Meta-Plan momentum must growWritten by Dan Johnson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It has been a tough year for our region’s economic development organizations. One does not have to recount or describe the details of the numerous recent challenges to know that, added together, they have exacted a costly toll on our region’s development, image and reputation. The challenges have been made even more severe by the actions and comments of some public officials.
However, those close to these organizations also know that there are many positive stories that do not get the attention of the media and, consequently, often go unnoticed by the public. Now, more than ever, we need to know about the things that are working, the accomplishments of our economic development organizations and the progress that is under way in Toledo and our region, Lake Erie West.
One of the many positive stories of 2008 is the nascent efforts of our region’s economic development organizations to forge closer, strategic ties and to work together to a greater extent to improve cooperation, coordination and collaboration. Initiated in November, this effort was referred to as the Meta-Plan.
At its core, the Meta-Plan was designed to link the strategic efforts of several economic development agencies and organizations in a way that would reduce duplication of services, increase coordination and collaboration, and identify three or four regional goals that all would support and pursue.
Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher came to Toledo to encourage our regional economic development leaders to aggressively pursue the Meta-Planning process. Fisher, Ohio’s chief economic development officer, called it “a model for the state” and pledged to work with our city and region to help make it a reality.
In subsequent Meta-Plan meetings, the leaders of our economic development organizations agreed to pursue four regional goals: conduct a “community scorecard” to help measure our economic progress; promote closer economic development ties with our counterparts in Southeast Michigan; align our development goals and strategies with those of the State of Ohio; and aggressively pursue the development of our intermodal transportation infrastructure.
Some progress has been made toward these common regional goals; however, the time has come to set aside differences, turfs and egos and make these goals and others become a reality.
The rationale and arguments for strategic, high-level collaboration among our economic development agencies and organizations were discovered a long time ago by many successful cities and regions. Many are well-known and include Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Louisville, Ky., and Charlotte, N.C., to name a few. Some have pursued these strategies through regional governance, some through regional alliances and others through enlightened private- and public-sector leadership. Whatever the tool chosen for strategic, high-level collaboration, those cities and regions that have taken that step in the past are now among our nation’s leading metropolitan areas with respect to economic development.
The elements and methods of Meta-Planning are simple. A regional Meta-Plan builds on the existing strategic plans of our economic development organizations. A Meta-Plan identifies common goals and strategies and agrees to an integrated, collaborative approach in achieving three or four important goals for the region.
Even though the elements and methods are simple, their implementation can be easily disrupted by small political differences. It takes genuine statesmanship for our political leaders and public officials to buy into a collaborative plan for the common good. It calls for modest compromises and a commitment to unity that may challenge partisanship. It requires leadership that unifies and rejects leadership that divides. It is this statesmanship and willingness to put community above politics that distinguishes successful cities and regions from the rest.
Not only have major American cities found integrated collaboration to be highly effective as a tool for growth and economic development, it is now becoming the subject of case studies, a tool for urban and regional consultants and a topic for national and international conferences. It is even finding its way into university courses in political science, public administration and regional science. It is a lesson we have to learn here in Toledo and Lucas County before we will be able to move forward in this very competitive arena of economic development.
Government, industry and universities are all engaged in promoting economic growth. And all are needed. Each has its own sphere of expertise, authority and responsibility. For decades — perhaps centuries — these three important entities have worked independently, each pursuing its own form of growth and development. However, we now know that there is a confluence of interests, and the old “silo” paradigm has given way in progressive cities and regions to a new paradigm that recognizes the interdependence of universities, governments and industries in the area of economic development.
Our effort to bring about genuine, effective Meta-Planning is based on the recognition of the interdependence of government, industry and university sectors. It is also based on our recognition of the need for our economic development organizations to work together at all levels in a truly integrated, collaborative manner to achieve our regional economic goals.
Those who work with the economic development professionals in Toledo and Lucas County are impressed by the amount of interaction that takes place among the staff members of our several economic development organizations. They are sharing information, asking for help from one another and providing support for business recruitment and retention from their respective organizations. Staff interaction is step one, and it is safe to say we have taken this step.
Step two is the formal integration of our economic development functions. This step takes place with the CEOs and the boards of the participating organizations. It involves cooperative planning, elimination of duplicative services and agreement on strategic regional goals.
If we succeed in developing a more formal, integrated, collaborative approach to economic development in the region, we can all be confident that our chances for success have increased.
Dan Johnson is president emeritus and university professor of public policy and economic development at UT. E-mail him at email@example.com.