One of the nice things about leaving the Prosperity Partnership is I get to wax nostalgic and poet about my five years on the job. So, this post and the next one are going to be an entirely self-indulgent trip down memory lane…but you just might learn something too!
For this post, I want to tackle the all important question that’s probably been in the back of your mind over the past six years…maybe keeping you awake at night or sitting back at your desk and feeling that annoying itch in your brain. It’s a question that’s both shockingly simple and straightforward, yet annoyingly complex and elusive. No, it’s not “How did Eric get to be such a hilarious yet insightful blogger?”
The simple question is this: What is the Prosperity Partnership?
It’s a serious question, and the answer is complicated. Part think-tank, part advocacy organization, part program development and implementation shop, it’s a unique entity almost anywhere in the world, although increasingly regions everywhere are trying to copy the model. And most interestingly, the Prosperity Partnership doesn’t even really exist.
It’s true. Prosperity Partnership isn’t incorporated in any way, and no one pays dues or fills out an application to be a partner. Rather, it’s a brand, an umbrella name under which the Puget Sound Regional Council’s economic development staff do their public-private collaborations to develop and implement the region’s economic strategy. And while PSRC is a regional planning agency, the economic development staff’s work clearly goes way beyond any definition thereof.
Interestingly, very few people actually know about Prosperity Partnership. The name recognition on the street is probably .01%. But to our key partners – the chambers, the economic development councils and workforce councils, the trade associations, the large corporations – we’re a vital axle around which the central Puget Sound economic development universe spins. Part of our success in that regard is eschewing controversial issues; we don’t take on the major third rails and try to bash heads together until we change people’s minds, and we don’t try to muscle through unpopular ideas, policies or programs. We work on the consensus stuff that all of our business, government, nonprofit, labor and education organizations agree on and value. You can say that’s cowardly or a shame, but it turns out that you can really move the needle in terms of ensuring long-term prosperity just by doing those things. There aren’t a lot of other people working on these types of issues, but there are plenty fighting over the controversial ones.
I like to say that we at Prosperity Partnership do three things really well here at Prosperity Partnership: 1) we bring people together around a neutral table, as the honest broker than can convene business, government, nonprofit, labor and education organizations to identify areas of common interest and consensus; 2) we use data to guide the way toward understanding our region’s economy and what is in our collective interest to do to improve it (as Bob Drewel says, Prosperity Partnership is really just one big economic literacy campaign); and 3) we do what we say we’re going to do – every year, we put out our list of annual action items and we execute on it…and there are very few organizations in the world that have the track record of delivering on our promises like we do.
And by we, I mean the coalition. The PSRC economic development staff is four people, and we could never accomplish so much without the involved participation of our partners. At the end of the day, our role as staff is to help our partners identify their priorities and then support them in the implementation thereof.
The key to success for the Prosperity Partnership, in my humble opinion, is doing those three things listed above (“honest broker, data driven, get results”), plus one more vital ingredient: relationships. I think of Prosperity Partnership as a cult of personality, in that people let us convene and lead them based on their trust of our expertise, our competence, our objectivity and our insighfulness. When PSRC decided to form the Prosperity Partnership, it was a “crazy idea” that had the potential to come off like a turf grab or a tilting at windmills. But people opened up to the idea and allowed it to become the great, unique, effective entity that it has become. Essentially, we’re only as good as the sum of our parts.
In the changing federal landscape and the increasingly competitive global economy, regional economic development planning and implementation has never been more important. Worldwide competition is not focused on countries, but on large metropolitan areas that function as single economic units…as the basic building block of economic competitiveness. Companies and talented workers don’t just choose between the United States and England, or Sweden and Canada; they think of Silicon Valley versus Mumbai, or Vancouver versus Stockholm. Around the world, regions are pooling their public and private talent and resources to pursue economic goals. We must continue to do the same if we are going to ensure long-term prosperity for all of our region’s residents. We have the assets to continue to build a strong, globally oriented and sustainable economic agenda that contributes to regional prosperity while sustaining the resources and the quality of life on which our regional identity and reputation depend. The coordinating and driving functions that the Prosperity Partnership provide are essential to being able to do this successfully, and I hope that our region will continue to look to it to serve that vital role…and that all of you will continue to be an active partner in its work.