Monday, March 19, 2007

tofflers' take

Here is a quick recap of Alvin and Heidi Toffler's visit to Youngstown on March 8th.

Their first scheduled appearance was in the Zona Auditorium at the Butler Institute of American Art. In recent months, there have been a series of community meetings on innovation called TH3, or Third Thursdays at Three. The running joke throughout the day was that the Toffler TH3 event took place on the First Thursday at 1pm. or something like that.

Because of the Butler's proximity to campus, many in the audience were academics. I had the ability to meet for the first time two other NEO bloggers immediately after the event, Tim and Gloria Ferris, whose faces I had never seen, but whose voices have been a driving force on the Meet the Bloggers podcasts.

Since many other bloggers and news outlets have concentrated on the Tofflers' background and books, I'm just going to skip directly to the possible solutions to aid the local economy that were provided later in the evening.

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Bathed in the light of the setting sun, Stambaugh Auditorium was the host for the evening lecture.

Opened in 1926, Stambaugh Auditorium's distinctive pillars on both the outside and inside of the building are quite stunning. A very nice crowd came to listen to the Tofflers' words.

Towards the end of the speech Alvin Toffler provided a few recommendations, although he stated he was no "snake oil" salesman with all the answers. Here are a few:

1 - Create a regional DARPA-like organization linking the innovative capacity throughout Northeastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. To my understanding, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is a component of the Department of Defense, instructed to focus in a very goal-oriented manner on specific research and development projects for the military. Instead of a top down model of waiting for research to bear fruit, DARPA's bottom up model tries to solve all the smaller problems, which adds up to solving the big challenge.

In many people's minds, DARPA = a unique way to perform transformative research.

I like this idea a lot, especially the first time I read it within the recommendations of the Rising Above the Gathering Storm national competitiveness report by the National Academies, although Toffler's angle is from a regional perspective. btw, the final print version of the NAS report was released this week, after existing for quite a while in pre-publication form.

2 - Have an "Institute of Innovation" which celebrates the world's innovations and assists the local tourism business. I immediately thought of the Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron.

How is that working out, by the way?

3 - Provide startup funds and retraining to recently laid-off employees with the hopes that they would become entrepreneurs.

4 - Have local television stations create programs, maybe 15 minutes in length, highlighting successful entrepreneurs in the community, and showing others in the region that their business dreams are possible. I liked this idea. Sometimes I feel local media only skims the surface of what is going on entrepreneur-wise in the region.

A good regional newspaper to emulate is local economic development beat of The Oklahoman from Oklahoma City.

5 - Ask the unions to be partners in innovation.

6 - Create design centers to attract people.

7 - Provide a $100 laptop to every student in the region, like they are preparing to do for third-world countries through MIT Media Labs.

8 - Appoint a diplomatic core from Youngstown, with bases in Washington, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland to engage others, promote business and collect information.

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In this same building, next monday March 26th - Steven Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics will be giving a presentation which is FREE to the public at 7:30pm.


Pho said...

Have an "Institute of Innovation" which celebrates the world's innovations and assists the local tourism business. I immediately thought of the Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron.

How is that working out, by the way?

OK, but just OK, I'd say. The HoF serves as 1) a children's discovery museum and 2) A civic institution bringing people together to celebrate innovation. On point 1) the facility suffers from being in, let's be frank, a cold, dark basement. What they have is cool, though.

On point 2, I'd say the Hall just isn't visible enough in the community. Don't know what to do about that, tho. The Induction Dinner is cool, but it's black tie and invite only, so hardly serves as a community hub.

The one potentially exciting development is the plans to but a math/science/tech middle school in the Hall. Plans are on the books, but with each round of budget cuts we hold our collective breaths.

Janko said...

I've never been to that place. Will have to stop by next time I go and see friends in Akron.

Thanks for the insight!