Toledo's five leading mayoral candidates auditioned for young business people last night in a forum at the SeaGate Convention Centre set up to ensure they didn't borrow from each other's answers.
Unlike the typical debate format, EPIC, a group associated with the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, scheduled the candidates in 20-minute intervals and kept them out of the room before their turns.
Questions focused on how to attract new industries, revitalize the urban core, boost regional cooperation, keep pace with “green” development, tone down the friction with city council, and promote Toledo.
At the event were Democrats Keith Wilkowski and Ben Konop, independents D. Michael Collins and Mike
Bell, and Republican Jim Moody.
Mr. Bell said he would promote regional communication and “incubate” small businesses.
“They are the foundation of our tax base; we need to be able to work with them,” Mr. Bell said.
He backed the intermodal project — railroad shipping that connects with truck shipping — because of the spinoff opportunities.
And he said he'd follow the Meta Plan promoted by the University of Toledo that stresses the specific role of each economic development entity in Lucas County.
To keep up with green development, Mr. Bell said he would turn to UT researchers and business entrepreneurs for expertise.
Mr. Bell said the relationship of the mayor and council in the past has been “embarrassing.”
“We need to sit down and talk about the issues so they are in line with good information of what needs to be done,” Mr. Bell said.
If asked to make a 30-second commercial about Toledo, he would say, “Give us an opportunity to sweep you off your feet with what we can do.”
Mr. Collins said Toledo has created problems for itself and “has no credibility in the region.”
He said he would not have a city economic development department, which he called duplicative, and would follow the Meta Plan.
He proposed turning the former Steam Plant at Promenade Park into a national freshwater aquarium, and he would emphasize public safety.
“We have 1.6 police per 1,000 people — the lowest in any city in the United States,” he said. “We must have safe streets.”
He advocated bioenergy, and cited patents earned at UT in agribusiness.
“The biggest failure I see in Toledo is the failure to recognize emerging markets,” Mr. Collins said.
And if the city is known for dysfunction, it won't appeal to entrepreneurs. “We can't do that anymore. We have to understand image is everything,” he said.
Mr. Konop emphasized empowering “the creative class.”
“The key is attracting and retaining young, smart, energetic people like yourselves and letting them make the decisions” about industries, Mr. Konop said.
He cited UT as a likely source of ideas for emerging markets that could flourish in Toledo.
He said he'd merge the economic development function with Lucas County.
“People are competing amongst each other. We don't have the resources to do that anymore,” he said. “We need to be competing against China and California, not within Lucas County.”
Mr. Konop suggested one way to make downtown vibrant and energetic is to get the Marina District going.
And he advocated a better trained and educated work force.
“We lag well behind the national average in college graduation rates. So there's no mystery why a place like Columbus has half the unemployment rate of Toledo,” Mr. Konop said.
Mr. Moody touted his plan to jumpstart housing construction, and said the intermodal concept is closer to fruition than some future concepts that won't produce jobs for a long time.
“I will have experts in Asian markets, in foreign markets, utilities. I will go to entrepreneurial conventions, invention conventions,” Mr. Moody said.
He said he has a commitment from UT President Lloyd Jacobs to supply research backing for businesses that he brings to Toledo.
To revitalize downtown and recapture the excitement he said he experienced in 1985, he proposed an amphitheater at the Marina District, and said Toledo must bring in tourists.
“We need to quit recirculating our own money,” he said.
If writing a 30-second commercial, he said the slogan would be, “Toledo is exactly where you want to be.”
He said the city is positioned for green development in alternative fuels because of its Midwest location, rail system, and pipelines.
Mr. Wilkowski emphasized his background as a county commissioner and city law director in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he was involved with bringing BAX Global to Toledo Express Airport and establishing tax sharing zones with Maumee and Rossford.
“More than anything else, we need a mayor that has an understanding and background in job creation,” he said.
He said Toledo must continue to emphasize manufacturing, such as solar cells, wind turbines, next-generation cars, and medical and biological products.
“The city of Toledo and our region are so well-positioned to take advantage of the new green economy,” Mr. Wilkowski said, adding it's important to make sure incentives are targeted toward industries of the future.
He said government could help downtown by establishing tax-free buildings and zones.
“Downtowns need to be places where people on a daily basis live, work, and play,” he said.
He said Toledo should be promoted as a city that is coming back. “I would produce a commercial that showcases Toledo's assets,” he said.
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