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Post Number: 1467
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Any implications for Detroit in this plan?

Jackson Creates a Thirst for Suburban Job Cooperation
http://www.cleveland.com/news/ plaindealer/index.ssf?/base/cu yahoga/1147250303277810.xml&co ll=2&thispage=2

Wednesday, May 10, 2006
Olivera Perkins
Plain Dealer Reporter

Public officials in Northeast Ohio have talked a lot about regionalism.

In fact, they've talked and talked and talked.

At seminars.

At association meetings.

With experts.

What has always been lacking is a plan and a leader who could unify the region.

But that may be nearing an end.

Mayor Frank Jackson has proposed that Cleveland's Water Department take over aging suburban water mains in exchange for these communities pledging not to "poach" or steal businesses from each other with tax abatements and other incentives.

That plan has sparked interest.

"We've been talking regionalism up for some time," said South Euclid Mayor Georgine Welo. "Mayor Jackson has come up with a plan, and we must be able to trust and support him."

Many mayors view their communities as fiefdoms, a way of thinking from the Middle Ages that has little use in the 21st century, said Middleburg Heights Mayor Gary Starr.

"I give credit to Mayor Jackson for elevating working together as a region above stealing businesses from each other," he said.

Middleburg Heights recently created an economic development department after Strongsville offered tax incentives to lure UPS Supply Chain Solutions to relocate there from Middleburg Heights.

Jackson's plan is tied to pending five-year water rate increases. The Cleveland Water Department would take over 3,600 miles of aging suburban pipelines and spend $10 million a year to replace them. But first, the suburbs would have to sign "no poaching" agreements.

The plan holds an attraction for the city and the suburbs. Most suburbs don't have the money to fix water lines, some of which date to the 1920s. By owning those suburban pipelines, the city could fend off attacks by competing water departments, especially in the fast-growing outlying areas that Cleveland has not traditionally served. The Water Department is selling 17 percent less water than it did five years ago, in part because of conservation but also because of urban sprawl.

Cleveland City Council's Public Utilities Committee will take up the rate increases - proposed for between 40 and 80 percent over five years, depending on service area - at 1:30 p.m. today at City Hall. Chairman Matt Zone said the committee intends to thoroughly review any anti-poaching language, once the administration submits a proposal.

Jackson said he was working closely with suburban mayors to work out the details of the agreements. So far he has spoken only with those in Cuyahoga County, but he wants to include mayors from throughout the Water Department's service area, which includes surrounding counties.

That's important to the plan's success, said Paul Oyaski, Cuyahoga County's development director and a former Euclid mayor.

"If you only include Cuyahoga County, it will have less benefit," he said.

Jackson agrees "the bigger the better." But he won't be deterred if he gets only Cuyahoga County, because cities competing as a group will have more power than if they compete individually.

Ned Hill, an economic-development professor and vice president of economic development at Cleveland State University, said that Jackson needs to make sure the "no poaching" pledge doesn't stifle companies that need to move for legitimate business reasons.

"As a region, we want to find out what is in the best interest of a company," he said. "We don't want to be in a position of holding companies hostage."

If Cleveland and the suburbs can't come up with a strong regional effort, Jackson said, the area will never be able to compete nationally and internationally.

"I refuse to do business as usual," he said. "If you are talking about what we need to do as a city and region to prosper, I'll do my part. If you want to do the same old stuff, find somebody else."

Jackson is confident in his plan, but he knows it will take more than confidence to pull it off.

"This is a great tool," he said. "The question is, am I a good enough craftsman to use the tool to produce the quality product?"

Plain Dealer reporter Tom Breckenridge contributed to this story.

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