Hoosier Leading Effort to Enhance Regional Identities


When asked, most Americans are likely to define themselves more as a product of their state or city. For example: "I’m from Indiana and I’m a Hoosier." "I’m from Brooklyn and I’m a New Yorker." "I’m from Boston and I’m a Bostonian." "I’m from Melmac and I eat cats." (That last one would be, of course, "Alf" — aka Gordon Shumway.)

But President Obama has enlisted his Asst. Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development (and former Bloomington Mayor) John Fernandez to get the nation to consider its regional identity and success (as opposed to that of states or cities) when competing for economic development projects.

Stateline asked Fernandez how hard it will be to persuade states, which are used to competing against each other, to think in terms of collaborating regions even when those regions cross state lines. He was realistic about the difficulty of changing the culture, both at his appearance before the group of legislators April 9 in Washington and in a  speech in Chicago in January.

“It’s a new way to keep score,” he says. “In the past, there was only one metric that mattered: the number of jobs created in my town [or state]. If you created a job, it had to be in your backyard to score points.”

“We need a new way to measure success,” he says. “If the city next door creates 1,000 jobs, it doesn’t mean you lost—it means the region won.  Jobs are not the only number. We need to rate our elected officials not just by the jobs they bring in today but by the jobs they make possible tomorrow.”

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty are keeping score the old way. The leaders of a region that overlaps three jurisdictions are demonstrating right in Obama’s backyard the difficulty of changing the one metric that matters, especially in an election year: job creation.

Northrop Grumman, the giant defense contractor, is planning to move its corporate headquarters from Los Angeles to the Washington area, and that has touched off a brawl among O’Malley and Fenty, both Democrats, and McDonnell, a Republican. Each jurisdiction wants Northrop Grumman’s high-paying jobs, and has offered the company millions of dollars in tax breaks so executives will choose them. O’Malley and Fenty are seeking re-election later this year; McDonnell was elected in November on a job-creation platform. (According to the Washington Post, Northrop Grumman has eliminated D.C. from contention.)

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