Skip to main content

States, metro areas outdo Washington

By Bruce Katz and Judith Rodin, Special to CNN
updated 9:27 AM EST, Wed January 23, 2013
The state of Florida is putting priority on investing in the Port of Miami to expand trade and spark the regional economy.
The state of Florida is putting priority on investing in the Port of Miami to expand trade and spark the regional economy.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Washington has been mired in dysfunction for years, authors say
  • They say the good news is local governments are stepping up
  • States and localities are finding innovative solutions to problems, they say
  • Authors: Small government units tackling transit, education, economy

Editor's note: Dr. Judith Rodin is the president of the Rockefeller Foundation and former president of the University of Pennsylvania. Bruce J. Katz is a vice president at the Brookings Institution and founding director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. Brookings advised on the creation and implementation of the Greater Portland Export Plan. The Rockefeller Foundation contributed to the development of the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange.

(CNN) -- With its past-midnight resolution (at least temporarily) of the fiscal cliff, Washington gave us a clearer picture of what the next two to four years of federal action might look like: Lengthy periods of legislative gridlock, persistent partisan finger-pointing and short bursts of incremental activity that ultimately fail to resolve the major national challenges at hand.

And those challenges are substantial. Our country is still struggling to fully recover from the Great Recession. More than 12 million Americans are still out of work, and 107 million Americans are considered poor or near poor (up from 81 million a decade ago). The United States ranks 16th in the world in infrastructure quality, with one in four bridges in America considered structurally deficient. And our education system is no longer keeping our kids competitive, leaving 15-year-old American students ranked 31st in math and 23rd in science.

But as has happened time and again throughout American history, our greatest innovations come at times of greatest challenge. True to form, inaction from the federal government has sparked the innovation of states, cities and metropolitan areas that are teeming with smart, pragmatic and bipartisan solutions to national economic challenges.

Judith Rodin
Judith Rodin
Bruce Katz
Bruce Katz

For the second year in a row, we have identified our Top 10 State and Metropolitan Innovations to Watch -- actions undertaken by states and metropolitan areas in 2012 that seem ripe for meaningful impact in 2013 and beyond, as well as for replication by other communities.

Many of these innovations represent grand economy and talent-shaping gestures.

In San Antonio, for example, a ballot initiative to support pre-kindergarten education was passed in November, championed by Mayor Julian Castro and the local business and civic leadership. The referendum provides $31 million a year in new sales tax revenue to expand pre-k programs, with the goal of providing every eligible student in the city a strong start on the path to secondary and post-secondary success.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Other large-scale initiatives include an Infrastructure Trust in Chicago to leverage private investment for the energy retrofit of public buildings, and the accelerated build-out of a state of the art transit system in Los Angeles -- a metropolis long known for its traffic congestion rather than transport alternatives.

Most dangerous U.S. cities

Some innovations embody smaller, structural interventions.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's new Office of Freight Logistics and Passenger Operations will bring a multimodal approach to solving transportation and logistics challenges that have traditionally been addressed separately and inefficiently. Building on the state's decision to prioritize investments in the Port of Miami -- which alone carries 5% of U.S. trade with Latin America by value -- the office will be instrumental in ensuring the competitiveness of the state's large logistics sector by preparing for changing dynamics in global trade, such as the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Coming together to rebuild
Was Hurricane Sandy a wake-up call?
Can infrastructure projects fix jobs?

Other structural initiatives include an ambitious strategy in Portland, Oregon, to help small business and distinctive clusters of firms access global markets, and a new National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio, to capitalize on opportunities brought by 3D printing.

All of these innovations share common themes.

They embrace a vision of economic growth that is productive, sustainable, inclusive and globally oriented. They are affirmative in spirit, forward-leaning in action and imaginative in design, reflecting the quintessential optimism that characterizes America. And, perhaps most importantly, they are shaped and advanced by networks of leaders who work across jurisdictional, ideological and, yes, political lines to get stuff done.

But most of all, these innovations in policy and practices show that American-problem solving does not rely exclusively on the work of the federal government.

If we can accomplish such extraordinary things at the state and local level, just imagine what we can accomplish as a nation if Washington gets it act together and even partially embodies this same innovative spirit. Hopefully, it won't take four years.

* * *

Top 10 state and metro innovations to watch

Exports

Metro -- Portland, Oregon: Metropolitan Export Plan. An ambitious strategy to help business and distinctive clusters of firms access global markets.

State -- Florida: Office of Freight Logistics and Passenger Operations. A new department to coordinate and prioritize freight and port strategies and investments.

Low Carbon

Metro -- Chicago: "Retrofit Chicago." Leveraging private investment in a new Infrastructure Trust for the energy retrofit of public buildings.

State -- California: Cap-and-Trade. The launch of a carbon trading system to lower carbon emissions and further demarcate the state as the center of the American clean economy.

Innovation

Metro -- Youngstown, Ohio: National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute. A new regional manufacturing initiative to exploit the full opportunities brought by 3D printing.

State -- Massachusetts: Top-USA Massachusetts. A research exchange between Boston-area and Brazilian research institutions.

Opportunity

Metro -- San Antonio: Pre-k Expansion. A commitment to expand pre-k education, to give every student a strong start on the path to secondary and post-secondary success.

State -- Kansas: Career and Technical Education Initiative. State incentives for enrollment in and completion of local technical education and community college classes.

Governance

Metro -- Los Angeles: America Fast Forward. Metro-federal partnership in accelerated build-out of transit expansion.

State -- California, Washington, Oregon: West Coast Infrastructure Exchange. Three-state initiative to coordinate cross-state infrastructure investments.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the authors.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT