Learning Lab gathers ideas on making the most of talent in our cities

Photo credit: Flickr user Jai Kapoor.

What do you see when you think about what the workforce looks like in your city?

The traditional view has been people working full time Monday through Friday, from 9 to 5. But the reality is not that simple. Since 1970, the number of self-employed people as a share of total jobs has more than doubled. Today there is more than one self-employed person for every five wage and salaried workers. Some call these people “solo entrepreneurs.” They are still far from a majority of the workforce, but they are much more prevalent than most people think, and researchers predict the number will continue to grow.

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This transition to self-employment creates new challenges for cities. Who is the target of a city’s economic development efforts if more than 20 percent of its workers are self-employed? What type of support do solo entrepreneurs need? How can public places and programming be used to make independent workers as productive as possible? 

There are no certain answers, but here at Knight Foundation we want to facilitate the conversation. We also want to understand for our own work what role cities can play. That’s why this week we’re holding a Civic Innovation Learning Lab on Harnessing Talent on Wednesday, April 23. It’s the second in a series of three labs that will culminate in a Civic Innovation in Action Studio in May where we will try to emerge with ideas for testing in cities. Last month we held a lab on advancing opportunity, and we plan to hold a lab on robust engagement on Thursday (check Knight Blog for details on that one later this week).

The harnessing talent lab will convene via Web conference experts from multiple fields with Knight Foundation staff to share existing research and ideas on the programs, platforms and policies that are needed in an economy with an increasingly fluid and independent workforce.

Invited experts include:

·      Stephan Goetz of Pennsylvania State University, who will share his findings on proprietorship formation and job growth, and economic impacts of self-employment.

·      Richard Greenwald of St. Joseph’s College, who has met with more than 200 freelancers for his book scheduled to be released in 2014, “The Death of 9-to-5: Permanent Freelancers, Empty Offices and the New Way America Works.”

·      Brian Headd of the U.S. Small Business Administration, who will share insights from his work analyzing small businesses, including the relationship of firm size and “creative destruction.”

·      Erik Pages of Entreworks Consulting, who will discuss the “1099 Economy,” the self-employed who make up one-fifth of the American workforce.

·      Martin Ruef of Duke University, whose research examines the relationship between a community’s social capital and its levels of self-employment:  “Community Social Capital and Entrepreneurship” and “Trusting Communities Foster Entrepreneurship.”

·      Anil Rupasingha of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, who has conducted research on self-employment’s relationship with local economic performance and the concept of “economic gardening.”

·      Gretchen Spreitzer of the University of Michigan, who will share insights from her not-yet-released research on co-working spaces and the connections to her previous research.

The Civic Innovation Learning Lab on Harnessing Talent is scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon EDT, Wednesday, April 23. Follow the conversation on Twitter via @knightfdn and #knightcities.

Carol Coletta, vice president of community and national initiatives at Knight Foundation