Sunday, November 18, 2007

Are You a MetroNational?

Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program recently unveiled its Blueprint for American Prosperity, an initiative that seeks to insure America's global economic success by capitalizing upon resources inherent in its metropolitan areas through a more responsive and strategic federal government role. Brookings argues that in the 21st century's global economy, metropolitan areas are our best source of innovation, knowledge creation and other drivers of economic success. America is fast becoming a "MetroNation" and the federal government must reconfigure its role to support and encourage the success of our metropolitan areas.

MetroNation: How U.S. Metropolitan Areas Fuel American Prosperity describes America's metropolitan areas as holding 65% of the nation's population, 68% of its jobs, 78% of its patent activity--a measure of innovation, 75% of its graduate degreed workforce and generating 75% of the U.S. GDP (MetroNation, 7). They host and encourage "agglomeration economies...that enhance productive growth" and "foster the quality places...that by virtue of their density and diversity help speed the acquisition of human capital and contribute to resource-efficient sustainable growth" (MetroNation, 7). These attributes are key drivers in a global economy because they facilitate the sharing of information and tacit knowledge, encourage innovation and knowledge spillovers, grow human capital and maximize our investments in infrastructure (MetroNation, 36-44).

Although our metropolitan areas hold the keys to American prosperity, they are increasingly threatened by changes resulting from global competition, a widening income gap in the U.S. labor market, shifting demographic trends and increasing environmental and natural resource pressures. MetroNation argues that America's ability to address these challenges is hindered by a federal government who is out of tune with globalization and whose policies are ill-equipped to facilitate the success of metropolitan areas. The Blueprint Policy Series "will argue for specific reforms in selected areas of federal policy including innovation and economic development, transportation, education, housing, income support, energy and immigration" (MetroNation, 47).

Brookings' Blueprint is clearly an aggressive, well-timed proposal. At a minimum, it should prompt serious conversation on a variety of issues including America's economic competitiveness in a global economy; the urbanization of America and how we respond to both the challenges and the opportunities that it presents; and the changing demographics of our nation. It drags the issue of increasing globalization out of the corporate halls and ivory towers and onto America’s doorstep where it is joined with local urban issues that our cities face. If nothing else, it reminds us that while our cities emphasize place-based, supply-side approaches to local economic development and compete against one another to attract human capital, as a nation we are competing in the global marketplace. Should our local and state leadership be forced to address global issues when their focus should be on local issues?

Some will be inclined to dismiss it as another attempt by a liberal institution to expand the role of the federal government. But is this really the case? Brookings notes that "nine federal departments and five independent agencies collectively carry out 180 disparate federal economic development programs" (MetroNation, 54). The problem is that the federal government is not responsive to the dual demands of metropolitan areas and global competition, and it is not strategic in its application of policy and resources.

Oddly enough, there appears to be little reaction to Brookings' Blueprint. Neal Peirce of
The Washington Post Writers Group and The Citistates Group was naturally inclined to support the Brookings Initiative; however, he did question whether or not our federal government is capable of "flipping the pyramid" and effectively challenging and responding to U.S. metropolitan areas. To do so would require a federal government that is innovative and responsive to change, concepts that seem to be quite foreign to our current federal government.

No comments: