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Dec 17, 201911:41 AMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

Brookings Institution report seeks to build on what’s working, versus fixing what’s not

(page 1 of 2)

A brand the Wisconsin Technology Council has hawked for years is the “I-Q Corridor,” which imagines the power of a region bounded by Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and Minnesota’s Twin Cities. The “I” stands for interstate, innovation, intellectual property, and investment; the “Q” captures quality of life, research, education, workforce, and just about anything else worth bragging about.

A national brand has now taken up the cause. The prestigious Brookings Institution has issued a report calling for growth centers built on a similar model — not only for Wisconsin, but for more than 30 other promising places outside the nation’s coastal technology and innovation hubs.

It provides an opportunity for a much-needed national discussion about whether the “convergence” that built a handful of coastal dynamos has led to a dangerous economic “divergence” in the American Heartland.

The report draws upon history and trends known to many who follow tech and its economic geography.

  • Research, money, and talent congregated for decades in places such as California’s Silicon Valley and Boston’s Highway 128 corridor, where the drive to build new industries, markets, and companies drew efficiently on those resources.
  • As the party grew frothier in Silicon Valley, the sucking sound got louder elsewhere as cities and regions built on different economies encountered industrial decline, “brain drain,” and even a sense of political disenfranchisement.
  • Meanwhile, the price of progress in places such as the Silicon Valley got higher in the form of spiraling real-estate costs, traffic gridlock, and a diminished quality of life, so much so that some people, companies, and investors began looking for greener pastures.
  • That means coastal concentration is not a foregone conclusion and, in fact, forward-looking cities and regions between the Rockies and the Appalachians have been working toward brighter futures built upon innovation, intellectual property, investment, and talent.
  • Madison is one such place — in fact, No. 1 on Brookings’ list of about 35 potential “growth centers” that also includes three other pillars of the I-Q Corridor: The Twin Cities (No. 2), the Chicago region (No. 12) and the Milwaukee Metro (No. 17).

The Brookings conclusion is to build upon the best work under way in those emerging growth centers by spending federal dollars to fuel already productive fires. It is an approach the Brookings researchers believe will lead to more growth in regions around those growth centers while countering divergence under way.

There are reasons people won’t like the Brookings report. Some will say Silicon Valley, Seattle, New York, and Boston grew because they seized market advantage, not because they were conspiring to put other parts of the country out of business. Others will note that Brookings deliberately did not address what it described as “hundreds of distressed older industrial cities or revitalizing the vast totality of America’s rural tier.” Still others will question using federal dollars to accelerate growth in a dozen or so competitively selected “growth centers,” which they might describe as picking winners and also-rans.

(Continued)

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Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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