Abstract: Strategic Organization Building, Synergy, and Rivalry in Regional Planning: NERCOM, 1967-1980

William Mass


The New England Regional Commission (NERCOM) was one of eight regional commissions (RCs) established by the Public Works and Economic Development Act of 1965. Preceded and survived by the still operating Appalachian Regional Commission, NERCOM operated from 1967 to 1981. While the RCs varied greatly, over time NERCOM transformed itself significantly due to political and regional developmental challenges. Recently the U.S. House passed legislation to fund five recently constituted RCs for five years at $1.2 billion. Why may RCs be reemerging and what political and programmatic lessons from NERCOM's experience are relevant? This paper reviews NERCOM's performance and legacy, including collaboration, rivalry, and complementarities among regional planning organizations and federal agencies. New England's regional opposition to President Carter's energy policy was singularly significant. NERCOM facilitated forums, focused local and federal attention to priority policy concerns, and built consensus among business, labor, and academic committee participants. NERCOM provided organizational support and synergistic benefits to other New England organizations and activities even amidst organizational rivalries. In particular, the New England Governors Conference and the New England Council, the nation's oldest regional Chamber of Commerce, were most affected. Other regional institutions in-process withered only to be readdressed in later decades.