Monday, November 09, 2009

Globalization and the South Carolina Piedmont

I'm a planning and zoning commissioner for the City of Longmont. I like to think I bring a global perspective to local economic development issues. I try to imagine how the commission's deliberations will interface with the forces of globalization. Defining a parochial geography of globalization is harder than I imagined. Luckily, I don't have to all the heavy lifting in isolation:

The book deals largely with Spartanburg as a center of foreign investment, examining why Spartanburg had such a large growth in investment, particularly from European countries, during the period mentioned in the title. What interested me most though, was that in the process of describing how this investment came to Spartanburg, Maunula goes a long way in explaining why those businesses were attracted here in the first place, albeit with a cool sense of academic detachment.

The biggest reason, as Maunula points out in numerous places throughout the book is that “Spartanburg’s workers were relatively skilled, not prone to unionization, and inexpensive.”

That fact, coupled with an aggressive sales campaign and a business community organized around the idea of paternalistic control over “their” workers as well as the business environment at large, seems to be what drove the supposed Spartanburg economic juggernaut that so many Reganites and economic libertarians wrote about back in the 80’s.
The review goes on to explain how the Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce paved the way for globalization in the South Carolina Piedmont. I would model it as the reduction of legacy costs through authoritarian rule. Singapore in the Appalachian foothills springs to mind.

Coticchia said his greatest assets are love for the job and tolerance for long, focused workdays.

"Nobody was going to outwork me," said Coticchia, who attributes the ethic to his Pittsburgh upbringing.

He also values collaboration, in himself and his staff.

Coticchia said he learned the value of collaboration in Pittsburgh, where the city's development efforts have received a spate of good publicity in recent years.

In the 1990s, those who funded the city's economic development groups squeezed out leaders "who didn't play well together," Coticchia said.

The Pittsburgh ethos is creeping into Cleveland and we might see the squeezing out of power brokers there who refuse to get with the program. The effect is a slew of greenfield opportunities in cities dominated by brownfields. Globalization tends to punish significant political infighting. (See Richard Longworth's "Caught in the Middle".) One response is to strong-arm legacy costs such as labor unions or entrenched politicians with their little fiefdoms.

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