Ted Smith is being honored as a Champion of Change for his efforts in local innovation.
My boss, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, likes to say: “In city government, you’re closer to the customer.” This proximity to citizens – in contrast to state or local government -- is one of the things that lured me from a post in Federal government in Washington, DC, to local municipal government in Louisville, KY.
So much of my job is looking to find new ways to help our neighbors enrich our community, and I believe a city is the best place to incubate innovative change. In my role as Chief of Economic Growth and Innovation for Metro Louisville, Kentucky, I get to work with a spectrum of public, private, and nonprofit entities in Louisville.
We have the tools necessary to help businesses form and grow, but the work is often compartmentalized. For example, we have had a very successful low interest public loan program that has a great history of helping the small business or the distressed business which is important, but we also want to be sure the resources we have are not just saving jobs but supporting job creation.
I got that chance a few months ago when an innovative healthcare start-up was struggling with the lag time in one of the new CMMI Accountable Care Organization programs. This great startup had two co-founders taking risks to improve the way primary care is delivered – actually bringing more care to patients at lower cost. However, the Federal program that pays for these care savings was not going to pay fast enough to keep the lights on for the new startup. And there is no bank willing to secure a loan for a company without revenue or assets and just a letter from HHS offering payment in the future. In short, my team looked at that letter from the Federal government and made the decision that our loan program could recognize that as collateral for a loan that ultimately allowed the company to not only stay in business but begin hiring on schedule to get to those health savings sooner.
If members of our community are willing to risk their own savings to build a company, create new jobs, and improve health in our city and others across the country, maybe there is room to innovate the way government works. That is the context for this recognition from the White House. Government needs to innovate to take some risks, and to be a partner for those entrepreneurs who risk so much more to grow our economy. I’m not sure I deserve this honor, but I’m glad we can find leverage between government programs at different levels to let innovators innovate, create jobs, and improve quality of life on a platform that welcomes it.
Dr. Ted Smith is the Chief of Economic Growth & Innovation for Metro Louisville Government