Thursday, March 15, 2007

Reaching Across State Lines

Tom Christoffel does a wonderful compilation of weekly articles and news about regional initiatives around the USA. If you aren’t receiving it, you should. Email him at

This week one article about the new Toyota plant in Tupelo, MS from the Christian Science Monitor really struck me as what other states should be doing. Here is the article on what is possible when working together regionally.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour both understand how the game has been played. In the past, they've battled each other tooth and nail, using Fort Knox-size economic incentives to attract truck manufacturing and Internet server farms in a bid to help their own states climb out of America's economic basement.

Today, former rivals Riley and Barbour, both Republicans, as well as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R), are working together.

Their coalition, cobbled together by Governor Riley, hopes to lure a $2.9 billion German steel mill to Mobile, Ala. The plant, shopped around by German company ThyssenKrupp, would employ 2, 700 people. Mississippi and Florida are helping Alabama because 30 percent of the jobs would go to Mississippians and Floridians.

Although the alliance serves a self-interest for the states involved, some experts predict it is part of a gradual tilt toward broader economic regionalism, especially in the South. Such partnerships could relax states' competition for corporate business, increase cooperation, and ease what some critics see as a lack of confidence that causes Southern states to overcompensate to win industry favor.

[Southern states] "have built incentive packages out the wazoo ... but they're insufficient, " says Pete Whalley, an economic development expert at the University Research Center in Jackson, Miss. "Market forces don't care about state lines, so we don't need to think about boundaries anymore."

Economic regionalism was first touted in 1988 by then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and the governors of Louisiana and Mississippi, who shook hands on a barge in the middle of the Mississippi River to start the Delta Regional Authority. This multistate approach has slowly been taking hold in other parts of Dixie.

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