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Get to “NEO a Leader” series: Meet Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin

Aurora, Ohio highlighted on a map. [SevenMaps/Shutterstock]
Aurora, Ohio highlighted on a map. [SevenMaps/Shutterstock]

Back in March, Ideastream Public Media expanded its news coverage to 22 counties - stretching across Northeast Ohio -- from Ashtabula and Trumbull in the east to Erie and Huron in the west, from urban counties that touch Lake Erie like Lorain, Lake, and Cuyahoga, to more rural southern counties like Holmes, Stark and Tuscarawas..

The area covers three million people, and that means there are a lot of communities many of us know very little about.

To help fill that knowledge gap, we started a series that will appear every few weeks here on the Sound of Ideas - called "Get to N-E-O a Leader." We'll talk to mayors and city managers, in communities large and small, about the places they lead - and we hope it helps connect and inform all of us - living across the region.

So far, we've spoken to Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan in Summit County, Richmond Heights Mayor Kim Thomas, in Cuyahoga County and Lorain Mayor Jack Bradley.

Today we venture into Portage County and talk with Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin.  She has held the position of mayor since 2013 and previously served on Aurora City Council as a member at-large. She has also served as a state representative in Columbus and served in Governor Bob Taft's cabinet as the Director of the Ohio Department of Insurance.  She is currently serving a term on the Kent State Board of Trustees, appointed by Governor DeWine.

For many workers, the daily commute is part of the routine of their jobs.  But for a sizeable portion of Northeast Ohio’s workforce, the commute, is in and of itself a  barrier to getting and keeping a job.  Over time, the region has become more geographically sprawling, spacing out jobs and disconnecting a portion of the workforce and talent pool that employers need to fill those positions.

In 2019, the Fund for Our Economic Future launched the Paradox Prize.  It set out to find innovating ways to address the issue that without a car you can’t get and hold a job and without a job you cannot afford a car.  The $1-million in prize money from the competition helped fund a number of pilot program solutions to help address gaps in the transportation system and better connect workers and employers.

More than 150 proposals were submitted from across the region and eight of those ideas rose to the top.

Those pilot program innovators will be part of an event Thursday  night at the Agora.  The event will not only share the program successes but also build on the work started in these programs and give practical ideas to civic and business leaders that can be implemented.

We are going to talk about some of those pilot programs and what the Paradox Prize competition has already provided in terms of lessons learned.

To read more about the pilot programs and the Paradox Prize, check out this report from the Fund for Our Economic Future.

Ann Womer Benjamin, Mayor, City of Aurora 
Bethia Burke, President, Fund for Our Economic Future 
Ben Capelle, CEO, Laketran 
Wendy Caldwell, Founder and Executive Director, P2R Training and Resource Center 

Leigh Barr is a coordinating producer for the "Sound of Ideas" and the "Sound of Ideas Reporters Roundtable."