The best investment in the world [Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region] – by Matthew Mendelsohn and John Austin (National Post – June 13, 2011)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

Matthew Mendelsohn is the director of the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto. John Austin is the nonresident senior fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program at Washington, D.C.’s Brookings Institution. To learn more, visit www.greatlakessummit.org.

Regions are becoming more important because capital and talent tend to cluster
geographically so that employers have easy access to potential partners and
employees. Clusters emerge in regions that possess natural, cultural and place-
defining attributes that make them attractive places to live and work. They also
emerge near centres of public and private research and education.
(Matthew Mendelsohn and John Austin)

In the first in a five-part series ahead of the Mowat Centre and Brookings Institution Summit on the Future of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region, starting next week in Windsor and Detroit, two experts argue that with proper governance, the Great Lakes region could be the success story of the century ahead.

Regions will be just as important as nation-states in ensuring the wellbeing of communities in the coming decades. The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region – made up of the eight states and two provinces (Quebec and Ontario) that surround these great waters – has everything necessary to succeed in this new world.

Regions are becoming more important because capital and talent tend to cluster geographically so that employers have easy access to potential partners and employees. Clusters emerge in regions that possess natural, cultural and place-defining attributes that make them attractive places to live and work. They also emerge near centres of public and private research and education.

The conventional narrative about the Great Lakes Region has been of a “rust belt” and the decline of the heavy industry that powered the region for decades. Many communities in the region have not fared well during the past three decades as globalized patterns of production and trade fundamentally restructured whole industries, including autos, steel, chemicals, machine tools, electronics, paper and durable goods manufacturing.

However, this storyline ignores the fact that the massive innovation, production and trade infrastructure built in the region during the 20th century have also produced clusters of new industries, talent, and capital in the financial services, health services, food processing, energy, aerospace, information and communications technology, transportation and pharmaceutical sectors, among many others.

The conventional narrative also misses the educational facilities, research institutions, skilled human capital, and global knowledge and connections found in the region. The wealth and infrastructure built over the 20th century created the foundations for new emerging sectors.

These realities can, if leveraged and advanced, turn the conventional narrative on its head. But to do so requires that we recognize our common regional history and interdependence and think more consistently, and act much more purposefully, like a cross-border region with common interests

What visibly binds Canadians and Americans most closely together is our shared stewardship of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Basin. We overlook this enormous asset at our peril.

It is estimated that onethird of the world’s population will live in waterstressed communities by 2050. Is there a place on Earth more attractive to build and invest in the future than the coast of the Great Lakes, with its relatively healthy ecosystem and proximity to some of the world’s great educational institutions, financial institutions, world-leading cities, and a large, diverse and well-educated population?

One obstacle to this vision materializing is an inability to imagine our shared future.

For the rest of this column, please go to the National Post website: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/best+investment+world/4935095/story.html

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