No one is born with their destiny stamped on their forehead … we make the choices to fulfill our destiny.
For several years now, I have been working to bring attention to the steady erosion in the authenticity of Brand America’s promise. I view this on-going decline as a critical issue that economic development professionals can make a meaningful difference in addressing.
It is the key reason I advocate the profession does three things:
- Stop focusing on job growth as a performance metric and start focusing on better enabling the residents in your community achieve their American Dream. This mission positively impacts the lives of every resident in your community. It is also a mission that allows you to lay your head on your pillow every night after a hard day and feel good your work actually made a difference. Everybody wins with this new focus.
- Take on accountability for facilitating the strategic planning process in your community. This will help ensure economic development professionals are involved in all key decisions made by community leaders. It also ensures sufficient attention is paid to the deployment phase of a community’s strategic plan and not just the design phase.
- Adopt the paradigm your “community residents are the real boss”, not your elected officials, not your business leaders, not your Board of Directors. While you certainly have a responsibility to your elected officials, business leaders and your EDO Board, ultimately the work you do must be for the benefit of the residents in your community.
Why Is Enough Enough?
Forbes Magazine just published their 2013 list of the best countries to do business in. Unfortunately, the US dropped in ranking again for the fourth year in a row. The US is now ranked #14.
I don’t know about you, but I find the trend both embarrassing and upsetting. Given the US promise of “A land in which life should be better and richer for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement”, the US should be the unrivaled #1 country to do business in. The fact the US isn’t, and that each year more countries are judged better, suggests our nation’s promise is not as authentic as it may have once been.
This is not a perception problem. This is a behavioral problem. Clearly the world doesn’t believe we are walking the talk. If we want to reverse this declining trend, we need to start paying attention to whether the decisions we make at every level of government make it easier or harder for residents to achieve the American Dream.
According to Forbes Where Are We Failing?
Ireland is ranked #1. It is the only nation that ranks among the top in each of the 11 metrics evaluated. If you remember Ireland as the nation troubled by terrorism and internal strife, things have definitely changed. According to Forbes the Irish Stock Exchange has generated a 44% return over the last 12-months.
On the other hand, the US has gone from #2 to #14 in just the last 4-years.
For perspective, the US is dinged for its Federal Reserve interference that has distorted prices and risks long-term inflation. Embarrassingly, the US is ranked #80 out of 145 countries for monetary freedom. It is also dinged for over regulation of business, excessive tax burden and incomprehensible laws.
None of these competitive disadvantages are consistent with Brand America’s promise. The sad truth is the world has judged our Nation’s promise as becoming inauthentic; and, is voting with its capital investment dollars. Essentially, they believe Ireland plus 12 other countries are better places to achieve success based on their ability to compete in the market and not unnecessarily impeded by government controls.
Is the Forbes 2013 Ranking Simply an Aberration?
The short answer – NO. There is an evolving pattern we need to pay attention to.
The United States is ranked #8. “Even the most stable, promising and iconic country brands can lose strength.” The discussion about Brand America goes on to say “…the United States brand has declined eight places in the overall index since 2009 – a year when the US led across a number of dimensions.” “Perception of the country’s Quality of Life has weakened – including Standard of Living, Job Opportunity and Most Like to Live In”. I believe these data reflect a decline in the world’s perception of the authenticity of Brand America’s promise. It does not bode well for a nation that requires the world’s best and brightest talent to become/remain productive citizens and residents as a means for sustainable economic vitality.
While still ranked #1, here is what the press release for this report said about Brand America – “Global citizens have voted the US as being the most attractive country for immigration and investment for the fourth year running. However, this position may be under threat, as its score has shown one of the biggest falls of any nation since last year. Only Egypt, India and Turkey show greater declines in this area. In contrast, Colombia has shown the biggest increase, followed by Russia and Greece.” And, “Canada and Germany have both passed the U.S. for quality of life and Finland has jumped ahead of the U.S. to take the #10 position for equal opportunity in society.” These data suggest our nation has a growing challenge in convincing the world the American Dream continues to be achievable rather than simply a romantic notion like Camelot.
Brand America is ranked #8 in global influence. The “mainly positive” score is down 2 places from the 2012 data. Here is what the summary statement says about the US – “Views of the US have shown some sharp declines among the citizens of its allies the UK (46%, down from 60%), France (52%, down from 62%), and Germany (35%, down from 44%), as well as in Egypt (24%, down from 37%).”
In the end, it doesn’t matter which global study has the most reliable research methodology. What matters is that none of the studies paint a positive picture for the direction of our nation’s brand equity. The authenticity of Brand America’s promise is under fire. We simply need to do better in walking the talk. We need to ensure public policy and foreign relation choices are aligned with our nation’s promise. EconomicDevelopment.org published an article that I think summarized it well – “Having nation-branding/place-branding aligned with trade, diplomacy and foreign affairs is a new consideration for economic developers and political leaders. But an imperative one for economies to thrive.”
As economic development professionals, we can’t directly impact the way Brand America’s promise is being managed at the federal level. We need to rely on the SelectUSA Team in the Department of Commerce to try and positively influence that. But, what we can do is focus our professional efforts on the objective of better enabling residents of our communities achieve their American Dream. If we do that, then we will be ensuring Brand America’s promise continues to be authentic. And, through our efforts, in aggregate we can have a positive influence on the perceived authenticity at the national level.
I want to challenge you to learn more about how to use the Xavier University American Dream Composite Index as a tool to help both your state and community design/deploy strategies that will make it easier for residents to achieve their American Dream. In my opinion, the economic development profession is in a perfect position to do so. And, the benefit will be a reversal of the global decline in Brand America’s equity.
We can do this if we believe it is time to say – Enough is Enough, and we begin doing the three things I listed at the beginning of this post.
Are you feeling Enough is Enough? Leave a comment with your thoughts.
What You Need To Know About The American Dream
American Dream Case Study Series
How Easy Is It To Achieve The American Dream In Your State?
To view the complete set of State rankings based on the ADCI and five explanatory sub-indexes, download the complimentary 2012 American Dream State Ranking Report.