Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Greater Youngstown Includes Cleveland and Pittsburgh

Via the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission blog, NEOtropolis tackles regionalism for Northeast Ohio. That issue finds an echo in the latest edition of PopCity (Pittsburgh):

We can still diss the Browns and cheer for the Steelers, but Pittsburgh and Cleveland simply must work together on economic development and that's what the Tech Belt Initiative is all about. Replicating the Research Triangle in North Carolina and Silicon Valley, Congressmen Jason Altmire (PA-04) and Tim Ryan (OH-17) established the Tech Belt Initiative and its 134 miles of economic opportunity between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Over the past several years, the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, BioEnterprise in Cleveland and a host of other organizations have repeatedly joined forces to draw more venture capitalists to our area and to facilitate collaborations between research firms in both states.

The Tech Belt covers 7.2 million people, making it the 4th largest industrial/technology region nationally, with a potential economic impact of more than $1 billion in annual academic R&D. Currently, 700+ companies employ over 25,000+ in bioscience enterprises alone.

Who were the key drivers? Top of the list is John Mancini, President of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse along with various foundations and organizations include the McCune Foundation, the Raymond John Wean Foundation, Allegheny Conference and the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

I recently heard a rumble that the TechBelt Initiative is soon to take wing. To what end? That's a good question that Aaron Renn has tackled:

I’m willing to be convinced. I clearly see the benefits of regional cooperation on a metro or economic area basis. Even there, however, we’ve seen significant challenges operationalizing even that idea. To really justify significant time and effort being spent on mega-regionalism beyond the quick and easy idea exchange variety, I think a specific program of recommended actions and the type of results we should expect to see from them needs to be put forward. Otherwise I’m inclined to view mega-regionalism in the Midwest as dinosaurs mating. Rolling up a bunch of weak players won’t make a strong one.

As you might note, Aaron is looking at mega-regionalism. I think his critique applies equally well at a smaller scale such as the TechBelt. I don't agree with the "dinosaurs mating" simile. The issue is competing for a slice of a shrinking economic pie. When Cleveland sees Pittsburgh as a competitor, both cities lose:

To distinguish its red-carpet tours, Team NEO crafts attention-grabbing invitations. For the tour during the Rock Hall's induction weekend, invitees received small guitar cases with invitations tucked inside.

"We are competing for these jobs against Indianapolis, Detroit, Pittsburgh," said Team NEO's Carin Rockind, vice president of marketing and communications. "We have to break through."

The parochial barriers to cooperations are significant. The biggest loser in this pride tug-of-war is Youngstown. If Cleveland is fighting with Pittsburgh for "these jobs", then those positions are more likely to end up outside of the TechBelt. Whether they end up in Cleveland or Pittsburgh is of little consequence to Youngstown. That's why it makes sense that the TechBelt is Tim Ryan's baby.

Even the Mahoning Valley has a long way to go concerning regional thinking. Need I remind you of Girard v. Youngstown? The turf war didn't benefit either city. That is what is at stake with the TechBelt Initiative.

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