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October 2016

Taking a tour of a ‘Competitive City’

Megha Mukim's picture

Do you want to take a walk through a competitive city? Since today, October 31, has been designated as World Cities Day by the United Nations, today is an especially good day to explore that idea. 

Have you ever noticed how mayors and city leaders experience life alongside their citizens? It forces them to be more focused on the local manifestations of their policy decisions. They connect with what their citizens see and experience on a day-to-day basis. Numbers are crucial, because policies need to be supported by evidence – but what if the numbers and experiences could be brought to life? What does a 5 percent annual GDP growth rate look like? For that matter, what does a “competitive city” look like?

Members of the Competitive Cities team at the World Bank Group traveled to Bucaramanga, Colombia to find out. Here, amid the city’s famously rugged topography – with no ports or railroads nearby, and almost 10 hours away from the nation’s capital, Bogota – economic development seemed to be a tough proposal. Bucaramanga, however, managed to reinvent itself and become a globally competitive city – with the fastest rates of GDP growth and job growth in Colombia, and one of the fastest growth rates in the Western Hemisphere. As part of the Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth initiative, we had already looked at Bucaramanga’s success in numbers and had analyzed qualitatively how they managed to get things done. Now we wanted others to experience how it felt to walk through a secondary city that blossomed into a dynamic economic center.

Thanks to a donated helicopter, the use of hobbyist drone technology, a motorcycle and a hugely enthusiastic local chamber of commerce, the team captured images and videos of the places that were central to Bucaramanga’s growth story. Bucaramanga’s transformation began with the creation of a regional competitiveness commission, a public- private alliance spearheaded by the private sector. As you’ll see in the accompanying video, one single block within the city hosts the chamber, an industrial university, the enterprise center, the commerce association and important regional banks.



In Bucaramanga, Colombia, Erick Ramos Murillo (left) and Rómulo Cabeza (right) prepare to fly a 3-D camera rigged to a drone. 

Easy business exit is as important as easy business entry

Simon Bell's picture



How to identify and support fast-growing firms that can take off, create jobs, and yield significant value in a short period of time is one of our biggest dilemmas in nurturing private sector development in emerging markets. 
 
The Sustainable Development Goals (#8) include the need for decent jobs as an important developmental priority, and small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) are expected to create most jobs required to absorb the growing global workforce.
 
But many young firms will fail; by some accounts more than half of new firms won’t make it to their second birthday. 
 
However, despite the high rate of firm failure, research from the US and evidence from India, Morocco, Lebanon, Canada and Europe shows that it’s largely young firms that create the bulk of net new jobs (net jobs are jobs created minus jobs lost) and lasting employment opportunities.
 
In addition, even when a firm survives beyond the first two years of operation, there are no assurances it will become a fast-growing firm -- a gazelle. 
 
Although estimates vary widely, the share of gazelles -- fast-growing firms that generate a lot of value-added and jobs -- is thought to be only between 4% to 6% of all SMEs, and, possibly, even less in many emerging countries.
 
All this makes creating favorable conditions for entrepreneurship a priority. 
 
Easing business entry -- the time and cost involved in establishing a new enterprise -- is extremely important.  As the annual Doing Business report shows, many countries have made a lot of progress on this indicator over the past decade.  
 
But business exit is an equally critical piece of the puzzle.

How are future blue-collar skills being created?

Victor Mulas's picture



A technology bootcamp in Medellín, Colombia. © Corporación Ruta N Medellín/World Bank


The fourth industrial revolution is disrupting business models and transforming employment. It is estimated that 65 percent of children entering primary school today will, in the future, be working in new job types that do not exist today. These changes have been more noticeable in developed countries, with the 2008 financial crisis accelerating this transformation process. However, they are also affecting emerging economies that have traditionally relied on routine blue-collar jobs (e.g., textiles, manufacturing or business process outsourcing) for broad employment and economic development.

