Last week, I attended the Economic Policy Advisors’ Institute that I helped organize with the National Governors Association, SSTI and the Center for Regional Economic Competitiveness. Representatives from 31 states and territories attended, primarily heads of the departments or agencies responsible for state economic development, and policy advisors from the Governor’s office. Maine’s Governor declined to have his folks attend.
The meeting was very upbeat because most of the states are transitioning from dealing with the recession to rallying for the future. Matt Erksine, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Economic Development Administration, echoed the theme of the meeting and articulated the position of Secretary of Commerce Pritzker when he said, “Old models of economic development are insufficient. New public-private partnerships are needed, with strategies based on existing [regional and state] assets, with innovation at the core.”
Many of the speakers discussed policies and programs aimed at building and expanding regional ecosystems, including advanced manufacturing. There appears to be a trend away from top-down, one-size-fits-all initiatives, whether articulated at the federal or state level. Rather, quite a few states shared examples of programs being implemented at the regional level, and framed around existing assets and capabilities defined locally and regionally.
Another emerging organizational framework is focusing either on innovations and/or markets. Exporting was often mentioned as an important initiative, and one speaker, Katy George from McKinsey, distinguished among different types of manufacturers by describing whether they were “proximate to markets” or “proximate to innovation.” The former refers to manufacturers who are located where their customers are, while the latter are located where their technology comes from.
Advanced manufacturing, and the critical need for a skilled workforce to support it, was a recurring theme of the meeting. While not everyone agreed on a single definition of advanced manufacturing, most of the states said that it was a very high priority for them. Susan Berger, Professor at MIT, discussing her most recent research on the production economy, asserted that manufacturing is critical for sustainable growth, and that the most urgent task is to rebuild the industrial innovation and production ecosystem.
I left the meeting both elated over the new information and new relationships with peers from across the country. But I was also disheartened at the dearth of these types of initiatives in Maine, and the lasting damage being done by four years of inactivity and lack of leadership from Augusta.