Why Tomorrow's Top places Are Thinking Beyond Themselves


Here in SIR’s backyard of Richmond, Virginia, we often hear discussions about the need for more regional cooperation — between the local city government and the three surrounding counties (all separate jurisdictions). This is not unlike what we're hearing from municipalities around the country.

But honestly, these discussions are decades out of date. After spending two days leading sessions at a National League of Cities conference recently, we can confidently say that today, “super regions” are the latest thinking for effective, higher-order collaboration. Across the U.S., we’re seeing multiple cities, towns, and counties join together in these functional, symbiotic relationships that enable all areas to prosper — individually and together.

By way of examples, you likely know about the Research Triangle in North Carolina, where 12 places are working together to improve opportunities for all. There’s also Greater MSP, formed to connect 16 municipalities to benefit the Minneapolis – St. Paul region, and the Texas Triangle, linking Dallas – Fort Worth, with Austin and San Antonio. More than just a city and its direct environs, these super regions take the idea of collaborative placemaking and blow it up to a much larger scale.

‘Super regions’ are the latest thinking for effective higher-order collaboration.

As futurists with a keen eye on emerging research, we expect this trend toward super regions to pick up pace even despite the well-circulated data showing that Americans’ migration from rural and farming communities to suburban and urban places has slowed. Our logic is this: Without the influx of new residents to drive growth, cities need to think far beyond their borders. Joining forces to make a super region means more physical size, which means more leverage, and which means more access to needed resources like food, water, energy, and workers.

It’s this growing need for symbiotic relationships that is driving the creation of super regions. The old thinking is that cities are these population-rich (and job-rich) islands and that everyone wants to come ashore. Yet in truth, today’s cities are highly dependent on their surrounding municipalities and counties — and even other cities nearby. Without a local farm, for example, there’s no “farm-to-table movement” to appease today’s urban restaurants and city-dwellers.

There are also starker realities: Without reservoirs, there’s no drinking water. Without power plants, there’s no electricity. Without house-dominated suburbs with good schools, there’s no built-in future workforce.



SIR and the Institute for Tomorrow are helping municipalities of all sizes take off their blinders and look for some new dance partners. Only by coming to the table and working together can a region guarantee long-term prosperity. For our fellow RVA readers, there are signs that broader thinking beyond traditional borders is already happening.

A new(ish) initiative from civic-minded CEOs, called the Greater Washington Partnership, links together Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Richmond and is a good example of broadened perspectives. Similarly, the “Education Corridor” along I-64 from Charlottesville to Norfolk, as proposed by Richmond’s Future a few years back (see Page 21), aimed to leverage the fact that almost half of all college students at Virginia’s public four-year institutions are enrolled in this corridor, which is also home to four of our five largest community colleges, three of our four largest private schools, and four major historically black colleges and universities.

Thinking far beyond the typical borders is how we could make RVA the epicenter of a new super region, from Norfolk to Baltimore. Years ago, someone coined part of this geography the “Golden Crescent,” but that name has history. How about we call it the “Chesapeake Crescent” or similar?

Who’s on board? Send us your thoughts.


Just a few of the projects we’re working on:

Diversity and Inclusion — Not a week goes by when a client isn’t asking for help on improving its delivery against diversity and inclusion goals. With projects for a major university, a Fortune 500 energy company, and others, SIR is engaged at the highest levels with strategic planning and tactical training on these important topics.

Strategic Planning and Branding — SIR remains engaged by the cities of Charlotte and Norfolk on several projects related to strategic planning and branding — including a long-term “visioning” process for these localities that incorporates our custom-made survey research among residents and other key stakeholders about their ideas for the future.

Marketing Research — Our move to begin offering bulletin board focus groups (BBFGs) has been well-received by many clients, and we’ve recently completed work for a regional healthcare provider. BBFGs transform the traditional in-person focus group into a multiday, online, and interactive session that reduces travel costs and increases a client’s ROI significantly.

Futurist Keynote Speeches — Both John Martin and Matt Thornhill are on the road practically every week these days providing keynote speeches on the idea of “winning tomorrow.” Recent and upcoming gigs include annual events for the National League of Cities, the National Association of Convenience Stores, and Rail~Volution; corporate events for Circle K in Copenhagen and Chicago, and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield in Michigan; and gatherings for transit associations in Minneapolis and Sacramento. Learn more on SIR’s Institute for Tomorrow website.



We’re thrilled to officially announce that qualitative research expert and Richmond native Erin Bishop has joined the SIR team. Erin ran her own shop for a dozen years and now focuses on BBFGs as an SIR principal. She brings to our team 21 years of experience and insight, as well as high energy and a love for caffeine (which could be related) to every assignment. Read more about her here.


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SIR is a 53-year-old strategy and market research consulting firm devoted to providing leaders with transformative insights and solutions in transportation, government, healthcare, higher education, placemaking, and diversity and inclusion. SIR’s in-house think tank, the Institute for Tomorrow, is a nationally recognized center on future studies, whose “future maps” and keynote presentations help leaders guide organizations through change in their specific industry. For more information, visit SIRhq.com and InstituteforTomorrow.com.

Matt Thornhill