New Strategy for Recovery

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Economic development organizations prefer to look on the bright side. Team Northeast Ohio, the area's leading job attraction organization, regularly issues reports touting "significant job gains" ..."manufacturing out-performance"...and "growth" in capital investment. But a report released late Monday paints a different picture. It says the region has under-performed the national economy for years and continues to do so in these post-recession years.

"There were pockets that were doing well. As an economy though we were more or less flat-lined," according to TimkenSteel CEO Ward Timken, Jr. He's co-char of the Regional Competitiveness Council - the group that put out the new analysis. It's 15-member steering committee includes other heavy-hitters - from PNC Bank, First Energy, Westfield Insurance, plus the Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation and others. In an interview with WCPN, Timken said in their review the "ah-ha" moment came when the data showed the region would have 400,000 more jobs today if it had just kept pace with the national average.

"This really was wake up call," said Timken. "It took that piece of analytics to help us understand how bad it was."

The review goes on to say that large investments in entrepreneurship, innovation and job attraction that the economic development community had tried produced only modest results. The problem is less about money and more about strategy. As a result, several action steps are underway that represent a change.

The board of one economic development agency, NorTech, voted Monday night to dissolve and be folded into TeamNeo which will have new leadership. After 8 years at the helm, TeamNeo's Presdient, Tom Waltermire, is retiring at the end of the year. NorTech's President, Rebecca Bagley, said she plans to move to the private sector. A new leader for TeamNeo wasn't announced but the organization is to have the lead role in coordinating regional job growth efforts and they'll be implementing the new approach. One that targets only a few industry clusters for development at a time.

Timken said, "Rather than trying to do 18 different clusters at one time you really need to focus on a handful and say here's where we going to grow; then you move to the next one, etc, etc."

Which industries move down or off the priority list is still under review but Ward Timken is pretty sure about a couple that will be top of the list. "Clearly the whole biomed area up around the Clinic is critical," he said. "Shale is and the supply chains related to the development of shale will clearly be on that list." He said it's "an opportunity of a lifetime" for many NE Ohio stakeholders. "It's a little too early to say which (economic sectors) we'd de-emphasize," he said.

The Regional Competitiveness Council's hope is that once its strategies are fully up and running there will be better coordination among agencies and less "localism" because communities will be working through one agency, TeamNeo. Timken said, "They won't have to fight as much amongst themselves."

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