Start-ups are at the core of these disruptions in business models. In recent years, we have witnessed how completely new market categories have been created out of the blue, transforming entire sectors of the economy, including transportation, logistics, hospitality, and manufacturing. When start-ups disrupt a market, a new business category is created and new sources of growth and employment are generated.

When we think about start-ups and employment, the first thing that come to mind is the start-up founders, typically highly educated and motivated individuals. However, evidence from New York startup ecosystem, a testing ground of new jobs generated through technology after the financial crisis, suggests otherwise.

First, most of the jobs generated by the tech start-up ecosystem are not in start-ups but in the traditional industries that either are influenced or disrupted by start-up technologies (with over three times more employment generated in the non-tech traditional industry).

Second, more than 40 percent of these new jobs did not require bachelor’s degree skills or above. These are jobs like building a website, a basic database, a web or mobile app.

What are the skills needed to fill these categories — which we can call tech blue-collar skill jobs — and how people are being trained for them?

The silent ‘change agents’ in government

Syed Akhtar Mahmood's picture

Sometimes, the drive comes from the senior echelons of government – a reform-minded government leader, an important minister or an agency head. At times, there is pressure from donors. Often, the two combine: The initial idea comes from a donor, which a powerful person in government then takes up as an agenda.

Many reforms happen in this top-down way. But, often, there are questions about their sustainability. Commitment to reforms may not be widespread. Once donor pressure wears off, or once the bold reformer at the top moves on (or loses interest or energy), reform initiatives dissipate. Sometimes, the reforms happen on paper, but implementation remains deficient. Top-down reform initiatives often fail to take on board the front-line officials. Implementation thus suffers, especially when the attention of the top-down driver shifts elsewhere.

The 2015 World Development Report, Mind, Society and Behavior, thus points to the need to understand the motivations and behavioral characteristics of different players, such as politicians and government bureaucrats, and how these affect their decisions and actions. The WDR argues that such an understanding helps design policy interventions and reforms that stand a chance of success even in seemingly intractable situations.

This brings us to a third way of reform, less common but potentially more powerful – one that is driven by the middle tiers of bureaucracy. Reforms initiated in the trenches enjoy, almost by definition, the commitment of those responsible for implementation. Reforms may also be better designed, since the officials know exactly what is feasible and where there are pitfalls. A single bottom-up reform may not be very bold.  But one reform may lead to another, and the cumulative impact may make a big difference.

Donor programs usually don’t regard mid-level officials as key drivers of reforms. It is often assumed that such officials will oppose reforms and they should thus be bypassed or, at best, co-opted in some fashion. Such assumptions lead to many lost opportunities. Mid-level officials can often be good initiators of reform if they are properly inspired and engaged. The attitudes and perceptions of this important tier of the bureaucracy have an important bearing on the formulation of policies and regulations, as well as on their implementation. These attitudes are shaped by an awareness of business-related issues, or a lack of it.

Learning from Korea: The Story of Korea’s Credit Guarantee Agency

Simon Bell's picture
Image: CC Pixabay

South Korea today has the fourth largest economy in Asia, is a member of the OECD’s “Rich Club,” and is part of the G20.  Despite sharp economic shocks emanating from the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, the global financial crisis in 2008, and the more recent slowdown in the Chinese economy – Korea has bounced back and continues to grow.

So it’s hard to imagine that some 70 years ago, Korea’s future looked very bleak – and akin to many of the excruciatingly difficult post-conflict environments that we face today.

To briefly summarize Korea’s post-World War II history: a 1947 report on Korea commissioned by U.S. President Truman concluded, “South Korea, [as] basically an agricultural area, does not have the overall economic resources to sustain its economy without external assistance …. Prospects for developing sizeable exports are slight ….. The establishment of a self-sustaining economy in South Korea is not feasible.” Then the Korean War compounded these problems – resulting in massive damage to both the north and the south – with destroyed infrastructure, a loss of skilled workers, a million South Koreans killed, and as much as one-quarter of the country’s population refugees. 

