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Megapolitan areas compete globally

It’s important our residents take an active role in their future planning. This recent article in USA Today demonstrates the thought process and references Chattanooga and the 40 year plan.

————- USA Today Date: 11/17/11 Megapolitan areas compete globally By Haya El Nasser, USA TODAY Source:

Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University outside of Phoenix, last month ventured into potentially hostile territory 120 miles south in Tucson, home of the University of Arizona, to address 600 civic and business leaders.

His message was jaw-dropping: Put aside the rivalry between the universities and the metropolitan areas and join forces to form one giant urban powerhouse to compete globally with an economy larger than that of the United Arab Emirates.

“Competitiveness between two communities gets us nowhere,” Crow says. “We’ve been asleep at the switch too long.”

No tomatoes thrown. No booing. Instead, warm applause. Crow was lauded for his frank message calling on counties from Phoenix to Tucson to compete for new jobs — not against each other but with each other against other regions of the nation and the world.

The long-struggling U.S. economy has made once-competing municipalities more receptive to that message. They’re reaching across county lines and even state borders and aligning themselves as one economic bloc.

It’s the birth of a new geography: “megapolitans,” regions that encompass cities and counties linked through man-made and natural connections such as shared transportation networks, labor markets or water supplies.

Because population and economic growth is not spread evenly across the country (the 309 million Americans occupy only a quarter of all private land), planners and demographers for several years have advocated planning on a scale larger than cities, metropolitan areas or states.

A new book details this urban geography. It predicts that by 2040, there will be 10 distinct clusters composed of 23 megapolitan areas in the contiguous 48 states. The Phoenix-Tucson area, for example, is in the Sun Corridor megapolitan area, part of the Southwest megapolitan cluster that includes Las Vegas and Southern California.

“The threat of global competition has made these regions seek each other out for competitive advantage,” says Robert Lang, co-author of Megapolitan America. “There are a lot of cities that don’t like each other. Tucson and Phoenix have been at each other’s throats, but when it comes to industries like solar or optics … from a global perspective, this is the same region.”

He and co-author Arthur C. Nelson say the sooner the nation recognizes that it is made up of a series of densely populated economic engines, the better off it will be because public policy and economic development will target where people live, not where they don’t.

“These regions are now merging, and that’s the geography by which America accesses the global economy,” says Lang, urban sociologist at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Crow says economic competition is less about the USA vs. China than megapolitan areas here competing with Shanghai or Hong Kong.

The authors define megapolitans as having at least one metropolitan area of 2 million people by 2040 that’s connected — via commuting patterns — to at least one other metro area of more than 250,000 people. A megapolitan cluster has several megapolitan areas that are connected by commuting, trucking or commuter airline and share terrain, climate, culture, economic base and political culture.

“The larger the population base of an area, the more jobs are created just because of sheer scale,” says Nelson, planning professor at the University of Utah.

These mega-connections are emerging:

•Switch, which runs data centers and provides related services, is based in Las Vegas. Its clients are in Nevada, Arizona and California.

“We have key executives from our management team based in Phoenix, Southern and Northern California as well as Las Vegas,” says Jason Mendenhall, executive vice president.

Many Switch employees work remotely and commute to Las Vegas offices once or twice a week. “They go to the airport, jump on a plane and get to our office,” Mendenhall says. “We embraced the megapolitan concept because technology makes that possible.”

•When Volkswagen decided to open a plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. — a $1 billion investment creating 2,000 jobs — several local leaders went to Greenville, S.C., where a BMW plant opened in the early 1990s, to see how they could prepare for growth.

“Folks in Greenville said, ‘We did not anticipate how the growth would impact us,’ and also they didn’t realize how important it was to think regionally,” says J.Ed Marston, vice president of marketing and communications at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce.

Citizens and governments in 16 counties in three states (Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia) affected by the new plant are working together to prepare the region for everything from transportation to housing needs.

“We all rely on the same labor pool, the same interstate system, the same supply of drinking water,” Marston says. “In many ways, our fates are intertwined.”

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