Midwest Governors Look to Collaborate
By Rob Boshart, Reporter
DES MOINES, Iowa – Three current and two former governors of Midwest states Wednesday stressed the importance of putting aside parochial rivalries and collaborating to better market the strengths of the nine-state region to a global marketplace.
The Midwestern Governors Association members who gathered for a day-long strategy session said the heartland is a cut above other regions with its agricultural, transportation, health care, energy, bioscience and educational advantages that are complimented by its strong work ethic, practicality, congenial environment, and innovative entrepreneurial spirit. The downside holding the region back is its modesty and lack of aggressive marketing to potential investors or partners.
“This region is really positioned well to grow substantially but we’ve got to be competitive to be able to do that,” said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who joined Govs. Terry Branstad of Iowa, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, and former Govs. James Thompson of Illinois and Bob Holden of Missouri to brainstorm on ways to better showcase the collective strengths of the U.S. breadbasket to other regions and other countries.
Thompson said the Midwest states need to better understand what investors are looking for and where they will come from to effectively target resources in a successful way. He said public-private collaboration is needed with industry clusters like railroads, barges, utilities, universities or businesses whose reach cross state lines that are able to attract activity to the region after which states can work to make their individual cases where new investments should locate.
“The first focus has to be to get them to the region and then let the individual states and municipalities compete to say why within the region they’re the best,” he said. “I think you can do both things. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It doesn’t have to be a contest between regional economic development and statewide economic development.”
And, in cases where other parts of the country out-recruit the Midwest, Brownback said, “we need to back up and say what region beat us and why did they beat us, just like in football.”
Dayton said all states share the same problem that “we’re all starved for jobs” but he noted that taxpayers may have concerns if they see their investments aiding neighboring states more than them in a collaborator venture. Other governors said that’s a valid worry, but Thompson, senior chairman of a Chicago law firm, noted that many of the region’s potential customers will want production close to where they are and some of the benefits come from the spin-off ventures related to expanded economic activity.
Holden noted that the Midwest as a region represents the fifth most powerful economy in the world and, as such, the focus should not just be on being good, it should be on being the best.
“The key is we’ve got to think anew,” he said. “We’re not talking about the past. We’re talking about tomorrow.”
To further draw attention to the unique qualities of the region, the Midwestern Governors Association – a nonprofit, bipartisan organization that brings together governors and others to work cooperatively on public policy issues significant to the Midwest – has launched a video contest on the theme “America’s Smartland: Let the Midwest Surprise You” that will offer more than $10,000 in prize money to the winning entries. More information is available at www.midwesterngovernors.org/AmericasSmartland.htm.
MGA executive director Jesse Heier said the contest is intended to be a galvanizing and energizing effort in conjunction with more cross-state collaboration to do more branding and marketing to convey the Midwest as a home of advanced manufacturing, bio-economy and energy activities rather than the “haystacks, corn fields and fly-over territory” images often associated with the nation’s midsection.
Wednesday’s meeting also marked the 50th anniversary of the association’s founding.
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