Author Longworth Addresses ICAD Group Annual Meeting

9/16/2010

Josh O'Leary • Iowa City Press-Citizen

Economic development leader Joe Raso was reminded of the importance of having a regional vision for the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids Corridor by a church flier left at his front door.

Scholar Richard Longworth urged local leaders to think even bigger.

Raso and Longworth spoke to a crowd of 280 people that included business, university and municipal leaders Wednesday afternoon at the Iowa City Area Development Group's annual meeting inside the Sheraton Hotel.

Raso, who has served as ICAD Group's president the past 10 years, opened with an anecdote about the flier he found waiting for him at home Tuesday from a church with "Corridor" in its name.

"So if God is defining us as the Corridor, I think we might want to listen," he said, getting a laugh from the crowd.

Longworth, a Boone native and a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said regional cooperation on a larger scale will be essential for the Midwest to climb out of its post-Industrial Era economic funk.

A century ago, Longworth said, the Midwest was the Silicon Valley of its time during an era of big industry and small farms. Today, while places like Chicago and Iowa City are weathering the recession relatively well, much of the region has fallen on "the wrong side of the American tracks," he said, pointing to big cities like Milwaukee and Cleveland and smaller ones like Waterloo and Muncie, Ind.

"It is a region in the heart of America that seems to have lost its way," said Longworth, a veteran journalist and author of "Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism."

In a global economy, he said, Midwest businesses are not just competing with each other but with players like China, Russia and India and their 3 billion workers that have jumped into the international marketplace in the past two decades.

Longworth said it's time to end "mindless competition" between neighboring towns and states, and those divided by other artificial boundaries. Regional companies and entities must work together to make education a priority to produce skilled leaders and workers, stem the brain drain to the coasts and foster innovators and entrepreneurs.

He pointed toward biotechnology, nanotechnology and green technology as new industries that have the potential to thrive in the Midwest.

"If the old industry is going or gone, we still know how to make things in the Midwest," he said. "That's what we're good at."

The meeting also served as ICAD Group's annual briefing to its members on the local economy and its initiatives. Raso reported that ICAD's clients saw 6 percent employment growth this past year and the companies are forecasting 1,100 new, full-time jobs in the area in the next three years.

Raso also touted the recently launched Shovel Ready Sites Program, which ICAD Group designed to streamline the site selection process for businesses that are eying a new facility in the area.

"We believe this program is going to pay great dividends for us in the near future, not in decades, but in years," Raso said.