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Best Place to Manufacture - Part 2

Tuesday, December 24, 2002 at 1:09 PM

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The city of Cleveland and the suburbs both want to keep and attract factories. They provide jobs and a tax base. For many manufacturers leaving Cleveland is becoming an attractive option. In Part 2 of our series on manufacturing in northeast Ohio, ideastream's Mike West explores why factories leave, and what the city is doing to try and keep them.

Mike West: Running a factory in Cleveland is more challenging than operating in the suburbs. There’s more government red tape and expansion is often a difficult because many plants are located in neighborhoods and boxed in by houses and narrow streets. That’s different than suburban industrial parks and open space where there’s lots of room to expand. The owners of the Power Brake Company moved out of Cleveland because they ran out of space and decided it was better to leave.

This plant makes and rebuilds auto and truck brake parts. Men are grinding and cleaning components at their work stations in this large warehouse-style building. Power Brake spent nearly 50 years in downtown Cleveland, but five years ago it moved to Brooklyn Heights. Jay Schach is the president of the company. He says when it was time to pick a new location, the process of remaining in Cleveland was too slow.

Jay Schach: When we were looking to move our building in Cleveland we were on a timetable and when you go in things move fast, in business a market opens up then it closes, we need to have quicker better communication between the economic development department and small business, defiantly through the growth association, through cose, which we participate in.

MW: Since moving, Schach says the company has paid lower property tax. He says he also enjoys the attention and assistance he gets from Brooklyn Heights City Hall. After moving, an economic development representative came to the plant and asked if there was anything he needed. He also says it’s easy to contact the mayor and city council representatives.

JS: Brooklyn Heights has an advantage being that they are a village, a smaller community. I understand that they have 260 some businesses and 2,000 residences, so they don’t have such a big area like Cleveland has to organize.

MW: Schack says Cleveland could learn from the suburbs that have taken companies away. He suggests that each ward have someone dedicated to economic development and working with their council representative to solve problems and retain manufacturing businesses.

JS: I recommend also that the business owners need to communicate to their local council representatives, it’s a two way street. We need the local government, they need us. We generate revenues for them, but they provide services and that communication needs to be improved between business owners and their local representatives.

MW: For Power Brake, moving a mere 6 miles south has saved workers commuting time. Schack says it also put him closer to his Akron customers. Suburban businesses managers are hard pressed to find any disadvantages of leaving Cleveland.

Steve Simms is the director of the Cleveland Department of Development. He admits City Hall is slow in granting permits, but he says rules have to be followed and are in place to protect citizens and control how and where the city grows. However, Simms says the problems are being addressed.

Steve Simms: We’ve taken some steps at City Hall to try to basically streamline our process. We have put into place some ideas around working directly, assigning staff directly to work through the entire process on larger projects with businesses that have major projects that they are doing, mayor being large. The approach now is to assign a person to just you know be a lead and principal contact throughout the process and what it does, it doesn’t eliminate amy of the steps but it provides a support to a business so that it’s less cumbersome on them.

MW: Putting the latest computer technology to work at City Hall is another challenge for the Campbell administration, and Simms says time and money are needed.

SS: I think that that was acknowledged from the very beginning that it was a process that could be updated, we continue to look at ways that we could improve it we have to do some things that will improve it even more, to try to make it more computer accessible from the internet and make sure that you can get some things done electronically. Some of things are possible they require large investments so you have a number of large investments that we have to make, so some of these things are going to be incremental and they will occur over time.

MW: Even though Cleveland manufactures have plenty of complaints, there is still a shortage of industrial space. Simms says the city is working right now assemble at least 100 acres for industrial purposes.

SS: One of the disadvantages of an urban city like Cleveland, Ohio is that it is basically built - it’s fully built and our opportunity is really an opportunity of redevelopment and so were looking for ways to redevelop this community by providing opportunities to create more space and to assemble land we currently are working in the mid-town area to try to help create a technology park, were looking at the east side and the west side at both extremes to see if it’s possible to find a way to provide places with good access to do new industrial parks.

MW: Every city wants to attract more companies and jobs to build their tax base. That’s why there is competition. However, it’s been suggested by the mayors of Cleveland and Akron that a better approach is cooperation. Rather than fighting over companies that are already in the area, political leaders say working together to bring new businesses into the region is better for the future of northeast Ohio. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3.

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