Hooray for the Borderplex Alliance

In this piece in the El Paso Inc., titled Carruthers: Why the region needs to work together former New Mexico governor and current NMSU president Garrey Carruthers makes a case for the Borderplex Alliance’s 2015-2020 Regional Strategic Plan Recommendations report.

We have known for a long time that the best hope for realizing the assets of any one of our cities is to draw a spotlight to our region as a whole. The time to start working together to turn ideology into reality is now.

Promoting regional collaboration is partially about building on our separate strengthes to develop a regional identity that is greater than the sum of its parts. Together we have a truly impressive range of manufacturing, military, R&D, tourism and transportation infrastructure.

Regional identity is also about coordinating to make sure that we are working together and not competing against each other in our economic development efforts. It also requires us to focus on our common interests to become a powerful advocate for the region.

Imagine the strength of the of our message if Ciudad Juarez, El Paso and southern New Mexico would speak with one voice on border policy issues, or if al local planning departments met regularly at a regional council.

I’ve always assumed that promoting economic development was a marketing problem. Wikipedia defines marketing as

Marketing is communicating the value of a product, service or brand to customers, for the purpose of promoting or selling that product, service, or brand. The main purpose is to increase sales of the product and profits of the company. Marketing acts [as] a support system to the sales team by propagating the message and information to the target audience.

Isn’t that what we’re doing when we attempt to draw industry to the region?

For sure, there are other paths to economic development. Promoting education, for instance. Incentivizing local business retention and expansion. But the Alliance’s plan looks an awful lot like a marketing plan. The problem is that it doesn’t look like a good marketing plan.

Modern marketing theory holds that to cut through the clutter of the marketplace, a product should focus on one attribute and hammer that idea home until the good or service being promoted is linked with the attribute in the consumer’s mind. It requires laser focus.

Regional promotion is a bludgeon, when modern marketing demands an ice pick.

Is a company going to move to a region, or a city?

Unless they’re a franchiser looking for a string of retail outlets, industry is more interested in a particular, specific, location, than a generally amorphous region. In & Out Burger might move to the Borderplex, but Toyota’s going to move to one city.

Dr. Carruthers pretends that the question of regional versus local economic development has already been decided. “We have known for a long time that the best hope for realizing the assets of any one of our cities is to draw a spotlight to our region as a whole,” he writes. In fact, that’s been the policy of the various people responsible for economic development “for a long time.” So then where’s the development? Why have our local economies been stagnating?

I’m sure that the Borderplex Alliance has access to the best minds in marketing, if they want access. The Alliance is financed by our local kajillionaires, who must keep professional marketers on staff, or at least speed dial. What I’m telling you here about marketing isn’t some arcane secret accessible only to the high priests of advertising. So what’s their game? Why has El Paso ceded local control of our economic development efforts in order to promote the region?

Stay tuned. I’ll hazard some answers to that question soon.

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