Working together Featured

6:06am EDT May 30, 2003
I had lunch recently with Craig James, managing partner of Catalyst Strategies, to discuss his firm's Connection Series and how it is bringing people together at a grassroots level to focus on the region's future.

James assembled Mayor Jane Campbell, several business leaders and nearly 180 members of the public in May 2002 to talk about doing business in Cleveland. The series' fourth installment in February drew more than 300 people.

"Our goal is not to rebuild what's being done," says James, "but rather to be a conduit for activity."

That is exactly what's needed -- to get people to do more than simply talk about what's wrong with Cleveland.

Our region has seen its share of successes and failures. We've witnessed the rise and fall of the tire and manufacturing industries, and the steel industry's move from domination to destitution to re-emergence as a national power.

Further, there has been a gradual flight of traditional businesses, and subsequently, families, from downtown and inner city neighborhoods to the suburbs, partially due to aggressive tax abatements and lucrative financial packages the suburbs made available, and better educational opportunities outside the city.

But these trends are reversible. To jumpstart the reinvigoration of Cleveland, it's imperative to develop a concise plan and stick to it. A critical mass is needed to spark economic development and give people a reason to not only move back to the city but also to spend their dollars downtown.

This critical mass can only be achieved when businesses, government and the public work together toward a common goal, and that's where connectivity comes in.

James' initiative has sparked continued discussion, and numerous participants have taken it one step further, creating smaller community action teams (CATs) that target issues such as marketing the city, business preservation and business attraction. The CATs have not only gotten people interested in improving the region, but truly active in the efforts from a grassroots level.

The ultimate decision-making power may be wielded by others, but the fact that individuals from the public, business and government sectors are working together and creating a buzz is a great start.

Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once said, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." But perhaps it is James who expresses it best when he adds, "The excitement generated by this is as valuable as what actually comes out of it."

And that excitement is what connectivity is all about.