Keeping our city vibrant | Business

To stay a vibrant city, Bloomington needs to grow wages and create jobs. Growth creates opportunities, and without continual growth and renewal, we have fewer opportunities.

While our unemployment rate has historically been one of the lowest in Indiana, we need to improve our performance in other economic health indicators. Before the Great Recession, payroll employment grew moderately in the Bloomington metro area. Since (and including) the Great Recession, we have lost roughly 800 net jobs.

Despite relatively strong national economic indicators, including a 4.1 percent quarterly GDP and the lowest unemployment rate since 1975, wages haven’t grown. They’ve actually decreased while consumer pricing has increased. In other words, in today’s Bloomington we have less money and things cost more. Viewed alongside the increasing consolidation of population into cities, this job decay and wage stagnation mean Bloomington is losing ground to other cities that are growing.

In activating Dimension Mill, a.k.a. The Mill, we aim to reverse these trends. The most effective ways to do that are through coworking and startups. They are two sides of the same coin; they’re both entrepreneurial, and together they create the nutrient-rich soil for a healthy community.

Coworking is a style of work that involves a shared workplace by freelancers, self-employed, remote workers and startups. They share office amenities, equipment, ideas and knowledge. In a college town like ours, coworking is particularly important because it gives “trailing spouses” from Indiana University a place to work remotely. They, and other coworkers, enhance and contribute to our community with ideas and perspectives.

A startup is a business with the potential to grow quickly. They don’t have to have investors, but they often do. (My wife and I co-founded Hanapin Marketing with $2,000, and it carries no debt.) They can focus on any business aspect — technology, software, innovation, e-commerce, life sciences, medical devices, etc.

The two common threads between the two are 1) the smart people doing cool, interesting things and 2) the money they generate comes from outside of our community. That’s key. Our citizens — and in turn Bloomington — can use that money to grow.

• If you’ve ever recorded a television show with a DVR, Brian Beach helped create the underlying technology when he was an early employee at TiVo. He splits time between Hawaii and here, visiting to enjoy the city and see family. As a current engineer at Backblaze, he develops the software that runs their cloud storage system. “The work can be done anywhere, but working alone is tiresome. The coworking culture provides an energizing and productive place to work.”

• This startup is currently in “stealth mode,” meaning they don’t want competitors to know who they are. The founder has developed an advanced method that allows a computer to understand what is interesting about a given data set, and then write about it in a way that reads like a human journalist wrote it. “We currently deliver content to CBS Sports covering both fantasy and real-life sporting events.”

And they’re both found at Cowork Btown. This concentration of ideas is one of the many reasons The Mill purchased Cowork Btown. The more diversity in a community, the more — and better — ideas it develops. The more ideas, the more innovation. And the more innovation, the easier path Bloomington will have to grow wages and create jobs to maintain its vibrancy.

Pat East is executive director of The Mill and CEO of Hanapin Marketing. Next week, Brown County’s Aubrey Sitzman will share her views.

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