Metro Areas Drive
Robust U.S. Economy
In a landmark economic report, the nation’s mayors and county officials released in Chicago last week the 1999 gross metropolitan product (GMP) numbers for the 319 U.S. metropolitan areas. The economic numbers contained in the report are staggering, supporting recent claims by its sponsors, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties, that metro areas as opposed to states are the principal engines of the American economy.
According to the report, prepared by Standard & Poors DRI, U.S. metro areas generated 85 percent of the nation’s entire economic output in 1999. It also finds that more than 88 percent of the nation’s labor income and 84 percent of employment occurred within U.S. metro areas.
In a press conference held at the West Side Technical Institute, which is part of Chicago’s City College network, Mayor Richard M. Daley told reporters that the Chicago area ranked as the third largest metro economy in the U.S., behind only New York and Los Angeles. He also said that if Chicago were compared to the economies of other nations, it would rank as the 19 largest economy in the world.
The report shows that U.S. metro areas, if ranked with nations, would comprise 48 of the world’s top 100 economies, and 85 of the top 150 world economies. The Chicago metro, it was noted, had a larger economy than Taiwan, Sweden, or Russia. New Orleans ranked above Nigeria, Ukraine, or Kuwait.
Joining Daley in the release were New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial, Chairman of the Conference of Mayors Advisory Board, and C. Vernon Gray, President of the National Association of Counties and Council Member of Howard County, MD. Following the press conference, Morial and Gray presented the report, U.S. Metro Economies: The Engines of America’s Growth, to Chicago’s business leaders at a major luncheon sponsored by the City of Club of Chicago. Cook County President John Stroger introduced Morial and Gray at the event and called the report "new ground" in city-county cooperation.
Morial told Chicago’s business leaders that the Conference and NACo were out to change the "landscape" of how the general public, federal and state officials and business leaders view the national economy. "Until the Conference and NACo began publishing gross metropolitan numbers three years ago, everyone thought states were the major units of our economy," said Morial, "but with all due respect to governors, it is metro economies that are really driving our incredible economic expansion." Morial cited the statistic that the economic output of the top ten U.S. metro areas exceeded the combined output of 31 states. In most instances, metro areas account for the majority of an individual state’s total economic production.
Morial and NACo President Gray told City Club members that mayors and county officials plan to present the new economic numbers to the Presidential candidates, economists and business leaders nationally. When asked by reporters about the policy implications of the report, Morial said that the report underscores the need for a national commitment to create a modern 21st century infrastructure system to support the continued economic productivity of U.S. metro areas. Council member Gray said, "If we are to maintain our national economic growth, we must invest in the infrastructure of our metro areas and take other actions to fuel these economic engines."
But all three leaders were critical of the federal government which tends to funnel federal dollars to communities through state bureaucracies that are far removed from local concerns and often spend 10 to 15 percent of funds on administration. Daley asked, "why create another level of state bureaucracy?" Mayor Morial said that mayors and county officials could administer funds far more efficiently, leaving more funds available for their intended purpose, serving the needs of people within communities.
The local leaders also called on the Presidential candidates to feature cities/metro areas more prominently in the election season and during the transition and in the next administration. The Chicago event was another stop in the national campaign promoting Conference President and Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb’s 10-point New Agenda for America. "The new data we are releasing makes clear that metropolitan economies are the engines of America’s growth and driving the current economic boom. Metro regions are growing, producing more, and creating unprecedented levels of employment," Webb said.
In addition to the City Club luncheon and the morning press conference, the days events included meetings with the editorial boards of the Chicago Sun-Times, The Chicago Tribune, and a breakfast meeting with Scott Gordon, Chairman of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), followed by a tour of the CME.
In a related announcement, Mayor Daley launched a new program with a Chicago building and trades union to mentor more young people in apprenticeships that would eventually lead to full union membership. Citing a shortage of workers in the Chicago area for building and trade jobs, the mayor said that young people with only eighth-grade reading and math skills could qualify for the program. The program has the support of local unions and will be paid for out of fines levied when firms fail to comply with city hiring requirements for Chicago residents.
The economic report said that over 4.2 million unemployed workers reside in metro areas and, if appropriately trained, would be a much needed source of labor supply. In many metro areas, the shortage of labor is putting a rein on economic growth in certain sectors of the economy.
The report, along with other data, can be accessed at www.usmayors.org.