Regional Growth and Opportunity Initiative
JFF, with support from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Mott Foundation, and the Walmart Foundation, is collaborating with the Council on Competitiveness and FutureWorks to examine what’s working in regional growth efforts—and what’s getting in the way of them. With our partners, we are looking in depth at the kinds of partnership structures regions are putting in place, where leadership is coming from, and how workforce issues are being addressed in the context of regional growth strategies and regional partnerships.
With support from the Walmart Foundation, we are expanding and applying what we’ve learned so far by establishing a Regional Growth and Opportunity Learning Network, convening 10 to 12 regions that are leading the way, along with others that want to follow suit. The network will accelerate progress within and across regions, deepen our knowledge of what works, and identify policy and other barriers that are getting in the way of their efforts.
There is growing evidence that the only way the United States can grow its economy enough to maintain its current standard of living is to become number one or two in the world in every industry in which we expect to compete. To do that, the firms in those industries will need to do what they do better than anybody else in the world, constantly developing new products and processes that are difficult for others to replicate and continually discovering new untapped markets.
In other words, innovation is the key to creating and sustaining good jobs and the prosperity that goes with them. However, it is becoming apparent that individual firms, on their own, cannot do all of the research and development, planning, marketing, and training needed to stay ahead of the competition. That is particularly true for small and mid-sized firms, where most innovation and job creation takes place. Even large firms rely more on universities and industry-university collaborations to meet their basic and applied research needs. Consequently, the ability of firms to create an adequate supply of good jobs increasingly depends on whether help is available, and how well that help is organized.
Evidence is also growing, both here and abroad, that the best place to organize that help is at the regional level. Although national and state policies can pave the way for innovation, it is at the regional level where firms, economic development organizations, investors, education and training providers, research institutions, and government can collaborate most effectively to help firms develop products and processes, identify and access markets, facilitate technology and information transfer, equip workers with the necessary skills, and gain access to specialized materials, equipment, suppliers, and services.
While most countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are actively building this capacity at the regional level, the United States is not. For the most part, regions across the United States still rely mainly on traditional approaches to economic development that emphasize recruiting firms and talent from other areas, rather than growing their own. That zero-sum game is yielding diminishing returns for individual regions and for the nation as a whole. For this nation to get its economy growing again and to keep it growing, economic development efforts will need to put greater emphasis on identifying a region’s competitive assets, and on more strategically investing public and private resources in ways that fully exploit those assets.
To organize that process, key leaders from across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors need to formulate growth strategies that make the best use of a region’s competitive assets. As part of that process, they also need to coordinate the work of postsecondary education and training institutions to make sure workers have the skills and knowledge they needed to share in the region’s prosperity.
JFF, the Council on Competitiveness, and FutureWorks are collaborating to examine what’s working in regional growth efforts—and what’s getting in the way of them. The three organizations are looking in depth at the kinds of partnership structures regions are putting in place, where leadership is coming from, and how workforce issues are being addressed in the context of regional growth strategies and regional partnerships.
This effort began with grants to the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation to:
- Study collaborative, regional approaches to economic and workforce development that have the potential for generating sustainable economic growth and opportunity;
- Explore what is being done to develop the capacity of individuals and organizations to lead these regional growth efforts; and
- Identify ways to strengthen and expand that leadership capacity.
In 2009, NCEE’s Workforce Development Strategies Group became part of Jobs for the Future, which has continued the work, with additional funding from the Walmart Foundation.
There are 8 regions nationwide taking part in this initiative. CLICK HERE for their complete site descriptions. The regions are:
- Cali-Baja Region (CA)
- CT-NY Region
- Kansas City Region (KS and MO)
- Mid-Michigan Region
- OH-Penn Region
- Lancaster Region (PA)
- West Alabama-East Mississippi Region
- West Michigan Region
The Regional Growth and Opportunity Initiative has:
- Conducted background research to identify key trends and issues, promising sites for case studies, and other organizations and individuals doing work in this arena;
- Examined how four U.S. regions are convening key actors to collectively develop a growth strategy and manage its implementation, paying particular attention to where leadership is coming from for those efforts, what organizational structures are being used, how they are being sustained, and how workforce issues are being addressed;
- Convened two roundtables of leading experts and practitioners, together with the Council on Competitiveness and the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, to share what we’ve learned from our research and to capture the lessons learned by others working in this arena;
- Drafted a report drawing on our research, case studies, and roundtables to identify steps the federal government can take to directly support collaborative, regional efforts to promote sustainable economic recovery and growth; and
- Identified and begun developing partnerships with organizations working in this arena, most notably the Council on Competitiveness and FutureWorks.
Next Steps in the Initiative
In 2010-11, JFF will use the draft report to organize a broader conversation about what’s working and what’s getting in the way of regional growth efforts. We will:
- Share the report with policymakers, regional leaders, and others active in this arena;
- Develop additional materials that expand on the lessons outlined in the report; and
- Through meetings, presentations, and workshops, seek opportunities to discuss the findings and pursue the recommendations with key individuals and organizations active in this arena.
In addition, JFF will examine in more depth two issues that have arisen in the course of the initiative. The first is whether high levels of economic and social inequality get in the way of generating and sustaining regional growth. If so, we will analyze what regions are doing to pursue equity and growth simultaneously. The second is to examine more closely what kind of innovations in workforce development make the biggest difference in promoting regional growth and opportunity.
To address these issues, which are vital to restoring health to regional economies, the initiative will:
- Organize a roundtable of practitioners and researchers who are actively leading or closely studying efforts to address economic/social inequality in the context of generating and sustaining regional growth. The roundtable will identify the key lessons from the participants’ experience and research, which JFF will share broadly.
- Identify four or five regions that are on the leading edge of addressing workforce issues as part of more comprehensive regional growth strategies and collaborative partnerships along the lines discussed in the report. JFF will also conduct additional site visits in those innovative regions and develop case studies that will be shared broadly.
The Learning Network
JFF will assist individuals and organizations in applying the lessons from the initiative within their own regions. The work has identified a number of individuals and organizations that stand out for their leadership and innovation. Over the next year, the initiative will likely find many more.
With support from the Walmart Foundation, we will establish a Regional Growth and Opportunity Learning Network, convening 10 to 12 regions that are leading the way, along with others that want to follow suit. The network will accelerate progress within and across regions, deepen our knowledge of what works, and identify policy and other barriers that are getting in the way of their efforts.
The initiative will also organize a leadership development program for regional leaders. It will draw on the best available evidence of what works in promoting regional growth and opportunity, and on the wisdom and experience of their peers, to offer technical assistance to regions and regional leaders that want to move in this direction.
This work will be conducted in partnership with organizations engaged in similar efforts, leveraging their expertise and activities to have a broader impact. As those partnerships develop, we will explore the possibility of housing this work in an institute with support from multiple organizations and funding sources.
For more information, contact:
- Building Regional Partnerships for Economic Growth and Opportunity
- Innovations in Labor Market Intelligence: Meeting the New Requirements of Regional Workforce and Economic Development
- Regional Growth and Opportunity Case Studies
- Under One Roof: New Governance Structures for Local Economic and Workforce Development
- Industry Trend Studies
- The Impact of Globalization on American Jobs
- America in the Global Economy