Gene Krebs Testimony for House Bill 153

May 3rd, 2011

Every two years the state of Ohio develops a new budget to fund all state activities and many local activities through a variety of subsidies.  In fact the state only keeps 15% of the tax money that flows through their treasury and sends the remaining 85% back to the local governments.  For seventy years the state has been distributing money to local governments without sufficient consideration for cost efficiencies.

Greater Ohio has recently testified in the House Finance Committee that Ohio needs better data to understand how to achieve these cost efficiencies .  Better data will be the key in transforming Ohio’s communities to become more competitive in the global economy.  Currently Ohio’s fractured and duplicative layers of government undercut Ohio’s economic competitiveness, and the most important tool to reversing these damaging trends is the accumulation and distribution of better data.  In order for each taxpayer to get the best best bang for their buck, better data is needed to know where and how cut, merge, consolidate or share.

For more information on this topic, read Gene Krebs’ complete testimony.  If you’re not interested already, here’s a direct quote from Gene’s testimony, “I can give more data about Kate Middleton’s dress than I can about most Ohio government, state and local.”

Sustainable Planning for the Dayton Region

April 7th, 2011

Check out this amazing video from the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission.

This video explains what sustainable growth is and the importance of sustainable planning in determining the future economic competitiveness for Dayton and its surrounding villages and townships.  MVRPC makes the case that the cost of building new infrastructure on the urban fringe often exceeds the economic contributions new commercial and residential developments bring to the region, and instead Miami Valley’s future health depends on compact, walkable neighborhoods, and reused pre-existing commercial and manufacturing sites.

MVRPC is implementing a new initiative, “Going Places,”  that takes into account better land use, varied housing choices, and a range of transportation options—all which will help the Dayton metro and Miami Valley region successfully compete in the global marketplace.

Making long-term investments in our Cities and Metro Regions, While Balancing the Budget

March 29th, 2011

By Lavea Brachman.

The 2010 census data for Ohio showing many of Ohio’s cities shrinking further over the last decade, leaving additional vacant properties in their wake, as well as declining revenues and increasing legacy costs, was disheartening, although not surprising.  Juxtapose these trends with the Kasich Administration’s budget proposal, as local governments grapple with the impact of the proposed cuts on their day-to-day operations, and there is reason to be concerned about how these cities and their metropolitan areas – which are the state’s economic drivers — will retain a toehold in the next economy.

Looking at European cities – resulting from Greater Ohio’s on-going partnership with the German Marshall Fund – to see what they have done to fortify their cities as economic engines, we are reminded of the need for policymakers to take a longer view. Ohio WILL emerge from this fiscal crisis, and when we do, we want to make sure we have preserved our assets and made critical long-term investments.  Against tremendous odds, the cities of Manchester, England and Leipzig, Germany have begun to prosper, due to many innovative local practices and to strong leadership (to be discussed in a future blog). But one lesson stands out from both cities which is the importance of treating public money as investments and not as subsidies.

Taking this approach, these cities – in partnership with their state and federal government equivalents — systematically identified areas (both geographic and business sectors) where increased investment could produce the greatest quantitative and qualitative returns over the long-term.  For instance, Leipzig targeted select neighborhoods, using federal-state funding programs to support demolition and rehabilitation in distressed neighborhoods, coupled with other rebuilding programs.  Manchester used innovative public-private partnership vehicles to target and invested in regeneration areas (such as an area called New East Manchester).  Also Manchester aspires to be Britain’s center for digital and related created industries, so it is promoting cluster development with an incubator of entrepreneurial media firms.  Certainly, there are promising stateside examples of making strategic investments for the long-term, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Here in Ohio, we have tremendous institutional assets that we must leverage with smart investments, at the same time that we undertake the necessary cost-cutting measures, such as shared services and consolidation.  Even in this state of fiscal and economic crisis, we need to take a step back and encourage targeted, strategic investments — in market-ready neighborhoods and leveraging our many and vaunted “anchor” institutions (e.g. universities, medical centers).  Without these investments, our metropolitan regions will be less and less capable of creating the climate that leads to business growth, innovation or produce the exports needed to be part of the next economy.

Columbus 2050

March 23rd, 2011

In 39 years, will you love to live in Columbus?

The Columbus chapter of the Urban Land Institute along with many central Ohio partners has launched a visioning and long-term planning initiative called Columbus 2050.  Throughout the process, ULI will ask central Ohio residents what they would like to see happen in the community over the next 39 years.  Several events with local experts are also scheduled for the coming year to inform the broader conversation.  In the end, this long-term effort will create plans for Columbus that reflect the needs and desires of the community and are sensitive to global and regional economic and demographic trends.  We applaud the effort to proactively plan for the Columbus region’s future.  See the video below where local stakeholders, including Greater Ohio’s Executive Director, Lavea Brachman, discuss the initiative.

The State of the State

March 15th, 2011

By Gene Krebs.

Like many Buckeyes, I am waiting for the budget to be released later today.  In the meantime, many have been poring over the recent State of the State speech by Governor Kasich and looking for clues.  I was pleased to see that the speech touched on many smart growth principles.

