Written by Amanda Maher
When precious commercial tax revenue is at stake, many municipalities will work hard to attract new (or retain existing) businesses. That stakeholders in the Greater Portland-Vancouver area have collaborated to achieve this with such success is more an anomaly than it is a norm. Today, there are more than 150 partners affiliated with Greater Portland, Inc. (GPI), a regional economic development organization that spans seven counties and two states, profiled in a recent What Works Case Study.
GPI began as an attempt to bridge existing efforts—some which were led by the public sector, others by the private sector, but all of which found themselves with overlapping initiatives and competing for scarce resources. Since combining forces in 2011, GPI has helped to attract and retain dozens of companies and more than 1,000 jobs in the Portland-Vancouver region. A range of programs include marketing, talent attraction, export assistance and cluster development.
Just recently, biotech company AbSci announced it would be expanding within the GPI coverage area. AbSci first started in Portland, but needed additional space as it grew. In November, AbSci announced it would take over a portion of an unoccupied building owned by the Port of Vancouver along the waterfront. The Port will also renovate a portion of the building to include a dedicated life sciences technology lab—the first of its kind in Southwest Washington.
Often it would upset municipalities if a homegrown company does not expand locally, or even within their home state. But in this case, GPI partners understand the importance of keeping the company in the region and supporting the development of a biotech cluster in the area. The company’s move from an incubator space into more permanent space “means the region maintains terrific bioengineering jobs and signals momentum of an increasing industry footprint,” said GPI President and CEO Janet LaBar.
GPI isn’t the first attempt at regional economic development coordination. Other successful models include The Borderplex Alliance which spans not just two states, but two countries: Southern New Mexico and the El Paso, TX region and the nearby Ciudad Juarez region in Mexico. This private, non-profit corporation is funded largely by industry. In 2014 alone, The Borderplex Alliance helped to attract $237 million in investment and brought 3,516 new jobs to the region.
As cross-sector partnerships such as these continue to show that regional collaboration is indeed possible, metros are taking notice.
In early December, the mayors of six cities in the Boston region announced a regional compact designed to address economic development challenges that each city faces equally, but for which each city offers unique opportunities. For instance, the entire region faces a housing shortage, but cities like Braintree and Chelsea might be able to provide housing at lower costs than parts of Boston or Cambridge. Another focus area is transportation connectivity, an important economic issue for many inner city neighborhoods.
“Economic challenges and opportunities for our region do not stop at our city borders,” said Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, one of the six cities participating in the compact. “From transportation to housing to addressing sustainability and climate change, if we are to succeed as individual cities as we face 21st century challenges, we must develop our strengths as a region.”
Mayor Joseph Sullivan of Braintree echoed that sentiment. ”Working together to grow our regional economy through transportation and housing will create vibrant economic value for all,” he said.
As the Boston region embraces this newfound spirit of collaboration, GPI and others can provide an example of how to structure their partnerships in order to withstand both economic and election cycles for long-lasting impact. In Portland and elsewhere, these partnerships are ensuring that regional economic development is not a zero-sum game but an assurance of jobs and business growth that benefits all residents.