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
• 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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