State of the Region

Michael Gallis (left) talks with Dr. Michael Carroll, director of BGSU’s Center for Regional Development, at the State of the Region Conference May 22.

Teamwork needed to move economy forward

Northwest Ohio is in a good place geographically in the new global economy, but how does the region put itself in the best position to respond to that changing economy?

The example of Genghis Khan might be helpful, according to a leading authority on large-scale regional development strategies.

Khan was the first military leader in history to send spies to learn about societies his Mongol army would be encountering, said Michael Gallis, noting that the spies' work enabled Khan's army to move 100 miles a day when others went no more than 20.

"They knew where they were going," he said, explaining that 800 years later, economic regions need frameworks for acquiring that same knowledge.

Gallis was the keynote speaker May 22 at the fifth annual State of the Region Conference. About 200 people attended the event, which was presented by the University's Center for Regional Development at the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg.

Public, private and other sectors create fragmentation that regions must overcome to move forward, according to Gallis, who has led development programs for metropolitan regions like Detroit, Cincinnati, Memphis and Charlotte, and states, including Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

To combat fragmentation, he recommended a process through which leaders can address topics across jurisdictional lines. Whether those topics relate to environmental, educational, health, infrastructural, cultural or other issues, he said participants in each area must keep others apprised of their discussions.

"You need to play like a team," Gallis recommended, citing statistics to back his claim that the world economy will be increasingly dominated by Asia.

Memphis area teamwork a prime example

The process Gallis described has worked in Memphis, according to Russell Gwatney, a director and past president of the Memphis Regional Chamber who also spoke at the conference and at a media luncheon beforehand.

People with power don't want to relinquish it, and getting them to sit down and talk is difficult, said Gwatney, pointing out that metropolitan Memphis extends from Tennessee to two other states—Arkansas and Mississippi.

The planning process there started in 1998 with the three states' governors appointing 36 people to lead a study that concluded two years later with a community plan called Memphis 2005. Along the way, the core group "brought people to the table and started building consensus," recalled Gwatney, who said the input of 1,500 or more people was sought.

He stressed the need to be proactive, saying, by way of comparison, that if a truck is coming down the road at you, you have to jump one way or the other.

"Unfortunately," Gallis added, "I think most people are standing on the road watching the truck. I'm not seeing a lot of action (around the country); I'm seeing a lot of quizzical looks."

But "I think Toledo has everything it needs to institute such a process," he said, noting the potential for such entities as the Regional Growth Partnership and the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority to take the lead.

In his estimation, the Toledo area is also in an advantageous setting. "We've heard of the Sun Belt, but the Sun Belt is over," he said, pointing out that economic growth hasn't accompanied population movement to the Southeast. The Northeast and Upper Midwest are strong, he insisted, citing in particular the amount of funded research taking place in both regions.

"We are sitting in the path of science and engineering research across the board," Gallis said.

Providing another reason for optimism about northwest Ohio was Dr. Michael Carroll, economics and director of the Center for Regional Development.

A collaboration of greenhouse growers in the region has produced Maumee Valley Growers, which Carroll called one of the first fully functional, economic development "cluster" programs in the nation. It's an example, he said, of individual competitors working cooperatively for regional success.

Gallis expressed confidence about the nation's future economic success despite questioning if Americans are preparing, and preparing fast enough, for it. "We have great traditions," he said. "We will succeed in the 21st century."
June 5, 2006