State, Local Govs Innovate to Grow the Local Economy

1.19.12 | Unwilling to wait for Washington, governors, state legislatures, mayors and city councils around the country are taking some innovative steps to promote local economic development, say Brookings’ Bruce Katz and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Judith Rodin.

In a series of posts at The Atlantic Cities this week, Katz and Rodin are highlighting state and local solutions to national economic problems. Leaders at the local level, they say, recognize that future prosperity will depend not on business as usual but on creative solutions and new models of government. These leaders are focusing on job creation, building the economy, and perhaps most importantly, collaborating across public, private and nonprofit sectors.

They write:

The next economy will be fueled by innovation and advanced manufacturing, so that the U.S. can stay on the cutting edge of invention and production. It will be powered by a next-generation workforce that’s well-prepared for employment opportunities in emerging fields. This will require the United States to take the lead in the clean economy, developing the renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies necessary for a low carbon future. The next economy will also be export intensive, producing goods and services that are in demand in the global marketplace. And all this will demand a new approach to governance, predicated on public-private collaboration and cooperation.

Katz and Rodin have been posting examples of local and state-level innovations to keep an eye on for 2012. So far they’ve posted about New York, San Diego, Connecticut, and this piece about Tennessee governor Bill Haslam’s $50 million INCITE initiative. Designed to promote innovation and economic development in the state, INCITE will build on the state’s research and development assets to grow jobs.

The initiative takes a regional approach, creating nine region-specific economic development plans. Focus is on increasing the number of science and technology companies. With an enhanced technology and commercialization infrastructure, industry in the state will be able to more quickly take products to market, with support from regional business incubators that can share best practices and raise private dollars.

In Memphis, the state plans to provide $10 million to the Memphis Research Consortium, a public-private collaboration that includes the University of Memphis, the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, FedEx, Medtronic, and Memphis Bioworks Foundations. (See Barbara’s post about the development potential of eds and meds from earlier this week.)

“The efforts will help ensure that Tennessee’s regional economies are well positioned to capitalize on the breakthrough work of firms, universities, research institutions, and other actors in the innovation ecosystem,” Katz and Rodin write.

This focus on regionalism and new models of collaborative government will be very familiar to readers of this blog. BRR Network research has emphasized the importance of working across governmental sectors to make sure local metros are prepared to meet the challenges of the changing economy in the future.

Research by Hill et al. shows the most important role for government in bolstering a metro area’s resilience is to make sure a region is ready to use its legislative tools to enhance the solutions emerging from public-private coalitions. Indeed, they find that the most important catalyst to rebounding from a shock or forging a new path ahead is the industry structure and business leadership in the region.  A recent paper from Network members Bill Barnes and Kathryn Foster provides a new framework to help local planners collaborate and understand their region’s capacity to work on a regional scale.  Similarly, in research on the Gulf Coast after Katrina and Rita, Network Member Amy Liu finds a new model of civic and cross-sector partnerships with leadership from philanthropy, the private sector, and government. Liu sees these collaborations as “critical signs of resilience and adaptation.”

Katz and Rodin say these are all models that could be replicated and “scaled up by federal action.”

In the fall I spoke with Mayor AC Wharton, Jr., of Memphis about the collaborative work going on there and how these efforts have been helpful in Memphis’ local economic development efforts. The Mayor recently pledged 2012 would be a “new era of collaboration” in city government. The Mayor told me cities can learn a lot from each other’s innovations:

“There’s nothing really unique in any city,” he said. “What we went through today Cleveland went through a year ago.”

Memphis was chosen last year to participate in the new federal Strong Cities Strong Communities program, an effort to bring support to municipal governments to help them prepare for future economic changes and take better advantage of the federal resources they have at their disposal. One of the initiative’s key goals is to help local leaders further develop partnerships with municipal and state governments, nonprofits, foundations, and the business community to further local economic development.

Mayor Wharton says the new support has already been crucial in several key development initiatives in the city, including the sale of a steam ship from the federal Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration to bring needed dollars and jobs to the Mississippi riverfront. The Mayor describes creating close and productive working relationships between federal and local officials who are getting things done much more quickly, whether sharing information about the city’s post-flood infrastructure to the e-approval process for women and minority owned small businesses.

You can read the full series on Innovative State and City Government Solutions to Watch in 2012 at Atlantic Cities.

Photo by Matt Lancashire.

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