Good morning. It's a pleasure to be with you and spend the next few minutes discussing the future of the south.
The Southern Growth Policies Board was created over 25 years ago to help our states address common problems, not only through the study of issues of mutual regional interest, but also through the promotion of regional cooperation.
The agreement which each of our states has enacted calls for the Board to assess the condition of the region and, at least every six years, formulate a set of regional objectives which will become an economic development agenda for the South.
Since the earliest days, under the chairmanship of Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1974, this has been done through a blue-ribbon Commission on the Future of the South.
The second Commission was formed by South Carolina Governor Richard Riley in 1980, the third by Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in 1986, and the fourth by West Virginia Governor Gaston Caperton in 1992.
Each of these Commissions made important contributions to our region's progress, from recommendations which precipitated the movement towards regional banking to compelling reports such as Halfway Home and a Long Way to Go, which energized the South's leadership around a new and dynamic policy agenda that focused on human resources.
I had the privilege of convening the Commission on the Future of the South in June in Nashville as part of the Board's 1997 Conference on the Future of the South.
I want to take this opportunity to thank my fellow governors for their nominations to this distinguished panel.
And I want to welcome the members of the 1998 Commission to our meeting this morning.
The members of the Commission are seated in front of you, and I would ask them to stand and be recognized.
I have every confidence that this diverse group of Southern leaders will help us chart a course for continued prosperity in the 21st century.
In particular, I feel that this group can help us focus on the opportunities for mutual advancement through regional action.
While past Commissions have recognized the benefits of regional action, regionalism has not been at the cornerstone of those prior efforts.
For the most part, past Commissions have focused on individual state action toward common regional objectives.
We already have a strong regional history and tradition in the South, and we already have a number of regional agencies that allow us to work together efficiently, including those gathered here at the Southern Summit.
As we celebrate the Board's 25th Anniversary, I recommend that we return to our roots, that regionalism be moved from a supporting role into the spotlight.
Many of our states have already identified goals and objectives through their own strategic planning processes.
The Commission can complement, rather than duplicate, these efforts by focusing on regional action.
In other words, what opportunities exist for regional action to address areas of common concern?
What can be gained by regional, rather than individual, action in these issue areas?
What barriers exist to regional cooperation and how can they be overcome?
In today's economy, political boundaries have lost much of their relevance.
Many issues, such as telecommunications, transportation, technological research, environmental policy, and business access to capital are inherently interstate in nature.
The potential advantages of cooperation and coordination are many, including the ability to plan more realistically, work on boundary "spillover" concerns, pool expertise, complement strengths and weaknesses, gain economies of scale, eliminate unnecessary duplication, and achieve greater visibility and influence.
The Board's current initiative to facilitate the use of telecommunications and information technologies in the health care industry illustrates the potential benefits of regional cooperation.
We held a very successful meeting in June involving participants that each of you recommended be invited.
We had twice as many people come as we expected including many CEOs and directors.
They represented every segment of the health care industry: insurance, HMOs, major hospitals and health care providers, information technology companies, and medical associations, as well as many of your cabinet secretaries.
Participants at this workshop identified specific projects in areas such as licensing, education, data standards, medical reimbursement, and patient confidentiality that would benefit from regional cooperation and coordination.
The application of technology to regional health issues has the potential to cut public and private costs of health care while ensuring access to quality care for our rural populations.
The Western Governors' Association also has been active in encouraging regional collaboration in the development and delivery of distance learning courses through its Western Governors' University initiative.
The 1998 Commission on the Future of the South could make a valuable and unique contribution to the region if it focused on identifying and encouraging regional initiatives such as these--initiatives that would move us all ahead, together.
To lead this distinguished group of Southerners, I have asked a true leader and public servant from my state, former Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky Martha Layne Collins, to serve as chair of the 1998 Commission on the Future of the South.
Governor Collins shares with me a desire to focus on real action, not just rhetoric, as the primary outcome of the Commission process.
Now I'd like to turn the podium over to Governor Collins, who'll moderate our discussion today.
I look forward to hearing each of your perspectives about the issues facing the South as we enter the 21st century, as well as your thoughts and ideas on multi-state initiatives that might help us all move forward in these areas.