Regional Officials Promise United Campaign For Economic Growth

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

BROOK PARK, Ohio (AP) - Northeast Ohio government and business leaders say they want to enhance the region's influence with a new plan to coordinate scattered and often conflicting economic development efforts.

More than 150 people gathered Friday at the NASA Glenn Research Center to begin a unified effort to lure businesses and government funding to the region.

Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones -- one of the event sponsors -- said the goal is to create a standing committee that can push the entire region's growth.

Local economic development efforts have not always been coordinated to provide a broader regional impact.

For example, the ten-year dispute over land rights between Cleveland and Brook Park delayed the expansion of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport -- hurting development in neighboring communities.

Frank DeTillio, president of the Lorain County Chamber of Commerce, said the expansion now under way will be a major selling point for Lorain, a port city trying to lure new business by promising easy access to transportation.

The region also suffers because it lacks a program to launch businesses based on homegrown inventions, Jones said.

Kent State University did pioneering research on liquid crystal displays used in such devices as hand-held digital assistants, but the region has seen no commercial development based on that technology.

Also, Jones said that when federal money became available for the region, local lobbying efforts were uncoordinated and frequently divided along party lines.

"There is no question that northeast Ohio is not receiving its fair share of state or federal support," Jones said.

"We represent 3 million people," he said. "If we can have a bipartisan lobbying effort that represents this vast swath of northeast Ohio, that could make a big difference. That kind of lobbying is not taking place."

Talk of regional coordination is not new in the area, but several participants Friday said they see both more need for cooperation and more commitment to achieving it.

"We can't exist in a vacuum," said Barbara Dzur, the city of Medina's development director. "We hope this is more than just talk."

Medina County is the fastest growing in the region, but nearly all its growth is residential, Dzur said, so the county needs to encourage more business development to balance the tax base.

But without an airport and universities, it looks to neighboring counties for the transportation and education that would lure business.

Lorain's DeTillio said area chambers of commerce have begun a parallel effort to coordinate economic development missions and that the group has been pressing for greater cooperation from the public sector.

"We need to marshal our resources," DeTillio said. "So much of what we have done has been completely parochial."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)