BOOK REVIEW: Brain Gain: How Innovative cities create job growth in an age of disruption

I have been a fan of the Intelligent Community forum for quite a while now. I have attended their annual conference many times and led Dakota County’s Intelligent Communities’ initiative that led to three consecutive years recognition as a Smart 21 Intelligent Community. I also brought the Intelligent Community concept to the Blandin Foundation to serve as the framework for their Minnesota Intelligent Rural Community project. Most recently, I worked with ICF co-founder Robert Bell on a project with three rural Louisiana communities. I provide all of this background to let readers know that I have a favorable bias towards the ICF concept and team.

I recently read Brain Gain: How Innovative cities create job growth in an age of disruption. The authors, ICF co-founders Robert Bell, John Jung and Louis Zacharilla, provide numerous interesting stories about communities creating their own positive future. The stories are quite varied, but share common threads woven together into the quilt of the Intelligent Community elements – broadband, innovation, knowledge work, digital inclusion and marketing/advocacy.

The stories are from great urban centers, suburbs and rural regional center communities. The common element is smart and sometimes heroic leadership, often shared across business, government and education sectors. Shared vision, collaborative strategy, long-term commitment-these are at the heart of the all of these success stories. All involve creating an environment that can support business development and entrepreneurship. The themes are similar to those expressed in the book “The Rain Forest” by Hwang and Horrowitt.

With a visit today to the FDR and MLK memorials, it reminded me that the ICF founders have always had a strong commitment to social equity as expressed through the Digital Inclusion ICF element. In fact, this book makes the case that creating and supporting an inclusive, innovative, well-skilled and well-connected workforce may be the most important strategy that any community, large or small, should prioritize.

I recommend this book for a number of audiences- for community leaders wanting to learn about success stories; for community economic developers who want to know how broadband and digital inclusion fit with more traditional economic development elements of innovation, workforce and marketing; and for community broadband advocates who know that broadband is important, but not sure how the full benefits of current and prospective fiber networks can be realized.

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