We Must Get Regionalism Right
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.
Of Vampires and Interchanges
The editors of the Lorain Morning Journal came out with a very strongly worded editorial in response to the Avon interchange isssue.
First key point:
Cuyahoga officials accused Lorain County of being an economic vampire sucking the life’s blood out of Cuyahoga County via that major artery, I-90.
If Cuyahoga County officials want to improve their economy, they should work hard at it and apply some leadership and vision to grow economically alongside its neighboring counties.
An observation: Cuyahoga County’s economy is not separate from Lorain County’s. It is the same economy. The question before our region is what type of programs and procedures are we going to implement to make our economy globally competitive.
Second key point:
Cuyahoga County’s NOACA strong-arm tactic works. Once.
Now, if Lorain County is smart, it will get out of NOACA and join, or start, a similar agency to meet its needs. Some Medina County officials want out of NOACA too, having watched in horror as Avon was assaulted and realized Medina County is likely to be bloodied next. Medina and Lorain county officials should see if others want to join in a move away from NOACA, and get it done.
A second observation: Clearly, there needs to be a more trusted regional process developed to address regional transportation and physical development issues. But suggesting that Lorain County can somehow secede from the region is as practical as suggesting that Lorain County physically pack up move. It cannot be done. We need to fix our system, not break up the region.
As Rob Briggs of the GAR Foundation in Akron and the Fund for Our Economic Future and Hudson Mayor William Currin said in a recent column, we have to get regionalism right if Northeast Ohio’s economy is going to prosper.
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# Submitted by Arnold L. Johnson (not verified) on Tue, 11/06/2007 – 15:31.
Let’s see, there are in reality no real industrial or business centers between west Cleveland and Sandusky. This means most of Lorain County has had to look to Cleveland for their work and business needs. Now counties west of Cleveland must pay Cuyahoga County a ransom to have access to traffic that passes thru (via I-90) because Cuyahoga feels threatened by growth in those western counties!! Regionally, Cuyahoga does not have the resourses, the business base or the JOBS to support all of northeast Ohio. Cuyahoga has a few economic flesh wounds that can heal over night with some care. Lorain County has been devastated in comparison yet Cuyahoga has the bigger concern, the largest voice. I think Cuyahoga County is only there in the NOACA to insure its own domination in the region. It is obvious that Cuyahoga County does not really care about the plight of its neighbors. Do we have to continue sticking our collective necks out there so they can bite and drink? Is regionalism really working for us? Do we need to rethink it? I’d say the counties with the most need should have the most voice.
# Submitted by Peter Holmes on Thu, 11/08/2007 – 12:06.
The Ohio Department of Transportation’s desire to eliminate inner-belt interchanges in Cleveland’s Mid-Town and Quadrangle neighborhoods will have a predictable outcome: businesses will relocate outside Cleveland. The justification enabling thru traffic to travel faster through center city Cleveland is in contrast to the positions taken in Lorain County. The net net is that highways are political, and real estate interests are among politicians’ biggest supporters. When traffic engineers supposedly drive the process of expanding or enhancing roadways, look under the onion skin to find out what is really going on.
Alternative to Guns to the Head
In his recent blog post, Brad Whitehead pointed out that some officials consider the recent revenue sharing agreement surrounding the Avon interchange project to be the equivalent of having a gun put to one’s head.
Hudson Mayor William Currin, and chairman of the Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association, stressed at the association meeting today that the Avon situation is proof positive that the more comprehensive revenue sharing approach being developed by the association is sorely needed. “We need to move forward as a region,” he told his fellow mayors. The revenue sharing research being led by the mayors association is trying to develop a program where “everybody participates and everybody benefits.”
He said the data gathering will be completed in January and several scenarios for how revenue sharing could be implemented in the region will be available in March. He called the research a work in progress.
“No one knows the answer of how cooperative we can be except ourselves,” he said.
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Avon, Interchanges, Sharing: No More “Guns to the Head”
I suspect that many of you did not see the article in yesterday’s Medina Gazette about the Avon interchange and NOACA (http://wp2.medina-gazette.com/?s=county+weighs). In it, Commissioner Steve Hambley – a leading voice of regionalism and a member of the NOACA Board – lamented that Avon had a “gun to its head.” According to the article, the Medina commissioners are even considering pulling out of NOACA so as not to be put in the same position. Brunswick city manager Bob Zienkowski was even quoted as saying that the Avon deal “is the best of example of why regionalism won’t work here. It’s a prelude of what’s coming.”
