Washington Outlook

Coles Touts Metro Economic Output Data at Wilson Center Forum

by Kevin McCarty
October 9, 2000


Conference President Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles urged policy-makers to consider more fully the implications of the Gross Metropolitan Product or GMP figures that demonstrate the role of city/county metropolitan economies in fueling U.S. economic growth.

In a September 20 presentation that helped open a three-day forum on Metropolitan Economic Strategy sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center, Coles discussed how metropolitan strategies are crucial to solving challenges before communities. "Whether we are talking about smart growth or transportation, affordable housing or environmental protection, or even public safety, we eventually discover these partnerships are the ingredients of lasting solutions," he said. Coles joined with former Indiana Congressman and Wilson Center Director Lee Hamilton, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and Maryland Governor Parris Glendening, the current Chair of the National Governors" Association at the session where academic, governmental and metropolitan experts gathered to share perspectives on metropolitan economies.

In working on these issues, Coles said, "Let's not kid ourselves, the federal and state governments have not been willing partners. And, they are slow to recognize what is happening at the local level." To prompt more attention to the needs of metropolitan areas, Coles talked about how "the Conference of Mayors joined with the National Association of Counties, to change our thinking about local areas. We wanted to change the way all of us — federal, state and local official — viewed our metropolitan areas."

He discussed how "we looked for ways to talk about our areas as economic units" and think "like the private sector approaches local markets." Coles said, "We developed an economic measurement — Gross Metropolitan Product or GMP — to feature and describe the role of metro areas in driving U.S. economic growth."

Metro Engines Drive America

This led to the Conference and NACo partnership with Standard & Poors" DRI, he noted, to develop a series of landmark studies, called "U.S. Metro Economies: The Engines of America"s Growth" Coles explained the implications of this data. "For the first time ever, we have Gross Metropolitan Product (GMP) figures for the nation's metro areas, showing the output of the nation's 319 metropolitan areas. Up to this point in our history, we only had gross domestic product (GDP) and, gross state product (GSP). Citing data from recent DRI studies, he gave numerous examples of GMP figures for various metro areas and how these areas drive the U.S. economy. "Since 1992, these 319 metros areas contributed 86 percent of the growth in the U.S. economy, producing a staggering $2.4 trillion in new output."

Metro Economies Outpace Nations, States

Using comparisons to nations, Coles said, "If U.S. metro areas were nations, 47 of the world's largest economies would be U.S. metro areas." He pointed out that the New York metro area ranks above Argentina; the Chicago metro area above Taiwan and Switzerland and the Philadelphia area out produces Poland or Norway.

"U.S. metro areas were not just the engines of the U.S. economy, we found that our metro areas were leading the world," Coles said. Relating this data to the output of states, Coles said, "the combined GMP of our nation's top ten U.S. metro economies, exceeds the combined total gross state product of 31 states."

Coles talked about how mayors are using GMP data as "a tool for organizing metro areas within the states to have a stronger influence over state legislatures and their governors." He also noted how he is using this data to urge Congressional leaders to adopt a National Rail Policy for the 21st Century, as was done in urging action on TEA-21 and AIR-21.

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