Embrace Innovation or Be Left Behind

Kevin Crowder, RMA Director of Economic Development – Uber, Lyft, Waze, Airbnb, Yelp and Trip Advisor are transforming communities.  How city and county officials address these and future innovations will have a major impact on both economic development and local governments’ image and appeal.

“Entrepreneurship and innovation are the idealistic goals of local officials and economic development strategies,” said Kevin Crowder, RMA’s Director of Economic Development. “Unfortunately, local governments are finding out more and more that innovation and entrepreneurship do not evolve in quiet compliance with bureaucratic timetables and political agendas. Rather, they are driven by the need to fill a gap in the marketplace and respond immediately to their customers—customers that are also constituents.”

Uber and Lyft are successful because they respond to customer demands for clean, safe, timely and reliable transportation. Waze provides real-time traffic conditions and route adjustments that do not conform to the traditional traffic engineering models, along with information on roadway hazards and speed traps. Airbnb poses one of the most significant challenges for local governments, as it introduces transient uses and potential negative impacts into residential neighborhoods.

“Dealing with these new technologies is not easy for local governments and elected officials,” explained Crowder. “But how they choose to address them has economic development implications for that local government.”

Crowder asks, “How can a city promote itself as a center for innovation and entrepreneurship while at the same time doing everything it can to outlaw or severely restrict new technologies, often on behalf of yesterday’s entrenched industries? How is that going to attract the millennials that everyone is gushing about?”

The economic development leader also urges city leaders to understand how Yelp, Trip Advisor and other similar sites are impacting cities’ branding.

“Cities are losing control and management of their brand,” he said.  “As a visitor (or investor) who am I going to believe? The cities Visitor and Convention Bureau or 10,000 TripAdvisor reviews?”

Customer opinion and behavior forces businesses and entrepreneurs to constantly change and adapt to stay competitive in the marketplace. Cities also compete with each other for investment and innovation, and those that can figure out how to move into the future by embracing these technologies will improve their competitiveness.

Take Yelp for example. Yelp is not just for restaurants anymore; City services and processes are subject to review as well. The Miami Beach Police Department, Miami Parking Authority, and more importantly for economic development, Building Departments from Key Biscayne to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea have Yelp reviews. It’s no longer just good enough to say that you are business friendly; now cities actually have to perform.

So what steps can cities take to distinguish themselves from the competition for investment, businesses, entrepreneurs and millennials?

Crowder’s key strategies include:

  • Evaluate parking and transportation requirements within the context of lifestyle & behavior changes due to Uber, Lyft, CitiBike, CarToGo, Waze, and other new innovations.
  • Identify opportunities in active mixed-use neighborhoods to successfully integrate short-term rentals and overnight options such as AirBNB.
  • Use platforms like Yelp & TripAdvisor to improve your competitive position by engaging with customers and constituents.
  • Utilize Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms for true engagement with the public instead of using them as either static billboards or grandstanding platforms.

“Ultimately, the customer (constituent) wants services on their own terms, not anyone else’s,” Crowder stated. “If I am paying for a product or service, I will continue to grow more accustomed to dictating the terms of how I acquire that service, and if I’m not satisfied I will acquire it somewhere else. This dynamic will continue to drive innovation and entrepreneurship, and local governments that don’t get onboard risk being left behind.”