Editorial Support

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Both The Gazette newspaper and the Corridor Business Journal have long been supporters of regional development.  It was still nice to see their perspectives on Michael Langley’s presentation and the Path to Regional Excellence event last week.

The Corridor Business Journal’s latest editorial started with:

Nearly 350 business and community leaders came out last week to attend The Path to Regional Excellence breakfast at Kirkwood Community College. The keynote speaker, Michael Langley, congratulated the audience for taking the first step by coming together to learn more about what a strong economic region looks like, but emphasized that there is no easy or quick path and that it will take strong leadership to make it happen here.

On this page, we have been very critical of the lack of progress that the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor has made over the past several years and highlighted specific steps that can be made to get the ball rolling again.

We did want to take time to celebrate a step in the right direction, specifically the collaboration created by the Corridor Business Alliance — a coalition of a dozen organizations with an economic development focus ranging from the Small Business Development Centers to the chambers of commerce to several of the higher education institutions.

The Gazette’s editorial ended with:

Our region’s leaders must agree how to work together and create a unified strategy and a brand image. A regional approach is inclusive of small and rural businesses, not just the core. It identifies the region’s “jewels” large and small, and broadens opportunities to meet new people who can do business together.

It also can foster public-private initiatives that provide regional solutions to transportation and infrastructure needs.

Langley provides guidelines on how to accomplish regional excellence. The specifics are up to us. Let’s get at it.

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Name for the region?

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As many of you know, I have been an advocate for a name for this region which connotes access and diversity.  I believe we have easy access to a wide diversity of living, work and recreation opportunities, and all easily accessible within a 30 minute drive.  Living options range from the research university community of Iowa City, to the new commercial city of Coralville, from the vibrant near urban Cedar Rapids to the town square of Marion, to all the unique smaller towns amidst those big four, and numerous suburban and ex-urban options.  Work options abound, as do recreation options, with Big Ten sports, world class performances, minor league baseball, community recreational events, etc.

Michael Langley noted “Hawkeye” Corridor in his remarks, and I got plenty of feedback on that suggestion.  Lyle Muller blogged about it, noting:

How about using “Hawkeye Corridor” to identify Cedar Rapids-Iowa City region?

Posted on Nov 03, 2009 by Lyle Muller.

Updated

How’s does the “Hawkeye Corridor” sound to you as a way to describe this part of Eastern Iowa defined by the Cedar Rapids metro area to the north and Iowa City-Coralville metro area to the south?

Michael Langley, president and founder of the Langley Group out of Pittsburgh, dropped that one on about 300 to 350 business, government and education leaders who met for breakfast in Cedar Rapids this morning to talk about economic development. He didn’t flat-out suggest it, but mentioned it in a less-than-casual manner during his breakfast talk, held to rekindle efforts to establish the Cedar Rapids/Marion-Iowa City/Coralville area as a viable corridor market.

Langley was the keynote speaker for the “The Path to Regional Excellence” gathering, which I tweeted about earlier this morning, Nov. 3. He drove home main themes during the breakfast meeting, chief among them: this region needs to brand itself and it needs to determine what message to deliver to the rest of the world with that brand.

Langley noted that leaders in the Corridor need to band together in order to be globally competitive. Regions increasingly are being identified by businesses seeking new markets to the point that regions are supplanting cities and even nation-states when it comes to competitive importance, he said.

Langley told the group the keys to economic growth on a regional basis are brand/image, workforce/education, infrastructure, innovation/entrepreneurship and inclusiveness/diversity. In order to make a difference you need regional marketing and promotion, public policy and analysis that fosters development, and public advocacy at places like the state legislature and Congress, he said.

A panel discussion was included in the 90-minute session, held at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. Besides Langley, University of Iowa President Sally Mason and Eliot G. Protsch, senior executive vice president and chief operating officer at Alliant Energy, spoke on the panel, which Jack Evans, president of the Hall-Perine Foundation, moderated.

With Mason on the panel, several references were made to the “Hawkeye” brand, especially given the success of the, to-date, undefeated and nationally ranked UI football team that plays in the Corridor. Mason said thinking about the “Hawkeye” name would be a good place from which to start, not necessarily because of the UI but because Iowa’s nickname is the Hawkeye State. Even so, she said, the Hawkeye brand is strong right now because of the football team.

“Brand is critical,” Mason said.

Protsch suggested the Cedar Rapids area-to-Iowa City corridor is a “can-do attitude” corridor. It was a reference to how the region has recovered from massive flooding in 2008, a recovery Langley noted in his address to the group.

For certain, people will weigh in on how to market this area. Folks in Coralville, Marion, Hiawatha and other areas connected to the corridor will have opinions, for example, to go along with those from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. Government leaders need to be engaged, those on the panel said this morning, as will education leaders. Mason pointed out that areas engaged in this kind of regional economic talk have one big thing in common — a major research institution.

Expect to hear more on this. Chuck Peters, the president of the company for which I work, Gazette Communications, said he and John Lohman, publisher of the Corridor Business Journal, have pledged to keep the idea on the table. Gazette Communications, the Corridor Business Journal and a new group called the Corridor Business Alliance, of which Dee Baird , Kirkwood Community College’s executive vice president for continuing education and training services, and other local business leaders are a driving force, were co-sponsors of this morning’s breakfast.

Here’s a link to a story The Gazette’s Dave DeWitte did last week about the alliance.

