The Citistates Group presents

Thank you for reading This website is no longer being updated, as of October 2013. We invite you to visit our new site at

Strong Metros: Key to U.S. Recovery?

Neal Peirce / Dec 17 2010

For Release Sunday, December 19, 2010
© 2010 Washington Post Writers Group

Neal PeirceCHICAGO — Just imagine. The United States is pulling out of its economic doldrums. Banks are lending. Companies are hiring at all skill levels. We’re starting to invest in important infrastructure. New “green” technologies and products are proliferating. “Made in the U.S.A.” labels are staging a global comeback.

So how do we get there?

Answer: We focus on where America’s economy is overwhelmingly rooted — its 100 largest metropolitan regions, already home to two-thirds of our population and 75 percent of our economic output. To get the metros rolling full steam, we boost business-civic-government partnerships to catalyze each metro’s growth, based on its own special strengths and potentials. And we line up federal and state policies to spur the metros’ growth forward.

That was the keynote message from Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, at a “Global Metro Summit,” attended by hundreds of government and civic leaders from both the U.S. and abroad, in Chicago Dec. 7-8.

The American nation went off the track, Katz suggested in impassioned remarks, “by elevating consumption over production, financial chicanery over real innovation, near-term speculation over long-term growth. We lost our way and got the economy, and the Great Recession, we deserved.”

The cure, he asserted: with metros as the engines of our growth and recovery, to spark a “next” American economy “driven by exports, powered by low carbon, fueled by innovation, and rich with opportunity” — an economy that “actually works for working families.”

It can be done, delegations from Munich, Seoul, Barcelona and Turin argued, telling the Chicago summit how they’d crafted metro-wide strategies to restoke their economies after severe setbacks. Low carbon strategies were underscored by Mayors Richard Daley (Chicago), Michael Nutter (Philadelphia) and Antonio Villaraigosa (Los Angeles), each aiming to be America’s “greenest” city.

And the conferees heard reports on aggressive multi-year development plans currently underway in Greater Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Cleveland-Northeast Ohio. All are thinking internationally: the Seattle area’s “Prosperity Partnership” was actually inspired by a Trade Alliance of Greater Seattle study mission to Barcelona in 2002.

What’s the single hallmark of all these alliances, involving businesses groups, laboratories and research centers, universities and government centers? It’s “trust” developed among the parties, noted Ricky Burdett of the London School of Economics and Political Science (a cosponsor of the summit with Brookings and the Alfred Herrhausen Society, the International Forum of Deutsche Bank).

And metros, Katz pointed out, are the fulcrums of growth in China, India and Brazil — the world’s three massive fast growth economies, predicted to surpass the United States in total economic output this year, for the very first time. All are making massive national investments in modern ports, renewable energy, high-speed rail and advanced research in the very metros — Shanghai, Mumbai and Sao Paulo — that drive their national economies.

An aggressive, metro-based U.S. export economy, Katz and others argued, should focus heavily on energy-efficient, non-polluting products to meet the competition of China as it rushes to become the planet’s top green producer.

One wonders — Do we have the vision for all this? The federal government’s counsel or aid for individual metros is sketchy at best; in fact Washington most typically ignores regions’ economic potential while squandering hundreds of billions on crop subsidies or the increasingly irrelevant home mortgage interest deduction. State governments, for their part, rarely help their big city regions, even though prospering metros are indispensable backbones of their tax structures.

Then there’s today’s bitter and extreme partisanship, plus the rise of Tea Party sentiment, potentially choking off federal or state initiatives to help our metros thrive and compete globally.

Added to that, as Johns Hopkins University president Ronald Daniels reminded the Chicago conferees, there remain neighborhoods of deep poverty and despair within cities — often close to premier regional institutions like his own. The massive educational “lag” among the nation’s Hispanics and African-Americans will be ever more serious as minorities mount fast as a percentage of our working age population. And in many regions, there’s still temptation to cut the center city out of regional job shares.

Still, stark reality is that metro economies are the United States’ stellar competitive asset precisely because they do bring together — networks of companies large and small, skilled labor, universities, business associations and consulting services.

Regions are, as Katz noted, getting a lot smarter. In the old consumption-led economy, they often followed a uniform “Starbucks and Stadia” recipe, irrespective of market condition or location. But today’s there’s a smart new generation of mayors and other local officials who understand how critical it is to work with their metro neighbors — if not for love, at least to sustain their areas in a fiercely competitive new global economy.

Given targeted encouragement and assistance from state capitals and Washington, these citistates could well be the secret to the economic transformation America so badly needs.

Neal Peirce’s e-mail is

For reprints of Neal Peirce’s column, please contact Washington Post Permissions, c/o PARS International Corp.,, fax 212-221-9195. For newspaper syndication sales, Washington Post Writers Group, 202-334-5375,

One Comment

  1. Posted December 25, 2010 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Our inner cities have been inundated for 40 years with the sound of gunfire from dealers selling from street corners. Youth have the option to sell drugs = why go to school?

    The cities you mentioned – Munich, etc don’t have that burden. That is why ending drug prohibition – all of it – is the key to any chance of econ recovery in our large metro areas.