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 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT