National Fourth Economy Community Index Lists Top 10 Mega-Sized Counties for 2015

141204-FECIndexFourth Economy Consulting announces the latest release of its national community index, listing top counties from across the nation. The Fourth Economy Index highlights those communities ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth within the fourth economy.

PITTSBURGH, PA – The latest release of the Fourth Economy Community Index (FEC Index, #FECIndex) was announced today listing the nation’s top ten mega-sized Fourth Economy Communities. These communities are recognized as the regions ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth among all regions with a population greater than 500,000 people.
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National Fourth Economy Community Index Lists Top 10 Mid-Sized Counties for 2012

Fourth Economy Consulting has launched a new index, listing top counties from across the nation. The Fourth Economy Index highlights those communities ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth within the fourth economy.

PITTSBURGH, PA – A newly created “Fourth Economy Community (FEC) Index” was released today listing the nation’s top 10 mid-sized Fourth Economy Communities. These communities are those ideally positioned to attract modern investment and managed economic growth.

The “fourth economy” characterizes the nation’s current economic condition, reflecting a combination of the previous three to include agrarian, industrial, and technological. This new index is intended serve as a dashboard for community stakeholders to gauge their capacity to attract and retain modern investment.

“We have worked with numerous communities and economic development organizations across the country and are witnessing first hand the ways communities are responding to the new economic reality,” said Rich Overmoyer, Fourth Economy President and CEO. “We are using these experiences to launch the Fourth Economy Community Index.”

“It is not surprising to see the leading fourth economy counties blend both rural and urban character, offering their residents diverse living and working options,” said Stephen McKnight, Fourth Economy Consulting Vice President of Community and Market Assessments.

“Another common attribute is a geographic association with institutions of higher education, which are the modern engine in the fourth economy. As a result, these communities can provide the talent and place-based strategies that address housing, recreation and amenities for smaller, high-value businesses to thrive,” McKnight added.

About the Fourth Economy Community Index

The Fourth Economy Community Index considers several county-level measures within five areas: 1) Investment, 2) Talent, 3) Sustainability, 4) Place, and 5) Diversity. These five areas serve as a foundation for future economic success to include wage and employment growth, education levels, drive times, home values, minority business ownership, agricultural capacity and population density. The measures are weighted based on the level of influence they have on both internal and external investment decisions.

The FEC Index scores for this listing ranged from 0 to 4.5. They included only mid-sized counties (population of 150,000 to 300,000) with education attainment above 25% and average travel times less than 20 minutes. Beyond the initial FEC Index measures, the analysis also considers the capacity for a community to support innovation. The FEC Index expresses an innovation capacity score as a letter grade, determined by the online source Stats-America. This grade considers factors such as human capital, state policy context and productivity. Fourth Economy Consulting will periodically produce additional Index listings for micro, small and large counties.

The Top 10 Mid-Sized Communities for 2012

#1: Fayette County, Kentucky

  • FEC Index Score: 4.5
  • Innovation Capacity: A-
  • Population: 295,000

Topping the inaugural list for mid-sized counties is Fayette County, Kentucky. Fayette is home to the City of Lexington and is the self proclaimed “Horse Capital of the World.” Recognized as a top bike-friendly location, Fayette offers both high quality place-based amenities along with critical resources to support innovation.

“Lexington-Fayette County’s economic success can be attributed to a vibrant, diversified economy, an entrepreneurial focus, a signature public research institution, and one of America’s most educated workforces,” said Robert L. Quick, President of Commerce Lexington. “Its blend of advanced manufacturing, high-tech transfer efforts, a quality P-16 educational system, innovative health care options, and a strong equine industry help the area to grow and prosper,” Quick added.

In recent years, Lexington has seen major downtown development driven by both the private sector and the University of Kentucky. New housing options and urban amenities are attracting young professionals to the urban core. This trend is bolstered by a “green perimeter” surrounding Lexington. “This is space set aside for horse pastures and agricultural development,” Quick added.

Adding to Fayette County’s attractiveness is a high level of efficiency in its economic development service delivery. “Within the last decade, Lexington’s economic development efforts have been streamlined, with a focus on the customer through a simplified process from start to finish,” Quick noted. “This decision to create a partnership between Commerce Lexington Inc., the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government and the University of Kentucky has helped accelerate the process for relocating and expanding companies. “

#2: New Hanover County, North Carolina

  • FEC Index Score: 4.4
  • Innovation Capacity: A-
  • Population: 202,000

Home to the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County effectively blends beach with business. New Hanover is flanked by the Atlantic to the east and the Cape Fear River to the west. Thanks to a quaint downtown, improved air access and educational assets including the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, the resident population has skyrocketed by 21% since 2000.

#3: Sarpy County, Nebraska

  • FEC Index Score: 3.1
  • Innovation Capacity: B+
  • Population: 159,000

Home to the U.S. Strategic Air Command, Sarpy County is just south of Omaha, Nebraska. While the smallest county by area in Nebraska, it’s the third largest in terms of population. Nestled between the Platt and Missouri rivers, Sarpy serves as an attractive bedroom and small business community to neighboring Omaha and the University of Nebraska.

#4: Brown County, Wisconsin

  • FEC Index Score: 2.3
  • Innovation Capacity: B+
  • Population: 248,000

Yes, this county boasts an NFL team, cheese and infamously brutal winters, but beyond being home to NFL football team Green Bay Packers, Brown County and its largest city Green Bay continues to expand its economic opportunities and urban development projects. While paper and cheese manufacturing remain the key economic drivers, the economy is diversifying. It is a key port town to the Great Lakes and a center for research thanks to the University of Wisconsin.

