The North Shore may be perfectly poised to take advantage of the opportunities promised by the "new economy" centered around creative enterprises for which smart workers and quality of life are top priorities.
One problem, according to Salem State College researcher Lorrie Krebs, is that the region has an "invisibility problem." Another challenge, according to several who attended a recent presentation by Krebs at SSC's Enterprise Center, is convincing those who live there that cities and towns can reduce costs and foster new growth without sacrificing their unique character.
The simple fact that such discussions are now taking place is testimony to the value of the North Shore Alliance for Economic Development, a new think tank funded with a combination of public and private monies.
The organization is currently seeking an executive director, whom it hopes to have in place by December. His or her office will be located at the college which, with an activist president in Patricia Meservey and entities like the Enterprise Center and Bertolon School of Business, is becoming an increasingly important player in promoting economic development in the region.
Rather than duplicate the efforts of organizations like the North of Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Essex National Heritage Commission or the North Shore and local chambers of commerce, Meservey said, the Alliance aims to become a catalyst for regional cooperation whether it involves government entities, institutions of higher education or businesses.
The goal, taken from the draft action plan, is a laudable one: "The creation of jobs, income and investment that generate revenue to fund facilities and services which in turn maintain and enhance the quality of life on the North Shore."
But achieving it may be more problematic.
There are very few people, if any, who work, play and sleep within the confines of a single city or town in the region. Indeed, one of the most important ingredients of the great quality of life we enjoy is the fact that ours is a very diverse area in which one can travel from seashore or horse country to busy downtown in a matter of minutes.
We share a common history that dates back to well before the 13 colonies joined to become the United States of America. But each city and town continues to guard its autonomy even if it comes at great and unecessary cost.
Yet does maintaining character really require that every community have its own police or fire department? Should it prevent them from sharing tax revenue from a development project whose impact crosses town lines?
The first challenge facing the Alliance is how to convince not only elected officials, but also the majority of city and town residents, that their communities can work together without sacrificing that which makes them different.
An immediate task should be helping to sell voters on the wisdom of building a new regional vocational school. The state is poised to provide a significant infusion of cash, but cities and towns will eventually have to pony up their share.
Success will mean good career opportunities for hundreds more North Shore residents ever year. Failure will send the message to bioscience companies and other emerging industries needing skilled workers, that this region may not be the place for them after all.