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Team NEO

Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 3:03 PM

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There are many programs and organizations that are trying to increase business activity in northeast Ohio. But community, political and business leaders agree that more needs to be done. That's why a new player has entered the field. It's called Team Northeast Ohio, or Team NEO. Leaders of the new organization claim they can do a better job in convincing companies to invest in the region. Its mission also includes helping northeast Ohio's established companies with grow and expand. However, some members of business community are already questioning the effectiveness the new effort. ideastream's Mike West has this report.

The organization is a partnership that includes several major corporations - The Greater Cleveland Growth Association, The Akron Chamber of Commerce, Cleveland Tomorrow, and chambers of commerce and development boards from Stark and Lorain counties and Youngstown and Warren. Dennis Eckart is the CEO of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association and a Team NEO representative.

Dennis Eckart: It is a first attempt by anyone, anywhere to combine attraction, retention, business to business marketing and expansion in the entire country.

Similar attempts have failed to make much of an improvement to the region’s economy. But Eckart says Team NEO has the advantage of being more helpful and efficient. The Team NEO concept is a central source for packaging information and assisting in economic development. Its mission also includes business recruiting and promoting the region as a good place to locate. Eckart says Team NEO staff will be expected to produce measurable results. Northeast Ohio’s anemic business climate has been tagged the “Quiet Crisis,” a phrase Eckart wants to change.

Dennis Eckart: Team NEO reaches beyond our abilities today, but sets the standards for result - job creation around which we can measure an improvement in the quality of the life which will no longer give it quiet crisis, but make it very clear that Team Northeast Ohio is the first down payment on ending the quiet crisis and the beginning of a new chapter of quite confidence.

But not everyone is ready to embrace Team NEO. At least one business leader is afraid this effort could be just another well intentioned and expensive effort without results. Pat Perry is the president of the Employers Resource Council. His company has clients in 22 Ohio counties that represent over 400,000 employees.

Pat Perry: If Team NEO has any major challenges, it’s going to be credibility. I think it’s important that they’ve assembled some very important business leaders. It sounds like they have some good money funded up front and that’s all well and good, but on a day-to-day basis and the reality is that many business leaders and owners will want to see results, and that’s the end of the story.

Part of the mission of Team NEO is business retention and helping companies that are already here make money and get better support from the community and from city hall. Perry says business leaders will be watching closely.

Pat Perry: If there’s nice brochures, that’s wonderful, there’s posters, there’s radio advertisement, that’s great… but the bottom line is, the business owner today needs to see concrete results. What is team neo gonna do for me. That’s what we really need to look at, what are we helping with the individual business.

Perry says if Team NEO can prove itself by doing things as simple as increasing the number of parking spaces in downtown Cleveland. Or by convincing Cleveland-based Athersys, the poster child for biotech in northeast Ohio, not to move away, something that is rumored to be happening soon.

Pat Perry: So they have history against them, or as a challenge I should say, and they also have the fact that if you want to get successes you better do it now, you better do it quick and you better hit it at the heart of small and medium size business right away here in northeast Ohio.

Some business leaders are concerned that Team NEO planners didn’t involve some major players. Bill Ryan is the president of the Master Consulting Group. He’s also the former head of the Northern Ohio Area Chambers of Commerce. NOACC has about 100 members and a territory that blankets northern Ohio from Indiana to Pennsylvania, representing 25,000 businesses. Ryan says he offered to help but has yet to hear back from Team NEO organizers.

Bill Ryan: I think it is fair to say that there may be an opportunity this next time around to include more entities and more local organizations and interests in a regionalization effort to endeavor to incorporate their enthusiasm, their participation and their ideas and so forth.

However, Team NEO leaders say they’ll be reaching out to other organizations now that the group has officially been established. Ryan says another challenge for Team NEO will be cooperation. Convincing cities to do what’s best for the greater good, rather than fighting over new prospects.

Bill Ryan: If regionlization is to really happen I think ultimately everyone who’s involved in it has to recognize that there is a particular place that is best for a new business coming to the area to locate and it may not be my particular area. I think that’s really has to ultimately come down to is everybody working together to realize that if we attract a business to northeast Ohio, anywhere in northeast Ohio it’s good for everybody, this is not a zero-sum game.

Peter Burg is the interim Team NEO chairman and the CEO of Akron-based First Energy. He’s confident that everyone in the 13 county Team NEO territory will rise above turf war tendencies.

Peter Burg: When you get down to the short strokes everyone would like an entity to be located in their area, but as we work to sell the region I think that will take care of itself and they’ll be plenty for everyone.

Team NEO will have a 15 member board, many of them entrepreneurs. The group has already raised about $3.5 million and hopes to eventually double their budget to pay for their first 3 years of operation. Team NEO leaders plan to hire a president by April and be to up-and-running by this spring. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3.

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