#5: Greene County, Missouri

  • FEC Index Score: 2.1
  • Innovation Capacity: B-
  • Population: 275,000

Located in the southwestern region of Missouri, Greene County is home to the City of Springfield – “the Gateway to the Ozarks.” In recent years Greene has seen considerable economic growth due to local expansions from majors like Kraft and Expedia. Expedia recently required a local Springfield company called and merged it with their brand. The firm added 500 new people in the last year making its Springfield location their largest outside of their headquarters in Bellevue, WA.

Rounding out the Top 10…

#6: Greene County, Ohio

  • FEC Index Score: 2.0
  • Innovation Capacity: A-
  • Population: 161,000

#7: Brazos County, Texas

  • FEC Index Score: 1.9
  • Innovation Capacity: A+
  • Population: 195,000

#8: Lancaster County, Nebraska

  • FEC Index Score: 1.8
  • Innovation Capacity: A+
  • Population: 285,000

#9: Lubbock County, Texas

  • FEC Index Score: 1.8
  • Innovation Capacity: B-
  • Population: 279,000

#10: Pitt County, North Carolina

  • FEC Index Score: 1.7
  • Innovation Capacity: B-
  • Population: 168,000

How Many Startups can University Research Support?

Utah made headlines by generating more startups in 2009 than MIT on ¼ of their budget. Interest and activity in university spinoffs continues to grow. A number of new initiatives have launched recently to promote the commercialization of university technology and more specifically the development of startup companies.

  • Texas is a building a $7 million, 20,000SF accelerator facility, the Center for Research Commercialization. The CRC will provide green and biotech startups with access to Texas State faculty and labs.
  • The Auburn Business Incubator, located on the Auburn University campus is a new incubator facility to link startups to a network of services from university and community sources.
  • Carnegie Mellon University, a perennial startup powerhouse, recently launched a new initiative, Greenlighting Startups, which leverages their ‘Five Percent, Go in Peace‘ policy to generate university startups. One new twist is the Open Field Entrepreneurs Fund (OFEF) that provides early-stage business financing to alumni who have graduated from CMU within the past five years.

University startups are one of the most visible ways in which academic innovation produces regional economic benefits. Startups, however, require more effort than licensing agreements, and it is not an appropriate strategy for commercializing every technology.

The Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), which began in 1974 as the Society of University Patent Administrators, provides data on these startups and university technology transfer. As more universities emphasize startups or other aspects of technology commercialization, it will be important to have good benchmarks in terms of the effort required and the expected return.

[Table 1]

Institutions emphasize different aspects of the commercialization process and may prefer licenses and patents to startups. The AUTM data doesn’t tell us the strategic emphasis of the institutions, so the average for how many startups you can expect out of a given amount of research expenditure is skewed by including institutions that never attempt to create a spinoff firm. Analyzing the AUTM data from 2003 to 2009, there are 133 institutions that produce less than one startup per year (Table 1). A number of these schools have very small budgets and are not oriented towards creating startups; in fact, only 24 of the 133 (18 percent) have annual R&D budgets above $100 million.

When we look at the institutions that generate at least one or more startups per year, we see why the $100 million threshold matters (Figure 1). It does not take $98 million or $100 million of research to generate a startup, but you can’t tell which research and which technology will lead to a startup, so you need to have a lot of research activity going on in order to find those opportunities to produce a new startup. At less than $100 million in R&D, you will need to be either very lucky or very good to consistently create startups.

[Figure 1]

As the volume of research increases, institutions become more efficient. At $200 million to $400 million in R&D, institutions can expect only a modest increase in startup rates – getting one startup for every $92 million in research. The very best schools, those that produce more than 4 startups per year, are able to generate one startup for every $77 million in research. For the smaller institutions, implementing the best practices and doing everything you can to be efficient at producing startups might add one more startup every other year.

An improvement in the data collected by AUTM would be to have more specific data on research expenditures and commercial outcomes by sector so that institutions have a better idea of how they stack up. AUTM reports the number of university startups and research expenditures but it does not provide specifics on the technology sectors for those indicators. For example, it is more expensive to develop a technology and launch a startup in biotech versus a web application, but all of those numbers are mixed together in the AUTM data.

There is also a need for more and better data about the quality and performance of university startups. The AUTM data does not distinguish various qualitative factors on startup development, or their ultimate level of success. Is a legally incorporated shell company with no employees, no investment and no revenue equal to, less than or greater than three committed entrepreneurs who have invested $50,000 of their own money to develop a prototype but they haven’t legally filed for incorporation? These are questions that require more long-term study and data collection. A few universities have collected this data for economic impact studies, but the variety of methods employed make it difficult to compare performance.

I am certainly a believer in the power of university based economic development, but I also know that it is not easy to succeed with that strategy and it is not the right fit for every university. With the data currently available, we can’t accurately answer the question of how many startups a university can expect to produce from its research base. If you have thoughts on how to improve the information about university commercialization and specifically startups, let us know by email or leave a comment below.

Texas Venture Capital Programs: Recommendations for Taxpayer Profits and Improved Accountability

The majority of states have implemented programs designed to support innovation based economic development.  From grants to loans and venture capital investment, these efforts are in many ways experiments as they chart new ways that states are trying to support job creation within high growth firms. Understanding the effectiveness of process and outcomes for these new programs is critical.  Rich Overmoyer is a co-author of this article that is in the current Texas Business Review that looks at efforts underway and offers suggestions for the Lone Star state and others considering these efforts.  More information on other state efforts can be found at the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds and the State Science and Technology Institute.