Saturday, October 04, 2008

Hotlanta and Our Mayors - Anything Learned?

Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak
Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman

The leaders of our region’s three largest cities spent three days in Atlanta last week. What were they up to? Did they work hard? Was it a good use of their time? Which of them snored while sleeping on the plane?

As a member of the Inter-City Leadership Visit, in which these city leaders participated, I can report very positively about the mayors’ hard work and about what they and the rest of us learned on this journey to the “capital” of the southeast region of the United States.

Most significantly, we learned first-hand the importance of dealing with issues on a regional basis. Cities, counties, states--while crucial for some administrative purposes--may be in process of becoming almost obsolete within a global marketplace of regions. What does that mean? It means that Atlanta, while important as a city, constitutes only one part of a socially and economically interdependent network of cities and counties that comprise the region of Atlanta.

The local forces that shape Atlanta’s future and its standing in the world derive not just from what happens inside the city’s boundaries, but from events and activities throughout the neighboring cities and counties for 100 miles. For example, the workforce is a regional workforce; large corporations deciding whether to move to, or do business in, Atlanta look at the region as a whole. Transportation is a regional issue. Infrastructure and quality of life issues, such as water resources and air quality, require regional solutions as individual municipalities have little or no capacity to address them on their own.

The same applies to our metropolitan Twin Cities region. Whether we like it or not, Scott, Hennepin, and Washington Counties share many common issues and must address them together. Saint Paul, Bloomington, and Minneapolis can go it alone on some things, but they have to collaborate on others. Our conversations with the school district and business leaders, for example, prompted several of us to consider whether the Minneapolis and Saint Paul school districts need to collaborate more to increase their internal effectiveness and decrease expenses and to bring more funding into the region from foundations.

Some things we learned:

Atlanta points to several events which had significant positive impacts on its regional development:
- The location of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
- The Democratic National Convention in 1988
- The Olympics in 1996
The first of these created a transportation conduit which facilitated travel to and from Atlanta, providing ease of access that directly supported the growth of Delta and the related airline industry and indirectly supported the growth of many other businesses that chose to locate in the Atlanta region because of its accessibility. The other two events raised the profile of Atlanta, making it more respected and prominent within the U.S. and around the world.

We probably will not sponsor the Olympics in the near future, but we do have a convenient, modern airport, and we just hosted the Republican National Convention. That’s two of the three ingredients. I returned from Atlanta with the feeling that this Twin Cities region has a lot of potential – if we can get our act together to promote regional thinking and regional ownership of the major issues we face, along with regional action to address those issues.

We learned more in Atlanta – about how that region has dealt with race issues, how they transformed their school system from dysfunctional to functional, how business leaders play major roles. Subjects for future blogs.

Who snored on the plane? Fortunately, not the pilot, but I won’t say more than that!