He is visiting Poland, Portland, USA; Culiacan, Mexico; Coimbatore, India; Haiphong; Vietnam and Yokkaichi, Japan.This blog is written from Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico.
This is a frenetic, dusty, hot, sticky industrial city. Home to over 700,000 people surrounded by a hinterland that provides Mexico and the southern US with its tomatoes, peppers and sweetcorn. Our research senses are buffeted, as Gdansk and Portland were a lot more legible in economic, political and social terms.
On first impressions, this is a working city which seems resilient, in terms of being a centre for the distribution of these primary agricultural products. However, our meetings and discussion with the city and the state authorities based in the city reveals that this is a place which is driven by and for business and is in the midst of ongoing plans to change its industrial focus, diversify and increase the added value to its primary base. This is working, as proven by its 9% growth figures in the last year.
There is a hedonistic effervescence and entrepreneurial spirit within the economy which is a product of the way the local state works in close tandem with the business sectors. This is not just a public private partnership as we would know it - no - this is a local state which actively allows business to shape, construct and direct policy and budget priorities.
It is dominated by a belief in business growth and the local state getting out of the way of what business does best - spotting markets, satisfying demand and bending economic activity accordingly.
We meet with some of the largest companies in Sinaloa (and Mexico) and they confirm how the state is for business. They also tell us of their involvement in a range of ‘councils’ or chambers (as we would know them) for different sectors of the economy, who regularly meet with the Local Authority and it is clear that their views are listened to and acted upon.
The wider state (Sinaloa) Regional Development Agency - CODESIN, similarly impresses us. It seeks the best advice from around the world, and has contributed to the growth of Sinaloa in recent times. It has also managed to create and operate to 4 sub regions who have unique economic purposes.
Thus, unlike the UK regions, there is little competition between these localities, with state investment and trade decisions subsequently being conducted strategically in relation to these local economic specialisms. Furthermore, the state (Sinaloa) Government has economic development officials who are both answerable to the state government and independent non governmental organisations driven by business. This dual accountable role of public officials seems odd but, without a doubt, it does mean that this place has a response capability, in business terms, which is dynamic and speedy in terms of supporting business.
Of course trickle down is the main philosophy as regards social concerns and the public services are poor. However, we can learn something for the UK, via this unfettered policy relationship with entrepreneurship and allowing business to exploit markets. Furthermore, getting places to hone in on what their unique economic identity is of crucial importance.
Imagine a set of policy, in some parts of the UK (especially economically failing places), which throws opens its doors to business, relaxes planning and gives local government a range of fiscal and legislative powers aimed at supporting business, manufacturing and entrepreneurialism.
This is not just a notion relating to enterprise zones or some sweeteners and incentives, but institutional change to local government which means it is run by and for business. Unpalatable I am sure and it is something which runs against my own principles - or is it dogma?
However, changing economic times, need a sea change in economic policy, and in the UK we do need a new set of principles and approaches. The impressive growth figures and the dynamism witnessed here, has its faults and has social consequences, however, nonetheless, I can see how some similar type policies in the UK, (introduced perhaps for a short period of time) could turbo charge the economy in some areas, which are in much need of a boost.
Neil McInroy is Chief Executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies