UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

Growing green shoots: Keith Debbage and ‘entrepreneurial ecosystems’

120716spotlight_debbageDr. Keith Debbage is on a new track. He’s been writing the State of the City Report for the Greensboro Partnership for twelve years, and in the past year, he has moved into research concerning the geography of entrepreneurship by metropolitan areas, a subject he describes as “a key part of our future.”

Debbage is a professor of urban development in the Department of Geography and Veteran Coleman Entrepreneurship Fellow in the UNCG Bryan School of Business and Economics. This fall he attended the World Bank/George Washington University Annual Entrepreneurship Conference in Washington DC, presenting a paper titled “Geographies of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems: Non-Farm Proprietorship Employment by U.S. Metropolitan Area.” He finds his new research and teaching interests well-suited to a city like Greensboro, experiencing significant changes and development in recent years, especially regarding the ongoing evolution of its own entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Following his submission of this year’s State of the City analysis, his op-ed in the News & Record reported on Greensboro’s “fledgling recovery,” citing major developments in downtown, the desirability of a growing Greensboro as a place to live, and a low high school dropout rate. Debbage and his colleagues have studied comparable developing cities, such as Greenville, S.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Debbage says of Greensboro, “There’s one big thing that makes us truly unique. A substantial amount of the really cool change in this city is not from the private sector, and it’s not from the public sector. It’s from the non-profits.” He points to the public art downtown, the urban greenway, Center City Park, and the Grasshoppers’ new stadium, noting that the Bryan Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and other  non-profits have spurred a great deal of Greensboro’s recent development.

In his teaching, Debbage strives to expose students to a blend of traditional research and applied research, or experience with real world projects. Students he’s worked with often go on to become Triad city planning directors or policy analysts in the U.S. Census Bureau, most likely because of their applied geography experience.

Debbage praises private entrepreneurs, some of them UNCG graduates, who are developing South Elm Street. As well, he praises Greensboro’s grassroots entrepreneurial startups and the “green shoots phenomenon” – young graduates inventing their own projects and, subsequently, careers.

He said, “To me, it’s an exciting time. Greensboro seems to be reinventing itself, moving away from declining traditional industry, and gradually developing new ways of doing business.”

By Susan Kirby-Smith