The ERC has a new candidate for its hot seat

Jon Gregory: Next man in the hot seat?

Jon Gregory: Next man in the hot seat?

The Economic Resource Council is negotiating with the leader of a regional job creation organization to become the outfit’s new executive director.

Jon Gregory, co-founder and managing director of Innovate North State in Chico, would be the fourth leader of the ERC since January 2012 if he is hired. Incoming board chair Lisa Swarthout thinks he’s the man to stabilize the organization.

“Jon Gregory has the skills, experience, the connections and the overall wherewithal that we need as an organization,” she told The Union. “He is a seasoned economic development professional.”

Innovate North State was established in April 2012 to create jobs in the area by helping spur the growth of young, innovative companies. The organization’s Web site doesn’t list any success stories, but that may be because it has been in business less than two years.

And that raises an issue with Gregory. His extensive resume indicates he never stays one place very long, hardly the kind of person to create the stability Swarthout claims to want.

On the positive side, Gregory has experience in angel financing, the funding of companies in the early stages of development that gives them traction and a chance to succeed. But that assumes we can get innovators to come here in the first place.

Local boosters constantly talk about the attraction of this area to young entrepreneurs looking for a place to raise their families. But new evidence suggests they aren’t in touch with reality.

A national survey conducted earlier this year by the Urban Land Institute found that 58 percent of Gen Y workers–the 18- to 34- year-olds who are creating most of the new wealth in the Bay Area these days–prefer to live in the suburbs or medium to large cities.

The total is 56 percent for Gen X–workers 35 to 47. Only Baby Boomers–48 and up–prefer small towns and rural areas (53 percent).

Highly educated workers are clustered in a small number of cities. In 2010, more than 43 percent of Americans with bachelor’s degrees chose to live in 20 metropolitan areas, primarily tech hubs, according to research from the Brookings Institution.

Nearly 200 Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in the top 50 cities, and others are opening high-profile satellite offices in nearby cities. Startup companies are following suit, according to the land institute.

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One Response to The ERC has a new candidate for its hot seat

  1. stevefrisch says:

    I am hoping the ERC can get a leader who will stick, will unify the county economic development efforts in the areas where they should be unified, and who will focus a good deal of effort on building an environment to support innovation and expansion for the small and medium sized businesses we already have in Nevada County.

    The trends that you quote above from ULI about innovative workers going to urban centers are certainly accurate, but that does not mean that we do not have a sub-culture in the local business community who are innovators, and who are actively working on innovation based start ups or expansions of markets for existing businesses. We at SBC are seeing a proliferation of start up efforts, much of it in the tech services, food systems, shared ownership, and recreation and tourism sectors. We are also seeing a growth of support networks through efforts like the Silicon Mountain Group and Thrive Tahoe on the east side and Sierra Commons on the west side (amongst others). I am encouraged because this represents the beginning of building a new infrastructure to support a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation based businesses which can compliment the services available from for traditional providers like SEDCorps, the SBDC’s and Sierra College. Most ED professionals have identified that building an environment that supports entrepreneurship is the first step.

    Nor does the move of innovation workers to the cities mean that we do not have the intellectual capital in Nevada County that can support these efforts. Nevada County actually is one of the most highly educated counties in the state; 38% of Nevada City residents, 28% of Grass Valley residents, 34% of Penn Valley residents, and 43% of Truckee residents are college graduates. True many of our educated residents are retired, but they represent an asset that seems to be highly valuable if we could tap them more effectively to mentor, provide advice and support and invest. More than 50% of income in Nevada County is transfer payments rather than earned income, primarily in the form of retirement funds; if we could tap some of that wealth that currently sits in stocks, bonds, IRA’s, 401K’s, and pension funds to invest a small portion in local ventures it would represent a capital pool that could kick start new innovation based businesses.

    My sources tell me that one of the big issues with the ERC has been too many ‘leaders’ who think they ‘know’, and not enough focus on implementation. (I am sure I am goring a friendly ox or two out there, but I am just telling it like I hear it.) I am hoping that when the ERC does get a new leader the board of the organization will step back into a board oversight, strategic direction setting and fundraising role, and allow the new leader a free hand to actually run the organization and implement. I have long been a proponent of picking the two or three places where intervention and support can actually make a difference and focusing on those. That is hard to do when everyone in a position of leadership has a pet strategy and no one is willing to let it go to find the places where we can collaborate to get focused success.

    I was vey encouraged that Robert Bergamn attended the recent California Economic Summit that was focused on policy initiatives at the state level that could create more fertile ground for innovation on the ground.

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