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No More ‘Waiting for the Regs’

Our big event Monday debuting the concept of metropolitan business plans--a new variety of action-oriented strategy-making in which regions assert “bottom-up” what they need from federal, state, or private-sector “investors”—contained a number of great moments.

Brad Whitehead’s obvious pride in presenting Northeast Ohio’s new initiative to help small manufacturing companies get more innovative was infectious.

The jovial mutual affection of mayors R.T. Rybak and Chris Coleman of Minneapolis and St. Paul as they pitched their region’s newly designed Entrepreneurship Accelerator spoke volumes about the outbreak of collaboration that that region’s business plan has evoked.

And the cheerfully theatrical “pitch” by Eric Schinfeld of the Puget Sound Regional Council of the Seattle area’s business plan to turn itself into an international hub for energy efficiency IT had many in the audience ready to invest.

However, it was a small anecdote and comment by the Metro Program’s Bruce Katz that for me captured the spirit of a day focused on the increasingly assertive efforts of U.S. regions to transform their economies.

Moderating the speakers on a panel on the implications of this new approach to regional economic planning, Bruce said he was reminded of when he first started working for Secretary Henry Cisneros at HUD in the 1990s and took a walk around the building with his boss, aiming to talk to every staffer in the building. At one point, Bruce recounted, he and his boss went up to one individual and asked “What are you doing?” And the man answered, “I’m waitin’ for the regs.”

Monday, Bruce viewed the moment as emblematic: “It strikes me that what we’re really describing here is the maturing of cities and metros, public and private [actors], civic players, university people, who are not waiting any more.  They’re basically grown-up.  We still have a system that’s almost the parent-child federal republic.  Yet now the children are beginning to say `Wait a second, you know, if we really do drive the economy, what if we acted like it, and what if we started trying to steer, inform, reform policy.’”

Yes, Bruce had it right. U.S. regions--busy developing sophisticated, self-assertive, data-driven plans for all comers to invest in--are no longer waiting for the regs. They are, instead, moving on their own to transform the U.S. economy, one region by one region. Hopefully, someone will soon be ready to join them.