The following has been submitted to many of the region’s newspapers for publication:
By Rob Briggs and William Currin
Northeast Ohio must get regionalism right.
The acrimonious debate over the fate of the Avon interchange on I-90 is a watershed moment for our region. While some characterize the resolution of the debate as a sign that regionalism will never work in Northeast Ohio, we say that it is proof positive that our region needs a broad, collaborative approach to economic development that enables every community an opportunity to contribute to and share in its growth.
Simply put, regionalism isn’t a choice. It is our reality. We are a region because we, as individuals, act regionally. Nearly 25% of us in the 16 counties that make up Northeast Ohio work in a different county than where we live. We are a region because the global economy treats us as a region. Corporations base investment decisions not on which city or town they want to be in, but what a region has to offer that bolsters their ability to compete.
Regionalism isn’t unique to Northeast Ohio. Cities and their surrounding communities across this country share an inescapable common destiny. This is made clear by a Brookings Institution study that found that out of 118 communities only five had a weak city inside a strong region or vice versa. It is an economic fact of life that the health of our region and our core cities are inextricably linked.
The devastating cost of getting regionalism wrong can be seen all across Northeast Ohio. Core communities, from Youngstown to Lorain, are scarred by vacant homes, abandoned businesses and decaying infrastructure. Our outlying, rural communities are at risk of losing their quality of life at the hands of unfettered sprawl. Our region’s economy is growing slower than our pace of physical growth. That means higher taxes for any given level of services. We are approaching the point where neither our economy nor our environment can support all of the concrete we are pouring.
We, as individuals, act regionally every day. However, we rarely work collectively at being regional. We began to make real progress at changing that earlier this year when the region’s business, political, philanthropic and other leaders joined together to support a series of economic development initiatives that are part of Advance Northeast Ohio, the region’s economic action plan. One of the four focus areas of Advance Northeast Ohio is implementing programs and policies that encourage more efficient and collaborative government and governmental services in Northeast Ohio.
The Avon interchange issue highlights the need for our region to accelerate the process of building trust among the region’s many governmental bodies. We can no longer afford ad hoc regionalism, nor can we afford to have one group or party try to dictate how regionalism will unfold in Northeast Ohio. We must reach these conclusions together…collectively.
A broad, collaborative, sustainable, and nonpartisan approach to regional economic development that would include revenue sharing and common land use practices is being explored by the Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association with assistance from the Fund for Our Economic Future. This approach won’t ask any community to give up what they have now, but calls on all of us to share together in our future growth. We expect to present to all of the communities in Northeast Ohio details about this approach early in 2008.
The Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association has taken an important step toward getting regionalism right by undertaking this project and the Fund is prepared to do more to encourage a collaborative, sustainable, and nonpartisan regional approach to economic development. Who else is prepared to step forward? As Benjamin Franklin said upon signing the Declaration of Independence, “We must hang together…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.” He and others went on to form “a more perfect union.” We need to do the same. Join with us in developing and implementing the solution to assure a brighter future for Northeast Ohio.
Rob Briggs is chairman of the Fund for Our Economic Future and William A. Currin is Mayor of Hudson and chairman of the Northeast Ohio Mayors & City Managers Association.