Forum Concludes Regionalism Series: Next Up, Regional Development

By on September 28, 2018

by Tom Finan, Executive Director, Construction Forum STL

Construction Forum STL’s ambitious 10-month programming series, “Solving the Puzzle of STL Regionalism Collaboration” concluded Tuesday (Sept. 25) with a program in which Forum President Joe Blanner presented a summary titled, “What We Heard”.

Based on input from attendees at the events and the Forum’s board of directors and board of advisors, CFSTL will take the logical next step, exploring the forces that must be present in terms of regional collaboration in order to create development and jobs.

On December 12 at Innovation Hall, which is  near completion and will be operated by Venture Cafe in St. Louis in the 4220 Duncan Building in the Cortex, David Warm, executive director of the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), the Kansas City agency he has run since 1990, will speak at a program titled “Better Than Ribs: Building Collaboration KC-Style”.

At a 2019 date to be determined, Chris Chung, former CEO of Missouri Partnership and current CEO of the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina, will revisit the comparison and contrast between the two states that he provided in a program in 2015.

Revisiting Insights

Click on image to download a PDF of Joe Blanner’s presentation.

Forum president Blanner revisited the insights provided by event speakers, in meetings with regional leaders and from attendees over the past months.

Solstice Productions, official video producer for the series, conducted extensive interviews with the speakers and recorded interviews with over 40 attendees.

Blanner, citing the speakers’ data, noted that the St. Louis region lags far behind other regions in population growth, yet has comparatively good numbers when it comes to median income,  poverty rate, percentage of home ownership and unemployment rate.

The “Solving the Puzzle” series attracted 940 registrants in its first three programs, with many of them attending two or all three of the series programs.

In December of 2017 Brookings Scholar David Rusk kicked off the series with an examination of what he called “Communities of Common Interest”. He also offered Minneapolis and Portland as two examples of regions where collaboration has flourished.

University of Pittsburgh professor David Miller discussed, among other points, how collaborations between the core city and inner suburbs sharing a common border can benefit an entire region. He spoke of mechanisms for intergovernmental collaboration versus reducing the number of governmental units. In Pittsburgh Miller, who served on city government before entering academia, engineered a collaboration in which municipalities whose borders were contiguous to the City of Pittsburgh worked together with the City on regional issues.

Peter Goldmark, former head of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey emphasized embracing new technologies ahead of the curve. The NY/NJ authority, for example, built the world’s first container port before a container ship was on the water. That effort is actually mirrored by the St. Louis Regional Freightway’s current conntainer-on-vessel program, being developed in cooperation with the Port of Plaquemines, LA, south of New Orleans.

Blanner who has researched and authored a book on “The Great Divorce” between St. Louis City and St. Louis County and subsequent efforts to kindle regional collaboration in the region, presented a detailed analysis of the speakers’ main points

Solstice Productions interviewed dozens of participants and produced video synopses of their impressions from the series.

In addition to their presentations, the speakers met with area print and electronic media; mayors from the Municipal League of Metro St. Louis; St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann; representatives of Better Together; Bi-State; East-West Gateway; The St. Louis Regional Freightway; the St. Louis Regional Chamber; and several of the region’s port districts.

Blanner noted that, per David Rusk, “There are no examples of consolidation in the United States that are the same as being proposed by many advocates in St. Louis.  In no other consolidation did the individual municipalities merge with the new City/County entity — not in Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, etc.,” Blanner stated.

Paraphrasing Rusk he added, “In other words, what is being proposed by many has never been accomplished elsewhere. This is because residents generally like their local government, which is responsive, accountable and close to their citizens.”

Blanner said that Rusk suggested two ways of dealing with regional problems and opportunities: One was what Rusk referred to as “communities of common interest,” in which governmental units with similar or identical problems collaborate to develop solutions. The other was the strengthening of already established regional entities such as the East-West Gateway Council of Governments and Bi-State Development.

Blanner said that Miller’s comments in some ways echoed Rusks in that Miller said, “a multiplicity of governments is not necessarily negative.” Miller also stressed the importance of Regional Intergovernmental Organizations (RIGOs) as part of a mechanism to bring the many together.

Both Miller and Rusk, Blanner said, gave examples of regions where RIGOs played a role in addressing regional issues — including Portland Metro (Oregon), Twin Cities Met Council, and Boston’s Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and Boston Metropolitan Planning Organization (BMPO).  The series’ last speaker, Peter Goldmark, told of the broad authority which the New York/New jersey Port Authority has in planning and executing infrastructure and economic development.

High Compliment

One measure of the success of the Forum’s regionalism series was an email sent to Blanner and to the Forum’s executive director by Dr. Terry Jones, distinguished professor emeritus at UMSL and the author of the book Fragmented by Design:  Why St. Louis Has So Many Governments.

“Thanks for information and elevating the dialogue about governance and progress in the St. Louis region with the series that concluded today,” Jones wrote.   You have made a substantial contribution to our civic discourse.”

Forum President Blanner emphasized that Construction Forum STL did not enter into the recently completed series with any agenda, per its stated mission of “inclusive engagement” and “unbiased communication”.  The objective, he said, was to encourage a segment of the population extending beyond policy wonks to take a deeper dive into the complexity of the issues involved in regional collaboration.

“You cannot dumb this stuff down,” he stated.


About Tom Finan

One Comment

  1. James M. Grandone

    09/28/2018 at 12:32 PM

    How much was discussed about the logistics development in Illinois: Gateway Commerce Park,
    America’s Central Port, MidAmerica’s cargo capability and availability of land.
    Was that appropriate for this series or the next one on Development?