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What do Charles Darwin and Don King (the boxing promoter) have in common? Both have famous quotes that could also be applied to the challenge of stimulating economic growth in both cities and regions.


Charles Darwin said that, 'It's not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change'.

Don King – ‘I don't promote boxing, I promote people. Boxing is a catalyst to bring people together’.



Economic productivity and growth are key to how cities can address many of the challenges they currently face. Recent austerity has squeezed public budgets even further, budgets that were already struggling to meet the needs of a growing and aging population and its demands for improved public services.

Yet, given these challenges, a vast amount of government spend maintains the status quo, when actually, change is the thing that is needed.

A couple of my previous blogs have discussed the issues of a joined up strategy and using common platforms across cities to enable joined up services and therefore efficient use of funding. But why and how could cities also help stimulate economic growth.

A stimulated and growing local economy can have many benefits:

  • Reduce unemployment and therefore benefits payments
  • Improve the finances of the city through increased revenues from business rates
  • More and better jobs, bringing in more spending power in to the area
  • Development of a skilled workforce to meet demands of key sectors
  • More business start-ups and more businesses growing in the area
  • Retaining skills and graduates in the city because of increase job prospects
  • A growing economy provides a platform to bring enterprise, academia and communities together
  • Young people being developed 'ready for work’ as they see work opportunities
  • Ability to employ more apprentices in the region
  • By creating employment locally, people spend less money on commuting, leaving more disposable income to be spent locally.

So what steps can a city take to enable some of this growth to happen. In today's hyper connected world, I believe the first place to look is how a Networked or Collaborative Economy can help stimulate growth. By this I mean the city authorities acting as a growth catalyst by providing a digital environment that easily allows local organisations such as businesses, authorities and education to collaborate and help grow the economy. Examples of how this could be done include:

  • A local market place for businesses to do business together, i.e. source locally
  • Enable business to share resources such as multiple companies sharing the same delivery vans where they are travelling similar journeys
  • Identify and share a common freelance resource  pool allowing easy access to the right skills whilst not having to worry about keeping the freelancer full occupied
  • Facilitate discussions between higher education and business to build a relationship early and provide real world projects for students to work on
  • Facilitate international connections with other cities by promoting specific themes in the market place, for example tourism, digital creative services etc.

To do this a city area will need to provide the following:

  • A digital and possibly Internet of Things enablement platform, that provides the environment for business to collaborate and evaluate new products and services
  • City-wide buy-in and engagement into ‘networked and collaborative digital city’ ethos
  • A change of culture in the city organisations that supports and encourages innovation, using the city itself as a testbed for new approaches and technologies
  • Facilitate an investment network, bringing together angel investors and VCs with companies seeking investment. This could also extend to investors funding public /private partnership projects, but that's probably for another blog
  • At a national level, plan and position the city around a specialism, i.e. what does it want to be known for and build its growth around? For example Med-tech in East Anglia / Essex, Fabless around Bristol, Oil in Aberdeen and Renewable Energy in the North East of England.

So, back to Darwin and King. We are in a time of unprecedented change, with some of the biggest social and cultural changes we have seen in over 50 years, which includes the rapid shift to a Collaborative Economy. For cities to survive and more importantly prosper in these times, they will need to follow Darwin's advice and respond to (or even anticipate) the changes happening. But they can't do this on their own and only using the ever reducing public finances. This is where Don King's view comes in - to be successful the city needs to bring the various parties together acting as the catalyst for economic growth and providing that enablement platform to the businesses in the city.

Are you a Charles Darwin and a Don King? What's your plan for economic growth?

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