Regional thinking is here to stay

Iowa's Creative Corridor
Iowa's Creative Corridor

Iowa is cornering the market on corridors.

This week, Iowa’s “Cultivation Corridor” was unveiled to great fanfare in Des Moines. It encompasses the Des Moines-Ames metro area, including Iowa State University, and highlights central Iowa’s agriculture and bioscience prowess.

It received the blessing of former Iowa governor and current U.S. Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack, who once dubbed Iowa “The Food Capital of the World.” Now, central Iowa may become the Silicon Valley of bioscience. Although I thought we were the Silicon Valley of wind, or was it renewable energy? We may be the Capital of Hopeful Branding.

The Des Moines Register reports that ad agency Flynn Wright spent a year coming up with Cultivation Corridor, the favorite of the ag and bioscience pros who were consulted by the agency. It’s traditional. It’s modern. It’s alliterative.

But not exactly creative, according to this resident of Iowa’s “Creative Corridor,” the regional brand representing the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City area since 2012. There’s also a “North Iowa Corridor” between Mason City and Clear Lake, as well as an “Iowa Lakes Corridor,” in northwest Iowa. I fear corridor cannibalization and saturation.

Actually, all this corridor-ing is a good thing. It shows that a growing number of Iowa leaders are thinking regionally. They’re breaking out of old boundaries to consider new possibilities. They’re embracing the reality that the benefits of growth and innovation don’t stop at the county line or the city limits. Bureaucrats like boxes, but the economy doesn’t care.

Sure, living in the marketed-to-death era makes us skeptical of any branding, but the effects of the Creative Corridor push have been remarkably positive. Spotlights are being trained on innovators, startup mavericks, artists and all sorts of inspiring, creative folks with great ideas. Communities, artistic, cultural and digital, are being fostered and connected, and from those efforts, more new ideas are being spawned. It’s been more than slapping a label on a map.

So the cool kids are on board. The challenge is getting regional buy-in from the rest of us, whose main startup challenges involve snowblowers and lawn mowers.

Because the mountain on regionalism’s horizon is governmental change. And that’s going to take broad support. We may feel part of a vibrant region, but then we get our property tax statement or go to the ballot box. We still live in various governmental boxes and taxing jurisdictions that rely on growth within their boundaries to thrive. So decisions get made that benefit the boxes, regardless of how they affect the region. Regionalism gets plenty of public praise, but when ti comes to nailing down a big prospect or project, it’s neighbor vs. neighbor.

Amazingly, almost nobody is talking about local government reforms in a state with four congressional districts and 99 counties. Statehouse types won’t touch it with a 99-foot poll. But the conversation doesn’t have to be all about pain, decline and consolidation. The best way to get local governments to think regionally is to reward them for making good regional decisions. Revenue sharing, state incentives, who knows? Get creative.

So we’ve got corridors. The big question remains will they lead us to something better?

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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