[This background discussion paper is written ahead of the Intelligent Community Forum’s 2015 Global Summit in Toronto. The Rural Master Class session is focused specifically on cross-border trade and explores how smaller cities and rural regions develop international connections to power their growth.]
Conventional wisdom says that the pursuit of global growth is surely what has led to the success of major cities. Few doubt that many enterprises are drawn to locate in great international trading hubs and, for sure, capitals like London, New York, and major regional hubs around the world get most of the attention from the media, lobbyists and politicians.
Managing Metro growth and its consequences (migration, housing, health, transport, etc.) has given rise to the re-emergence of the City State, with all that implies for local empowerment and devolutionary pressures in countries hoping to remain united.
The notion of growth in international trade from enterprises rooted in our countryside and less-regarded towns may, at first glance, seem unlikely. Scratch the stats however and beneath the glossy megacity headlines you can sniff the fragrance of a less-urban, more rural, renaissance.
Digital transformation is enabling business to thrive in places where employees like to live – in places where they can afford to live – in places where they can appreciate the value of community – in places where they feel more at home.
Those enthusiasms for being somewhere beyond the Metro’s rainbow are not just found in extremely remote, hard to reach, rural locations. Much the same homely attraction applies to smaller cities, market towns, hamlets and village communities. The reality is that digital infrastructures are now making a greater difference in places that might previously have been considered disadvantaged relative to those hungry Metros that suck in so much talent.
These less-regarded places are familiar with making do without much, if any, external intervention (or interference) from their national or regional governments. ‘Just Do It’ the locals will say, or more likely ‘JFDI’. This inbred capacity for action plus our newfound ability to network ideas and contacts without the hassle of travel points towards a greater levelling up of opportunity.
Dig deeper still into life beyond Metros and you’ll find a diverse and complex fabric of connections and capabilities – with very different channels and enablers for international trade.
The reality is that, because it’s diffuse and difficult to count, economists, policy developers and headline writers everywhere (except perhaps in local ‘provincial’ communities) have largely chosen to disregard the massive economic and societal contributions made outside of those Metros – the places whose sustainability we are now all supposed to be worrying about.
These good non-Metro citizens have built international trading networks without needing nightclubs and not being too offended by being dismissively described as ‘cottage industries’.
The prevailing economic ignorance of non-metro global trading stems directly from a lack of cohesive advocacy and the complexities of ecosystems that are not well suited to centralised policy interventions. Moreover the impacts of this general ignorance are reflected in sub-optimal priorities for digital infrastructure investment.
If the pursuit of global trading success is regarded as a priority in the national interest, then it might be expected to be incumbent on policy leaders and market regulators to understand and further encourage the evolution of these complex ecosystems.
But however well economic growth priorities are recognised at a national level, the limited effectiveness of top-down policy development in economies that are over-centralised reveals the need for empowerment and application of local leaderships.
Download the full paper (PDF 8.6 MB) Trade Development outwith the Metros