Triangle Chatter

In Business and Beyond, Regions are the Geography of Choice

“Surely, gentlemen, if we don’t all hang together, we will hang separately.”

                                                                                                       -- Benjamin Franklin

Charles HayesWise words from a wise man. And ones that have never been truer when it comes to communities pulling together to build a common identity that is viable and visible to the rest of the world.

Our suburbs, inner cities, exurban and rural communities each are vested in each other’s success – and the common fortunes of our whole region. Think about the forces that put municipalities as divergent as Carrboro and Selma on a common platform. What brings together counties as different as Durham and Warren? What are the ties that bind downtown Raleigh and downtown Roxboro?

One word: regionalism.

Regionalism works because it allows a vivid patchwork of diverse communities to share hopes and dreams – but also overcome serious obstacles. A compelling regional brand – based on hard assets, talent and business-centric leadership – enables all of our communities to weather the world’s fast-shifting political, economic and social winds. If we pull together, we can grow together – in any economy.

This notion is hardly new. In fact, it dates to the time of Greek city-states. In ancient Athens and Sparta, citizenship rested not on nationhood or neighborhood, but on metro area. In more modern times, places like Charlotte, Cincinnati and Washington, DC, stretch comfortably across state and counties limits, their dynamic economies largely indifferent to political boundaries.

Regions allow for convenient and affordable pooling of human, financial and leadership capital. They are large enough to accommodate great social and economic diversity, but modest enough in size to facilitate ongoing collaboration between people, businesses and institutions.

The emergence of modern American city-states in recent decades is the result of both government and business seeking efficiencies. For their part, municipalities and counties act from the “inside out” – chipping in to build a regional identity that takes advantage of economies of scale and harnesses leadership from the private sector. In doing so, cash-strapped local governments can focus on mission-critical duties like law enforcement, education and emergency services.

Regionalism in economic development is also being driven from the “outside in” – by a globally-oriented business community looking to streamline the process of selecting facility and office locations. Janet Ady, a prominent economic development consultant based in Wisconsin, recently explained why location firms now base their searches on regions. “First, site selectors have access to data they require at the MSA, and even county, level,” according to Ady. “It is just as easy for us (sometimes easier) to screen 381 MSAs than the 48 continental United States.”

The regional nature of commuting patterns and industry “clusters” also lead consultants to make their initial calls in a site search to regional organizations, which can greatly simplify the process of zeroing in on the ideal location. “Regions have an advantage in that they can serve as a single point of contact if we are looking at multiple communities and properties within their region, which we often are,” Ady says. “They have more knowledge at the community and property level than the state does, and they can serve as a point person so we don’t have to deal with individual community or property owners until we get down to the finalists.” [Read the Ady Voltedge blog]

Viewed from any perspective, regional economies are the ones that matter in today’s world.

Author: Charles A. Hayes, CEcD, President & CEO, Research Triangle Regional Partnership

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