Some of the themes from the speech aligned with what we have been hammering on for seven long years.  The main one is that our metropolitan regions are central to restoring Ohio.  Governor Kasich emphasized this by drawing attention to the dramatic population loss of many of Ohio’s major cities.  “Cleveland and Youngstown have lost 50 percent of their population since 1950. Fifty percent of the population of Cleveland and Youngstown gone.  And I will take your breath away by telling you that the city where the north meets the south, Cincinnati, has lost 40 percent of its population since 1950.”  This acknowledgment of our shrinkage is an important first step to being able to diagnose and treat the problems we are facing.  This focus on cities also affirms Greater Ohio’s agenda.  I am glad to hear that cities and metros are getting the attention they deserve.

The State of the State speech also reflected a shift in attitude towards how we grow.  What does it all mean?  This could be an indicator of massive changes in how we govern, how we are organized, and how we spend.  These changes are likely coming as the state attempts to deal with our unprecedented budget shortfall.

It was also positive to hear that Governor Kasich supports governance reform and shared services.  As he said in his speech, “We are going to reform government, okay? It’s going to happen. And I’m — I’m asking you all to keep an open mind about the possibilities of reform because you can’t keep doing the same thing in this state and avoiding the decisions that need to be made that have been put off for political reasons, frankly.”   Change certainly is needed for many reasons.  Ohio’s antiquated form of government was designed for the horse and buggy economy, not the global economy.  We need to reform in order to compete.

However, we hope that the change represents not just cuts in our spending, but also the right types of investments in our cities and metros as well.  Ohio needs to face the fact that cutting taxes and spending alone will not be the silver bullet.  And we have to acknowledge that our population loss is not due solely to high taxes.  We need to invest in order to build the kinds of quality places that attract businesses and skilled workers.  For further proof of this, see this letter from a Michigan CEO who wants to relocate out of Michigan not due to taxes or regulations, but because the sprawl endemic to his area creates undesirable places where talented, educated workers prefer not to live.

All in all, there were many positive signs, but there is a lot of work ahead of us, and the devil is in the details.  We look forward to seeing the budget later today in order to figure out the Governor’s proposed path of action.  Stay tuned for more of Greater Ohio’s analysis.

Building a Stronger Future: Greater Ohio Speaks to the Columbus Chapter of the American Institute of Architects

February 18th, 2011

On Tuesday evening Greater Ohio attended the monthly Columbus chapter meeting of the American Institute of Architects.  We spoke to over sixty architects—including private and public sector architects, landscape designers, and planners—about the Restoring Prosperity Initiative and how lessons learned from Europe can help Ohio and its metros compete in the next economy.  We shared with the AIA some grim statistics, including declining population numbers in our urban cores, large numbers of vacant and abandoned properties throughout the state, and numerous layers of local government. But we concluded our presentation with firm evidence that Ohio can compete in the next economy.  Ohio has incredible assets, such as “eds and meds” anchor institutions, and has policies, like Land Bank legislation which assists local communities in controlling and repurposing vacant and abandoned property.

Ann Pendleton-Jullian of Ohio State University’s Knowlton School of Architecture followed Greater Ohio’s presentation and discussed—using studio projects from graduate seminars—the strengths inherent to Ohio’s physical and cultural landscape.  Pendleton-Jullian suggested Ohio’s location “in the middle” of the country and in the middle of the Midwest ideally positions Ohio to be central in next economy, which she sees as creative and innovative.  Pendleton-Jullian also pointed to Ohio’s incredible number of colleges and universities and the roles they will play in educating for the creative economy.  In further developing the mission of the state’s land-grant institutions as serving the state, Ohio is well positioned to develop an “educational ecosystem” which would greatly complement many of the policies for which Greater Ohio is advocating.

Greater Ohio looks forward to public forums like these because it gives us an opportunity to educate Ohioans about our mission and receive feedback on our research and policy recommendations.  We especially enjoy speaking events where dialogues develop between our work and other exciting programs which are also striving to grow Ohio’s economy and improve Ohioans’ quality of life.  Please do not hesitate to contact us if you would like us to come speak to your organization.

The Buzz about Cities

February 16th, 2011

Edward Glaeser’s new book, Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, has been generating a lot of buzz.

  • Last week New York Times Op-Ed Columnist David Brooks wrote an interesting article about The Splendor of Cities where he discusses the role that cities play in disseminating new ideas.  His argument stems from ideas brought forth in Glaeser’s new book.  Cities prosper due to their ability to offer face to face communication, which surprisingly comes to matter even more in the age of the internet.  The article explains that “Cities magnify people’s strengths […] because ideas spread more easily in dense environments. If you want to compete in a global marketplace it really helps to be near a downtown.”
  • On Monday Glaeser himself wrote a guest entry on the Freakonomics blog on the New York Times website.  His article, entitled To Get America Growing Again, It’s Time to Unleash Our Cities, offers the message that the key to economic development can be found in cities.  Glaeser claims that the secret to China’s success is its rapid urbanization, but luckily America is just as capable of investing in its cities too.

