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September 24, 2007

Richard Florida

Abolish Iowa?

« Place to Retire | Main | The Great Divergence »

Well, not really. I was there for a great visit to Iowa State last week. And  I met two of our favorite CCG alums, Amanda Styron and Jesse Elliott. Richard Doak came to my talk and makes some great points in this piece from Des Moines Register.

Let's just give up trying to promote Iowa.  Then let's abolish the state Department of Economic Development.  Finally, let's erase the state's borders. Let the state fade into a general region known as the Midwest rather than remaining a rather small, arbitrarily created governmental entity known as Iowa.

That's silly, of course. Iowa can't disappear from the map. But it might be useful to conceptualize that happening. Iowans need to start thinking more regionally - not just regionally within the state but regionally across state lines. We should begin to see ourselves as a part of something bigger - the Midwest.

That thought occurred last week while listening to a guest lecture delivered by economic growth expert Richard Florida at Iowa State University. ...
Florida's great discovery was that economic growth occurs in regions that are most inviting to creative people. That's what revolutionized thinking about economic development.

The smart thing to do would be to take all the money wasted on business incentives and plow it into education and quality-of-life improvements. ... The hitch is that Iowa might be too small to pull it off alone.

The regional nature of growth suggests that Iowa will fare best as part of a larger region, not as a small state trying to go it alone. Besides, Iowa has never had much success trying to sell itself as an entity. The state has tried for decades to improve its national image, only to get poll results that show Iowa has no image. The state barely registers in the national consciousness. Trying to pitch Iowa as a sanctuary for creative types might be a tough sell.

Why even bother? Why not stop trying to sell Iowa and start selling the Midwest? Imagine all the states of the Upper Midwest getting together. They could swear a non-aggression pact on business incentives and merge their state universities into one mega system, combining them to make a gigantic dynamo of economic growth. Then they could join in a massive campaign to market the Midwestern lifestyle to the rest of the nation.They could sell this as the best region in America, because it would be.

Amen, Richard!  And Iowa is already connected to the world's third largest mega-region, the great Chi-Pitts mega running from Pittsburgh through Cleveland over to Detroit, across to Chicago and Minneapolis and into Iowa.


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I love what this man is saying. Mark Drabenstott, formerly of the Fed Reserve in Kansas City and now with RUPRI, had a great way of stating this:

"...(T)o be successful in the 21st century economy, most (rural) areas will have to 'think regional.' This has all kinds of implications for how we govern these efforts. We have got to think beyond the jurisdictional lines that 18th and 19th century surveyors laid down for us. Twenty-first century opportunities are not a respecter of those boundaries."

This framing has resonated with even the most sclerotic communities.

Kare Anderson

think regional + define niche markets of visitors + then, for each niche, come up with the main reason (thus the main message) to visit + then forge SmartPartnerships with the organizations that can credibly collaborate to generate more value and visibility for those messages
-Kare, author, SmartPartnering

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