction as a result of the combination of climate, geography, business friendliness, acceptance and celebration of diversity, music, nightlife, serving as the home of the flagship campus of University of Texas, a strong technology based economy, and the fact it is the capital city of Texas.

In the book, Tuttle analyzes in great detail the history, evolution and formal economic development practices that underlie this the “secret sauce” of the two cities. However, the formal economic development practices are much easier for other cities to duplicate than the “culture of collaboration” that these two success stories share. It is the “culture” of these two places that differentiate them and serve as the foundation for their continued economic success.