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How to restore prosperity?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  05/29/07 @ 4:19pm

The best way to revitalize older, industrial cities like Cleveland, Youngstown, Lorain and Mansfield is to renew the commitment among state government agencies and legislators to strengthen our urban core, Bruce Katz, Vice President at the Brookings Institution, told an audience at the Cleveland City Club today. Like personal fitness, a strong core benefits the rest of the body (metro area).

“If we want to grow sustainably, we need (state government) to connect the dots between transportation, land-use and economic development,” he said. “We need integrated solutions. For example, to solve our transportation issues, we’ll have to address housing.”

In Ohio, more than 42% of people live in economically depressed areas, Katz added, areas that “have been abandoned by state policies,” acknowledged Ohio Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher, who gave the local response to Katz’s report.

“The state must serve as catalyst, investor and risk-sharing collaborator,” Fisher said. Investing in ideas that connect workforce training, revitalizing infrastructure, and tech-driven industry will be a priority for the Strickland-Fisher Administration.

A new state agency focused on urban redevelopment headed by Marvin Hayes, and Third Frontier, the state’s tech transfer fund, should help rebuild Cleveland’s urban core. “I see the Euclid Corridor as an example where we’re building an information and technology corridor.” Third Frontier is being studied as a funding source for solar and wind alternative energy development grants, similar to the state’s vaunted fuel cell initiative.

Reforming state policy needs to be a priority, Katz said. States set rules for local governments– like zoning and taxation – more than a century ago, and haven’t seriously revisited them since, Katz added. In home-rule states like Ohio, we have too many local governments funding the same services.

“Government structures are obsolete and, as we told states like Maine, you’re going to have to cut local governance because you’re overspending.”

Fisher echoed those concerns, stating that Ohio residents pay $2,200 per person per year for services like Fire and EMS. “I think we need to consolidate services. The go-it-alone approach doesn’t work. We need joint economic development districts and voluntary consolidations. The regions that speak with one clear voice will be able to leverage the state’s resources.”

Read more about the Brookings Institution report’s solutions here.

In a related item, The Plain Dealer reports today that six communities in Cuyahoga County are moving ahead with plans to consolidate Fire and EMS service.

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