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Brookings study says cities are key to Ohio's revitalizaiton

by WKSU's M.L. SCHULTZE


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M.L. Schultze
 
Ohio's past rests with its cities. And so, according to a new Brookings Institution report, does its future. The report was released in Columbus Wednesday and its conclusion coincides with the release last week by Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher of a new strategic plan for economic development in Ohio.
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Most of the business, social service, and government officials gathered in the Columbus Convention Center were already true believers. So they found a lot to love in the conclusions of a Brookings Institute study that says Ohio's cities must reassert themselves as cultural, economic, and educational hubs. One of the obstacles is fragmented and competitive local governments, according to Bruce Katz who oversaw the report. That leaves "thousands of local municipalities and school districts that literally wake up everyday and think about how to compete against each other for a little payroll tax here or some property tax there," Katz said. He also said that the true competition is not with other communities within Ohio, but with entire globe. Katz said that Ohio's cities have old assets that can be used in new ways. For example, thirty years ago rivers were originally thought of only as a mode of transportation. Today, "they're used to mix these developments, parks, liveable communities. They're an attraction. They're a magnet for talented workers." One of the cities profiled in the Brookings report is Akron and its attempt to redefine manufacturing in the city. Mayor Don Plusquellic says that Akron did that despite years of state policies that encourage moves to the suburbs. He says that suburban sprawl is "adding to our energy costs making it more difficult and more expensive because we have more roads and more sewer lines and more water lines to maintain and it adds to our general cost of governing." That's changing under Governor Ted Strickland according to the report and to Al Ratner, head of Forest City Enterprises in Cleveland. He said that the most important thing that the state needs to do is to increase its population. "Population eats, pays taxes, and sends kids to school," Ratner said. He added that the state need not focus only on attracting smart and talented people. "I'd take anybody. I am the only guy in the country that will take every illegal immigrant I could get."
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