Thursday, November 30, 2000

Group explores regional unity




By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When James Votruba asked 250 business and civic leaders Wednesday whether Greater Cincinnati is in a crisis, more than half raised their hands.

        A puzzled audience member asked, “What crisis?”

        Mr. Votruba, co-chair of the Metropolitan Growth Alliance and president of Northern Kentucky University, had a quick answer.

        “Define your own crisis,” he said.

        That's the challenge facing the Metropolitan Growth Alliance, a group formed in 1997 to promote cooperation in the 13-county Greater Cincinnati region.

        Recognizing that cities, counties and townships of Greater Cincinnati cannot stand alone in a global economy and should work together to solve common problems is the easy part. Cooperating, pinpointing problems and doing something about them is the challenge.

        Michael Gallis, a North Carolina consultant whose 1999 report detailed the region's fragmented political entities, returned to Greater Cincinnati on Wednesday to kick off MGA's “Great Cities” symposium in Covington. It's the first in a series of meetings intended to drum up ideas and support regionalism in Cincinnati.

        A panel of regionalism gurus from Charlotte, N.C., Indianapolis and Phoenix engaged Greater Cincinnati's politicians, business leaders and others in a free-wheeling discussion on what it takes to be a great city.

        Compared to other communities he's worked with, Mr. Gallis said, Cincinnati has been “cautious” to adopt an action plan from his report. That's not bad, he said, because efforts to cooperate as a region could quickly fall apart if leaders pursued a plan too aggressively.

        “I think Cincinnati is exactly where it needs to be,” Mr. Gallis said.

        E.W. Scripps Co. Chairman William Burleigh, MGA's co-chairman, said his group wanted to pursue community “buy-in” before drafting a strategy.

        The group has defined a few broad areas it wants to cover — creating a vibrant Ohio River corridor, shoring up core communities and emphasizing a knowledge-based economy. On Wednesday, the MGA started to discuss ways to measure success in those areas. Already, some are concerned regionalism will strip power from smaller municipalities and ignore minority groups.

        Shelia Adams, president of the Urban League's Cincinnati chapter, questioned MGA's inclusiveness.

        “There are sectors that feel disenfranchised,” Ms. Adams said, noting few African-Americans attended the meeting.

        Hamilton County Municipal League Executive Director Curt Paddock, who did not attend the meeting, said MGA needs to do a better job of talking directly with smaller political jurisdictions. “The initiatives would be much more effective if they would include local government policy makers in a more direct way than they have to date.”

        Indianapolis has used cooperative efforts to transform itself, said John Mutz, Indiana's two-term lieutenant governor and former president of PSI Energy Indiana.

        He credits four decisions: zoning to allow growth of Indiana University, merging Indianapolis and Marion County, promoting amateur sports and spurring downtown retail.

        Despite a strong economy, Phoenix recognized the need to work together and build its high-technology base.

        Mary Jo Waits, associate director of Morrison Institute for Public Policy in Phoenix, said a key measureof a region is its number of fast-growing companies.

        “Younger families aren't moving to your area,” she said. “You need that.”

       



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