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Regional efforts are worth pursuing

But let’s not dismiss contrary voices

By The Mercury

We’ve long supported the concept of regionalism, and just as we’ve long urged the City of Manhattan and Riley County to collaborate for the benefit of local taxpayers, we generally applaud the multi-county efforts of recent weeks.

Riley County Commissioner Bob Boyd was right to call the establishment of the Flint Hills Economic Development District a “positive step toward working together — to create a brand, to begin thinking about marketing strategies, eventually bringing in companies and jobs.”

The new development district is an outgrowth of the Flint Hills Regional Council, an organization whose members are Riley, Pottawatomie, Geary, Clay, Wabaunsee, Morris and Dickinson counties. Also included are Kansas State University, Fort Riley and the municipalities in the member counties.

Its eventual success will depend in large part on how well cities and counties that have grown accustomed to competing with one another can push parochial interests aside for the greater regional good.

Manhattan might not gain as much as Junction City when a major employer decides to build a business there instead of here, but that doesn’t mean Manhattan residents won’t seek employment there or that the new business and its employees won’t also shop here. We would do well to not lose sight of the reality that a business that chooses Junction City or Wamego or Council Grove instead of Manhattan is at least choosing the Flint Hills instead of, say, the Black Hills of South Dakota.

We also would do well to remember that Manhattan Mayor John Matta, who worries that Manhattan might lose more than it gains from regionalism and is wary of being dictated to by the federal government, does indeed have this city’s interests at heart.

Unfortunately, Mayor Matta didn’t help his cause by likening the establishment of a regional “collective” to “how the Soviet Union was created.”

“Eventually,” he added, “individual cities and other entities were powerless, just swallowed up, and everything was in the hands of the central government — disguised as regional benefits.” He cited as an example a regional transportation agency that’s in the works and will operate mostly with federal money.  We hope he’s wrong, but his concerns about the reach of the federal government are pertinent.

Though the mayor’s almost dogmatic opposition to regionalism is exaggerated, he and other skeptics can serve a valuable purpose in pointing out the trade-offs associated with regionalism. Yes, there is much to gain. But in operating as part of a larger entity, Manhattan also must guard against surrendering its identity.

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