As a location selection consultant, I never miss an opportunity to stress the importance of regionalism. Economies don’t stop at the borders. Economic development efforts can’t stop at the borders either – and the field has in fact gradually been moving in the direction of improved regional cooperation. However, I recently experienced two examples of regionalism that must be called out as cutting-edge – actually, let’s call them “Acts of Extreme Regionalism.”
First, at the recent Forum of the Industrial Asset Management Council in Cleveland, Ohio, the South Carolina Department of Commerce and North Carolina Department of Commerce co-hosted a dinner for attendees. At first glance, this may not seem revolutionary, but consider for a moment that two Secretaries of Commerce agreed to share the stage and that two state economic development organizations worked collaboratively to identify invitees and make the seating assignments. They highlighted the symbiotic nature of their economies, noting that North Carolina’s main container port, the Port of Charleston, is actually in South Carolina, and that South Carolina’s international airport, Charlotte Douglas International, is actually in North Carolina. And yet, they never lost for a moment the message that both states are willing to compete -- and compete hard -- with each other and with others to promote job creation and investment in their states. Each state has a more robust story to tell when willing to leverage the other’s assets. Kudos to both organizations for a job well done.
The second experience was last week’s Third Annual Summit on Regional Competitiveness, co-hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and theAlliance for Regional Development. The event brought together planners, economic developers, elected officials, and business leaders from Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana to discuss ways the states can cooperate to improve their integrated economies. Andria Winters from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity provided opening comments, noting the accomplishments of Indiana and Wisconsin, expressing appreciation for their willingness to share best practices with Illinois, and acknowledging Illinois’ responsibility (and promise) to bring a strong economy to the partnership. The program was closed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who, encouraging regional collaboration, said, “We share the water of Lake Michigan, but we also share the innovation, technology and opportunity that it brings.” And in the middle of the program, very radical ideas were suggested, like Illinois should “stand down” on water technology and do whatever it can to strengthenMilwaukee’s Water Council, which has emerged as a global front runner in the space. Likewise, Wisconsin and Indiana might consider “standing down” on intermodal transportation and working with CREATE to strengthen the overall network holistically. And WHAT IF the Great Lakes ports were given the tools needed to work together as a system of ports to serve and strengthen the Great Lakes economies, rather than as individual ports competing for market share? Noble ideas, certainly, but the speakers and attendees themselves acknowledged that the dialogue, while helpful, needs concrete action. A plan was shared to begin that process. If it succeeds, the region will truly accomplish “Acts of Extreme Regionalism.”
Tracey Hyatt Bosman is a Managing Director at Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co., one of the largest, most highly regarded site selection and incentives advisory firms in North America. BLS & Co. helps manage the complexities associated with finding optimal location and securing incentives to support new ventures.