Economy and Government and Economic Development and Transportation, Distribution & Logistics

Indianapolis and neighbors need one vision, one voice:

January 2, 2006

Cincinnati USA. Charlotte USA. Indianapolis - Marion County - Indiana.

Who is throwing the right welcome mat out to the world?

In the first two examples, those regions have said to the entire planet: "We are open for business. Come talented people-bring your companies and organizations to our area; bring your families to our schools; live, work and play in our thriving community."

Our region," they say, "located at this juncture of latitude and longitude in the USA, wants you here."

Some local politicians on the other hand, seem to be saying, come if you want to, but you might have to go see my uncle in the township office about assessments, and if we can get the legislature to go along with this, we'll have lots of little zoning offices set up in the townships so businesses will never know who they are supposed to see about permits.

Region? Some apparently think the independent Greek city-states were not such a bad idea and maybe we should have counties-better yet, townships-secede from the union. Outsiders are a bad idea to begin with, they argue.

This is a time for us to be thinking about how our community, our region, can again establish itself as an icon for governmental efficiency, innovation, progressiveness, and maybe most importantly, the pinnacle of public/private partnerships.

We need to be, as a region, offering one vision, with one voice.

Throughout the country, other communities are doing this with great success. Charlotte USA has a region roughly the size of Massachusetts, with nine Fortune 500 companies headquartered there and 630 foreign-owned companies doing business in the area.

The Memphis Regional Chamber's economic development council coordinates economic development strategies for a three-state area. Memphis, which benchmarks itself against Indianapolis, claims to have a lower cost of living, a more efficient city (4th most efficient in the country they say) and greater rate of growth than we do.

We on the other hand are squabbling over minutia, ultimately things that are not relevant in a global economy where the world is famously flat. (Mandatory reading for everyone in our community: "The World is Flat" by Thomas L. Friedman.)

Joe Roman, CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and Dick Fleming, CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, chaired a group called FutureWorks, a think tank staffed by Brian Bosworth, former Hoosier and noted national authority on regional economic development.

In FutureWorks' seminal study, "Minding Their Civic Business," the idea of a regional strategy to compete in global markets is reinforced over and over again. The end result of such a strategy is economic opportunity for everyone in the region, with socio-economic disparities addressed. The successful regions ultimately produce efficient transportation systems, workforce, housing, high quality schools and vibrant urban centers.

The study argues for inclusiveness, boosting regional competitiveness and deemphasizing old civic hierarchies.

We need more of our elected officials, our thought-leaders, to adopt a progressive view of the world. Had we made some key strategic decisions early in the 20th century when 10 automobile manufacturers were producing nearly 100,000 vehicles annually, maybe we would be the automobile capital of the world today.

Our mayor and our governor are showing great political courage and leadership, determined to bring their political colleagues along with them as we try to position ourselves for the future. The differences in their political stripes do not keep them from working toward a collective view of what's over the next hill.

Others too, are engaged in leveraging our regional institutional resources. John Schuler, from Martin Marietta in Carmel, is working very hard to bring together regional chambers of commerce so that a broader public policy agenda can be established. Gail Richards of the Greater Greenwood Chamber of Commerce and Mo Merhoff of the Carmel Clay Chamber of Commerce also see the value of regional problem-solving.

As with a choir, when we call out to the world, we can use many voices, but singing together, they should sound as one. And above all, the sheet music needs to be the same for everyone.

For those others who choose not to move our city forward, just remember the past is a great place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there.




Dorson is president of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce. Dorson
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