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Published: Monday, 2/17/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

COMMENTARY

Matt Sapara aims to keep things rolling

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
COLUMNIST FOR THE BLADE

“I hope you can tell I have a lot of enthusiasm for my job,” says Matt Sapara, Toledo’s new economic development director.

Yes, I can. The man can get more words and ideas into a 40 minute span than an auctioneer.

We meet midmorning in the cafeteria on the 13th floor of Government Center. He has already been at work for hours and hit his caffeine limit. If enthusiasm and work ethic make a difference — I think they do — we have a winner in Matt Sapara.

That’s what they thought at the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, where he worked, rising through the ranks, for 12 years. That’s why, after he was elected mayor, Mike Collins wanted Mr. Sapara to go to work for the city.

Mr. Sapara, for his part, thinks that hard work helps, but that the key to economic development is three things:

  • A strategy.
  • Co-operation and communication among all possible actors.
  • Momentum.

He says we don’t fully have a strategy yet, but we will soon.

Meanwhile, he has a 100-day plan submitted to the mayor and council. But he says the essence of the city’s economic strategy must be marketing our manufacturing capacity, and along with it, our skilled work force. “We are really good at making things,” he says. Retail will follow manufacturing, he believes.

The second point is that the city, the county, and the private sector must be working in harmony. The mayor and the council must also work together. Mr. Sapara says he regards City Council as akin to his board of directors at the port. “My first commitment to the council,” he says, “is no surprises.”

Finally, momentum: Mr. Sapara says that since ProMedica’s announcement that it is moving downtown, his phone has been ringing off the hook.

He says: “No one wants to be the first one into the deep end of the pool, but when they see others, they take off the towel and jump in.”

He is confident that the Spitzer and Nicholas buildings can be saved and developed. Can the ownership issues be resolved so that can happen? “I think so,” he says. And this, he believes, will begin in 2014.

Can the Promenade Park and parking issues affiliated with the ProMedica downtown development be resolved? Yes, he says. And soon. Beginning the ProMedica move, should also be “an immediate 2014 event.”

Mr. Sapara says when he watches Randy Oostra in action, he has no doubts, he is inspired.

Back to energy: Mr. Sapara is a big man but he is an energizer bunny.

He tells me that he has been doing 35 meetings a week. He thinks he needs to cut that down a bit, so he can respond to events, and also stop and think.

How often does he meet with the mayor on economic development matters? “Officially, once a week, but actually every day.” The mayor, he tells me, is fully engaged, and engaged in the detail.

Things are changing, Mr. Sapara says. Negativity is giving way to a widely held sense of possibility. “You can feel it.”

Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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