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What Next?

For the past week, much of the conversation around Dayton has been about NCR and their departure from the community.  NCR was founded by John H. Patterson over 100 years ago.  Patterson was an innovator, a community leader, and one of the pioneers of modern sales techniques.  One need not look very far to find reminders of his influence here in Dayton.  Like the Wright Brothers, Patterson is one of the iconic figures of Dayton’s history of innovators.

The loss of NCR is only the latest punch in the face to a city that has been dealt with a steady stream of haymakers for what seems like years now.  It creates some big tax problems for the city of Dayton and the surrounding communities, and short term it is tough.  Yet, I am oddly optimistic about what it means to Dayton.  Why?

Well NCR was Dayton’s last Fortune 500 company.  Its departure signals that we are no longer a city that can rely giant corporate entities for survival.  This city has so many talented people, many of them seeking their next opportunity.  It may well be that the next opportunity does not come in the form of a fancy, big corporate gig, but rather in the form of a start up or an innovative small business.  The talent pool is deep, the time is right, and the cost of living in Dayton is low – making it possible to live a comfortable life without having to make rediculous sums of money.  It is a great place for innovators to deliver innovation – for creators to create.  It also appears that the timing to be this kind of place might be perfect.  Why?

Well, on the same day that I was reading about NCR leaving Dayton, I also read a great article by Chris Anderson in Wired Magazine. The New New Economy: More Startups, Fewer Giants, Infinite Opportunity

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Bigger firms are harder to run on cash flow alone, so they need more debt (oops!). Bigger companies have to place bigger bets but have less and less control over distribution and competition in an increasingly diverse marketplace. Those bets get riskier and the payoffs lower. And as Wall Street firms are learning, bigger companies are going to get more regulated, limiting their flexibility. The stars of finance are fleeing for smaller firms; it’s the only place they can imagine getting anything interesting done.

As venture capitalist Paul Graham put it, “It turns out the rule ‘large and disciplined organizations win’ needs to have a qualification appended: ‘at games that change slowly.’ No one knew till change reached a sufficient speed.”

The result is that the next new economy, the one rising from the ashes of this latest meltdown, will favor the small.

If what Anderson asserts about the future is true, than Dayton has been forced into what might be a good place.  The future is not about huge Fortune 500 companies, it is about small, nimble, innovative collaborators who are willing to make change happen.  Our lack of big corporate influence may well prove to be an opportunity that creates a competitive strength.

We are being pushed involuntarily into life without big corporations and we are going to have to figure out how to survive, right now.  Other cities are going be forced to figure this out more slowly, and yes probably less painfully in the short term.  If we get it right, we will be well positioned for a sustainable and prosperous future.  It is this type of disruptive change that drives innovation, and as other cities cling to protect the model of the last century, Dayton has an opportunity to create the model for the next century.  We have little to lose, and a lot to gain by doing so.

The resources are here – low cost of living, ample entertainment options, nice surroundings, natural resources, a solid transportation infrastructure, innovative educational institutions, an abundance of displaced talent.  Combine that with a lack of options (no safety net) and you have the key ingredients for future growth. It is up to us to make it happen – each in our own ways.  It starts by believing it is so, changing out paradigm, and then day by day taking action to create positive change.

Of course, it is quite possible that we will waste this opportunity by wallowing in self pity, or trying to woo some new unnamed giant corporate savior to invest in the city, or laying blame on individuals for the loss of the “glory days” of our community, but I hope we choose a different path.  The same path the innovators of our past chose.  The path that was yet to be created.

Orville and Wilbur, the hallowed Wright Brothers, were 2 guys with a bike shop and a dream.  They changed the world.  John H. Patterson did the same.  We need to invest in the next Orville and Wilbur.  Help them stay here, dream, innovate, create, and change the world.  It can be done, if we decide it is to be so.

So to NCR, thank you for 100+ years of employing people in Dayton.  Good luck in Georgia.  We wish you the best.  Now it is time for us to get busy creating a future that does not include you, but is bright none the less – perhaps more bright than the glory days of John H. Patterson himself.

I encourage you to read Anderson’s article and give it some thought.

The New New Economy: More Startups, Fewer Giants, Infinite Opportunity