An addendum since this original post was made. Langley told the Gazette Editorial board Tuesday afternoon (Nov. 3) that the right business and government leaders to make regionalism work need to have respect, credibility and resources to make a difference. He also said universities and business communities are natural allies.

He said calling this region Iowa’s Technology Corridor was a good step to get people thinking that technology exists here. But the fact is, the term “technology corridor” is fairly generic, he said. “There are a lot of technology corridors, and rightly so.”

For an example, click here. Another. They’re in plenty of places.

Figuring out a brand for the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City/Coralville region will take time, Langley told the editorial board. “That’s a process, and that’s not something you’re going to know overnight,” he said.

Meantime, feel free to offer your suggestions here on this Corridor’s strengths and what its brand and message should be.

What do you think?  What should the name be?

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Path to Regional Excellence

Michael Langley provided the context for developing an excellent region, one that will be able to compete globally, in the breakfast event yesterday November 3, 2009.

As you will note from a selection of his slides, below, success is dependent on leaders focusing on the keys to effective regions: Brand/Image, Workforce/Education, Infrastructure (physical, environmental, governance),
Culture of Innovation/Entrepreneurship, and Culture of Inclusiveness and Diversity.

Corridor Business Alliance

During the Path to Regional Excellence breakfast yesterday, November 3rd, 2009, Dee Baird, Executive Vice President, Continuing Education and Training Services, Kirkwood Community College, gave a brief overview of the Corridor Business Alliance, or CBA.

Formed about 10 months ago, CBA consists of those entities in our region that have multiple constituents and are focused on economic development.  Their names, and the links to their websites, are in the “Links to Development Resources” listed to the right.

When you look at the tasks and purposes of CBA, on slides 8 and 9 below, note the emphasis on branding, metrics and organizational effectiveness, key factors in the Michael Langley presentation that followed.

When asked why the Convention and Visitor Bureaus, cities, counties or others were not in the original CBA, Dee commented that getting a dozen disparate organizations was enough of a start.  You have to start somewhere.

CBA is pursuing a regional planning grant, and will be outlining key tasks in the next 30-45 days.

Getting Started

World map of GDP real growth rates.
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Pat Baird, CEO of AEGON USA, has very concisely outlined the need for a regional approach to economic development, in a piece published today, November 1, 2009 in The Gazette.  That piece will also be featured in the Corridor Business Journal.

As a place to get started in the discussion, I think Pat’s words set the stage.

On Tuesday, November 3rd, a forum will be held at Kirkwood’s Center for Continuing Education exploring the merits of regional economic development.   Great news.   It’s time for a coordinated economic development strategy for the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridor.

As a 30 year employee of AEGON USA, I’ve seen communities where we have operations become transformed into regional heavyweights simply by changing how they think and react to economic development opportunities.  With all the advantages we have in this area, we can do the same.

AEGON USA has increased its workforce in Cedar Rapids from 800 jobs in 1993 to just over 3,600 today.  While we employ over 12,000 nationally in cities such as Baltimore, Louisville, Los Angeles and others, Cedar Rapids is by far our largest site.  The costs are reasonable here, the workforce is well educated and the work ethic is second to none.  In addition, the State of Iowa and its secondary educational institutions have done a great job of supporting the insurance industry.

While many of our employees come from the area, as I do, we still recruit many nationally and even internationally.  Those of us who live here know the advantages:  a great quality of life, outstanding educational institutions, short commutes, safe neighborhoods, Big 10 sports and close proximity to countless recreational and cultural opportunities.

Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, together with the surrounding communities in between, are indeed all very different places.  When we recruit new employees from outside the area, we sell not only the collective advantages of life within the Corridor, but the uniqueness of each community.  These differences among our local communities are very much a positive.  It is rare that one of our local communities doesn’t fit a prospective employee’s needs.

Because commute times are relatively short, we have learned over the years that workforce demands can also be met by the success of other companies.  When we learn of a new company adding new jobs or relocating employees from other locations, we know that spouses and other family members of those new hires present us with additional workforce alternatives.  A win for Iowa City is a win for those of us growing a business in Cedar Rapids, and visa versa.

Correspondingly, flood recovery for this area is also a direct form of economic development.  During this past year, I have had the privilege to serve the State of Iowa on the Ijobs Board, which awarded both competitive and noncompetitive grant monies to communities to jump start flood recovery projects as well as to provide economic stimulus.  The Board had a “geographic diversity” mandate to spread competitive grant monies throughout the state.    It is important to note that the Board, in achieving this mandate, examined the State by quadrant, and not by city or county.

Other communities where AEGON USA conducts its business have recognized economic development has gone regional, and some have even gone so far as to regionalize their government.  The City of Louisville, in particular, has regionalized their government solely for purposes of promoting economic development.   While no one is promoting this idea for our area at this time, it illustrates the thinking and efforts of other communities with which we compete to attract new employers and/or encourage the expansion of our existing employers.

It is for these reasons that we endorse and will support the initiative to develop a coordinated economic development strategy for the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor.  The fact that somewhere on a map are dotted lines which divide the region into cities and counties is totally irrelevant to business and to economic development.    The attributes we share in this region are far more valuable than those things that divide us.   It’s time we focus the efforts of our local Chambers of Commerce, economic development groups and academic institutions on these attributes.  It is also time our local governments form a collaboration among themselves and with the regional economic development groups to ensure they are constructive partners in regional economic development.  It is also as important never to allow the parochial interests defined by these dotted lines on a map to become a deterrent to what is right for the Corridor.  If we accomplish this, we all win.

What do you think?

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