5.0 out of 5 stars
This book will change the way you think about economic development.
February 17, 2012

That’s a big idea and according to Lautman the secret sauce in an effective economic development program. Your economy has to grow faster than your population. Sounds simple right? In this thought provoking book, he explores the powerful demographic changes facing our communities, our country and our world that make the business of growing jobs look like the least of our problems.

I think we all understand the linkage between and a healthy growing economy and productive and growing workforce development. Today’s unemployment rate makes it easy to focus on job creation as the fix, at least in the short term, to our problems. What I think we don’t understand intimately enough is the affect the boomers exiting from the workforce (and the unpreparedness of our younger generation) will have on our communities. Maybe even worse, we aren’t even looking at the problem through the right lens.

In this 200 page book, Lautman introduces a number of different lens (maybe too many?) to evaluate the magnitude of the problem. Part One covers the forces in play changing dramatically the workforce “pie” and the distribution of the Too Old, Too Young, Qualified and Unqualified. To be honest, this chapter scared me. A lot. He uses some great charts to illustrate the demographic changes that will alter the future availability of the capital so vital to supporting economic growth – human capital.

Part Two explores communities, why they’re important and how the “weak side” of the economic development equation will become a dominant determinant in the effectiveness of your economic development programs. I loved this section’s emphasis on base economic jobs and just how economies grow. These are important foundational concepts that often get left out of the discussion. He uses some great examples of “what if” scenarios to demonstrate what ignoring your community and its appeal to the Qualified cohort will have on your future economic well- being.

I also really liked the emphasis on community leadership being a critical factor for future success. It’s easy to think in this business if we build it, they will come. Not so easy, says Lautman, who presents a hierarchy of economic development environments ranging from Hostile to Strategic Elite.

“Catastrophic full employment” is the phrase the author uses to describe the coming demographic tsunami. The zero-sum game we so often here attributed to traditional business attraction in economic development, now comes home in the form of a global war for talent. My copy is marked up quite a bit and that’s because Part Three was full of insightful snippets. The central theme being – if you don’t have the people, you’re out of the game.
Fortunately, Lautman finishes with a practical chapter on how we might be able to better protect against becoming the “Loserville” he describes with doomsday detail.

Lautman, at times, is perhaps too harsh on our educational institutions and his wild caricatures of economic development programs and communities are at times laughable. He never misses a chance to call a spade a spade, but his candor is refreshing and you never lose touch with his sense of the enormity of the challenges facing us.

There is plenty to learn here and I recommend this book for economic development practitioners and workforce development professionals (or anyone who wants to make their community better in the future). A guided group read would a powerful way to take some of these ideas and make them actionable. Book club anyone?

Sara J. Dunnigan