Does Regionalism Beget Regionalism? the Relationship between Norms and Regional Partnerships for Economic Development

By Olberding, Julie Cencula | Public Administration Review, July-August 2002 | Go to article overview

Does Regionalism Beget Regionalism? the Relationship between Norms and Regional Partnerships for Economic Development


Olberding, Julie Cencula, Public Administration Review


Introduction

Regional governance is on the rise in the United States, according to some scholars and observers (Dodge 1989, 1990; Wallis 1994a). In other words, local government officials are increasingly working together to address interjurisdictional problems and issues. One strategy of regional governance that is being used more often is voluntary groups of local governmental officials--and often business leaders and other citizens--in a region. A number of these "regional partnerships" have been formed specifically to foster the economic development of a multijurisdictional or regional area. Olberding (1997) finds that the number of regional partnerships for economic development increased fivefold during the past decade in large metropolitan areas in the southeastern United States--from three in 1987 to 16 in 1997.

The recent growth in regional partnerships for economic development as a public administration/public policy strategy, however, has not been matched by scholarly research. To date, no study has empirically examined the formation of these regional partnerships across a large number of areas in the United States. Further, no study has looked at the organizational characteristics of a representative sample of regional partnerships for economic development in the United States. Therefore, we have a very limited understanding of why regional partnerships form, how they are structured, and what they do. This article attempts to address the shortcomings by developing a theory of regional partnerships for economic development and then testing it using data from all metropolitan areas in the United States and from a national survey to which executive directors of 133 regional partnerships responded.

The Literature on Regionalism

Two Competing Models of Interlocal Relations

There are two competing models of how local governments in a region relate to one another. On the one hand, there are "interjurisdictional competition" models, which assert that cities rival one another for residents and businesses. Tiebout (1956) presents the notion that there is an optimal number of residents and businesses at which communities produce a bundle of public services at the lowest average cost. A community below the optimum tries to attract residents and businesses; a community at the optimum tries to maintain it; and a community above the optimum does not try to repel residents and businesses, but rather economic factors "push people out of it." (1) If a number of citizens with similar preferences for public services and taxes are not satisfied with the current offerings of local jurisdictions, then new jurisdictions are formed. Proponents argue that multiple, competing cities result in an efficient outcome because it enables citizens and businesses to choose jurisdictions with public services and taxes that most closely match their preferences. In addition, public-choice theory suggests that competition improves democracy because politicians must be responsive to mobile constituents (Roeder 1994).

In contrast to models based on fragmentation and competition, a second set of models is based on "regionalism" by limiting the number of local governments or by fostering coordination and cooperation among them. Public administration traditionalists assert that fewer local governments result in economy-of-scale benefits, greater political accountability, more equitable treatment of citizens, and greater opportunity to address significant problems (Lyons, Lowery, and DeHoog 1992). Further, urban scholars maintain that economic and social linkages among cities in metropolitan areas are strengthening (Hershberg 1996; Wallis 1994a; Florestano and Wilson-Gentry 1994; Savitch et al. 1993; Grell and Gappert 1993; Peirce 1993a,c,d; Hershberg, Magidson and Wernecke 1992). Proponents of regionalism have asserted that a more optimal outcome is achieved when local governments recognize their interdependencies and act in a coordinated way (Barnes and Ledebur 1998; Dodge 1996; Wallis 1994a; Peirce 1993a, c; Grell and Gappert 1992; Barnes and Ledebur 1991; Dodge 1990). …

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