It’s been awhile since we’ve had a “question of the week,” and since it’s been awhile, we apologize for giving this exercise such an inaccurate name. Nevertheless, we have enjoyed the conversations and insights that have come from these questions, so we’ve got another one for you.
Recently, Memphis Fast Forward unveiled the latest economic development plan for our city, naming its priorities as logistics, music/film, biomedical and tourism.
The brilliant Harvard economist Edward L. Glaeser, in a 43-page paper, “Urban Colossus: Why Is New York America’s Largest City,” made a seminal point about the economy of cities — urban economies are shaped by small advantages that over time become huge advantages.
For example, New York’s advantage in the early 1800’s was its port, which was better situated than other East Coast ports for trade with Europe. It was closer to the ocean than Philadelphia and more centrally located than Boston, and the small time that New York’s port saved became tremendous economic gain.
This small advantage ended up making New York the center for industries from sugar refining to garment manufacturing. Mr. Glaeser’s most interesting example is publishing.
In the early 19th century, the fledgling United States didn’t recognize foreign copyrights, and as a result, New York became a hotbed for pirated English novels. Again, the advantage of quicker ocean travel made it even more advantageous as the latest novels could be transported to New York for copying. From those humble beginnings grew New York’s dominance in the publishing industry.
Today, the city’s dominance in finance comes from a density that contributes to “chance meetings, regular exchanges of new ideas and the general flow of information.” And on Wall Street, as in many part of the global economy, information is power – and profit.
So the question for you this week is this:
Knowing that small advantages can become huge economic advantage, what should Memphis be keying on?