Richmond Fed Participates in Emerging Issues Forum

The competition for businesses, resources and workers is challenging, global and quick-paced. What that means for states is that the playing field requires skillful, agile and innovative leaders who can make connections that help their communities thrive.

That was the underlying theme of a two-day forum in Raleigh, North Carolina, to examine the emerging issues that North Carolina communities face today, and to discuss possible solutions to foster economic growth.

The 30th Annual Emerging Issues Forum, “Innovation Reconstructed,” took place on February 9-10 and drew more than 1,000 business, government and academic leaders, community development practitioners and economic development experts. The forum is the signature event of the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University.

The Richmond Fed participated in this year’s forum. Bank President Jeffrey M. Lacker delivered a speech on February 10, “Education, Innovation and Economic Growth,” addressing several issues related to building a competitive workforce and noting the key roles innovation and technology play in community transformations.

“We can be certain about three things. First, innovation is essential to economic growth. Second, human capital — the knowledge and skills that make people more productive — drives innovation. Finally, innovation in turn affects the return on investment in human capital,” he said. “These three insights have important implications for our efforts to help individual workers make fruitful investments in their own human capital, and to create the skilled workforce our economy requires.”

Following Lacker’s speech, our Bank’s Community Development office presented two panels focused on market and community innovations. William Burckart, co-founder of Impact Economy (North America) LLC, moderated a four-panelist discussion during the forum called “Financing our Market and Community Innovations.”

See the speech here.

Burckart described a “paradigm shift” among investors who want to make both a profit and a difference. He defined impact investing as “investing with the intention to generate financial returns as well as measurable social and environmental impact.” This topic is of particular interest to many of Community Development’s partners and aligns with Community Development’s focus on small business and community development capacity building.

Many small businesses and community development corporations stand to gain as impact investing enters the mainstream as a tool for financing projects and initiatives. Daniel Nissenbaum, managing director, Urban Investment Group, Goldman Sachs Bank USA, said that many banks have not been serving small businesses as they did before the Great Recession. Partnerships with Community Development Financial Institutions, loan funds and even crowdfunding can potentially fill this void. Jenny Kassan, CEO of Cutting Edge Capital, discussed Direct Public Offerings as a means for connecting start-ups and small businesses to local friends and family investors.

One challenge for these startups is defining success. Scott Case, CEO of Main Street Genome, noted that the main metric for impact measurement was financial return on investment. Many small businesses and nonprofits, however, have objectives other than raising money. Small businesses or nonprofits that aim to bring about societal change, for example, are challenged to identify measurements for success beyond financial gain.

After the forum, Community Development presented a breakout session, “Connecting Our Communities: Innovation at Work,” to discuss in more depth specific issues that communities face in North Carolina. This discussion was part of our ongoing efforts to connect with our District’s communities and increase our community impact and understanding. The participation and partnership in an event of this scale creates new opportunities to further explore innovative topics and tools in all of our District’s communities.

See the panel here.

“For 30 years, the Emerging Issues Forum has delivered on its core mission of ‘thinking and doing.’ In our work at the Richmond Fed on behalf of the economy, partnerships of this magnitude offer tremendous potential to help make our communities a better place to live,” said Jeanne Milliken Bonds, regional community development manager for North Carolina and South Carolina for the Richmond Fed.