A battle waged on the home front

November 8th, 2013

News Coverage:

A battle waged on the home front

Programs to identify and train future entrepreneurs are key to economic growth, says ‘Jobs War’ author

Posted: Friday, November 8, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 7:28 am, Fri Nov 8, 2013.

By Barry Rochford

A battle waged on the home front
 Jim Clifton, author of “The Coming Jobs War,” will give his IPFW Omnibus Lecture Series presentation Nov. 12.

It’s not the Bible, but within northeast Indiana’s economic-development circles, it’s become revered as a holy text, serving as both inspiration and affirmation for efforts to transform the region. It’s passed from hand to hand, person to person. Notes are scribbled in its margins. Sentences are underlined and highlighted. Pages are dog-eared so important passages can quickly be found.

Jim Clifton’s book “The Coming Jobs War” is a call to action. The real battle of the future, Clifton writes, will not be over religion or foreign policy. It will be about jobs. Good jobs. And it will be up to individual communities, through force and backing of local business leaders and mentors, to win the war.

Clifton’s book was published in 2011 — a year after the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership created its Vision 2020 strategic effort to improve the region’s economy. That vision is focused on five pillars: 21st-century talent, business climate, entrepreneurship, infrastructure and quality of life. Those themes, in particular entrepreneurship, are reflected in Clifton’s book, which is why the regional partnership supported having Clifton close out this year’s Indiana University-Purdue University Omnibus Lecture Series.

Clifton, CEO of Washington, D.C.-based polling and consulting business Gallup Inc., took part in a phone interview with Business Weekly Nov. 1. The following is an edited transcript of that interview.

Why has your book resonated with people, particularly people in economic-development circles, business leaders and local elected officials? Why has it touched those people the way it has?

Well because it was written specifically for them, not for the masses. And it was written specifically because our research found that the variances are by city, and the national programs just have very little to do with (economic growth), even state programs.

I was in Tennessee recently. So everything’s the same. Tennesseans live in the same country, they live under the same state laws and you’ve got Memphis that’s struggling in a lot of the same ways that Detroit is. Then you’ve got Nashville, which is booming.

And so we aimed it exactly at that audience because we think they’re the people that can change the country more than Congress and the White House can.

There are a lot of books that deal with building talent, encouraging entrepreneurship, developing leadership. What sets “The Coming Jobs War” apart from some of those other books that are out there?

We take direct aim at innovation. And we don’t discount innovation, we say that it has the wrong responsibility. And we are really sure we’re right. When you look at the federal government, when you look at states, you look at cities, when leaders get together, what they conclude is, “We need innovation to create jobs.” We are sure that’s the wrong premise to build from, and the more you build strategies around that premise, the farther away you make job creation.

So we started with there’s a lot of innovation around. We have an oversupply of innovation and an undersupply of entrepreneurship. And so I think our starting point is very different.

I think the second thing is we don’t believe that anybody can become an entrepreneur — this really separates us. We think that the talent to be an entrepreneur is really valuable for northeast Indiana. We think that they were born with an unusual neuron configuration, and that really separates our thinking. I’m sure we’re right, too.

So it’s like IQ, but it’s not. You might have an entrepreneurial IQ, let’s say it’s really high of 145, and I’ve got a really high one of 155 … I do believe that if you’re developed well, I think there’s no limit to what you can do at 145 to beat me at 155. But I think somebody that has a 95, they will never, ever, ever build something. So the trick is to find us and then create something very intentional in our development, like we are so good at in this country at intellectual development.

I think you’re right in that respect. Even anecdotally, I know myself of a number of companies — it was an interesting idea, it was an innovative idea and it didn’t go anywhere because they couldn’t connect that idea with actually selling to customers and building a business. Is there something within the data that you saw that pointed to that, that sort of demonstrates that disconnect?

One thing that an unusually gifted entrepreneur has is they have a determination that’s really off the charts. Because you have so many days where everything goes wrong, and then you get up the next day and it goes even more wrong, and the next day it goes more wrong. Unless you have a governor inside you where every time you fail it drives your determination rather than dilutes it, you don’t have a chance.

Training doesn’t help. Nothing helps. Because when you get knocked on your behind, you have a chemical … reaction that sets you back. Real entrepreneurs, it drives them. They’re more sure than ever that they’re going to do it.

Let’s talk about the title of the book, “The Coming Jobs War.” I’m assuming that you chose “war” deliberately.

From a very, very, very macroeconomic overview of the world, we believe that chaos, instability and revolution is actually being driven by a jobs war, not a religious war, or not a foreign-policy war, not a military (war). At the very, very core is the life of extreme hopelessness, which creates suffering, especially with young males.

When we look at the world labor organizations … they say that global unemployment is about 20 percent, which is not just wrong, it’s reckless. Because we show 7 billion people, 5 billion adults, of the 5 billion adults we ask them, “What do you really wish you had in life?” and they say, “I wish I had a real job.” One where you get a paycheck. One where you show up to an organization. Not these what they cruelly refer to as “informal” jobs, which means I trade you a little bit of soup for some seeds …

Of the 3 billion people that want that, we ask how many people have a real job, and only 1.5 billion (say they do). There’s 50 percent unemployment in the world. That’s what the war is over because the great global dream is to have a good job.

Now if you and I don’t have jobs, but we say to you, “Barry, do you have hope of getting a job?” And you say, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to get one. Matter of fact, I’ve got a couple things lined up. I don’t know which one I’m going to take. I’m just finishing up my junior-college thing here in Cairo or Khartoum or somewhere. And I’m going to get a job as an assistant at a restaurant. I’m in good shape.”

