Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Will All-for-One Region Truly Benefit All? Making Six States into a Megaregion Could Help Economy, If Areas Only Cooperate

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Will All-for-One Region Truly Benefit All? Making Six States into a Megaregion Could Help Economy, If Areas Only Cooperate

Article excerpt

Byline: WALTER C. JONES

ATLANTA - The connection between Athens/Augusta/Savannah/Brunswick and Charlotte, N.C., and Mobile, Ala., may not be immediately obvious, and the idea of local goals being voluntarily sidetracked for the overall benefit of such a huge region is almost unheard of.

But some leaders are calling for local officials to participate in long-range planning on the scale of what they call a six-state "megaregion" and the collaboration it entails. That planning would include prioritizing transportation projects, water usage and economic development.

Academics have long noticed clusters of sprawling cities grow toward each other to form megaregions. The Piedmont-Atlantic Megaregion, or PAM, that links Mobile, Atlanta and Charlotte and spreading out to include Athens, Augusta and Savannah, was designated by Catherine Ross, director of the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development at Georgia Tech. She'll detail her reasoning in Megaregions: Planning for a Competitive Advantage, to be published in the spring.

By employing plans that capitalize on the strengths of each part of the region - from banking centers in Birmingham, Ala., and Charlotte to the transportation centers in Savannah and Atlanta - the whole region will maximize its economic potential, she argues.

That may mean that to compete globally, Savannah should concentrate on the cargo it's best suited for while the port of Jacksonville specializes in another, rather than trying to steal market share from one another, she said.

"I'm not saying there would not be any competition of that level," she said, "but would you rather see (new business) go to Savannah or Shanghai?"

KEEPING INDIVIDUAL NEEDS

Where money is invested in the future should be determined by the broader plan, megaregion advocates say.

However, even those who buy the concept recognize the obstacles. First is civic pride, according to Athens Mayor Heidi Davison.

"There's a very strong desire on the part of the community here to maintain its unique identity separate from Atlanta," she said.

Second, there's competition for jobs. Athens-Clarke County is beginning to coordinate its economic development with adjoining Oconee County because the work force flows so readily from one to the other.

Yet political leaders in each county are still reluctant to bow to the benefit of the neighbors.

"To say, 'I know that my community will benefit, but I'm going to step aside so my region can win,' that's difficult to do," Davison said. "It's hard for political leaders to do that because they are the cheerleaders."

Quelling competition between cities takes diplomacy and education, said Tony Crumbley, vice president of research in economic development at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. …

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