Rochester Hosts National Conference on Regionalism
Johnson, William A., Jr., Nation's Cities Weekly
The city of Rochester, N.Y., co-hosted a unique and nationally-significant conference in Washington, D.C. six weeks ago called "Steps Towards Regional Solutions: The Rochester Forum." For the first time ever, mayors and media representatives from around the country convened to discuss the implications of the global economy on the organization of the communities in which we live--our cities, towns, counties, and, above all, our regions.
Seven communities were represented: Rochester, Orlando, Fort Wayne, San Diego, Kansas City, New Haven, and Arlington County, Va. Mayors and the publishers and editors of their respective major hometown newspapers engaged in a face-to-face detailed dialogue about the future of their communities. Other media participants included syndicated columnist Neal Peirce, David Broder of the Washington Post, and Alan Ehrenhalt of Governing Magazine. Also represented were organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Urban Land institute, the National League of Cities, and the Brookings Institution. Partners for Livable Communities co-hosted the event.
Regionalism is THE national socioeconomic issue of the 21st century as we struggle to reshape our country in response to global markets.
As Forum participants repeatedly observed, the global economy--based on free trade, fluid capital markets, and accelerated flows of information--impacts our lives in powerful ways. Most fundamentally, global markets organize themselves in response to economic linkages, not according to traditional municipal boundaries. Global competition differs from domestic competition, and the difference means that, in a global economy, the competitive unit is the region--not the city, suburb, or county.
For two decades, our manufacturing firms have been restructuring in response to global competition. Likewise, for two decades, critics have pointed out the inefficiencies of duplicated services, facilities, and personnel that result from overlapping local governments. Yet, despite the higher costs resulting from inefficiencies, advocates of regional cooperation found few supporters.
Inefficient government did not matter much when the competition was domestic. Public sector inefficiencies did not cut into corporate profit margins because producers passed their costs on to their customers in the form of higher prices. And, since all domestic producers did the same thing, no one derived competitive advantage.
But when competition is global and the prices of foreign goods and services are lower than our own, inefficiencies that spring from domestic practices undercut our competitiveness. All of a sudden it is crucially important that our workers have the same level of education as our foreign competitors and that our regions are cost-competitive on an international basis. …