Mega-regionalism: A Southeastern economic engine?

Now comes mega-regionalism, an attempt to create a seamless economic corridor between Raleigh and Birmingham with Atlanta playing a pivotal role. The goal is to lure businesses, federal transportation dollars and environmentally sustainable growth across the Southeast for the benefit of the entire region.

Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is a key player in the newly formed Piedmont Alliance for Quality Growth. Organized last November, the Alliance will meet in Macon in mid-March to take the next step toward uber-regionalism.

Of pre-eminent importance for the 40-odd government, business and academic officials who  comprise the Alliance: resolve water-sharing disputes between all members (Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and the Carolinas); ensure enough electricity for a rapidly growing region; and pursue inter-city rail networks.

“This whole concept of mega-regions is a phenomenon that’s occurring primarily from economic forces. We didn’t plan it; it’s already here,” Harry West, a former executive director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said Friday. “We’re trying to make sure the growth we attract is of a quality and sustainable nature.”

The Boston-New York-Washington corridor is considered a mega-region. So too is coastal China. Better to join forces, West and others say, than to watch other parts of the world reap globalization’s benefits.

Example: foreign car-makers dot the Interstate 85 corridor from BMW in Spartanburg, S.C., past Kia in West Point, Ga. to Hyundai in Montgomery, Ala. Atlanta, as the hub and preferred airport connection, benefits with headquarters, distributors and other business.

Cities and states, though, fight fiercely for every business or corporate relocation. Why would they cooperate in a mega-region?

“Collectively, we have a better chance of competing with other mega-regions and other parts of the globe,” said West, a professor at Georgia Tech, which is providing much of the intellectual heft for the Alliance. “Communication, transportation, manufacturing – collectively we bring different pieces of the pie together. The idea is to make the pie bigger.”

Franklin, who’s teaching at Spelman College and couldn’t be reached Friday, announced at the last Alliance meeting that she’d raise $10,000 for the March 10-11 conference in Macon. West said she’s doing just that. Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory is also an Alliance member.

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