Making Change: Promoting Regional Cooperation

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Lakewood mayor Tom George says he learns a lesson about regionalism from Wall Street analysts every time he tries to seek backing for a bond.

Tom George: The very first question they ask is about the state of the economy of the city of Cleveland, because they understand that the long-term success of the suburbs is directly related to the success and economic vitality of the city of Cleveland.

That economic vitality is threatened with each announcement of a business moving out of the city in search of suburban elbow room. Often it's not just more space they're looking for, but a sweeter deal, and just as often the potential for long term growth prompts competitive offers from neighboring cities - offers that include tax abatements, for instance, or better city services. Regional leaders call this "poaching", and Cleveland State University economist Ned Hill says it doesn't help anyone in the long run. He says Mayor Frank Jackson's water deal aims to stop such practices by solving a common problem.

Ned Hill: For a lot of the communities, signing the "no poaching" deal, it's something they wanted to sign anyway. They really do understand that all they're doing is re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, when the real job is getting the Titanic away from the damned iceberg.

But, a number of cities, mostly in the outer ring, have either rejected or not responded to the Cleveland offer. Take Westlake, for example.

Dennis Clough: We want to look at all options.

Mayor Dennis Clough says he's heard Cleveland's pitch. But, he's also being courted by the nearby city of Avon Lake. Cleveland State's Ned Hill says this puts Westlake in a very favorable position.

Ned Hill: If I'm sitting out there and I'm the mayor of Westlake, I'm going to sit there and say, "I want to see what the competitive landscape ends up being, in terms of my water provider."

Dennis Clough: Right now, it does look like it would be more advantageous for us to seek Avon Lake. But, until we get all of our studies completed, we won't make that final decision.

Frank Jackson says he's actually got 12 communities on board or ready to sign-up right now, and another 12 are considering the offer. If all of them came through, that would be 24 cities out of 57 in the region. But, that's a big "if". For now, the mayor says he's playing a waiting game.

Mayor Jackson: We're not pushing it, because it's something we don't want to push. We just want to educate people so they realize that's in their interest, our interest, and in the region's interest to proceed in this way.

In the meantime, Jackson and other backers of his regional approach, hope they can keep dodging the icebergs as they chart a course to safe harbor. David C. Barnett, 90.3.

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