Region Forward Blog

Time for Some New Ideas for Metro Washington’s Economy

Aug 8, 2011
Region Forward

Some regions are known as centers of finance. Others are associated with manufacturing. In metro Washington government has long been our special industry. The news of the past week however makes you wonder if that will (or should) change in the future. The region’s unemployment rate ticked upward half a point to 6.2 percent. And while past federal spending helped create area government and contracting jobs the recent debt deal is exclusively focused on cuts.

Given this changing landscape it seems like a very good time for some new ideas if we hope to meet our Region Forward goal for a diversified stable and competitive economy. One idea by Brookings has sparked interest among area leaders since it was introduced in April and may continue to gain traction. Brookings describes “Metropolitan Business Planning” as follows:

“In the face of serious fiscal stress U.S. cities and metropolitan areas face major economic challenges that demand innovative solutions. Metropolitan business planning—which adapts the discipline of private-sector business planning to the task of sharpening regional strategy setting—seeks to address these issues and offer pragmatic and catalytic solutions in a time of austerity.”

In order to reset or reposition their economies Brookings recommends that metro regions focus on a single catalytic strategy ideally one that is “export-oriented lower-carbon and innovation-driven.” Three regions were selected by Brookings for pilot programs. Puget Sound focused on energy efficiency technologies the Twin Cities on entrepreneurship and Northeast Ohio on advanced manufacturing for high-growth markets like health care and clean energy.

From a Region Forward point-of-view metropolitan business planning sounds promising. Regions that come together to identify priorities and leverage resources will accomplish more than regions that don’t recognize the value of cooperation. In our own region we wonder what a metro Washington business plan would focus on. In addition to the federal government our region is home to strong technology and life sciences sectors. Would it make sense to focus on one of those areas or would it be better to embark on a new strategy?

Whether or not the region attempts a formal metropolitan business plan or not it’s definitely worth continuing the conversation about our long-term economic strategies as we approach a potentially very different era.


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