We have many lessons to learn from Korea – particularly as our institution, the World Bank, increasingly focuses on post-conflict and fragile environments.

Although South Korea is known for its large scale “Chaebols,” which have dominated much of its political and economic life – less well known is the considerable support that the government has provided to small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs).  As in most countries, Korean SMEs play a pivotal role in the national economy, accounting for 99% of all enterprises (3 million SMEs), over 80% of all employees (10.8 million employees), and almost 48% of total national production.

How can countries take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution?

Victor Mulas's picture

The economy is in a restructuring process. Technology-led transformations are no longer limited to technology-related sectors and are beginning to affect structural sectors, including manufacturing, retailing, transportation and construction. Disruptions of business models are surging from a fragmented network of entrepreneurs and innovators. Cognitive skills are increasingly being replaced by technology-led productivity, affecting labor supply in both developing and developed countries. In turn, creativity and social skills are becoming more important and more valuable than ever before. This process has been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Countries that are less prepared to adapt to these structural changes will suffer in their competitiveness. As much as 80 percent of the productivity gap between developed and emerging economies can be explained by the lag in transitioning to technology-led changes from previous economic restructuring processes (for example, the 18th-  and 20th-century industrial revolutions). Automation is reducing the cost of traditional labor-intense industries (reducing costs relative to labor by 40 percent to 50 percent since 1990), shifting the cost structures that benefited emerging economies. Trade is shifting increasingly to digital goods and services. Knowledge-intensive flows of trade are already growing about 30 percent faster than capital-  and labor-intensive trade flows. Jobs are also being affected, with routine cognitive functions being affected the most, while providers of intellectual and physical capital benefitting disproportionately. 



There are also opportunities stemming from this widespread diffusion of technology and transformational changes. Entrepreneurship and innovation is becoming affordable and de-localized. The innovation model of large capital-intense laboratories (e.g., Bell Labs) is not the most effective one anymore. Instead, open innovation (the process whereby large firms co-create innovation with entrepreneurs and other actors, instead of having an internal process) and innovation emerging from startups are increasing. Tech startup ecosystems have emerged in cities worldwide, in both emerging and developed economies, disrupting traditional business and creating new industries. This results in local innovation and business models that can be appropriated by the domestic economies. These ecosystems also generate new sources of jobs emerging from the structural changes produced by technology.

How high-growth firms can reshape the economy

Denis Medvedev's picture

Productivity. Growth. Jobs. These are the outcomes that are at the top of many of our clients’ agendas, and they form a core part of most of our private sector development projects. But where do they come from? Who creates them?

Evidence from high-income countries suggests that the answer might be found in a group of small, young and fast-growing firms that contributes disproportionately to these outcomes at the national level. In the United States, about 50 percent of new firms will have gone out of business before the age of five (Haltiwanger et al, 2013). Among those that do survive, just 12 percent experience output growth in excess of 25 percent, but they account for 50 percent of overall increase in output. Similarly, only 17 percent of surviving firms (less than 10 percent of all that entered) experience employment growth above 25 percent – but they create close 60 percent of new jobs in the U.S. economy (Haltiwanger et al, 2016). There is undoubtedly something special about these few high-growth firms (HGFs).

One key reason that HGFs are able to perform so well is their high productivity. Firms in the 90th percentile of the U.S. productivity distribution create almost twice as much output with the same inputs as firms in the 10th percentile (Syverson, 2004). In developing countries, the gap between firms at the top and bottom ends of the productivity distribution is even larger – up to five times! (Hsieh and Klenow, 2009)



Beyond their own high productivity, HGFs raise national efficiency in several important ways. Their “pull factor” facilitates the convergence of less productive firms to the national frontier (Bartelsman et al, 2008). And when markets for production inputs are competitive, HGFs are able to lift overall efficiency by pulling resources from less productive firms. This is what accounts for their disproportionate contribution to productivity, jobs, and output growth (Haltiwanger et al, 2016).