Common cause

I’ve been thinking a lot about regionalism, which hasn’t been difficult because every event I attend, every CEO I speak with and every roundtable I’m a part of reminds me that “regionalism” has become the new buzzword

So what, exactly, is regionalism?

From my perspective, it entails several interconnected components.

First, business initiatives and economic projects must be undertaken with the common goal of spurring the economy of the region as a whole rather than that of one individual community. This could be an airport initiative, a convention center or developments such as Steelyard Commons or the city of Canton’s brownfield initiative at the former Bison Corp. property, both of which have the potential to reinvigorate large parts of the region.

Regionalism also means creating jobs that funnel money back into the community via tax dollars, shopping, and business and personal goods and services. Examples include the attraction of a major national employer, such as GrafTech’s recent corporate headquarters relocation announcement, or the expansion of a federal program, such as new jobs at the Cleveland DFAS office.

Just as important, regionalism means communities working together in creative ways, such as the multicity, last-gasp economic proposal spearheaded by Shaker Heights Mayor Judith Rawson that tried to keep OfficeMax’s headquarters in Northeast Ohio.

I recently participated in the CEO Forum, a regional think tank initiative put together by Michael DeAloia, Cleveland’s “tech tsar,” at which nearly 100 CEOs and other senior executives explored a host of issues facing Northeast Ohio.

Brad Whitehead, program director – economic development for the Cleveland Foundation, led a spirited break-out session on regionalism. About 30 business leaders, including Richard Pogue and Playhouse Square’s Art Falco, talked about what’s needed to spur true regionalism in Northeast Ohio and how to develop a unified cause everyone can rally behind.

While we didn’t agree on everything, the session’s participants did agree that Northeast Ohio is a region in transition trying to define itself. And, we all recognized that the days of relying on manufacturing excellence as our identity are over.

For regionalism to be effective, the onus is on not just politicians but on all business leaders to work together to identify our strengths, tout our successes and ultimately secure the region’s future.