This morning Columbia, the World Bank, and New York City Global Partners convened to discuss the role of global cities in promoting business innovation, entrepreneurship, and job growth. While some students protested the event, Bwog’s Entrepreneurial Expert Alex Eynon attended to bring you the low-down.
Suits, government officials from twenty-one nations, and of course, Columbia students, streamed into Low this morning. They came for the 5th Global Partner Summit, on the topic of “Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship: City Strategies” and to bask in the glow of Mayor Michael J. Bloomberg and GE CEO Jeffery Immelt.
The Bloomberg and Immelt portion of the conference began with an introduction by Robert Kasdin, the Senior Executive Vice President of our own university, who listed the salient accomplishments of the speakers and underlined the vital role that research universities play in economic growth. Then he introduced Meyer (pronounced “mayor”—you can imagine the jokes) Feldberg, who, in addition to being in charge of a lot of important sounding stuff, like New York City Global Partners, is the Dean Emeritus of the Columbia Business School. He served as the moderator of the “conversation” between Immelt and Bloomberg which turned out to be more of a “sitting in adjacent armchairs and taking turns answering questions” set up. Still, their conversation yielded some insight into the relationship between city governments and businesses, and on the way they can work together to strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life.
Before taking their seats, Immelt and Bloomberg both took a few moments to outline their own philosophies about promoting entrepreneurship. The CEO espoused his company’s tenet that the most valuable and profitable innovations of the future will offer solutions to large societal and environmental problems, such as clean energy and affordable healthcare. He also made the point that the fragmented, localized nature of our healthcare system will result from focusing on healthcare problems at a local rather than a national level.
Bloomberg, introduced as a “one man job-creating machine,” cited New York as an example of the kind of change a local government can effectively create, giving concrete examples of some successful city programs and explaining others with lots of buzzwords (Human capital! Economic diversity! Emerging industries!). Many exciting names masked mundane procedures. For example, the “business acceleration teams” help restaurants get their licenses quicker and with less bureaucratic hassle. “Incubators” that the mayor instituted help the recently unemployed create successful startups.
Both Bloomberg and Immelt focused on the need for more engineers and applied science majors (here’s looking at you, SEAS) to help the U.S. remain competitive in the global marketplace. They also agreed that Washington needs to get it together, and, as Immelt proclaimed sagely, realize that “to do something, you have to do something” to solve problems. On a similar note, Bloomberg pointed out that mayors are rarely successful in running for larger offices, for exactly the reasons that make them successful—in order to run their city well, they have to take clear stands on issues and make decisions, things that legislators seem to spend most of their time avoiding.
The two men also strongly agreed on the necessity of immigrants as a vital and enterprising workforce. Another Immeltism: “in a company, losing all of your best employees to other places would be called ‘mismanagement.’” The mayor condemned our current immigration policies as some of the worst ever.
As the dialogue wrapped up, Immelt was asked a question about whether he felt that China was going to leave the U.S. in the dust in the race to develop renewable energy sources. After offering a gung-ho opinion of GE’s own ability to keep up in the global marketplace, Immelt said that China simply has government support for large scale projects that the U.S. lacks, letting on that despite victories won by effective local management, the leaders in our communities are missing the support they need from the highest offices.