Regional economics Featured

6:13am EDT March 28, 2003
Northeast Ohio municipalities and counties, along with numerous nonprofit organizations and chambers of commerce, boast economic development as part of their mission and devote a tremendous amount of resources to helping improve the economic climate.

Collectively, the efforts have been fragmented, reactive and not focused on the needs of the business community.

Strategies were not designed with the needs of business in mind. Instead, they utilize a reactive strategy, responding well to calls for help, but not proactively targeting the types of businesses that would have a sustainable impact on the region. Limited resources have been dedicated on a first-come, first-serve basis, rather than with a sense of prioritization. And all too often, the businesses and industries requiring the most attention are at the end of their industrial life cycle.

Someone once said, "To be a bullfighter, you must first learn to think like a bull." This sets a fitting goal for the economic development entities in the region, which need to be more focused on the needs of companies and less focused on structure, process and turf.

On Jan. 22, Team NEO (Northeast Ohio) was launched in an effort to provide a new level of focus and cooperation that will help redirect the resources of the region's organizations and private companies toward key industry clusters to promote economic development. It will focus on relationship management to provide valuable resources to existing companies, as well as to companies we hope will expand into Northeast Ohio. This will help us in the ongoing interaction with companies to better understand and address their needs.

Initially, Cleveland Tomorrow identified this need for a more regional, proactive economic development initiative. One year later, the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, upon completion of its strategic plan, made creating this entity a priority.

Armed with funding from The Cleveland Foundation, the Growth Association and Cleveland Tomorrow hired McKinsey & Co. Inc. to review best practices from other competitive regions and assist with the design of Team NEO. The study identified a report card utilized by selection consultants when evaluating locations for clients interested in expanding their businesses. Infrastructure, public policy, work force and lifestyle are all criteria on the report card.

Northeast Ohio had an overall report card grade of "C," indicating why it might be eliminated from several location searches in the first round.

One of the more surprising revelations was the fact that quality of life, regarded as a regional strength, is merely considered a "nice-to-have," not a "must-have."

In addition to the Growth Association, Team NEO's founding partners include The Greater Akron Chamber, Lorain County Chamber of Commerce, Stark Development Board, Youngstown-Warren Area Regional Chamber, Cleveland Tomorrow and FirstEnergy Corp.

All recognize the need for accountability and establishing an appropriate performance matrix. It is imperative that our region's public officials and community leaders support this effort if economic development and jobs creation are to become priorities.

The Growth Association will take an active role in addressing one of the major challenges facing Team NEO -- improving public policy in Northeast Ohio to be friendlier and more responsive to business growth.

Team NEO's partners are involved in the search for a president who will staff the organization with the relationship managers required to begin work. The Growth Association is committed to supporting this effort and will dedicate the resources necessary to help Team NEO accomplish its goals.

We understand that to be successful, we must begin to think like the bull -- and then we, too, will become successful bullfighters. Robert Smith is chairman of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association and president of Spero-Smith Investment Advisers Inc. He is the former chairman of the Council of Smaller Enterprises. Reach COSE at (216) 621-3300.