Without a doubt, getting to the Avon deal was a painful process that generated hard feeling. And from what I understand, it involved a considerable amount of cajoling, arm-twisting, and public posturing. It is understandable why Bob, Steve, and others would express concern.
But it would be wrong to conclude that this should cause us to beat a retreat from more regional approaches – quite the contrary, let this be a call for us to find more comprehensive, forward-looking approach so we can avoid this sort of situation in the future.
First, it is pointless to talk about being “for” or “against” regionalism, much as one might talk about whether they are “for” or “against” sunrises. Regionalism is a fact of life in the early 21st century; it is how economies organize. The only question is WHAT KIND of regionalism we want. I would assert that the uncoordinated, unplanned, beggar-thy-neighbor approach we have had to date is what has led to tumultuous transactional situations like the one we witnessed with Avon.
NOW IS NOT THE TIME TO WALK AWAY FROM THE TABLE. Do that, and we will just have more and increasingly acrimonious disagreements on how taxpayer dollars should be used and for whose benefits. Instead, let’s use this as a moment to spur the real conversation about how we want to involve and what steps we might take to focus on growing the resources of the region rather than moving them from one place to another.
Fortunately, the Northeast Ohio Mayors and Managers are doing just that with their effort to explore revenue sharing for new growth opportunities. I suspect many people initially viewed this work as an interesting thought exercise; it now assumes vital proportions.
And might this most recent situation create an opportunity for NOACA to reexamine how to define its mandate? Or if not NOACA, how else might we come together as a collective regional community to determine how to best align our physical development with our economic development. I am sure we can come to an accommodation that beats the status quo many times over (a low threshold, I know!).
Let’s hope that we will look back on the situation in Avon as the transition point to a new era in the investment of our scarce public resources to the greatest effect.
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Interchanges and Regionalism Continued
Today may mark a watershed moment for regionalism in Northeast Ohio. Not so much for what happened today, but because today’s event may encourage people to change the rules of the game so it never happens again.
This is Cleveland.com’s report on today’s news:
The five-county transportation planning agency NOACA on Friday approved overwhelmingly a new Interstate 90 link in Avon, after 16 communities struck an unprecedented tax-sharing deal.
The Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency voted 47.1 to 2.85, with 6 abstentions, for the $20 million project. Cleveland called for a vote weighted by population, resulting in the odd vote totals.
The vote hinged on a 30-year deal between Avon and 15 communities along an I-90 corridor, from Cleveland west into Lorain County.
If a business with a payroll of more than $750,000 moves from one of those cities to a 600-acre zone along Nagel Road, Avon would split the income tax with the losing city for five years.
Avon would also limit its property tax breaks on relocated businesses to 75 percent and 10 years.
I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, but I received an interesting report from someone who did. It follows:
Commissioner Hambley (Medina) said, of the tax sharing agreement, “This is not regionalism — it’s extortion, and it simply creates winners and losers.” He was echoed by Commissioners Blair (Lorain) and Troy (Lake). Clearly Lake, Medina, Lorain and Geauga are very disturbed with that “solution.” As one said, “It sets a precedent; what will happen when our next project comes to the board — more extortion?” But Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones hit the mark. He said “We must have a macro way forward. We can’t just deal with these projects case by case. We need a standard approach, a framework that prevents disputes like this from arising and enables us to work together.”
Several people responding to the news online at Cleveland.com have also called the deal extortion.
I certainly understand the perspective, and that is why Commissioner Jones’ remark is so important.
The Northeast Ohio Mayors and City Managers Association is working on a study that hopefully will result in a “macro way forward.” The study is a comprehensive look at the benefits and challenges involved with implementing revenue sharing throughout the 16-county region. This won’t be easy work and it may be months before initial outcomes are available. I credit the region’s political leaders for recognizing the present system isn’t sustainable and hopefully their work will result in a new way.
Regionalism needs to be about sharing — not creating winners and losers. The Avon interchange project may be just what we need to encourage a new approach to physical development in Northeast Ohio.
As today’s vote showed, if we don’t come together to shape a common destiny we run the risk of having others try to dictate our destiny for us.
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