  • Glaeser was also recently interviewed by NPR to discuss the ways in which cities are actually greener and healthier than the rest of the country.  In the interview he describes what cities need to do in order to successfully adapt and evolve in order to remain competitive.
  • Glaeser even discussed the need to support cities by curtailing many of our country’s anti-urban policies while appearing as Monday’s guest on The Daily Show.

Greater Ohio is pleased to see this conversation spreading across the country.  As stated in our report, Restoring Prosperity: Transforming Ohio’s Communities for the Next Economy, Greater Ohio recognizes that Ohio’s multiple metropolitan areas – fully encompassing urban, suburban and rural places – house the resources and drivers of prosperity necessary to lead the state of Ohio into the next economy.  But these resources and prosperity drivers need to be leveraged.

If you want to support Greater Ohio’s work to leverage Ohio’s metropolitan assets with improved state policies, please sign up to become a Greater Ohio Supporter, and learn what you can do to help.

Spreading the Restoring Prosperity Message

February 3rd, 2011

In recent weeks, Greater Ohio Policy Center’s Executive Director Lavea Brachman has been a panelist or participant at various economic development-related conferences throughout Ohio.

At “Sustainable Hamilton County: Reinventing Our Communities,” Brachman focused on governance reform as an economic growth tool. Hamilton County has 88 local governments compared with the Ohio average of 41.3 and the national average of 27.9, but the region is at the forefront of innovation.  Brachman cited the Government Cooperation and Efficiency project in 2007, which helped cities, villages and townships save $1.5 million the first year, and Green County Schools’ shared-services program.

Panelists at “Regional Prosperity for Northeast Ohio: Growing Together,” a public forum at Cleveland State University, discussed how the communities of Northeastern Ohio can come together to create an environment for economic prosperity and the connections between job growth, economic development and government collaboration.

Brachman shared highlights of Greater Ohio’s report, Restoring Prosperity: Transforming Ohio’s Communities for the Next Economy, and their applications for leveraging brownfields and other assets to grow sustainably at the “2011 Ohio Brownfield Conference” sponsored by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Finally, on Jan. 26, Brachman participated in “The City in 2050: Creating Blueprints for Change in Columbus,” sponsored by the Urban Land Institute Columbus, in partnership with the City of Columbus, Franklin County, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture. The kick-off event is the first of a series exploring how residents will live, work and play in Columbus in 2050.

For more information about Greater Ohio’s activities, click here to view additional media clips.

Policy Implications from the Building Prosperity in Greater Akron Forum

January 25th, 2011

On Tuesday January 18, 2011, Greater Ohio Policy Center co-hosted the Building Prosperity to Greater Akron Forum.  Over two hundred people attended this event and helped frame new approaches to ensure a strong future for the Akron Metro Region by preparing for the next economy.  The Akron Beacon Journal article from the event quoted Greater Ohio Policy Center’s executive director Lavea Brachman saying, ”We want to draw attention to great attributes and challenges of our cities and metropolitan areas […] What better place to do that than in Akron.”

Keynote speaker Paul Grogan, President and CEO of The Boston Foundation, discussed the innovative use of metrics to guide policy decisions and invest in city issues.  Other speakers included Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder, Lieutenant Governor Mary Taylor, Congresswoman Betty Sutton, Carol Coletta of CEOs for Cities, Dr. Frank Douglas of the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron, Ross DeVol of the Milken Institute and Ned Hill of Cleveland State University.  For a complete list of speakers, please see the agenda.

Some of the key issues that were arose include the central importance of education and workforce development, the need for product development and jobs to attract residents to the Akron metro region, continued investment in Akron’s assets and areas of expertise (such as corrosion prevention), increased regional partnerships, the key role of Quality of Place as a business proposition, and better cooperation between the state and the Greater Akron area.

Some radical proposals were debated, such as: reduce the number of counties in the state by setting a minimum population of 750,000; review the cost of the judicial system; and return the oversight of welfare programs to the state instead of counties.

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But we want to hear what you think!  In your opinion, what is the most important issue?  What are key policies that need to be added or changed in order to help build prosperity in Akron?  What best practices need replication and support?  What state policy barriers do you face that need to be resolved?   As our work progresses, we want to include your thoughts and perspectives.  Thank you for sharing your ideas and working together to build prosperity.

Livable Cities Report by The Economist

December 16th, 2010

By Gene Krebs.

I recently discovered a very interesting report by the British publication The Economist entitled “Livable Cities: Challenges and Opportunities for Policymakers”.  It examines what makes a city livable through an international lens.

It is interesting to read since it is written from a different perspective than most American publications.  For example, the whole structure of the article varies from the typical Brookings Institution report.  Additionally, there are more than one or two odd spellings.

Among the people interviewed for this long piece is Gerald Frug, famous to lawyers for his textbook on local government law (which sits on my non-lawyer bookshelf).

Please share your comments on this report and let us know what you think.