Another of the economic buzzwords of the millennial era is regionalism. The term suggests a cultural uniqueness perhaps born of geographic or topographic assets or impediments, shared institutional characteristics or maybe even economic and social integration.
How about the intense New England enthusiasm conjured up by the euphemism RED SOX NATION which, to a Yankee fan like me, is little more than a peon to homogeneity.
Region to me introduces a commonality of spirit and purpose and recognition of the capacity for cooperative, comprehensive and coordinated proactivity. It is defined by vision, documented in strategies and evaluated by results. Unfortunately, regionalism is often described in terms that are touchy feely and lack substance. In that case they become limiting and emote a reluctance to enter the real competitive and barbaric world of those who don't share that region.
In modern development terms the concept of region began during the Kennedy-Johnson era and was designed to identify the haves and have not's and to mitigate the problems of the have not's based upon multi-jurisdictional prescriptions and outcomes leveraged with the help of political influence. It never dawned on me as a pubescent teenager to link the travel of then Senator Kennedy through southern West Virginia with the emergence of a philosophy of regional development which would transform district and presumably retrograde areas of America. Surprisingly New England, in the throes of economic recession precipitated by the loss of jobs in shoes and textiles was among the first to be spotlighted as disadvantaged. Others included the Four Corners of the great southwest, the Mississippi Delta and, of course, our own bit of heaven, Appalachia.
Agencies like the Federal Economic Development Administration, The Appalachian Regional Commission and a variety of other developmental planning organizations, each a conduit reflecting local and regional needs responded to the needs of the stricken areas.
Throughout the years the impacts have been enormous and enormously positive. The largest of the regional conglomerations, Appalachia, and the most varied, stretching from New York to Mississippi has witnessed transformations with few areas still isolated and chronically depressed.
We are part of middle Appalachia. Certainly it's preferable to think of ourselves as enjoying the Appalachian Culture rather than being portrayed as being backward and dominated by the feudal barons of yesteryear exploiting our natural resources and labor and leaving us high, dry and polluted.
I'd say mid-Appalachia has adjusted fairly well. Take a gander at Pittsburgh (yes, Pittsburgh is in Appalachia), the eastern panhandle of West Virginia and, well, take a look at us. We may not be South Beach but we're far from chopped liver. With some breaks and a lot of grit we can see a future we control and manage and with a little more of both we'll get there.
Some might legitimately inquire where this regional scheme came from. Looks on the surface to be one of those good bureaucratic jobs for life - paternalistic, look down your nose kind of things; the type of thing most people assume are being imposed on them because it will do them some good.
Actually the concept of multi-jurisdictional cooperation is based on fairly sound organizational principles. Fairly recent processes such as systems theory and slightly older industrial practices encouraging economies of scale might be seen as precursors to regionalism. The modern dictum is the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Developmental history confirms cooperative self-interest from the world's industrial heartland, the Midlands of England to the recent coordinated industries of Japan and the developing nations of Southeast Asia including the depository of a lot of our treasury (China).
So what? What does this have to do with us? We in eastern and southeastern Ohio lack leverage. We can achieve some influence by jurisdictional bonding. When I first looked at regional connectivity years ago I thought our economic region consisted of Washington and Wood Counties as a region and the other political units were merely appendages. I've come around to the awareness that while the big MSA counties may be hubs of a bi-state region, the other jurisdictions are integral and may be essential to the development process. We have Morgan County manufacturers producing for Washington County entrepreneurs; we have Noble County home to one of Washington County's quality flexible magnet producers; and, we have Monroe County engaged in exploring and producing in the exciting new oil and gas regime as well as providing jobs for people throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley at the revitalized ORMET facility.
It may be time to revisit multi-county cooperation and respond to the new economic realities.
Terry Tamburini is Executive Director, Southeastern Ohio Port Authority.