The Daily Record: Regional collaboration when ‘the cavalry isn’t coming’

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This column was originally published in The Daily Record on June 20, 2014

By Donald C. Fry

With federal and state governments mired in partisan policy gridlock and able to offer only limited resources these days to nurture a strong business climate, where will the creativity and spark for economic growth in the coming years be found?

In metropolitan regions, Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution told more than 60 business leaders who gathered last week at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s second annual Chesapeake Conference of CEOs.

“It’s cities and metropolitan areas and the networks of people who govern them and shape their economy that are stepping up to address our most pressing challenges” in the face of government dysfunction and drift, said Bradley, who co-authored with Bruce Katz a new book “The Metropolitan Revolution.”

Bradley, the keynote speaker, provided inspiration to leading CEOs from the region as they launched a day-long series of workshops to brainstorm ways to best nurture investment in Greater Baltimore and leverage it into strong economic growth and job creation.

She cited compelling examples of regions across the U.S. where renewed economic success has been achieved through creative, collaborative networks largely driven by the private sector.

Here’s the context, said Bradley. Our nation is facing a pivotal decade.  We need about 7 million more jobs to recover the jobs that were lost in the economic downturn to keep pace with population growth and labor dynamics.

“We need not just more jobs, but better jobs,” Bradley said.

Big issues facing America today include developing a STEM-savvy workforce, nurturing entrepreneurship, connecting small businesses with large businesses, improving transportation infrastructure, ensuring effective public-private sector interaction, and “developing more appropriate regulations for a 21st-century economy to replace the regulations that we  have, which are more appropriate for a mid-20th century economy,” she said.

Meanwhile, the United States needs a new growth model that centers more around production, not consumption, with a new emphasis on manufacturing and more of a focus on exporting, Bradley said.

Gridlock at the federal level is not just about partisanship. “It’s about math,” said Bradley. In the coming years, mandatory spending on entitlements will take up an ever larger share of the federal budget. This shift in spending will crowd out spending on everything else – transportation, urban development and economic development – that states and cities have relied on for a long time.

Even before the recession, it has been clear that our nation’s cities and metro areas “are on their own and are on the front lines when it comes to delivering the next economy.” For American cities that have relied on, and are still looking for, increased federal assistance they need to face reality.  “The cavalry is not coming,” Bradley said.

Metro regions are already major drivers of the national economy. The nation’s 100 largest metropolitan regions, which occupy only 12 percent of land area, account for two-thirds of the U.S. population and 75 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.

In Maryland, metro regions are similarly impactful. The Baltimore region alone, for example, produced 47 percent of state’s GDP in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“Metros create an environment for creativity,” Bradley said.  “Entrepreneurs rely on metropolitan ecosystems. Metros power our economy and determine our prosperity.”

In “The Metropolitan Revolution,” Katz and Bradley profile seven metro areas where regional collaboration is producing economic success in different ways.

Denver and L.A. are investing in state of the art transit systems.

Cleveland and northeast Ohio are making manufacturing a priority again.

New York City is re-inventing itself as a technology hub.

Houston is helping immigrants become entrepreneurs.

Portland, Oregon, is linking small businesses to new markets in growing global cities.

Detroit is focusing on remaking itself as an innovation hub with a new innovation district in its downtown and mid-town neighborhoods.

Cross-jurisdictional collaboration in these regions has generated accomplishments ranging from funding a new $4.2 billion transportation network through voter passage of a small regional sales tax in metropolitan Denver to the establishment of a philanthropic-driven regional fund in northeast Ohio to nurture a “new economic ecosystem” that has resulted in the creation of more than 10,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, Portland has become “an export powerhouse” that doubled its export value between 2003 and 2010 and is now among the most export intensive metros in the country, Bradley said.

There are many lessons to be drawn from the examples she cites and others featured in the “The Metropolitan Revolution.”

Like metropolitan regions elsewhere in our fiscally-challenged nation, the cavalry isn’t coming to Greater Baltimore anytime soon either. For Baltimore City and the five surrounding counties in our region, the lesson seems clear.

Now is the time for the private and public sectors to redouble our collective efforts to engage the power of collaboration in converting our region’s many assets into stronger competitiveness, economic growth and job creation.

Donald C. Fry, president & CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, writes a monthly column for The Daily Record. His e-mail address is donaldf@gbc.org.

 

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