To foster economic growth and job creation, state policymakers must encourage a culture of success within their boundaries, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said during a panel discussion Thursday at the Kauffman Foundation’s State of Entrepreneurship event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The discussion coincided with the release of two reports from the foundation that explored how states could improve their policies to support private-sector innovation and expansion. Heineman and Markell voiced approval for some of the stated policies, which included: reducing the administrative burdens for starting and closing businesses, creating digital applications and platforms for entrepreneurs to establish firms and facilitating the commercialization of university-based research projects.
But more broadly, they spoke of the need to establish the kind of environment that companies and entrepreneurs, big and small, find welcoming. “It does make a difference what the culture is in your state,” Heineman said. “Are you open for business or not?”
In Nebraska, Heineman said the effort to cultivate business went beyond policymaking: His administration has been holding regular entrepreneur impact summits to highlight a business owner who is finding success in the state. “Most other business people don’t know who they are,” Heineman said, adding that the publicity allows business leaders to connect. He said that Nebraska plans to start a monthly news conference to give thriving businesses an even wider platform.
Delaware has already embarked on several of the ideas laid out by the Kauffman Foundation, Markell said, such as simplifying and digitizing the licensing process for university-based projects and welcoming immigrant entrepreneurs. But, like Heineman, Markell said that states must go beyond traditional policymaking measures. With the rise in unemployment since the economic downturn, there are potential entrepreneurs out there “who don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurs,” he said. Providing avenues for them to realize their ideas is critical, Markell explained.
There are a variety of tools at states’ disposal, the governors agreed. Some (such as state-sponsored venture capital funds) are direct; others (such as streamlining the administrative procedures for business licensing) are less direct. Whatever steps a state decides to take, despite a political climate that might seem to stifle legislative movement on those policies, Markell argued that stimulating the economy “is something we can all agree on.”
“Sometimes, the biggest obstacle is people not feeling a sense of urgency,” he said, urging policymakers to act. “It’s about an attitude… making sure entrepreneurs feel welcome and wanted.”