Joe Nannery sent me a link to an interesting Courier-Journal article where Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer talks about super-regional collaboration with Lexington on economic development and other matters. There’s a great video interview with him that accompanied the story that you can watch below. (The video won’t display in Google Reader or platforms like that, so to watch it please visit my main web page by clicking here). I think he and his economic development director do a great job of laying out the case for a greater regional vision in an accessible way.
It seems pretty clear that Fischer understands one of the key challenges facing Louisville, namely that it is just a bit too small to really have the heft it needs to go to market in the new economy. He sees collaboration with Lexington as one way to help both cities punch above their weight, particularly in attracting international attention. He believes this is essential to the long term relevance of the cities.
He is weaker on what exactly this collaboration would consist of as the reporter tried to pin him down on specifics. As he put it, “We’re in the early stages of dating.” I wouldn’t feel bad about this if I were him since the mega-regionalism concept is pretty nebulous. Lots of people are saying it’s the next big thing and that cities and states should be thinking this way, but as I myself noted in a previous blog post, nobody tells us exactly what is we’re supposed to actually do to make this a reality. It’s not just about Louisville and Lexington. The reality is that mega-regionalism as an operational program not just a concept is in its early stages. This is part of the process of figuring out what it really means. I do think if we’re ever going to have true mega-regions though, they are going to emerge from bottom-up collaboration between cities like Louisville and Lexington, not from top-down visions and programs.
Fischer also understands that Louisville and Lexington are non-overlapping in their industries in many regards. That’s actually a good thing in my book. This allows them to specialize and gain the advantages of that on some things. My analogy is to a football team. Not everybody is a quarterback. Not everybody is a linebacker. Not everybody is the kicker. Everybody has to know and excel at their own role on the team.
He’s talking about partnering with Brookings to help draw up the plan, and also on a new strategic plan for Louisville itself. I generally like Brookings, but as a former Southern Indiana resident, I can tell you that I did not care for the previous Louisville plan, which suggested any growth outside of Jefferson County was actively bad. I’m all in favor of a strong core, but that plan went too far in its core-centric and almost anti-collar county tone. I can’t imagine it played well anywhere outside Jefferson County because the key goal of the plan was to keep as much regional growth as possible inside the boundaries of that county (notwithstanding that much of Jefferson County itself is suburban or rural in character).
Hopefully this next version is much more actively embracing of the region. I was glad to see Fischer include Southern Indiana explicitly in his regional concept. For too long Kentucky and Indiana have been acting crazy just paying businesses to move back and forth across the Ohio River as if that is some sort of net regional economic add. It would be much better if they could both focus their energy on bringing net new growth to the area instead.
We’ll see where this goes, if indeed it goes anywhere. But it’s certainly interesting indeed to see Mayor Fischer talking about mega-regionalism, and definitely a change from the more Louisville-centric Abramson administration approach.