University of Iowa

Working to build a community of innovation

September 2nd, 2014

Commentary by Mark Nolte for the Iowa City Press-Citizen

Mark Nolte

Mark Nolte

The hallmark of this new century has been one of disruption. Dynamic change no longer comes in the form of incremental process. New ideas and technologies emerge every day, threatening existing systems and our entire economic structure, while simultaneously creating new opportunities. For those who thought the rise of automation and globalization of the past century were difficult to weather, the near future looks to be even more turbulent. As we endure the frenetic pace of change happening in many aspects of life, we experience impatience in areas where it is not. Right now there are innovators, idealists and entrepreneurs with the courage to rethink every facet of our world. Education, transportation, healthcare, finance and agriculture, all cornerstones of the Iowa City area economy, are in the crosshairs for these disruptors.

So how does a community prepare for such tumult? Resistance isn't the answer. As economist Said Elias Dawlabani writes in his new book, "MEMEnomics," we deceive ourselves if we believe we can hold on to old models as "ideologies whimper off to a shallow grave in prolonged agony of people, institutions and cultures."

So what is the alternative? How do we position this area and our state to thrive in this era of change? We must create a community that fosters a supportive climate for innovation and entrepreneurship such that we can be the disruptors and not the disrupted.

From our standpoint at the Iowa City Area Development Group, it is our responsibility to help encourage the mindset of the disruptor, and the types of innovation that will not only create and attract new companies, but also will allow our existing companies and organizations to thrive and grow amid a changing landscape. Entrepreneurship and innovation are no longer buzzwords. They are attitudes we must embrace and nurture regardless of our age. These were the traits which built our nation and are needed once again as we rebuild anew to compete in a global economy.

At ICAD Group, we value courageous innovation and work to model new approaches. In the past few years, we've opened two IC CoLab locations, creating flexible workspace for today's companies and tomorrow's workforce. Presently, we're working to align the traditional assets and expertise of our area with the advancements in autonomous vehicles. Our area is home to the National Advanced Driving Simulator, the world's most sophisticated virtual tool for testing vehicles and drivers. This area is now an entry point for the disruptors, with various jurisdictions of Johnson County welcoming the operation and testing of autonomous vehicles on our roadways. By working together with political and community leaders, engineering firms, logistics companies and the vast array of related research and expertise within the University of Iowa, our area moves to the forefront of this inevitable paradigm shift in transportation.

Over the coming decades there will be one constant: change. As disruptors adjust their crosshairs, there will be jobs created, jobs replaced and jobs eliminated. Our goal is to ensure that this area is on the net positive side of this equation. This requires ongoing evaluation of our business development and workforce development strategies. We will continue to work with our educational systems, helping identify new careers for which they are preparing students and the necessary skills and knowledge base we need to be competitive.

What's most exciting is that we live in an area having vibrant discussions on the best means for preparing for these shifts, focusing on what's next, and pushing the cutting edge. I invite you to join us for a WorldCanvass discussion from 5 to 6:30 p.m. today at FilmScene to hear from some passionate innovators.

Mark Nolte is president of the Iowa City Area Development Group.