Web Chat: States and the Economic Recovery

The nation’s governors are gathering for their annual winter meeting in Washington, and jobs and economy will be the top items on the agenda. Frustrated with Washington’s partisan gridlock and lack of progress on the economy, many governors are now pressing forward with innovative solutions to jumpstart their economies at the state level and lay the foundation for long-term growth.

On February 22, Jennifer Bradley answered your questions on the economic health of the states during a live web chat with POLITICO.

12:30 Vivyan Tran: Welcome everyone, let’s get started!

12:30 Jennifer Bradley: State innovation is part of the genius of our federalist system. Health care reform was law in Massachusetts years before the recent passage of federal legislation. During the 1980s, governors from both parties experimented with welfare and healthcare reforms, paving the way for federal advances in the next decade. Throughout the 1950s, public university systems, established by states like California and North Carolina, set the stage for the federal technology investments of the 1960s and 1970s. And before he was president, New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt experimented with interventions that foreshadowed the New Deal.

With Washington mired in gridlock, states have no choice but to innovate. Smart governors are working with partners in metropolitan areas, which concentrate people, jobs, GDP, and innovation potential and are critical for job creation, revenue generation, and economic growth.

12:30 Comment From Tim: What are a few examples of innovation at the state level that have helped local economies get back on their feet again?

12:32 Jennifer Bradley: States like Nevada, Tennessee, and New York are organizing their economic development strategies around the needs of local and metro economies. They are focusing on aligning resources metros need, rather than sticking with the same old state agency stovepipes.

12:32 Comment From Katie: I see that you’re with Brookings’s Great Lakes Initiative. It seems as though Detroit and the whole region is experiencing a resurgence at the moment. What do you attribute this success to?

12:35 Jennifer Bradley: Manufacturing turns out to be a source of strength in the recovery (and will likely continue to be a source of economic strength, since it’s so closely tied to innovation, which is the engine of economic growth). Places that have hung on to their manufacturing, particularly in sectors in which the U.S. as a whole is strong—like autos and transportation, and chemicals—have gained as those sectors have rebounded.

12:35 Comment From Sam: How successful have states in the “rust belt” been in revitalizing their economies following the recession?

12:38 Jennifer Bradley: This is a nice follow up to the previous question. States in the Midwest/Northeast that have done well have done so by really focusing on innovation and linking that to their manufacturing sector. Ohio has done this through its Third Frontier innovation program; Michigan has done this through its 21st Century Jobs fund to some extent. Focusing on exports also has been critical, because the recovery is also export-driven—all those manufactured goods are finding eager purchasers abroad.

12:38 Comment From Tony: Which states are close to fully recovered and which are still lagging behind?

12:40 Jennifer Bradley: The states with the strongest recovery, as of the end of last year, are North Dakota, Michigan, Louisiana, Wyoming, West Virginia, Utah, Indiana, Massachusetts, Alaska, and Oregon.

You see there a mix of natural resources economies, and manufacturing and exports economies (Intel, for example, is a big exporter in the Portland, OR, metro).

12:40 Comment From Beth T: Many politicos see manufacturing as a way for states to emerge from the recession and begin to provide high-paying jobs for their citizens. Given the cheap cost of manufacturing in places like China, is this realistic?

12:43 Jennifer Bradley: My colleagues at Brookings just devoted several hours to this very question at an event this morning! Chinese labor costs are rising, and there are a lot of other factors that make U.S. manufacturing competitive. Job loss in manufacturing is not inevitable. Smart governors understand that manufacturing may not employ as many people as it used it, but it is an important driver of innovation in their states, so they are working to link up university research and manufacturing needs.

12:43 Comment From Abigail: Are there any state programs right now that could and should be scaled up to the federal level?

12:48 Jennifer Bradley: Michigan’s governor has proposed a new approach to transportation investments, driven by data—which projects are going to deliver the most bang for the buck, and how do transportation investments support goals beyond just getting from point A to point B (goals like more exports, or supporting logistics hubs)? The federal government could certainly benefit from a more strategic approach to transportation as well.

The larger point though is not necessarily that the Feds should scale-up state interventions willy-nilly, but that they should be taking the same approach, asking “Where are the market failures, and how can we deploy our resources to solve those failures? What needs to be done, and how can we bring a unique solution?”

12:48 Comment From Donna: For a while in the 90s, every state was hoping to have the “next Silicon Valley.” What types of industries/sectors are states trying to cultivate today?

12:51 Jennifer Bradley: One promising thing that my colleagues and I see is that states are no longer trying to be “the next” anything—they are trying to be the best versions of themselves and build on strengths that they have. Jed Kolko has done research indicating that 95% of new jobs come from existing firms—that’s where smart states are starting, with what they already do well. For some states that’s advanced energy, for some it’s helping auto supply companies pivot to supplying parts for wind turbines.

12:52 Comment From Fran I: I’ve heard a lot recently about regional economic development as a tool states are using to support growth. Could you explain a bit more about what these are?

12:55 Jennifer Bradley: It varies from state to state. In New York, for example, Governor Cuomo established 10 regional development councils and asked them to develop strategic plans for their regions. These plans were evaluated by a panel of experts and the top four regions got $100 million in state funding. Colorado’s Governor Hickenlooper used a different model. He told each county to create an economic development plan, constructed regional plans from those, and then used that as the state’s economic development plan. Tennessee used something called “jobs base camps” to identify key clusters to support.

12:56 Comment From Karen K: How can the federal government encourage states to experiment in these sort of ways?

12:58 Jennifer Bradley: The federal government can listen to the states when they ask for flexibility. For example, governors like Michigan’s Gov. Snyder has asked for a different, more flexible approach to spending federal workforce dollars.

Ironically, the federal government is spurring a lot of state innovation right now because it’s paralyzed and gridlocked. The states (and metro areas, too) have no choice but to innovate, whether the federal policy environment is conducive to it or not. I certainly don’t advocate continued paralysis at the federal level, but it shows that states simply have to get stuff done—they have to balance the budget, they have to respond to unemployment numbers, they have to bridge the gaps.

12:59 Vivyan Tran: Thanks for the questions everyone, see you next week!