December 7 Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum arranged a seminar with Geoffrey Hewings professor at University of Illinois. Professor Hewings research focuses on what makes a city competitive and in what way the city region and growth is connected with the development of demographics as well as consumption and migration patterns.
The seminar’s moderator, Johanna Palmberg, initially welcomed the audience and above all professor Hewings to the seminar. To begin with she informed the audience of Swedish Entrepreneurship Forum’s activities before inviting him up to speak.
Initially Hewings explained the basic framework of his research where he focuses on what makes a city competitive, how this can be analysed and what policy conclusions can be drawn from the research. He could demonstrate that the metropolitan areas of cities are increasingly reliant on each other.
– More than half of all jobs and incomes generated in a region are dependent on activities outside of their own region.
Focus in the research literature has been activities of a particular city, Hewings continued. In the other end of the spectrum a lot of attention has been placed on unemployment at the national level while the variation between regions has been overlooked.
– Misery breeds hate. Having pockets of high unemployment is not something we can ignore any longer, he said.
The result of Hewings’ research is several advanced models focusing on the flow of goods, people and consumption in Chicago. The models show a decreasing flow of goods, people and consumption within the region while an increased flow can be shown between regions. This can partially be explained by the declining cost of transportation which in turn let regions specialize more.
– An ageing population, migration and other demographic issues is a challenge for growth and development.
Hewings’ models could bring further clarity on those matters. Concerning policy implications, a bigger emphasis is needed on developing sophisticated analytical tools to be able to determine what measures are to be taken, Hewings said. He compared this to a doctor prescribing medication before establishing the diagnosis. For example, politicians need to know where the export goes, to whom and why before changing policy in that area, he concluded.
Özge Önur PhD, IFN and JIBS was first of the two researchers to comment on Hewings lecture and research. She started out with a reflection on the definition of competitiveness. What does it mean? It is hard to measure and more variables have to be taken into account.
– The importance of the service industry is often forgotten when discussing local growth policies even though this is the sector where young people and immigrants find their first job. Even in research the service industry frowned upon.
To achieve a clear picture of the regional economy it is crucial to collect data on all industries and sectors. Sweden is a small country depending on export, a reason why measuring impact of regional policies might be difficult.
Sweden has a demographic challenge with a decreasing population in 200 of 290 municipalities. Highly educated people move to the cities while the elderly and the low skilled stays. It is to these municipalities most of the refugees arrive. This will prove be a challenge in the future.
Secondly Martin Andersson, professor Lunds University CIRCLE and BTH, continued by commenting on the contradictions between local and regional policy. For instance firms are reluctant to begin hiring after a recession, even as the economic situation improves. This can result in slow job growth during a recovery.
Also, are different cities unique in different ways and can we measure this? If we could it would be possible to tell why some knowledge based and tech companies grow more in some cities than in others.
Karin Ernlund and Khashayar Farmanbar
Two political commentators from municipalities in the Stockholm region were next to give their comments, Karin Ernlund, City of Stockholm (Centre Party) and Khashayar Farmanbar, Municipality of Nacka (Social Democratic Party).
Karin Ernlund, was the first of two political commentators. She started out by expressing that politicians in cities like Stockholm often discuss the challenges of the city when they really should discuss the challenges of the region. Stockholm is only one municipality in a region with 26 municipalities. There is a lack of leadership and cooperation in the region.
Khashayar Farmanbar, confirmed what Karin Ernlund said about cooperation and was also stressing the importance to look upon the entire region as one unit. He continued by making a comparison between Stockholm and Paris. Both are characterized by water and bridges, however Stockholm have three large bridges connecting the region, Paris has 37.
One of the luxury-problems connected to living in a dynamic area is the risk of laziness. It is easy to freeload on what a big municipality like Stockholm does when it comes to culture and business.
– When we discuss business and entrepreneurship we embrace failure. We have to do the same when we discuss urban and regional development. We have to try new things.
Professor Hewings concluded the discussion by reconnecting to comparative analyses. To learn more about the development of regions and how to create good policy we have to compare various things and use different methods.