Monday, August 24, 2009

The Economic Downturn and The Recovery

When you're a marketing pro, you're always monitoring the ebb and flow of economic currents, markets and trends. Recently, there's been a lot of news coming out about promising economic indicators that seem to point to a possible end to the economic downturn. While we're all hopeful that the economy has turned around, one trend that hit my radar centered around news stories about people who are still struggling to find a job.

While the economists can debate whether the downturn has ended, how fast things might ramp back up, and where things are going from here, the job-struggle story fits in with something I've been thinking about lately. Politics? Perhaps, but I think it also touches on a couple of good Silicon Valley marketing themes.

Has there been any real change?
While the Economic Stimulus package focused on 'shovel-ready' infrastructure projects and the TARP bailout was an "all hands bail", throw-buckets-of-money-over-the-side in an effort to right the sinking financial industry, neither of these efforts focused on core transformation or revitalization.

During the past eight years, the government kept pushing the meme that Wall Street was profitable and therefore the economy was strong. For the Bush crew, job statistics were Yet Another Inconvenient Truth. While some may buy into the economy is great message, for most of us that work, the job market is one of our key economic indicators. There are a bunch of us out here in Silicon Valley who remember a time about ten years ago when it wasn't uncommon to have two or three companies fighting to hire you.

These days, the job boards tell a different story. Beyond the few opportunities, what's also telling is the kinds of opportunities that you see listed -- a lot of the openings are administrative positions, openings that may be there from turnover and consolidation. You don't see a lot of the types of positions that you'd associate with growth and new product development.

Reform Takes More that Duct Tape and Chewing Gum
While some may see the 'dot-com' bubble as a result of a land grab across the emerging Internet, the real driver behind all of the dot-com growth was free-flowing investment and the push to develop new opportunities. The build-out of the Internet -- that investment didn't simply represent web sites with sock puppets and pet food, it also included broadband networks, infrastructure, and all of the tools needed to build those next generation platforms.

And while a lot of the growth was written on bad paper that was funded by our retirement savings, the opening of a newly accessible market with broad reach spanning across a range of economic sectors -- network infrastructure, hardware, software, and even the potential for an average goomer to create a web-based business -- combined with some easy entry points and little personal risk for entrepreneurial failure meant the dot-com boom was big for everyone.

If you want to see another example of a new market opening up, look at what happened with Apple launched the iPhone application store. According to Apple, it now receives 8500 new applications and application upgrades every week for review -- and they've reviewed over 200,000 applications. That's over 200,000 entrepreneurial ventures.

Bold initiatives. Whether that means eliminating the risks in being an entrepreneur through programs like eliminating the fear of losing health care coverage or whether it means programs that open opportunities and markets (like a mandate to transform the nation's broadband network infrastructure, increasing bandwidth and making availability to everyone equivalent to lifeline phone service) are what we need. The goal shouldn't just be to bring the economy back to the point where it was at just before the banks started to fail, it should be to bring it back to a time jobs, investment and innovation were the norm.

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