…mega-regions have replaced the nation-state as the economic drivers of the global economy. These are places like Bos-Wash (the Boston-New York-Washington corridor), Chi-Pitts (running from Chicago through Detroit and Cleveland and over to Pittsburgh), Nor-Cal (around San Francisco and the Silicon Valley), Cascadia (which stretches from Portland through Seattle and Vancouver), Europe’s Am-Burs-Twerp (from Amsterdam to Brussels and Antwerp), Lon-Leed-Chester (around London) and Asia’s greater Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai.
Clunky sounding or not, the 10 largest mega-regions account for 43 percent of the planet’s economic activity and more than half of its patented innovations and star scientists. They generate all those pioneering breakthroughs while housing only 6.5 percent of the planet’s population. And to take an even broader overhead view, the top 40 mega-regions produce 66 percent of the world’s economic activity and more than 80 percent of its patented innovations and most-cited scientists, still while being home to just 18 percent of the world’s population.
Tor-Buff-Chester is one of the world’s very biggest mega-regions, bigger than the San Francisco-Silicon Valley megaregion, Greater Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai, and more than twice the size of Cascadia in the Pacific Northwest. Its economic might is equivalent to more than half of all of Canada’s. If it were its own country, it would number among the 16 biggest in the world, with economic output bigger than that of Sweden, the Netherlands or Australia.
Being able to run a great think tank — the Martin Rotman Prosperity Institute — in this great mega-region is what moved me back to it. I know both Buffalo and Toronto pretty well. During my time in Buffalo, I endured some large snowstorms, lived in the terrific Elmwood neighborhood, ate my share of real chicken wings and beef on weck and took in as many Bills and Sabres games as I could.
At that time, Buffalonians always would remind me of how, during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, it was Buffalo with its manufacturing muscle and exciting downtown that was the more energetic, stronger city while Toronto rolled up the sidewalks at 10 p. m.
Times change, and these days Toronto has become the engine of the mega-region. Greater Toronto is growing at a fantastic clip, adding thousands of immigrants and 115,000 people a year. But it’s also clear that Buffalo’s economic hemorrhaging has stabilized. Despite shedding 17 percent of its manufacturing jobs between 2001 and 2005, the region’s manufacturing sector actually expanded its output by 3.5 percent, according to a study by UB’s Institute for Local Governance and Regional Growth. The same report shows an increase in creative-class jobs in information technology, financial and business services, which I define as ones where people use their minds to create economic value.
Not only is Toronto growing, it isn’t resting on its laurels. One can whine all day about Canada’s socialism, cleanliness, friendliness, and aggressive drivers, but does Buffalo have an agenda for prosperity? Does Rochester? Or are we on the US side of this mega-region satisified instead to harken back to the good ol’ days of Xerox and Kodak; of GM and Bethlehem Steel?
They plan for growth. We beg for stasis.
In any event, setting aside the completely different mindsets when it comes to growth and prosperity, Buffalo needs to re-focus its gaze in many ways. We need to stop wringing our hands over past mistakes and instead develop a plan to learn from them and avoid making similar ones in the future. We need to – and I admit I’m the biggest culprit of this – stop whining about Albany this and Albany that, and start looking beyond Albany – start looking beyond downstate’s comparative prosperity and figure out a roadmap to Western New York’s return to prosperity.
Look forwards, not backwards.
We need to look to Toronto, look to Rochester, look to the Southern Tier, look to Erie, and realize that the megaregion has much to offer. The border is an impediment to this, but it is not insurmountable. There are small, symbolic ways to begin the mental integration of this mega-region right now. It’s things like when Skybus was going to call the Niagara Falls International Airport “Toronto/Niagara” on its website. It’s things like the Bills playing a few games in Toronto or the Sabres playing a few games in Rochester. There is so much potential within a 100 mile radius of the city of Buffalo, as the epicenter of the mega-region Florida talks about.
We just need to start tapping it, and develop a plan to integrate the region.