Creating a unified voice

Growing up in Cleveland, the drive to Summit County to see concerts and basketball games at The Coliseum was my first realization that Northeast Ohio consisted of more than Cleveland’s east and west suburbs. But the Cavs didn’t stay long in Richfield, and soon ,The Coliseum’s premiere concerts started to trickle north.

To me, the demise of The Coliseum symbolized that as a region, Northeast Ohio just wasn’t ready to share its resources. But that could be changing.

Regionalism is a word that the Northeast Ohio business community has heard repeatedly in the latter part of this century. If Cleveland, Akron and Canton could only work together as a region, think of the influence we’d have nationally.

The arguments for regionalism have always made sense. Many will tell you that progress was stymied when political leaders got involved. All of a sudden, boundaries were drawn and the region was no longer a region.

That was then. A lot has changed. Ten, 15 years ago, cities and counties were fighting for new business. People were unemployed. Luring new companies into city, county and state limits was the obvious solution.

Now, entities involved in economic development are focused on the job glut. Suddenly, they aren’t so territorial about which businesses they lure into their limits.

When Dick Erickson, president and CEO of the Akron Regional Development Board, resigned last month, it wasn’t much of a surprise to the Akron business community. In fact, there were many more cheers than gasps.

Erickson is taking a position as head of a groundbreaking organization with a mission we’ve all heard about: To create a unified voice for Northeast Ohio business. We’ll just call it regionalism to keep things simple. The difference is, it’s not just talk this time.

Erickson will become president and CEO of The Northeast Ohio Regional Business Coalition. Not only has he given up his job to support the effort, others are supporting it as well. The nonprofit group is governed by 22 trustees, most of whom are CEOs of major area businesses. Richard Pogue, former managing partner of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue and a long-time advocate of regionalism, has been appointed vice chairman of the board.

To date, five Northeast Ohio chambers have joined the group: The Akron Regional Development Board, The Greater Cleveland Growth Association, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, the Stark Development Board and the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce. Erickson says he had no intention of leaving his ARDB post, but as he told me, “The timing just seems to be right to do this.”

Erickson hopes to see the membership grow quickly and include other organizations in Northeast Ohio concerned with economic development. The coalition will focus on air service, technology and work force development. Erickson couldn’t be more accurate when he says these aren’t Canton’s problems, or Cleveland’s problems. They’re the region’s problems.

“Cleveland is not Akron’s competition. Canton is not Akron’s competition.”

Let’s not let this effort go the way of The Coliseum. Connie Swenson ([email protected]) is editor of SBN.