The National Association of Counties’ Large Urban County Caucus – LUCC, as it is known – represents the largest counties in the country, where a significant percentage of Americans live. LUCC held its 2013 County Innovation Symposium in New York City last week from Wednesday through Friday.
(I was invited in my new role as the first Senior NACo Fellow.)
Although Thursday’s schedule included sessions on health care, criminal justice and resilience, the meeting on the other two days focused on economic development. Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and co-author of the recent book, “The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy” kicked off Friday morning.
He and other panelists noted the evolving role of counties and NACo itself, as the old suburban vs. urban disputes are overtaken by important socio-economic trends.
First, there is an increased understanding and recognition among public officials now of the metropolitan, really regional, nature of economies. The old game of providing incentives to companies to move within a metropolitan area, resulting in no new jobs in the region, is wearing thin.
Second, the global nature of the economy implies that regions are now competing with each other, not localities. And only a regional scale can generate the funds necessary to compete on a global basis.
Third, the demographic differences that used to separate suburban and urban areas are diminishing. The two are beginning to look a lot alike. Brookings’ research indicates that today there are more poor people in suburbs than in cities.
Along with this discussion of economic strategy, there was a strong interest in encouraging innovation and in learning how to get good innovations to diffuse quickly. This interest is one reason why NACo has appointed Dr. Bert Jarreau as its first Chief Innovation Officer.
With that in mind, the group went to visit Google’s New York labs. (It is interesting to see Google’s entry into the sub-national arena over the last year or so, as more traditional IT companies have withdrawn somewhat from this market.)
A predictable big hit was the demonstration of Google Glass and a discussion of Glass apps, called GlassWare, that might be of value in the public sector.
There were also presentations of two applications that were extensions of Google’s search and other tools. One was for integrated predictive policing, with heavy use of video cams (both public and private) and unstructured, narrative data. Similarly, Macomb County, MI (population 900,000) showed how it uses a search tool, called SuperIndex, for text and images of land records. The latter, by the way, is financially self-supporting.
By the end of the meeting, NACo LUCC decided they will make this innovation symposium an annual event. It is often these kinds of unexpected, under-the-radar, developments that surprise people later. County governments has not had a reputation for innovation, but keep your eyes open for what develops with this group.
©2013 Norman Jacknis