Regional Cooperation in Employment and Training Policy: A Matter of Collective Action or Intergovernmental Relations?

Article excerpt

This article provides empirical evidence that factors derived from the collective action theories resonated with employment and training policy implementers as the most influential for achieving regional cooperation for community development. Findings indicate that having specific reasons and the opportunity to benefit from collaborating does more to advance cooperation than competing for scarce resources. Permitting Workforce Investment Boards self-governing authority and providing an opportunity for mutual gains are promising means for gaining substantive cooperation both within and across workforce investment areas in U.S. employment and training policy.

Keywords: regional cooperation; employment and training; and policy implementation

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Global competition is making regional economic cooperation a more meaningful policy for community development. As markets integrate regionally and globalize internationally, cooperation in economic development is becoming increasingly important. One prominent feature of globalization is the value of cooperation among an increasing number of players to continue economic growth. In the United States there is great potential benefit for regional cooperation in employment and training policy. Employment and training policy tries to enhance individuals' skills and connect people with marketable jobs in their communities. The most recent employment and training policy, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998, asks a wide variety of organizations to cooperate to meet the labor demands within economic regions. Additionally, WIA recommends that workforce investment board (WIB) areas that are contained within the same economic region cooperate across their borders. (1) This study examines cooperation in U.S. regions that are integrated economically but not politically in both intra- and interstate metropolitan areas. Factors that policy implementers see as most important to cooperation are identified. Examining employment and training policy from the perspective of economic regions is salient because economic and employment problems typically ignore the local government's boundaries that make up intergovernmental relations in communities (Barnes & Ledebur, 1998; Wright, 1988). Implementing employment and training policy regionally may mitigate some of the competitive factors communities in metropolitan areas face when both business and labor are mobile.

Only a few studies have made use of empirical evidence to further our understanding about cooperation in economic regions, especially those that are interstate. Zimmerman specifically notes that interstate cooperation is an area that researchers have paid relatively little attention (2002). Those case studies that do measure or quantify their evidence for cooperation treat it as voluntary rather than requested by a higher authority. Studies that do provide empirical evidence for voluntary cooperation include Perkmann's work on regional cooperation across borders in Europe (2003), Olberding's evidence on voluntary regional partnerships in economic development (2002a; 2002b) and Lackey, Freshwater, and Rupasingha's examination of cooperation in rural areas in Tennessee (2002). Yet, cooperation is not always voluntary. In fact, U.S. policy mandates cooperation in public policy areas such as homeland security and employment and training policy. Subsequently WIA, the most recent employment and training policy, is a particularly good test case for understanding more about economic regional cooperation across communities for three reasons: 1) U.S. employment and training policies have historically been rife with a lack of cooperation and coordination; 2) WIA requires 17 programs to cooperate which is a wider variety than any previous employment and training policy; and 3) this federal policy encourages U.S. states to cooperate when they share a stake in the performance of economic regions that extend across state borders or are contained within a state. …