And now you say, “What about you, Jim? Do you have hope of getting a job?” And I go, “Nope. I know I’ll never get one.” But see in the world of labor economics, they think you and I are the same. Actually your well-being is the same as a person who has a job, even though we list you as unemployed.

Me, I’m actually dangerous, especially if you ask me if I think my government’s corrupt and I say yes. And you say, “Have you ever worried about having enough food to last six or 12 months?” And I say, “Yes, I have.” I’m a mess. And the only thing that fixes me is to get me a good job.

So within all that is if (we have a lack of stability) … I believe what it actually leads to is war.

I think that’s the cause of everything in the Middle East. The Middle East is an economic failure; the only thing that’s held them together is that they have unbelievable natural resources. Hell, it’s 70 to 80 percent of the whole GDP. And the big problem is the price of all that stuff’s going to really drop in just the next five years. The United States may not be energy dependent at all in just five years, which is pretty amazing …

But that changes the foreign policy, foreign relationships and the whole state of the world. Jobs change it far more than religion or anything else. So that’s why it’s called “The Coming Jobs War.”

In your eyes, what constitutes a good job? When you’re talking to, say, an audience in America versus an audience overseas, is there a difference in how they might think of a job as being “good”? Or are there fundamental things that make a job a “good” job?

We describe a “good” job as being 30-plus hours a week in an organization, consistent employment, with a paycheck. That’s a “good” job …

But a “great” job is one where I am engaged in my job. I feel the mission and purpose of what I’m doing is important, which is huge. And the second thing is I believe my boss or somebody at the company actually cares about my development. Now that sounds really soft, but that’s because the great American dream is to have a good job …

But if you said, “How do we fix that, Jim?” A latté machine won’t. Free lunch won’t. Giving me a rental car won’t. But when I think you actually care about my development, then that moves you into a “great” job. Being engaged, believing the mission and purpose is important, and somebody cares about my development, that’s a “great” job.

In talking to local people about your book, the thing that I think really most connects with them is this idea that if you’re going to effect change, it’s going to be done on the local level. How did you arrive at that idea that it’s really up to individual cities or areas in order to spur growth?

Well anytime when you have a bunch of data and you’re trying to find a needle in a haystack, one of the things that you do is you look for variation. And we really are a country of cities. And like we were talking about before, Memphis to Nashville, they have such extreme different outcomes in their GDP growth and in their unemployment.

Who knows why, but you go out to Lincoln, Neb., and I think unemployment is in the 3s (It was 3.3 percent for the Lincoln metropolitan statistical area in August), or you have another town where everything’s about the same and they’ll have unemployment that’s 8 percent. Really the only thing that can explain it is just the talent, the strength and the commitment of local leaders.

Another thing that we found, another big needle in the haystack, was it’s really not the mayor and the city council. They just can’t execute what cities need, which is economic growth, like the city mothers and fathers can. So that’s why we landed on cities, not states or national policies.

One of the things that’s happening here in northeast Indiana is they’re working on this plan called Vision 2020. When you see communities doing things like that, is your expectation that it will help them as they compete for jobs in the future?

I like the orientation (of Vision 2020). I like all of it because — I’m going to say “but” here in a minute — what’s so difficult for a strong, caring team like you guys have there is that what you need is to create economic energy where it didn’t previously exist. It’s a magic trick. But you can’t do it, as I was saying before, with a policy, with legislation, all that. It’s truly a spirit. And so that’s why what you guys are doing is the right thing — having a rally, getting people together, talking about it. But it’s really that spirit that you’re creating. You cannot create this without a spirit.

I think you do need to have an activity. And the one I like best, and we’re piloting this in some places, you’ve got to make the development of young entrepreneurs as systematic and intentional as we do IQ and intellectual development …

But we don’t have anything as far as formal early identification of entrepreneurs. You do that and that’s a game changer. We just did this in Omaha (Neb.). We interviewed 3,000 high-school kids. We found 150 that are game changers, and so what we’re going to do is we’re putting those into significant, formal internships.

You get two things with that. One thing is you get the development of high-potential stars, but you also change the conversation because people start talking about it …

An interesting thing to me — this data’s brand new — so far, we don’t show significant differences in gifted entrepreneurship between men and women, and we also don’t see it between blacks and Hispanics and whites … So it means that Mother Nature or God or however all this works, it’s more egalitarian than learning IQ.

A lot of cities are going to be taking the things you write about in the book and applying them, but not all of them are going to succeed. What will distinguish those that do versus those that don’t?

The answer definitely lies within the spirit of free enterprise. And the cities that can increase the amount of free-enterprise energy they have will win. By the way, when I watch this, you don’t have to turn it around tomorrow. A leader’s job is just to get it headed the right way. And I think you guys can do that. I’ve been reading this stuff. It looks like you’re really going after it. You don’t have to turn into Austin, Texas, tomorrow. But in five to 10 years, I believe you could exceed Austin, Texas — you’ve just got to get it headed in the right direction.

The people who come to listen to you at IPFW, what do you hope they take away from your presentation?

The No. 1 thing I hope they take away is that they stop believing that this has to do with Washington, the president, Congress … that we ourselves can change America’s outcome over the next five to 10 years. If they left believing that they themselves have activities they can lead and change northeast Indiana, which benefits the whole country, that’d be what I would hope for.

If you go

Jim Clifton, Gallup Inc. CEO and author of the book “The Coming Jobs War,” will deliver the third presentation in Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Omnibus Lecture Series at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 in the Auer Performance Hall inside the Rhinehart Music Center. For ticket information, go to www.omnibuslectures.org/tickets.