Presented with support from:

GAR Foundation

By WKSU's Dave Pignanelli

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

On the surface, Ohio's latest employment numbers are welcome news for a state that is still struggling to find a new identity in the world economy. Gone are the days of steel and rubber producers that employ thousands. As Ohio moves toward a high tech, service economy, business organizations are beginning to pool their resources to grow as one.


(Click for larger view.)

Ray Leach - CEO JumpStart
(Dave Pignanelli)

(Click for larger view.)

Ron DeBarr - President and CEO NEOTECH
(Dave Pignanelli)

      Windows Media / MP3

Regionalism means different things to different people:

LEACH: Regionalism from a business development point of view in today's economy is really about finding individuals or organizations or institutions that have a common interest and that have a set of resources that are complimentary.

Ray Leach is CEO of Jump Start, a northeast Ohio non-profit that nurtures the growth of early stage ideas and businesses throughout a 16 county region.

LEACH: You can be in a scenario where, and we find ourselves regularly in a situation where we have perhaps a visionary or perhaps an entrepreneur that has a business concept or an idea or maybe even some intellectual property. That individual by themselves has almost an impossible time elevating and developing their idea.//

And Leach says, that's when JumpStart begins connecting those ideas, concepts and property to others in the region that have the resources to turn them into something tangible:

LEACH: Regionalism from our point of view is not about a single technology, not a single industry or making a bet in one particular area. It's about taking the strengths across the breadth of the region and bringing people, knowledge, capital, experience together in a way that these companies can be significantly more competitive as they address the needs of the North American market, or the world market.

In 1996, the Northeast Ohio Trade and Economic Consortium was created. NEOTECH, which is located in Kent, represents 10 counties and political subdivisions that pool resources for regional economic development. How important is this method of selling the region? Ron DeBarr is President and CEO of NEOTECH:

DeBarr : I read back in 1980, there were probably about 25 regional economic development groups that could be identified in the country. Today, there's probably 250 and growing. I think it's recognized that regional groups are becoming the new model of economic development...again, by leveraging each others efforts and allows us to ratchet up our efforts to a higher level.

This regional approach, whether it's trying to lure a business to an area or sell local products to a global marketplace, was not an easy transition. When NEOTECH was created, members of the original consortium competed fiercely on projects, each protecting their autonomy. DeBarr says it took a few years for everyone involved to settle down and gain the trust of a common goal:

DeBarr: People are starting to buy into that but it's taken awhile. It's like turning an aircraft carrier. It takes a lot of ocean and a lot of time. I think we're seeing a lot of progress in that regard.

When John D. Rockefeller and Harvey Firestone were the models of success in the early 1900's, each was able to privately raise the capital and resources necessary to succeed. As business has changed over the years, JumpStart's Ray Leach says it's now about what's the most effective and efficient way businesses can leverage people, the institutions, the knowledge and capital, then develop something that has real momentum and growth potential:

LEACH: Today, there's more conversation and more engagement between Akron and Cleveland than there's ever been in our history as a region. Well, why is that? It's because Akron can't go it alone, from a business perspective, I'm not talking about the government issues and the educational issues, purely from a business perspective, we are in the process of creating whole new industries and whole new companies and no one can afford to go it alone, and frankly it's not smart to go it alone given the resources that we have in the region today.

I'm Dave Pignanelli 89.7 WKSU.