The value of learning from other regions

Submitted by Ed Morrison on Tue, 06/20/2006 - 11:55.

Last week, I was busy, as Valdis Krebs would say, "closing triangles" between leaders in Oklahoma City and Lexington, Kentucky. First, you need some background. Beginning in 1993, I worked with the Chamber of Commerce in Oklahoma City to design a new economic development strategy. In the past, Oklahoma City, like many other cities, defined economic development in terms of recruitment. The main focus of their efforts was to identify a large companies and try to recruit them to the area.

In 1993, the mayor of Oklahoma City, Ron Norrick, launched major new strategy to invest public dollars into a series of major improvement projects downtown. To compliment this strategy, I designed a new economic development strategy for the Chamber that focused on business development and innovation. Over the next seven years, I assisted the Chamber in the implementation of their strategy.

Our twin strategies in Oklahoma City -- one led by the City, one led by the Chamber -- have been remarkably successful. Oklahoma City is now attracting national attention for its remarkable transformation. So, it was no surprise to me that the civic leaders in Lexington, Kentucky chose Oklahoma City to visit.

For the past year, I've been working with Commerce Lexington to design a new regional economic development strategy that emphasizes the importance of open innovation networks. Last week, for three days, 175 leaders from Lexington explored how we managed to transform Oklahoma City.

The key elements of success in Oklahoma City have been the balancing of leadership direction with open participation. Civic leaders play an important role the process. They repeatedly stress the urgency of change and they relentlessly focus on a change agenda. They map out direction and articulate the type of transformation that is possible. They direct energy toward productive possibilities that emerge from citizen conversations. They align and leverage resources. Most important, they encourage open participation and continuous widespread engagement.

During our three-day visit to Oklahoma City, business and civic leaders shared how they are continuing to transform the region by building these networks. We held a number of panel discussions and arranged of variety of tours for members of the Lexington delegation. Many of the leaders I started out with in 1993 have passed on their leadership roles to others. The networks in Oklahoma City are deep and flexible. Oklahoma City voters have elected three mayors since Ron Norrick. All of these mayors have been deeply committed to the same process of open participation and leadership direction.

My guess is that the leadership in Lexington, Kentucky will continue their engagement with Oklahoma City. Lexington faces some significant opportunities and challenges. In 2010, the World Equestrian Games will take place in the Bluegrass region. it will be the first time that this major event has been held outside Europe.

At the same time, Lexington faces many in the same challenges confronting fast growth regions throughout the U.S. How can this growth be managed without destroying the Bluegrass? How can we dramatically improve our education system to equip young people with 21st century skills? How can we develop a sense of place that rests authentically on our history? How can we extend prosperity into low-income neighborhoods?

We are already seeing these connections evolve. Representatives from the University of Kentucky will be following up with their counterparts at the University of Oklahoma do understand how all Oklahoma City has launched its by bioscience initiative. The delegation from Kentucky quickly learned that their colleagues from Oklahoma City had already faced some of the difficulties that university representatives in Kentucky were currently facing.

Every regional economy faces complex challenges that will call for continuous learning and experimentation. By extending our networks between Lexington and Oklahoma City, we are strengthening the capacity of our networks to learn, experiment and adapt. Equally important, we re demonstrating how two regions can work collaboratively to accelerate prosperity.

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Ed, what do you think of working with NOLA

I know you are very into Indiana and OK, but you also have history in economic development in Louisiana. For the past six months, I've been pushing collaborations here with leaders in New Orleans and that has been very successful - Case Trustees are now tapping into Tulane leadership by leveraging the expertise of Tulane President Cowen, who was Dean of your old stomping grounds, Weatherhead. I see this as the first step toward an immense opportunity for NEO, as NOLA has by necessity become completely revolutionary and transformation in ways never attempted anywhere in America if not the world - full scale collaborations - open networks - universities really learning and sharing together. I strongly believe what and how they are making change there is the key to transforming NEO and we need to forge direct ties with the community leaders there, beyond Case Trustees. Your thoughts?

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