Regionalism takes a step back

CBJ Editorial 

ICR Iowa, the joint venture between the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Iowa City Area Development Group (ICAD), is on its last leg, but can be fixed with deep introspection and new leadership.

Two of ICR Iowa’s senior staff members and financial resources have been redeployed “to respond to local business needs during the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic,” according to a statement released by the ICAD and Economic Alliance board chairs. Tim Carty will return to ICAD to focus on support, outreach and service to existing businesses, while Brian Crowe will return to the Economic Alliance to conduct similar activities and lead regional business attraction efforts. That leaves just President and CEO Jennifer Daly remaining on the ICR Iowa staff.

The joint venture was created in 2016 with much promise to focus on regional business attraction, workforce development and marketing. The hope was that it would achieve success in those common areas and illustrate to stakeholders that a regional approach to economic development can provide better results than patchwork parochial efforts.

It did neither.

We don’t dispute that COVID-19 pandemic has shifted economic development priorities somewhat from workforce development and attraction, the core mission of ICR, to support for business funding and survival. It isn’t a need that has gone away, however, and using the pandemic as the scapegoat for the withdrawal of support for ICR Iowa without addressing the group’s effectiveness will not enable us to move the region forward.

When businesses and organizations experience extreme challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, they can often rely on a reserve of goodwill they have earned. ICR Iowa has simply not garnered enough goodwill, and its progress on business attraction, workforce development and marketing has been negligible. Neither has its leadership engendered trust or confidence.

Some difficult questions face board members and members of the Economic Alliance and ICAD, which have funded ICR Iowa: Is the mission of the organization is still valid or does the mission need to be tweaked? Has its leadership been adequate?

These need to be examined especially when communities like Cedar Rapids have brought on their own workforce development specialist instead of relying on ICR Iowa, as was expected.

We are hopeful that the joint venture will survive, but question whether the current leadership is the appropriate one to lead it going forward. As we have said repeatedly, having someone who keenly understands the political landscape in the region is paramount to keeping this organization viable.

The terrible floods of 2008 caused communities and businesses in the region to refocus their efforts on simply staying viable. Understandably, regionalism took a back seat. It appears that regionalism and this joint venture will take a back seat again.

When we get past this pandemic, we will need to rekindle regionalism efforts once again. Hopefully, we will learn from the myriad mistakes that we have made, but we cannot if there is not an honest assessment of ICR Iowa. CBJ