Johnson: We’ve come a long wayWritten by Dan Johnson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I read with considerable excitement and pride the Jan. 15 edition of Toledo Free Press, dedicated to the collaboration of agencies of economic development in Toledo and Northwest Ohio. It may have been the first time I’ve seen all of the development agencies “on the same page,” literally, publicly presenting the new era of “working together with unity of purpose.” These agencies include the Office of the Mayor, University of Toledo, Regional Growth Partnership, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, Lucas County Improvement Corporation and Northwest Ohio Regional Economic Development Association.
One might argue that this may be the single most important accomplishment of these organizations and their leaders in recent years. Can you remember ever reading or hearing any mayor of Toledo touting the “collective” “collaborative,” work of the city’s economic development “partners”? Or talk about members of Toledo’s “economic development team?” It was refreshing to read and I found myself thinking, “Right on!”
But the story doesn’t end there. You also have the University of Toledo “merging education and entrepreneurship” with tangible results in the form of the creation of Rocket Ventures LLC, a collaborative initiative between UT’s Innovation Enterprises, the economic development arm of the university — with the Regional Growth Partnership (RGP). Rick Stansley, chairman of the Board for Innovation Enterprises, describes this as the “philosophical model” for interactions with the City of Toledo, Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce and other organizations. This collaborative venture represents, I believe, a giant step in the right direction toward a more coherent approach to effective regional economic development.
Dean Monske, president/CEO of the RGP, wrote about a “renewed spirit of collaboration among all regional entities” and how that has helped communications and fostered “a willingness to partner and utilize joint resources.” Monske went on to describe their “eagerness to share in successes” and their “commitment to excel.” It is also important to note the strong, new emphasis at the RGP embracing the international dimension in their economic development strategy. This move is long overdue but comes in time to support the multiple international initiatives under way at the University of Toledo, in Toledo and elsewhere in the region. Connecting Toledo more strongly and effectively to regions of strength in the global economy must be a key element of our regional economic development strategic planning.
Paul Toth, president/CEO of Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, likewise showed his support of enhanced collaboration among his peers and fellow professionals in economic development. His commitment to collaboration is reflected in his statement, “It is imperative that our regional economic development agencies continue to work cooperatively” if we as a region are to capitalize on the opportunities for greater growth. Toth went on to point out concrete steps that have been taken to improve the effectiveness of our collective efforts. “As a region,” he says, “the economic development partners have identified several goals and objectives that we will cooperatively work toward completing in 2012. These goals will provide a concentrated strategy which will be measurable and provide accountability to the community and clearly define where we focus our collective resources.” The measurability and accountability of these efforts and commitments make them more than theories or philosophies of economic development. These are concrete actions that will benefit the region in tangible ways.
Ford Weber, president/CEO of Lucas County Improvement Corporation, reinforced the theme that “regional collaboration is improving.” Ford called attention to the Toledo Region branding initiative (www.ToledoRegion.com), which he described as “one of the best examples of our new regional collaboration.” Like other economic development leaders, Weber noted the critical importance and strong mix of our region’s educational institutions. Our schools, colleges and universities are central to the economic well-being and future development of the region. The quality and alignment of their programs must always be front and center in our economic development discussions, planning and strategies.
Our community and region should be pleased with these important steps toward a more openly collaborative approach to economic development. Even if it is just the first step, it is a giant step toward a more coherent, integrated and effective approach to regional economic development. Our community leaders and the various boards of directors that oversee these agencies and institutions should encourage their CEOs to follow through with these new beginnings and, further, hold them responsible for increased collaboration where such efforts will bring a greater return on the community’s investment.
With the continuing success of these collaborative efforts, Toledo and Northwest Ohio will be in a position to take on even more challenging initiatives that will improve our region’s economic growth and development. Such initiatives should include greater integration and alignment of the region’s work force development and education programs, more effective leadership and management of the region’s key economic clusters, and positioning the Toledo region as a true center of education, learning, innovation and entrepreneurship.
Toledo Free Press deserves a lot of credit for highlighting the progress of our region’s economic development agencies toward a more collaborative philosophy and approach to growing the economy. It is an appropriate and positive way of promoting a stronger economy and a stronger and more engaged community.
Dan Johnson is director of global initiatives, president emeritus and distinguished university professor of public policy and economic development at the University of Toledo. Email him at email@example.com.
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