Regionalism is dying — Part 2

After our last “Regionalism is dying” editorial went to press, there was an announcement by community leaders within Linn County of an innovative initiative to help attract people from out of state to live and work in “the region.”

The mayors of Cedar Rapids, Marion and Hiawatha and officials from the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance announced the Collaborative Growth Initiative. That effort seeks to create a road map to address current and future workforce needs. 

The new initiative comes as area employers and prospective businesses continue to report that the top issue they face is the shortage of available workers to fill open jobs.

According to media reports, the organizations have committed $115,000 for the first phase, with the city of Cedar Rapids kicking in $55,000 as the project’s lead partner. The Economic Alliance is contributing $30,000, Marion $20,000 and Hiawatha $10,000.

While we appreciate this initiative’s intent and applaud the mayors of those communities and the Economic Alliance for making this investment, it is yet another example of having a constrained view of the economy. 

This is clearly not regionalism. The better definition is sectionalism — an extreme devotion to local interests and customs.

We are a regional economy with a laborshed system that clearly illustrates this to anyone who cares to look. Ask any employer of any size and they will most assuredly agree.

So why are we limiting innovative efforts like the aforementioned Collaborative Growth Initiative to narrowly focused geographical areas? 

Is it because the communities want it that way, or is it because our economic development organizations are structured in such a way that limits their geographical scope and effectiveness? Is it because the private sector is failing to lead?

The answer is all of the above. 

As we have mentioned recently, until there are tax revenue sharing agreements across city and county boundaries or significant structural changes to existing economic development organizations, these myopic initiatives will be introduced and will fail to be as effective as they could be if they were truly regional in scope.

After all, shouldn’t the communities in Johnson County — at the very least — be included in this initiative? Were they asked? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a truly regional investment with more money in this Collaborative Growth Initiative because the entire region is bound to benefit from its success?

As previously mentioned, there are economic models out there that our region should examine. Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, has had a successful regional tax-base-sharing agreement for over 50 years. The Green Bay, Wisconsin, region has an innovative economic development organization called New North, which is only funded by the private sector and provides “vital resources, talent and support to the New North Corporation in order to promote the New North region” in 18 counties in northeast Wisconsin.

Let’s get away from tired sectionalism and focus on true regionalism efforts. This is how combating workforce challenges should be approached.