Making Change: TeamNEO Proof Positive of Regional Cooperation

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There's a theory that when communities across a broad swath of land work together toward the same goal - the theory goes - then the entire region will be better off. They call it "regionalism," and Northeast Ohio's business community is banking on it to improve the area's track record at retaining and attracting business.

Bob Farley: And again, what you get out of wider, regional program is that you begin to see all the cross-cutting issues that stack up and the things you need to address not just in one industry sector but across pretty much all industry sectors.

Bob Farley, former vice president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce, is going to lead the new organization, which is called TeamNEO. Team Northeast Ohio, get it? TeamNEO was spawned through efforts of The Greater Cleveland Growth Association and Cleveland Tomorrow's. It acts as the point-person, if you will, for the region's business interests. Farley says since it represents chambers of commerce throughout the 13-county area, TeamNEO will be a strong force for the region's business development. Farley says it starts with marketing.

Bob Farley: Just promoting and interpreting the region as a region to some extent is a good way to kind of enter into that dialogue because we are quite large region - with four-plus million people just in the region that NEO covers. And some of the blended activities, we do share common labor forces and so on will make us I think appear a little different and maybe play a little bigger for some of the kinds of companies that we want to attract.

After all, no one outside of Northeast Ohio thinks of "Beachwood" or "Hudson". To them, it's all Cleveland. So, what's good for Elyria is good for Youngstown, says Tom Humphries, president and CEO of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber. By way of example, he says the University of Akron's polymer program benefits the Mahoning Valley - even though they're 50 miles apart.

Tom Humphries: Our population has a chance to participate in that. So, I see that as an advantage to us, just because I'm not sure that that person might not have to move from here to go do that. So I see those opportunities there as our opportunity as well. Just because the workplace is there, the expendable income comes back here.

But whether or not the Youngstown area will actually land a new business is a different question. The Greater Cleveland Growth Association and Cleveland Tomorrow were not only the instigators of TeamNEO; they also invested the most money in it - about $2.1 million spread out over three years. That far outstrips the five other investing entities who contributed anywhere from $325,000 over three years, like Akron did, to $45,000, like Youngstown. But Tom Humphries says inequality won't be an issue.

Tom Humphries: We each have a vote at the table. There's a management council and I'm one of six. I have one vote just like Dennis Eckart has. The board of directors is made up a little different because there are more board members from Cleveland than there are from Youngstown, but proportionately, I think it's very fair.

Jim Doutt: We're the fastest growing county of any of the thirteen and certainly any of the thirteen have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Jim Doutt is executive director of the Medina County Economic Development Corporation. He says he's skeptical that Medina County will get the consideration it deserves when TeamNEO scopes the region for new business locales. Doutt says even though the Akron Chamber represents the interests of Medina County, he and other officials are being aggressive to make sure their opinion is heard.

Jim Doutt: I think one way of saying it is just to make sure that the playing field is level. That the engine that drives TeamNEO has some Medina County voice involved in it.

Doutt notes so far, TeamNEO seems open to communication about Medina County's interests. Still, TeamNEO's Bob Farley says, there's only so much he can do to push a company to locate in a specific area.

Bob Farley: Will we consciously only show them one place or another? We can't do that. We want the jobs in the region, but we will do our best to articulate what we think the benefits are of them taking advantage of existing infrastructure in some cases versus areas where may none exist.

There's yet another challenge to TeamNEO: tax revenues. If Streetsboro scores a new or expanded company, it will only be Streetsboro that gets the direct financial windfall - they don't share it with anyone else. Pat Carey, public policy consultant and executive director of the Northeast Ohio Regional Alliance, says ultimately, it's the tax revenues that might undermine the magnanimity of TeamNEO's goal.

Pat Carey: City officials have a real difficult decision to make. They have a responsibility to the community to provide services. And if they're going to provide services, they have to have a tax base. It's a difficult decision and we're back to the whole way the taxing is handled.

Carey says as a home-rule state with a tradition of inter-county competition, Northeast Ohio isn't quite ready for redistributing tax revenues or any kind of tax sharing plan. Still, she says, TeamNEO is an important step toward creating a regional mentality in Northeast Ohio. In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3.

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