Bill Popp: What can make our city great?

What is the secret to growing our local economy? Our best asset is the talents and creativity of our residents. "The challenge leaders face now is how to trigger brain gain in their cities. Talent is an incredibly valuable commodity because it's at the core of entrepreneurship and innovation. It's the extreme differentiator of all mankind. And talent attracts more talent."

These are the words of Jim Clifton, chairman of Gallup, from his book "The Coming Jobs War." His perspectives are a key driver behind Anchorage Economic Development Corp.'s Live. Work. Play. initiative. To compete globally, we have to grow and develop Anchorage's own "brain gain," as Clifton would say. If we are to grow good jobs in our city, we have to think beyond the spreadsheet.

This is why, in the last three years, AEDC has become involved in things like arts and trails and community safety and diversity. That may appear counter-intuitive. AEDC is a "business" organization -- so the only thing our organization is interested in is improving the bottom line of our member companies, right? Not if we are going to grow our economy by competing globally.

The view of AEDC is that business can't be just about dollars and cents. It also has to be about arts and trails. It also has to be about schools, the diversity of our people and how safe our community is. You might think that's odd talk, coming from an economic development organization. However, when you dig down to the foundations of our economy, you will find some unexpected building blocks that are vital to our ability to grow our economy.

In his book, Clifton makes the statement, based on decades of research by Gallup, that "before a city or country can obtain almighty job creation and then job growth, it has to perform on the eight steps of wellbeing ..." Based on those step elements, AEDC and its hundreds of business and community partners are asking several key questions that drive our Live. Work. Play. focus.

Law and order: Do our residents feel safe in our city walking alone at night? Do our residents have confidence in the local police force?

Food and shelter: In our city, is a significant percentage of our residents unable to afford food and shelter or adequate housing?

Key institutions: In our city, are we satisfied or dissatisfied with the educational system and our schools? Are we satisfied or dissatisfied with the availability of quality health care?

Mobility and communication: In our city, are we satisfied or dissatisfied with the public transportation systems? Roads and highways? Do our residents have access to broadband Internet and cellular services?

Youth development: In our city, do we believe our children are treated with respect and dignity? Do most of our children have the opportunity to learn and grow every day?

Job climate and job enhancement: In our city, is now a good time or a bad time to find a job? Are our residents satisfied or dissatisfied with the availability of good job opportunities? Can people in Anchorage get ahead by working hard, or not? Is Anchorage a good place or not a good place for entrepreneurs forming new businesses?

In most cases, the answers to these questions show we have a lot to be proud of as a city. But we also have a lot to work on so all answers to these questions are positive.

In 2010, the board of directors of AEDC set their vision that by 2025, Anchorage will be the No. 1 city in America to live, work and play. To achieve this vision, the foundations of our city must be solid. The foundation is what will retain the amazing group of bright and innovative people already living in Anchorage. We have a lot of work to be done to keep them here and attract even more talented and hard-working people who are crucial to our future success as a city.

We all love our city. It is where we live, work and play, day in and day out. The reasons we love Anchorage are many and varied. Our reasons are our own but we are each in our own way passionate about Anchorage and its future. Let's all work together and make Anchorage the best Anchorage it can be.