TCS Daily

Think Globally, Act Regionally

By David Sampson - April 30, 2004 12:00 AM

As is the case with so many national policy issues today, there is confusion regarding worldwide business competition and its impact on America's prosperity. Yet there is universal agreement that there is no turning back the clock on the global economy and that America must retain its competitive edge. That is why more and more American communities and regions are banding together to develop new ideas and new strategies to advance and leverage this nation's proven leadership in innovation, competition and technology development.

Many regions across the United States face significant competitiveness challenges: recruiting and training a skilled workforce, improving technology transfer from universities and labs, fostering entrepreneurship, and capitalizing on existing industrial competencies. Regions are under growing pressure to nurture and build upon what they already do best in order to succeed in the worldwide economy. But there is no silver bullet for prosperity. Each region must tailor its own unique solutions to address these challenges and succeed and prosper in a worldwide marketplace.

Economies are not hermetically sealed in artificial boundaries. Certainly, industry only pays attention to county, state or even national boundaries when such boundaries are impediments to growth. American communities are beginning to respond by thinking more regionally to avoid fragmentation of resources, to leverage their natural, industrial and educational assets to build a stronger platform for economic growth. Thinking regionally has become a key point of departure for defining economic development needs and goals.

The Council on Competitiveness, supported by the US Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA), is helping areas around the country succeed by thinking regionally. In fact, hundreds of top business, government, education and economic development leaders from around the nation will have the opportunity to discuss this approach in Washington this June. EDA and the Council on Competitiveness have teamed together to co-host the 2004 EDA National Economic Development Conference, entitled The Innovation Imperative: Translating Ideas into Regional Prosperity, to be held June 8-10 in Washington, D.C.

The thrust of the conference will be that innovation is key in a knowledge-based economy. Prosperity is inextricably linked to the capacity for innovation -- the ability to transform knowledge and ideas into new products, processes or services. Innovation permits the creation of high-value products that can expand trade and capture market share. Innovative companies and workers are rewarded with greater incomes, higher wages, and greater prosperity.

Led by the Council's Center for Regional Innovation, with the support of EDA, the Regional Competitiveness Initiative is a two-year effort designed to promote innovation-based economic growth. Drawing heavily on the Council's previous Clusters of Innovation project, the initiative has developed a set of analytic tools to identify challenges and opportunities. In addition, it helps regional leaders design a process to transform the analysis into an action agenda to implement innovation based strategies.

In 2003 the regions chosen to participate in the initiative were Central New Mexico (Albuquerque), Northeast Ohio (Cleveland-Akron-Youngstown region), and Wilmington, Delaware. This year, three more regions will participate in the project -- West Michigan (Grand Rapids, Holland, Muskegon region), the Inland Northwest (Spokane, WA-Coeur d'Alene, ID) and Greater St. Louis. The insights and tools that the Council and EDA develop will be made available to regions throughout the United States.

As we observed at the recent Regional Competitiveness Summit in Wilmington, a team of individuals representing the business, government, education, and non-profit sectors has formed to consider innovative ways of improving the entrepreneurial environment in the Greater Wilmington area, and efforts are being made to extend participation across the state line into Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

In the Northeast Ohio Regional Competitiveness Initiative, three important issues were identified: stemming the brain drain, improving university research collaboration, and crafting a regional manufacturing strategy. These three issues will be explored in depth at the EDA's Economic Development Conference. Other themes and challenges to be discussed at the conference include: the importance of talent in an innovation economy; encouraging entrepreneurship and an entrepreneurial culture; as well as EDA's role in helping communities promote their economic development.

Worldwide competition has accelerated the pace of creative destruction, which can be good for innovative and market economies overall, but terribly difficult for displaced communities, industries and individuals. Working with regional leaders to develop innovation-based strategies will help workers find long-term jobs and firms to succeed.

Dr. David Sampson is Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development and Deborah Wince-Smith is the President of the Council on Competitiveness. For more on the upcoming EDA National Conference go to

For more on the Council on Competitiveness go to


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