In recent posts, The Urbanophile has been marveling at the fact that cities so seldom attempt to recruit talented individuals. Here is his latest on whether it is even possible to attract human capital:

I'm a free market kind of guy. I certainly don't believe that government can conjure up economic growth or wave a magic wand and get people to show up. There is a competitive market out there and product quality, such as the factors above, are clearly very important.

But sticking with our free market analogy, let's ask ourselves a question. How do profit motivated businesses approach the problem of getting people to buy their product? The logic of the skeptics suggests that the only thing that matters is the quality of the product, the price point, availability and similar matters. But clearly that's not the case.

Can you imagine the VP of Marketing and the VP of Sales at a major corporation walking into the CEO's office and having this conversation? "Mr. CEO, I know you asked us go out and flog our company's product. But you know what? To tell you a secret, sales and marketing don't work. It's all about the product and the price. So we think you ought to just shut down our departments and put all those millions straight to the bottom line."

In real life, as we know, corporations spend gigantic sums on sales and marketing. Clearly they wouldn't do this if it didn't work. That's not to say that every dollar spent on these activities is effective. Clearly much of it isn't. That's not to say that product and price aren't important. Clearly they are critical. But it is also critical to build awareness of your product in the marketplace, to effectively communicate its brand promise and value proposition, and to induce someone to make a buying decision.

If this is true for pretty much every for-profit enterprise, why wouldn't the civic sector of a community - government, non-profits, and business organizations - want to apply the same tools and techniques to their city and region? Clearly, a huge number of cities in America have very low levels of awareness in the marketplace about what they are and what they have to offer. If anything, they've got a superficial brand awareness that is neutral to negative.

Clearly, cities and states do recognize the power of marketing and sales when it comes to traditional economic development - i.e., luring firms. All of them employ full time people who are out selling the community every day. They are taking site selection consultants on VIP tours. They are showing up at conferences. They are putting deals together. They are buying advertising. But what are these cities doing on the people side?

I would challenge any region to do a compare and contrast of the types of activities they undertake on the "firm" side of economic development and the "people" side. I think you'd find major activity gaps on the talent side of the equation, even if that's not reflected in the total dollar spend.

I wonder to what extent this is explained by the fact that firms recruited to a city often produce a lot of political donations/sales tax/positive business section stories, whereas individuals, not so much.