21 Jul Thrive uses collaborative approach to help build a strong regional economy
Op Ed (July 21, 2009)
In our current national economic climate, it is critical we use every tool at our disposal, every advantage we have. Our actions today lay the foundation for the economic climate of our region in years to come.
Our region is unique—and fortunate—that visionary leadership from around the region came together proactively during stronger economic times a few years ago to discuss the future of the region. What is our shared regional vision? What are our assets—man made and natural? How can we collaborate to reach a strong, shared and sustainable future for the region?
Now is the time that we reap the benefit of the leadership and vision of stronger times. Now is the time that we need to come together as a region. We can no longer afford to think of competition on a small scale, as we once did, city against city or county versus county—our competition is now national and international, for resources like workforce, capital and innovation. Last December the State of the Madison Region report issued by Thrive, the economic development enterprise for the eight-county region, provided a glimpse at how we stack up against some peer regions. It was no surprise that we were in the top tier for employment growth, income, and many quality of life measures. The numbers are not as good this year, of course, but as a region we are still doing better than much of the nation and many of our peer regions. Regional collaboration is and will continue to be our strongest competitive edge in today’s global economy.
While it may be a natural human response in trying times to “circle the wagons”, to pull your resources closer—now is the time for every county, every community and every business in our region to pull together and share our strengths. We have seen how this benefits our communities: Rock County, of course, is reeling in the wake of GM’s pullout, and yet collaboration, diversification of the county’s economy, and drawing on the strengths and shared resources of the rest of the region is helping strengthen and build the economy even in these very difficult times. The benefits of this approach include shared resources like data and planning tools, sharing information, leads and best practices in the region, and marketing the region as a whole to the nation and the world (eight counties, eight times the resources—a strong, attractive package).
We’ve also seen how regional collaboration is sought after by business: Action Lift Chair, a specialty medical furniture manufacturer, chose to locate its new manufacturing facility in Jefferson County not only for existing assets like skilled workforce and facilities—but also specifically because Jefferson County is part of a larger, collaborating region that can help their business thrive. Working regionally has become a proven strategy for strong communities, strong states and ultimately, a stronger nation. It begins here—and we are all responsible.
Thrive exists largely thanks to the contributions of private investors—businesses that understand that we are stronger working together. Since its inception in 2007 and fully staffed in 2008, Thrive has implemented strong strategies to build our region’s economy in ways that preserve and enhance quality of life in the region. The organization has been successful in what it set out to achieve in these past two years, and now is embarking on a round of fundraising to continue delivering value for the next three years. The work of Thrive is critical, and continued support of Thrive is needed. The original investors are stepping up again, and it will require their leadership and that of new investors from all eight counties to keep the momentum going and see even more results that will benefit the entire region.
Now more than ever, we must all collaborate as a region to thrive.
|Mark Cullen, Chairman, J.P. Cullen & Sons, Inc.
Co-Chair, Thrive Fundraising
|John Wiley, Interim Chair, Wisconsin Institute for Discovery
Co-Chair, Thrive Fundraising