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The Next Metro Economy

Empowering Regions to Reinvent Themselves

Empowering Regions to Reinvent Themselves
Mark Byrnes

This week, The Atlantic Cities has partnered with the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation to explore local solutions to national problems. You can find the rest of the series here.

For too long, state leaders have crafted economic development plans that act like regions don’t matter. Resources have been spread thin across states, with decisions based on politics rather than pragmatism. Such efforts have produced lackluster results at best; the repeated failure to build on individual regions’ distinctive assets represents a series of opportunities missed.

Across the United States, a handful of governors and state legislatures have come to the realization that state economic development efforts must be attentive to the particularities of regions and metropolitan areas. These leaders are working with their regions to craft and implement innovative bottom-up economic development strategies that prize local knowledge and regional strengths over something-for-everyone approaches of the past.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is implementing a truly regional approach to economic development. He established 10 Regional Economic Development Councils and tasked them with developing strategic plans that leverage the particular economic strengths of each. Each Regional Economic Development Council is a public-private partnership that brings together key stakeholders from local government, business, academia and elsewhere. [Full disclosure: Bruce Katz served as a member of the review panel for the economic development plans of the New York Regional Economic Development Councils.]

These councils were given just over three months to create strategic plans that articulated a vision for regional economic development, outlined the implementation process, identified available resources, and established performance metrics. These strategic plans were then judged by a panel of experts, who selected the winning plans and determined how much state funding each region would receive.

Four regions won the title "best plan" in the competition, which came with a state investment of just over $100 million each. Western New York will use these funds to support growth in eight key industry sectors, making targeted investments in workforce development, increased innovation and commercialization, smart growth infrastructure and downtown revitalization. North Country included an emphasis on high-tech and traditional manufacturing and green energy production as well as investments in area railways, broadband access and medical research. Central New York will invest in biotech research, agribusiness, advanced manufacturing and research and development efforts. Long Island’s plan included investments in its innovation economy, community revitalization infrastructure and developing a workforce capable of meeting the needs of its growing high-tech sector.

New York isn’t the only state working to bolster regional economic development efforts. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s Jobs4TN plan aims to strengthen the state economy by establishing regional "jobs base camps" to support regional economic development planning, prioritizing key industry clusters, investing in innovation through the INCITE initiative, and streamlining business regulations.

In Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper issued an executive order requiring each of the state’s counties to create an economic development plan, to be rolled up into fourteen regional plans that then will constitute the state’s economic development overall plan. Nevada is embarking on a new economic development agenda that prioritizes unified vision, smart regional sector growth and diversification through innovation. In each of these locales, leaders are establishing new models for state economic development that aim to inspire collaboration and innovation from the bottom up.

"For the first time," Gov. Cuomo said in a statement, "we are putting the power of the state government behind the innovation of our people, giving them the tools to rebuild our economy."

Bruce Katz is a vice president at Brookings Institution. He is the founder and co-director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, and leads the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation. All posts »

Dr. Judith Rodin is the president of the Rockefeller Foundation. All posts »

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