Walla Walla Community College
Walla Walla Community College in Washington state earns the rare distinction of being an institution of higher education that is reinventing the regional economy from the bottom up. A decade ago, the college recognized that local wine had the potential for power growth, and it created a training program tailored to the industry’s needs. As a result, the number of area wineries exploded from 16 in 2000 to 170 today, spurring further growth in the hospitality and tourism sectors. Walla Walla is now trying to re-create that success with programs in electrical and wind energy, nursing, and watershed-ecology.
New York Applied-Science Program
After the financial collapse in 2008, New York City officials went hunting for an idea that could wean the economy from its dependence on Wall Street. They decided on a global competition to build an applied-sciences graduate school, with land on Roosevelt Island and $100 million in city capital for infrastructure and construction up for grabs. Cornell University, in conjunction with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology eventually, won the bid and is now building the campus. The hope is that the institute can transform New York City into a leading high-tech center, just as Stanford graduates helped create Silicon Valley.
Milwaukee Water Technology
“Wet” industries—ones that required lots of water, such as tanning, meatpacking, and brewing—once formed the backbone of Milwaukee’s economy. Now, the city is hoping its salvation lies in the businesses that supported those old mainstays. About five years ago, local manufacturers of pumps, valves, pipes, and other related firms formed the Milwaukee Water Council and launched an annual summit, hoping to remake the city as the water-technology capital of the world. The city is turning abandoned rail yards into an industrial park for water companies and has secured millions of dollars in grants to fund water research. Last year, the University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee) opened the country’s first-ever School of Freshwater Sciences, while Marquette University christened a law program focusing on water issues.
After the severe oil booms and busts of the 1980s and 1990s, Oklahoma City wanted some semblance of balance in its next economy. So 25 years ago, city planners set out on a decades-long capital-improvement campaign to make Oklahoma City more attractive to businesses and young entrepreneurs. Three sets of revitalization projects, approved by voters and funded through a penny tax each time, transformed the downtown, built an entertainment district, developed a trolley line, and funneled millions of dollars into the renovation of public schools. Those investments in turn spurred private development. Today, Oklahoma City has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S.; it also avoided the housing bubble and has the most start-ups per capita nationwide.
See the finalists in each category: Digital Innovation | Expanding Exports | Workforce Training | Health Care | Financing Infrastructure | Disrupting Government | Regional Economic Strategies | Education | Energy