BY BRUCE KATZ AND COLIN HIGGINS
As federal investments roll out at scale, it has become eminently clear that effective deployment is dependent upon networks of public, private and civic institutions coming together to design, finance and deliver concrete initiatives and projects. It is, in other words, a networked governance moment.
This is clearly true in the infrastructure space, where multiple public authorities and agencies (at different geographic scales) as well as public and private utilities are the likely recipients of federal investments. The distributed and compartmentalized nature of resource allocation masks the power of aligning multiple road, transit, energy and broadband investments in the same geography, say a waterfront or commercial corridor or central business district (and the amount of work required to do so). The same holds for efforts to drive supplier diversity and workforce diversity; collective, coordinated action across authorities, sectors, institutions and intermediaries is imperative.
It is also true around economic development efforts which try to leverage the distinctive competitive advantages of disparate cities, metros, states and regions. As the recent $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge administered by the Economic Development Administration has shown, economy shaping necessarily entails connecting the dots between the commercialization of research, the development of talent, the formation and scaling of innovative firms and the adoption of cutting edging technologies in companies large, medium and small.
The federal government understands that catalyzing regional competitiveness — and putting it in the service of an inclusive and sustainable recovery — is a team sport, a product of universities, advanced industries, entrepreneurs, investors, community colleges and others collaborating to compete.
Despite the media’s relentless focus on “hero” innovators, the true nature of economic progress depends upon networks and networked governance. Two homegrown examples that have taken root in the middle of the country over the last 20 years demonstrate this point.
Along with Jennifer Bradley, one of us wrote about this at length in The Metropolitan Revolution. As the book concluded:
“In the end, collaboration and network building are the most important foundations for transformative action in a city and metropolis. Everything that follows — vision, strategy, tactics, and impact – is derivative. Build and steward a strong network, and you have set a platform for generational change. Networks, in short, are the gift that keeps on giving.”