Saturday, August 22, 2009

Frontier Paradigms: Chaos v. Opportunity

When I was an undergraduate at the University of Vermont, I was enamored with the Russian Far East. My plan was to follow in the footsteps of Richard Feynman acolyte Ralph Leighton and explore the steppes of Tuva. The collapse of the Soviet Union ruined my chances to study abroad in Irkutsk and explore the wilds of Siberia. At the time, this part of Russia was my frontier ideal.

Given my recent experiences in Pittsburgh and Youngstown, I've developed a different concept of frontier. In doing so, I make a distinction between chaos and streamlined bureaucracy. Surprising access to power is not the same as the absence of power. Consider La Paz:

This new trend of 'cocaine tourism' can be put down to a combination of Bolivia's notoriously corrupt public officials, the chaotic "anything goes" attitude of La Paz, and the national example of President Evo Morales, himself a coca grower. (Coca is the leaf, and cocaine is the highly manufactured and refined powder.) Morales has diligently fought for the rights of coca growers and tossed the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) out of Bolivia. While he has said he will crack down on cocaine production, he appears to be swimming against the current.

Thanks to Foreign Policy's Passport blog for bringing that story to my attention. Head to La Paz if you want to openly snort cocaine without fear of getting busted. That might be good for a thrill, but it won't spur innovation and growth. Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to invest in it. This is how is see the frontier in Detroit.

Youngstown is somewhere between Detroit and Pittsburgh. There isn't the stuffy, old guard you find entrenched in Southwestern PA. But the local government isn't AWOL, either. Come to think of it, New Orleans has gone from Detroit-like implosion to Youngstown-like innovation in just a few years. Anything goes Nawlins didn't do much for the regional economy. Entrepreneurial NOLA is a different world. This is how I see the frontier in Youngstown.

You have a good idea? Take it right to the top and make your pitch. Expect much more than just cheap real estate.

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