The Welsh Davos?

Sarah Morse reports on a three day symposium which has brought global economic experts to Wales.

Some of the world’s leading thinkers on the success of regional economies are in Portmeirion to discuss what Wales can do to boost its economy.

The three-day Symposium, convened by Gerry Holtham, organised by the Learned Society of Wales (Wales’s first national scholarly academy) and supported by Bangor University, is examining the scope for regional economic development in a globalised economy, where many businesses are footloose, and government policies are often restricted to territories.

The experts will discuss some of the most intractable economic problems that are found in regions with economies rooted in decaying or defunct ‘heavy’ or ‘extractive’ industries. These are regions which have been stripped of earlier competitive advantages by the advance of technology and globalisation, and whose relative income has fallen.

The Symposium will be discussing a series of questions: How can broadly-based economic development be achieved in regions or countries which are largely branch economies attached to much larger regions? Such economies/countries/regions enjoy fewer independent policy levers than larger autonomous states. The region or country may be a small part of a larger currency union and/or lack many fiscal powers, such as control over personal or corporate tax rates. It may also lack regulatory controls, for example, over company take-overs.

The Symposium is bringing together some of the academic world’s prolific thinkers to review and discuss pressing issues affecting small regions around the globe, but most importantly, issues that are affecting us here in Wales.  There has been a general global phenomenon of some equalization of global incomes as developing economies benefit from trade and the free movement of capital to take on many activities, especially in manufacturing, formerly carried out in richer countries. The same phenomenon has seen increased inequality in those richer countries as employment has tended to polarise into more highly skilled activities and low-paid personal service activities with some loss of skilled and semi-skilled manufacturing employment. These developments have frequently had a regional dimension with highly-paid jobs in finance, business services, design and analysis becoming concentrated in some areas, generally not those where the loss of manufacturing, mining and heavy industry jobs have been greatest. This symposium will addresses the particular policy issues faced by such regions and explores the elements necessary for their successful adaptation

Gerry Holtham has gathered an impressive roster of speakers: Professor Ricardo Hausmann, Director of the Center for International Development and a Professor of the Practice of Economic Development at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University is joining Professor AnnaLee Saxenian of the School of Information, University of California, Berkeley, Professor Ron Boschma of Utrecht University, Bridget Rosewell of Volterra Partners, Professor Ken Mayhew  of the University of Oxford, Professor Ron Martin of the University of Cambridge, Professor John Kay of the LSE and around 30 others.

To host such inspiring thinkers and economists on home soil is something of a coup, not least because we have the chance to learn from international viewpoints and take away lessons that can be applied to Wales, and the final session of the Symposium, led by the Welsh Government’s Chief Economist, Jonathan Price, will reflect on the outcomes of the discussions, and their relevance for Wales.

The IWA, along with the Learned Society of Wales, is tweeting from the event and you can follow the discussions under the #regeconomics hashtag

Sarah Morse is Executive Officer for the Learned Society of Wales.

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