Monday, May 21, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio


Smoke but no fire

The natural reaction to the prospect of hiring a consultant to examine economic development in this region is to ask: another study?

But perhaps the Maryland firm expected to get the job will reaffirm from the outside what we have been saying for several years now - this area's economic development efforts have been all smoke and no fire.

Local officials who are negotiating to commission the study promise that they'll accept whatever comes out of it, and we have to hope they mean it.

Steve Seaton, Toledo's economic development director, says there will be no “sacred cows” - in other words, no agency and no individual will be spared criticism where warranted.

Ken Dobson, a member of the boards of both the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority and the Regional Growth Partnership, says it's finally time to “drop the defensive armor” every time criticism is voiced about the lack of economic development progress in this area.

And turf protection will not be a factor, insists Don Jakeway, president of the Regional Growth Partnership.

That's commendable, because there is no shortage of turf or economic development players in this region, and it is tough to say an encouraging word about any of them.

Mr. Jakeway's RGP was spun off from the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority nine years ago, and we're still waiting for a pattern of steady job growth and a feeling that this region is doing all it can to bring back the prosperity that once was ours.

It's especially discouraging that an area which once enjoyed wages 8 percent above the national average have since dropped to 15 percent below the national average, largely because thousands of manufacturing jobs have been lost.

It's foolish for those charged with economic development to cling to the notion that those jobs will return in any great numbers, or that some corporate giant will build a massive manufacturing plant and overnight bring 5,000 jobs to the Toledo region.

The area must embrace the idea that a high-tech economy is the future and aggressively pursue a different target than the traditional manufacturing plants of the past.

If we're going to spend $130,000 from taxpayers whose wages have been outpaced in many other parts of the country, we'd better hear an acknowledgment from Mr. Jakeway and James Hartung, president of the port authority, that to this point, they have failed.

Their leadership has been unsophisticated and the results embarrassing. Strip away the slogans and the fancy offices, and there is little of substance.

Maybe the consultant should take a long look not only at economic development efforts, such as they are, in the 11 northwest Ohio counties closest to and including Toledo, but also the singular lack of attention or interest in southern Monroe County, which is an important part of this metropolitan area. Yet the port authority and the RGP look at it almost as a foreign country.

The Blade has often been criticized by community apologists as overly negative about economic development. We think we've been realistic. Our economic fortunes will not be reversed until the decision-makers abandon their state of denial.

If they are honest about the trends of the last 20 years, and arrest them, there is no reason the future cannot be bright.

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