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Regional Growth and Opportunity Case Studies

National Center on Education and the Economy

As part of the Regional Growth and Opportunity Initiative, the National Center on Education and the Economy 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.

The following are summaries from each region:

Charlotte

The Charlotte region is a vibrant and growing economic center whose economy is expanding faster than that of the surrounding counties, and its residents have a higher education level and a higher standard of living as well. As one interviewee put it, the city of Charlotte is the economic engine of the region, while the interstates are the drive shafts for growth in the surrounding counties. Growth has mainly been fueled by attracting new business and talent, but the pipeline for the former is beginning to dry up, requiring more emphasis on growing existing businesses and starting new ones. And more will need to be done to prepare the local workforce for productive employment.

Leadership for economic and workforce development efforts has come mainly from the business community, but that is changing. Nonprofits are increasingly stepping up to forge a common agenda and organize collective action to sustain growth in the region.

Denver

In response to the collapse of two major industries since the late 1980s, the Metro Denver business community has led regionwide efforts to: make major infrastructure improvements; collaboratively increase business attraction; diversify the economy; promote regional identity; financially support regional initiatives and regional public transportation; and develop the region’s workforce.

These efforts have been supported by the public and complemented by formal and informal regional partnerships of elected and other public officials. The Metro Denver WIRED initiative has been a catalyst for a more regional approach to workforce development, aligned with the region’s economic growth strategy. Efforts are under way to continue that approach after federal funds end.

Milwaukee

Milwaukee is adjusting to a significant loss of manufacturing jobs, past tensions between the city and suburbs, and stark differences between its inner city and the surrounding counties. As such, the city faces several of the classic challenges to collaboration found in U.S. metropolitan regions. Its recent steps toward regional collaboration are significant in light of this situation, most notably: business organizations providing the leadership; the regional structures that have been put in place for economic development and workforce development, along with the links between them; and the role that state and federal incentives have played in those efforts.

San Diego

San Diego is at the forefront of regional workforce development, establishing both a knowledge-based economy and a supportive environment for innovation and growth among small, entrepreneurial companies. In addition, a number of business and civic organizations are networking to develop and implement strategies that support this effort.

However, the region’s emphasis on growing a few high-tech industry clusters to drive innovation is not accompanied by efforts to create middle-income jobs, reinforcing a pattern of job growth that is concentrated at the high and low ends of the pay scale—with a widening gap in between. Organizations representing the interests of low-wage workers have largely been excluded from the process of developing and executing the growth strategies. And shortages of affordable housing, water, and electric power are putting a damper on growth, even within the targeted industry clusters. These problems all require regional solutions.