Regional cooperation, experts say, is most readily embraced when crisis strikes an area dominated by a single city — which goes a long way toward explaining how Northeast Ohio functions the way it does.
The 18-county region includes Akron, Canton, Cleveland, Lorain, Mansfield and Youngstown. Cleveland no longer dominates.
What ties these metro areas together is not so much reaction to a single, disastrous event, but slow recognition of the challenges of retooling their economies in an increasingly competitive, global business environment.
So it is no accident that Northeast Ohio has 10 major private-sector economic development organizations, devoted either to specific regions (such as the Greater Akron Chamber and the Greater Cleveland Partnership) or to specific economic challenges, such as high technology (NorTech), manufacturing (MAGNET, the Manufacturing Advocacy & Growth Network), entrepreneurial activity (JumpStart) and biosciences (BioEnterprise).
A regional entity, Team NEO, is charged with marketing the region, building collaboration among economic development entities and serving as a link to the state’s main economic development program, JobsOhio.
In a first-of-its-kind report, the groups recently assessed their impact for 2012 and included examples of working together to help attract new companies, start new ones or restore existing mainstays, such as tire and steel manufacturing companies.
Tom Waltermire, CEO of Team NEO, calls the groups an “ecosystem,” with different parts coming together to meet specific challenges and opportunities, from high-tech startups to Goodyear’s new headquarters to Timken’s expansion at its Faircrest steel mill.
The report highlights more than 36,000 new or retained jobs, $1.7 billion in payroll and $1.8 billion in capital investment.
Most regions of the country don’t face the same array of challenges, especially when it comes to coordinating so many economic development agencies. Getting everyone to recognize the necessity of working together to compete with other industrial regions across the globe instead of fighting with one another within the confines of Northeast Ohio is not something to downplay.
Yet the success of this network of private-sector economic development agencies, as summarized in the highlights, does require additional context. Some of it can be found in the report itself.
Breakdowns show that only about 10,000 jobs are new. The rest were retained, a good thing, to be sure, but not sufficient to create the income growth necessary to lift the region out of the great recession. (In fairness, the report does note that “much remains to be done.”)
Left outside the framework of the report (as it noted) was the work of many others, including those in the public sector, who pursue economic development deals. Unfortunately, that could leave the impression that local governments are a junior partner.
In fact, what recent decades have witnessed is a growing role for the public sector in economic development. Thirty years ago, Goodyear would not have turned to state and local governments for substantial help in building a new headquarters. Now, such cooperation is widely regarded as the norm, despite conservative protests about “corporate capitalism.”
Northeast Ohio is fortunate to have a high degree of cooperation among its private-sector economic development agencies.
That said, the region is also prone to produce many entities when fewer would do. In other words, the high degree of cooperation necessary may be a signal that some streamlining is in order.
Meanwhile, most deals continue to be hatched at the local level, where city and county governments have been squeezed financially, especially by state government. In Akron, for example, the Goodyear headquarters project, the Bridgestone technology center and the Austen BioInnovation Institute would not have happened without support from local government.
In Columbus, Gov. John Kasich and Republican legislative leaders are debating further tax cuts to stimulate economic growth. Yet studies, among them some by the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank, show that tax cuts do not play a decisive role in economic growth.
The bank found that innovation and higher levels of education are more important, both of which require strong support from the public sector.
Hoffman is a Beacon Journal editorial writer. He can be reached at 330-996-3740 or emailed at email@example.com.