There are a lot of wild, unpredictable forces at play on our planet just now. On the one hand, trade and globalization are very much with us and have the same enabling and disruptive impacts on U.S. employment and our economic future as they've had over the course of the last half of the 20th century and the whole of our new century.
At the same time, there are powerful countervailing trends afoot, including a movement toward making more things in the United States -- things that we have produced lately using foreign workers, big international production companies, and -- sometimes -- black box operations.
The New Cup
Tulsa Global Alliance
courtesy of tulsa global alliance
A little over seven years ago, Sean Griffin and Kristen Bergman, two former California citizens/geek entrepreneurs came to Tulsa. Early on they did a variety of productive things -- including hooking up with then-Mayor Kathy Taylor. What came from this collaboration, the efforts of a range of folks at Spirit Bank -- including Royce Kelly and dozens of other committed Tulsans -- was our Tulsey event, the Spirit Bank entrepreneurial/start-up competition and a shiny raft of other early-stage company development and start-up support services that are now the envy of similar-sized cities in the region.
Now Griffin and Bergman have crafted a partnership with Mayor Dewey Bartlett, the City of Tulsa, the Economic Development Commission, and the State Department to "go global" using the spine of Tulsa's new wave entrepreneurial development machine: a gizmo Griffin and Bergman have put together piece by piece, building on their success with a gamut of local company entrepreneurial development efforts.
More specifically, they, together with help from Tulsa's Global Alliance -- a long standing operation that manages our sister city initiative -- have crafted a sprawling "economics" project that will build on entrepreneurial energy, start up enthusiasts and investors in Tulsa's eight sister cities, and match them with potential peer companies, markets, and other players in Tulsa. Some readers may know that our sister cities effort is one of the best in America. The "sisters" were established many years ago, and until recently focused more on cultural and social exchanges than economic matters.
Things in Play
"For most of the past 20 years trade has raced ahead of global economic growth, usually at about double its pace. GDP grew by 3.5 percent in 2006, the last healthy, pre-crisis year, and trade at 8 percent. This was, it seemed, a golden ratchet binding the planet ever closer. But the most recent 24 months show something that looks an awful lot like a trade shock. It isn't just that trade is no longer doubling -- it's slowing. In some crucial areas trade growth has slipped below GDP growth and this year, globally we'll be below the 20-year average rate of trade growth yet again. Figures on investment in assets held overseas, probably the best indicator of enthusiasm for globalism, are drifting down toward 40 percent, from more than 50 percent in 2008. The move is serious enough that economists have begun to ask: Is globalization running backward?"
The quote is from a recent Fortune piece by Joshua Ramos, who was also, famously, a senior manager at Henry Kissinger's international consulting firm. Ramos is a China "hand" -- that is, an expert on all things Chinese -- so his perspective on the nature of the international economic world news, is very deep and is very grounded.
But his observations don't mean that international trade is an engine that Tulsa can't use to produce additional jobs and start-up companies locally; his outlook simply means that we have to be very thoughtful, imaginative, and tightly tethered to Tulsa's competitive strengths and our fab, risk-happy business culture to play successfully in this new world.
In his State of the Union address some days ago, President Obama again called attention to a nascent -- but promising -- manufacturing "re-spark" effort: a gambit that his Commerce Department and other federal agencies are about to launch. This new push and the small but critical private market response are surely a seismic event for U.S. economic futures and a change that could have profound impacts on U.S. employment and our volatile manufacturing job sector.
This is a grand and powerful opportunity for Tulsa. As I tried to illuminate in earlier pieces, we are well positioned in Green Country to parlay, with our savvy oil patch production and industrial fabrication culture, OSU's downtown (taxpayer supported) Helmrich Advanced Manufacturing research facility, and our small but increasingly renowned Fab Lab facility on South Lewis Avenue.
Already, we've witnessed a tiny but important reprise of the production of "things" in the United States. Giant enterprises like General Electric and Apple -- and smaller but strategic ones like Tesla -- are reanimating domestic production lines and re-domesticating the increasingly tightly tethered product design and early stage manufacturing processes at the core of front rank firms.
One of the ways to continue to do business with international partners and players is to use the magic of re-shoring and all of the new technologies associated with it, together with the Internet to produce items remotely. Griffin's and Bergman's deep experience with Internet technologies, the web, visualization and the entrepreneurial process gives one lot of confidence that Tulsa's global Start-Up Cup project will be tightly connected to these explosive prospects.
Excitingly, the our new global startup cup project offers a novel portal -- an opportunity to manufacture on our shores, in fact in our town, on Green Country factory floors, prototype products that are being hatched in Israel, Japan, Taiwan, Russia, and Tulsa's other sister cities.
One More Thing
The Global Start-Up Cup project is a very good thing -- and it deserves the support of Tulsans across the board. But it also deserves public dollars and some of our philanthropic resources. I really get sick of this business of how something may be "good" -- but heavens to Betsy, we can't even think about spending local dollars on anything but the usual, often tired ole stuff. This is nonsense and we need to rethink this whole retrograde attitude -- it's stupid.
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