International Consensus on Regional Development

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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

globally.

• 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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Introduction

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Welcome to Corridor2020, our entry point for those interested in the development of the area in Eastern Iowa surrounding Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.   If you are interesting in expanded networking with those interested in this topic, click on this NETWORKING LINK, and scroll down to the lower left of that homepage to sign up.

The concepts of regional development are well known, and we have been sporadically pursuing them for the last 25 years.  After the floods last year, our local municipalities and counties and economic development organizations turned inward, and understandably so.  The Corridor Business Alliance, comprised of the economic development organizations listed to the right, decided that more coordination was necessary. Gazette Communications and The Corridor Business Journal decided that a spotlight needed to shine on the regional development issues, and worked with the Corridor Business Alliance to create a Path to Regional Excellence event on November 3rd.  You can see the slides and the video from that event by clicking on the appropriate link.  Both The Gazette and the Corridor Business Journal commented on the event, and the need to get started on a more focused effort of regional development.

The concepts of regional development are very simple, but will take an agreed upon common purpose and significant work to implement:

1.  We are competing in a global economy.

2. The actors on this global stage  (individuals, companies, non-profits, etc.) do not really care about parochial political interests.  They care about easy access to talent, materials, transportation, culture, recreational opportunities, etc.

3. To stand out on this global stage, we need to have a critical mass of people and economic activity.  The natural boundaries of that critical mass in our area roughly align with the Kirkwood Community College service area and the Grant Wood AEA service area, as those areas, which are almost identical, define the labor shed and shopping patterns in our area.

For that critical mass of social and economic activity to stand out on that global stage, we need to have:

1.  An identity and brand that can easily differentiate us in the world, that is substantive and authentic, and that is internalized and articulated by those in the region.

2.  An infrastructure of information flow and decision making that reduces, if not eliminates, the friction of parochial interests.

3.  Powerful workforce development and education.

4.  An open and constructive entrepreneurial culture and support for innovative activities.

5. Diversity and inclusiveness.

Pat Baird, CEO of AEGON USA, outlined the necessity of this effort before the November 3rd event.  The Corridor Business Alliance continues to work to create the common purpose and action plan for the economic development aspects of regional development.  We need similar alliances of governmental leaders to work with the CBA on developing the infrastructure aspects of regional development, educators  and business leaders to develop the workforce aspects, and many of us to work on the culture, diversity and inclusiveness action plans.  The time to start is now.

What do you think?

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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?

Fountain
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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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Getting Started

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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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