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International Regions Benchmarking Consortium

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The International Regions Benchmarking Consortium (IRBC) was a network of city-centered metropolitan regions that convened to create a learning community focused on urban issues and strategies. The IRBC was active between 2008 and 2018.


The IRBC was established by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) and the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle (TDA) in 2008. The purpose of the IRBC was to allow self-evaluation of economy, society, environment, infrastructure and other urban issues using peer regions as a benchmark. To this end, the IRBC was engaged in collecting and analyzing economic, social and environmental indicators, sharing best practices and lessons learned on urban development strategies, and communicating this information through annual (2008-2012) and bi-annual (2014-2016) conferences. At these conferences, members learned from the successes and challenges of other regions, networked to create space for business, governmental, and academic partnerships, and saw first-hand the cultural and economic drivers of similar regions.


By 2008, TDA had visited Barcelona, Dublin, Fukuoka, Helsinki, Melbourne, Munich and Stockholm as part of its International Leadership Mission program (ILM). Co-led by TDA and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, the ILM program was established in 1991 for the purpose of exposing regional leadership to globally competitive economies and serving as a benchmark for [Greater Seattle's] own efforts as well as an opportunity to observe best practices. The IRBC network emerged from these connections. The ILM visited Daejeon, Korea in 2010 and Daejeon joined the IRBC network shortly thereafter.


Metropolitan regions that were part of the IRBC network all shared similar economic, social and development attributes, such as geographic size, population and a development model with a strong focus on knowledge, innovation and sustainability. The members included:

In addition, Belo Horizonte, Brazil participated in the work of the IRBC [as an observer].


  • 2008: Seattle, USA (Theme: The Innovative Region: Comparing, learning and sharing best practices and challenges)

The Greater Seattle area hosted the first conference in 2008 under the theme of “The Innovative Region.” At this conference, participants explored three overarching questions: 1. What are the components of an innovative region?; 2. Creating and competing on the global stage: What are the strategies for success?; and 3. How do we foster and sustain an innovative region? Dr. Margaret O’Mara, Professor of History at the University of Washington, researched and presented historical evidence and present-day experience of the consortium regions on how they have become innovative regions. She argued that innovation could best be defined and measured by looking broadly across "the three E's" – education, entrepreneurship, and environment – to consider both the productivity-enhancing and research-intensive activities essential to economic growth as well as the critical qualitative factors that make regions good places to live and work.

  • 2009: Barcelona, Spain (Theme: Creativity & Talent in an Urban Environment)

The 2009 conference operated on the assumption that creativity is one of the main drivers of the economic development of urban areas and examined the role that recruitment and retention played in that paradigm. Research by Michael Luis of Luis and Associates looked at the latest research on talent migration and its relationship to economic development. The report also proposed strategies that can be undertaken at the local level to enhance the attractiveness of a region for in-migration. Stuart Elway of Elway and Associates conducted a survey in the 10 regions that identified which factors were most important in each region for attracting and retaining talent.

  • 2010: Fukuoka, Japan (Theme: Knowledge Region)

The 2010 conference explored how regions could proactively move their economies increasingly toward a central focus on the knowledge economy and the central role of research universities in that process. Research was again conducted by Michael Luis that focused on the roles of the research university, local government and business. A summarizing report also focused on how this “triple helix” interacts and the gaps that are common to the triple helix model. During this last conference, a session was held in which Fukuoka presented a challenge with which their region is grappling. The other nine regions gave their input on how to respond to the challenge.

  • 2011: Vancouver, Canada (Theme: Building Future Cities Today)

The 2011 conference delved into three topics: a) solid waste issues; b) water; and c) energy efficiency. Based on feedback from member regions, the conference materials developed for this conference focused on data profiles for each region and best practice factsheets on the cases presented during the conference.

  • 2012: Helsinki, Finland (Theme: Design Driven Cities)

The 2012 IRBC Conference examined the role of design in the metropolitan region.

  • 2014: Munich, Germany (Theme: Smart Cities)

The 2014 IRBC Conference focused on the topic of "smart cities" such as infrastructure, mobility, and buildings.

  • 2016: Stockholm, Sweden (Theme: UniverCity)

The 2016 IRBC Conference explored partnerships between universities and cities and regions, and how those partnerships can potentially stimulate regional economic growth and development as well as create knowledge and solve social challenges. Representatives from academia, business and government from Barcelona, Fukuoka, Munich, Seattle, Vancouver, Stockholm and Uppsala participated in the conference. The Council for the Stockholm Malar Region summarized key takeaways from the conference in "UniverCITY: Key Ingredients for Regional Success."


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