Fourth Economy is working with a group in Omaha to explore an innovation strategy. This is a challenge because Omaha is on no one’s radar for tech hot spots. History is replete with companies and regions that emerged from humble beginnings to leapfrog more established competitors. And one could argue that Omaha has a Buffett (pun intended) of resources that many communities do not, including a slew of investors beyond the ones that are most often cited and recognized. One of the things that excites me the most is that Omaha is trying to build an inclusive innovation culture from the ground up. And this alone could set it apart from many regions.
In Pittsburgh, where I started my career with the Ben Franklin Partnership, inclusion was not on the agenda in building the innovation economy. With the loss of one hundred thousand jobs in the space of a few years, restarting economic growth was the overriding priority. There were not a lot of diverse entrepreneurs to support. In 1990, only 1 percent of businesses in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area were Black owned. That represented all businesses, not just tech businesses—the actual number for tech businesses was so low it couldn’t be disclosed because of confidentiality protections. Today, Black owners still account for only 1 percent of businesses. It does not take a Ph.D. to conclude that no progress has been made.
I don’t think that the mistake that Pittsburgh made will be replayed in Omaha. As someone who grounds his work in analysis, I know as well as anyone that anecdotes do not equal evidence. But as I sat at the hotel bar the other night, the Creighton basketball team cruised to victory. After the game, the basketball crowd filtered into the bar, and I found myself talking to three Black entrepreneurs starting a business in Omaha. I talked at some length with Corban Collins and Austin Chatman in the crowded energy of the bar. Entrepreneurs tend not to see barriers, but they expressed no concerns about starting their business in Omaha. I can’t help but hope that this is a sign that Omaha can do things differently and do things better than the regions that have gone before them. A regional entrepreneurial strategy is a process of gathering acorns and growing them into oak trees, that generate yet more acorns, and maybe the drive and passion of Corban and Austin can seed a more diverse forest in Omaha.
If you are an entrepreneur in Omaha, or thinking about Omaha, we would love to hear your thoughts on how to enhance the innovation economy in Omaha and make it inclusive. Curious about developing an innovation strategy backed by key resources, sectors, and partnerships in your community? Fourth Economy can help. Reach out today.