In late April, staff of the Fund for Our Economic Future participated with six other regions in a forum hosted by the Brookings Institution to explore learnings from each region’s economic growth efforts.
The forum was an outgrowth of business planning efforts that Brookings has supported in each of the regions. Brookings assisted our Fund and Northeast Ohio in 2009-10; and that work helped shape the PRISM initiative led by MAGNET, and served as a foundation for the ongoing Regional Economic Competiveness Strategy work.
Representatives from Memphis, Chicago, Louisville-Lexington, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Syracuse-Upstate NY participated in the forum. Fund President Brad Whitehead and Chris Thompson, director of regional engagement, represented our Fund and Northeast Ohio.
Brookings representatives made the following points about the present and future state of the economy:
• The pace of change, driven largely by globalization, automation and demographics, will increase making it more challenging for regional leaders to adjust their economic strategies.
• Most regions in the country have not yet replaced the jobs lost in the last recession.
• Inequitable growth will cause increasing challenges for regions, and will make sustaining economic growth more difficult.
Throughout the forum regional leaders discussed the critical need to develop strategies that result in both growth and opportunity; yet there was no clear consensus on how to achieve that goal. And leaders of business-backed organizations expressed concern that focusing efforts on opportunity could be seen as mission creep.
Each of the regions voiced their struggles in attaining shared understanding and resource alignment among public, private, philanthropic and civic interests. There was broad agreement that those regions that are able to achieve alignment develop better strategies and produce stronger outcomes.
Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, encouraged regional leaders to treat their efforts much like a long-term issues campaign. In the future, he warned, there will be four types of regions: First movers, fast followers, lagging laggards and completely clueless. Regions need to build strong collaborations based on trust to be in the first two groups, he said.
“Working with Brookings and learning from leaders from other regions reinforces how important it is for our Fund to engage stakeholders from across the region to build deeper shared understanding and greater alignment to support our economic competitiveness efforts,” said Fund President Brad Whitehead. “The forum also reminded us that this is a long-term effort—truly a never-ending campaign—and while our Fund has much to be proud of in our work, there is still much for us to do.”