Need to Build Constituency

As many politicians have noted, there is no natural constituency for regional development.  While regional development benefits all, the focus of most individuals is on their immediately local concerns.  And, those concerns get the ear of the politicians who are elected by those voters.

A perfect example occurred this weekend.  In the first joint “City-County Citizen Meeting“, Monica Vernon, Cedar Rapids Mayor Pro Tem, and Lu Barron, Linn County Supervisor, answered over two hours of questions from over fifty participants.

When asked about regional economic promotion, they focused on existing activities, not what needs to be done:

In response to a question from this blogger, Chuck Peters, about how the City and County were working together on regional economic promotion, Barron noted the cooperation of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, East Central Iowa Council of Governments and political lobbying coordination.  Vernon noted that the appointment of Josh Schamberger of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau to the Eastern Iowa Airport Commission was a step in the right direction.  Vernon also said that what “Iowa City needs is a stronger Cedar Rapids.”

Both Monica and Lu are promoters of regional economic development, but they cannot focus on it with their constituents.  So, we have to develop that constituency.

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International Consensus on Regional Development

Map of USA with Midwest highlighted
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Nearly two years ago, I was in many meetings with the leadership of the United States Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Administration.  They clearly articulated that they now had research that proved that the only real economic engine was the region and that they wanted to help us achieve a true regional plan, and effective actions.

This new report, Past Silos and Smokestacks: Transforming the Rural Economy in the Midwest, by Mark Drabenstott is a very concise explanation of the research supporting the critical nature of regional economic development.

I have highlighted some of the key points of the summary, and pointed toward the research findings, in this synopsis.

I can’t help but highlight some of the statements from the summary:

The rural Midwest could have an economic future as bright as

its vibrant past. But it is basing its twenty-first-century future on a

twentieth-century playbook. This is not a recipe for success. Towns

and counties compete with neighboring towns and counties for jobs

and investments. Industrial recruitment—“smokestack chasing”—is

the norm. Economic development agencies spend millions on infrastructure

and tax breaks to lure companies from afar instead of creating

new jobs at home. Boosters sell the rural Midwest as a cheap

place to make things, ignoring the region’s many other economic

assets—its natural resources, its hard-working people, its central

location, its schools and universities, and its scientific base, among

others —that could all be leveraged into a competitive new economy.

The path to stronger economies in the rural Midwest is plain.

Partnering regionally to compete globally is what’s needed. This pathway

will lead to scores of multicounty, self-defined regions across

the Midwest. Only by combining their forces to create new businesses

and good jobs at home will the towns and counties of the

rural Midwest compete and thrive in a global economy where this

sort of collaboration is fast becoming the norm.

The rural Midwest needs a bold new development strategy to

transform its economy. The strategy developed in this report stands

on four legs:

• Help rural communities and counties think regionally to compete


• Focus public investments on transforming economic opportunities

rooted in distinct economic strengths, not on

smokestack chasing.

• Spur innovation and entrepreneurship, turning ideas and innovations

into economic progress.

• Create a world-class entrepreneurial climate and innovation

culture to grow a landscape of new companies, in the process

recycling the region’s considerable wealth.

This is a brand new game plan—a bold game plan.

At the local level, county economic development boards and local chambers of commerce

dominate, preserving the lines in the sand that hinder regional action…

…These examples point to what is needed to embark on a new path

of Midwestern rural development—a more regional approach. To

succeed, regional leaders will need a neutral “safe space” where new

partnerships can be forged. They will also need “coaches” that can

effectively bring local players out of their traditional silos and combine

their strengths on a new economic team. A critical challenge is

that both the safe spaces and the coaches are in very short supply.

The time is now for significant progress in our initiatives for regional development.

What do you think?

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Input Requested

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As we said in the November 3rd event, The Path to Regional Excellence, there are many aspects to regional development:  economic, infrastructure, educational, cultural, marketing, political, human service, etc.  The Corridor Business Alliance is focusing on the economic development aspects for the region in Eastern Iowa surrounding Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.

As we try to organize the best system for regional development, your answers to a few questions will be helpful.

The questions are:

1. What are our region’s three greatest strengths?
2. What are our three greatest challenges facing us in the next five years?
3.  What are the three actions that we could take, together, that would unite all areas of the region toward a more effective and productive approach to economic development?

Thanks for your comments!

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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.


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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