Friday, June 03, 2005

Why Think Regionally? Because We Are a Region!

Chuck Chappell, Executive Director of the Wasatch Front Regional Council and a good friend, recently sent over an opinion piece from the Puget Sound Business Journal detailing how the Seattle metro area is working on a regional economic development initiative.

Glenn Pascall, a Seattle-based economic and public policy consultant, writes, "Led by the Puget Sound Regional Council and involving a host of corporations and public agencies, the Prosperity Partnership's goal is a paradigm shift that replaces luck with strategy as the guardian of our economic fortunes. ... (T)he partnership proposes to switch the emphasis from individual companies to a unified region.

"The Partnership put the case simply: The world has changed, we must understand these changes and we must act as a region. ... (T)he Central Puget Sound metropolis is a single economic unit. Our region must respond as one to this new environment and change the way we do business.

"Many issues clamor for attention. Several factors are pervasive: transportation capacity, educational adequacy, housing affordability, power reliability, regulatory functionality. Then there are high-end elements such as R&D clusters, research universities, cultural amenities, and residential quality."

Reading this piece caused me to realize I haven't blogged yet about one of my most passionate beliefs -- that we must find a way here along the Wasatch Front to understand and act better as a region, if we hope to continue our fine quality of life and stay competitive in today's global economy.

In several other states, regional perspectives and initiatives have been encouraged and facilitated by empowering regional groups and strategies. Several immediately come to mind, such as San Diego, Puget Sound, Denver, Portland, Minneapolis, St. Louis. In Utah, we're not there yet.

Some things are helping us get there. We are taking a broader view of planning and funding our metro transportation system (though the legislature seems to be slow to catch on to this concept). But in areas like economic development and business leadership, where much could be done, not much is happening.

Even among our local elected officials, a few are catching on, but not most. As I wrote a couple of years ago in an opinion piece, "It is our metro areas that produce the economic well being of this country and of the world, and it is the metro areas that must find ways to deal with their problems and keep themselves competitive as desireable places to live and work."

The National Civic League warned in 1989 that "life in urban and suburban America...will decline seriously if the 'big' governance issues, from education to social services to land use patterns...are not guided and ultimately directed on a regionwide basis."

I'm not arguing in favor of a regional government per se, but we do need to find ways to work cooperatively on a regional level to address some of these issues. Gone are the days when each community and business was an island unto itself. We are now one big region, stretching from Tremonton to Nephi, and we need to find ways to work together on issues.

More to come on this topic


At 8:25 AM, Blogger Planner Perplexed said...

Amen to those comments on regional cooperation. Utah is too way too fragmented and this is hindering our ability to compete.

Cities fight over sales tax, annexations, and turf battles are the norm. Just look at the squabbling over the REAL Salt Lake soccer stadium.

Davis County is a prime example of an area where regional cooperation must be embraced. The County is very small (only 150 square miles of buildable area) and yet there are 15 different cities and Hill Air Force Base in that tiny area. Some consolidation of cities and serices would make a lot of sense in my mind.

I believe that until we work together for the benefit of the larger group, we will continue to economically lag behind other metro areas. Don't believe me? What has the vast majority of housing done in the last 5 years along the WFront? ZIP!

It seems we only get over the flu, economically speaking, when the West Coast catches a cold.

It's time to Utah to grow up and shake off the parochialism and territorialism that holds us back.

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