CBA Strategic "Report Out" Meeting

The Corridor Business Alliance gathered Monday, May 17, 2010 for a strategic update “report out” meeting at Cedar Ridge Winery. Our host, Jeff Quint provided a wonderful atmosphere for the meeting of regional leaders.  Several photos are available here.

The event kicked off with updates from each of the three Task Force Groups. Highlights from each effort are summarized below:

1. Develop and Implement a Regional Brand—Chaired by John Lohman, Corridor Business Journal with support from Curt Nelson, Entrepreneurial Development Center and Pam York, University of Iowa Research Foundation. The task force has spent the last few months researching and reviewing firms that develop brands from across the country. A short list was developed of five national firms, the task force selected two to come to the area and present their proposals in person in April to the task force and a broader group of stakeholders. North Star Destination Strategies out of Nashville, TN was selected by the group as the successful firm. Don McEachern, CEO of North Star returned to the region and presented the process that will begin soon and took questions from the audience for the event.  Chuck Peters, CEO of Gazette Communications, and Nancy Quellhorst, President of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce, previewed the slide show that will be used to describe the need for the “brand print” exercise.

2. Achieve Full Flood Recovery–Chaired by Chuck Peters  and Mayor Ron Corbett, City of Cedar Rapids. The task force met in January to share ideas and best practices. Organizations represented were from the City of Coralville, the University of Iowa and the City of Cedar Rapids. Efforts thus far have focused on maximizing funding, flood mitigation, project management and protection and prevention.

3. Develop and Implement a Regional Economic Development Plan—Chaired by Joe Raso and Scott Fisher with Iowa City Area Development Group and Mark Seckman and Barry Boyer with Priority One. The Task Force has focused their work on three areas of interest based on the needs of interstate commerce and are currently conducting SWOT analysis work in the following areas:

1. New Business Creation

2. Existing Industry Retention

3. Business Recruitment

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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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Input Requested

Developing countries excluding LDCs (Least Dev...
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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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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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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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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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