In a lengthy report released earlier this week, the Brookings Institution called for a 10-year, $100 billion federal program to transform 10 midsized heartland cities into “autonomous advanced growth centers” of innovation and technology.
Brookings identified 35 cities as candidates to become new innovation hubs, including Columbus, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Detroit, Albuquerque, Cleveland, St. Louis, Omaha and Milwaukee.
Colorado Springs won’t be one of them. That’s because Brookings seeks cities that are at least 100 miles away from any comparable metro area, let alone one that’s 70 miles from an established AAGC. And just to heighten the contrast between Denver and Colorado Springs, the report noted that Denver gained 8,000 innovation sector jobs between 2005-2017 (good for eighth best nationally) while Colorado Springs lost 5,400 (eighth worst nationally).
“The innovation sector, comprised of 13 of the nation’s highest-tech, highest-R&D advanced industries contributes inordinately to regional and U.S. prosperity,” according to the report. “Its diffusion into new places would greatly benefit the nation’s well-being. However, far from diffusing, the sector has been concentrating in a short list of superstar metropolitan areas. Most notably, just five top innovation metro areas — Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and San Diego — accounted for more than 90% of the nation’s innovation-sector growth during the years 2005 to 2017.”
Brookings suggests that the government, “assemble a major package of federal innovation inputs and supports for innovation-sector scale-up in metropolitan areas distant from existing tech hubs. Central to this package will be a direct R&D funding surge worth up to $700 million a year in each metro area for 10 years. Beyond that will be significant inputs such as workforce development funding, tax and regulatory benefits, business financing, economic inclusion, and federal land and infrastructure supports. The increasing preference of innovative people and companies for mixed-use downtowns, waterfront areas, and urban ‘innovation districts’ means that federal contributions to urban placemaking also should be prominent.”
Unlike the pricey social programs embraced by certain progressive Dems (Bernie, Liz — I’m talkin’ to you!), the Brookings plan is likely to gain bipartisan support. It won’t solve all of the Heartland’s problems, but it’ll certainly create jobs, stem the flow of smart young folks from the Midwest, revitalize and reactivate the fortunate recipients and reduce regional inequity.
But it won’t do a thing for us, stuck in Denver’s shadow. The Brookings plan would create a bunch of suddenly well-funded regional rivals, competing with us to attract skilled young professionals, venture funding and innovative start-ups. This is a warning shot fired across our bow — we may need to reassess and reevaluate the economic foundations of our community.
First takeaway: We need to strengthen our transportation links with the Denver metro area. The new lanes on I-25 will help, but frequent and fast passenger rail could make a permanent difference. It’ll be expensive, but I’m not sure that there’s any other long-term fix. Like it or not, we’re on a short leash, like St. Paul to Minneapolis or Fort Worth to Dallas.
Second takeaway: How will the Feds pay for Midwest rebirth and expanded social programs? If a new Democratic administration opts to go ahead with both, soaking the rich won’t raise enough dough. They’ll have to either raise taxes or make budget cuts — so why not cut military funding? Any cuts might have a disproportionate effect upon the Pikes Peak region. Polls seem to show that most Americans want to withdraw from our “endless wars” and reduce our overseas commitment. As George Washington said in his Farewell Address of 1796: “Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?”
At well over $700 billion, the Defense budget is an easy target. It may be politically difficult to reduce spending on expensive weapons systems such as the F-35 fighter, but what about the soon-to-be created Space Force? President Trump loves it, the military seems doubtful and Dems see it as just another unneeded bureaucracy. And what about the military contractors that are so important to our local economy? For that matter, what about personnel levels at Fort Carson, Schriever, Peterson and the Air Force Academy?
Our world may be changing in unexpected ways, so we’d better figure out what to do about it. But don’t ask me. I’m just an innocent (not innovative!) bystander…