DES MOINES — Three current and two former Midwest governors are stressing the importance of collaboration to better market the region.
Members of the Midwestern Governors Association, gathering for a daylong strategy session on the 50th anniversary of the group’s founding Wednesday, said the heartland is a cut above other regions in many categories, but modesty and a lack of aggressive marketing are holding the region back.
“This region is really positioned well to grow substantially but we’ve got to be competitive to be able to do that,” said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
Govs. Terry Branstad of Iowa, Mark Dayton of Minnesota, and former Govs. James Thompson of Illinois and Bob Holden of Missouri joined Brownback in the brainstorming session.
Thompson said Midwest states need to better understand what investors are looking for in order to effectively target resources.
“The first focus has to be to get them to the region and then let the individual states and municipalities compete to say why within the region they’re the best,” he said. “I think you can do both things. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It doesn’t have to be a contest between regional economic development and statewide economic development.”
And, in cases where other parts of the country out-recruit the Midwest, Brownback said, “we need to back up and say what region beat us and why did they beat us, just like in football.”
Dayton said residents of one state may be concerned if they see their investments are aiding another state in the region.
But Thompson, senior chairman of a Chicago law firm, said benefits come from expanded regional economic activity.
Holden, meanwhile, noted that when counted as a region, the Midwest represents the fifth most powerful economy in the world, and the focus should be on being the best. “The key is we’ve got to think anew,” he said. “We’re not talking about the past. We’re talking about tomorrow.”
To that end, the Midwestern Governors Association — a non-profit, bipartisan organization — has launched a video contest on the theme “America’s Smartland: Let the Midwest Surprise You.” It will offer more than $10,000 in prize money. More information is available at www.midwesterngovernors.org/AmericasSmartland.htm.