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1) Mar 27 [press release] -- Today, the U.S. Department of Commerce is announcing the Regional Economic Research Initiative (Regional Initiative), a new data initiative to improve our nation’s understanding of local regional economies and their ability to compete.

The importance of place has often been overlooked in favor of other ways of studying and growing the economy, which has contributed to the concentration of economic opportunity on the coasts and in major cities. New analysis from the Department’s Office of the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs shows this kind of geographic inequality across regions in the U.S. has increased over the last 40 years.

“For too long, cities and towns across the country have been overlooked or left behind. Americans deserve to be able to work and thrive in their home communities,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “With the right partnerships and investments, every corner of America can flourish in the modern, global economy. The Regional Economic Research Initiative will use the power of data to identify and catalyze investments to spur economic opportunities across America.”

The Biden-Harris Administration is dedicated to bridging geographic gaps through transformative investments that will revitalize economic growth in lagging or distressed regions. The Department of Commerce has already dedicated billions of dollars towards increasing regional economic competitiveness:

-- Competitive regional and local grant programs, such as the Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge, and Tech Hubs and Recompete Pilot
-- Infrastructure investments in unserved and underserved regions, such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Internet for All programs.
-- Industrial strategy programs, such as the CHIPS Incentives Program, that have the potential to transform regional and local economies.
-- Grants and cooperative agreements, led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, dedicated to conservation, restoration, and protection of coastal and marine habitats to help to sustain resource dependent communities.

To make sustained change, grow, or revive a regional economy, investors must know what types of investments will work – and what won’t. The Regional Initiative will equip public and private sector decisionmakers at every level – local, state, Tribal, federal – with research and data tools to address entrenched and growing geographic inequality, and better meet the economic needs of those they serve. The Regional Initiative will help identify strengths and weaknesses of regional economies, uncover new opportunities for growth, provide insights into local economic needs, and maximize the impact of regional investments.

“It’s great if people are able to move to places where there’s more economic opportunity – but many people face barriers that make moving difficult or impossible, so they need economic opportunities where they live now,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs Jed Kolko. “Geographic inequality continues to widen, and high-paying sectors remain concentrated in specific places. The Regional Initiative will spotlight those key trends and ensure federal investments are coordinated to close these gaps and improve regional competitiveness.”

Led by the Office of the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs (OUSEA), the Regional Initiative will develop and disseminate research, accessible data tools and visualizations, and expert services to decisionmakers at every level. Specifically, OUSEA will harness the power of statistical and federal program data sets to:

-- Provide deeper knowledge about regional economies, uncovering unique insights about regions and their needs.
-- Show where past federal investments have been made in local economies.
-- Help decisionmakers determine what types and levels of investment will maximize impact to regions, based on the place’s unique characteristics and what has worked before.

The Department’s top economic advisors and data experts in OUSEA will lead the Regional Initiative and plan to release initial research and data products within the calendar year. OUSEA is charged with setting the data and evidence strategy for the Department and guiding critical economic analysis of the Department’s priorities. The bureau also provides policy direction and oversight to the U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Contact the Regional Initiative team at RegionalInitiative@doc.gov

Press release: https://www.commerce.gov/news/press-releases/2023/03/department-commerce-launches-regional-economic-research-initiative

2) June 15 [blog] -- Under Secretary Jed Kolko, Geographic Inequality on the Rise in the U.S.

Geographic inequality has widened over the past four decades. The gap in incomes between richer places and poorer places has grown. Strikingly, geographic income inequality continued to climb in recent years even though many measures of overall income and wage inequality have narrowed somewhat as wage growth has been strongest for lower-wage workers.

Rising geographic inequality suggests that economic opportunities are becoming less even across the country. Increasingly unequal economic opportunity risks reducing households' ability to move to desired locations, concentrating economic and social challenges in certain places, or contributing to political polarization.

In this first blog post for the Department of Commerce’s Regional Economic Research Initiative, we document this increase in geographic inequality and draw out implications for further research and for government programs. Many of the programs in the Biden-Harris Administration’s Investing in America agenda target specific places, in part to reduce geographic inequality. The measures of inequality presented in this post will serve as one yardstick of success. . . .

Geographic inequality has increased over recent decades, and economic activity has become more concentrated in the largest local economies. A few places have pulled far ahead, and many – especially smaller towns and rural areas – have fallen farther behind. Across the country, millions of people live in communities with few or dwindling economic opportunities. For some people, moving to places with more jobs and higher incomes is the answer, but for many moving is too costly or infeasible.

The Biden-Harris Administration is investing in numerous place-based programs. Some are designed to boost infrastructure, like high-speed internet, in underserved places. Others, like Tech Hubs, are designed to spread economic opportunity and innovation to places with assets and capacity outside the dominant economic centers.

Research and analysis are critical to the success of these programs. Our office at the Department of Commerce launched the Regional Economic Research Initiative to link place-based program data with local economic data to improve the design, implementation, and evaluation of these programs. As part of this initiative, we plan to publish a series of blogposts – this being the first – on regional economic trends and place-based efforts. Future blogposts in this series will look at places that have transformed over in recent decades, the effect of the pandemic on the location of economic activity, and more.

We are eager to hear your feedback, insights, and suggestions for future blogposts at regionalinitiative@doc.gov.

Blog: https://www.commerce.gov/news/blog/2023/06/geographic-inequality-rise-us

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