Sunday, December 03, 2000

Bombs away

Our city from 5 miles high

        According to Robert Mitchum, Glenn Ford and other WWII movie historians, the Battle of Midway turned on a fatal decision by a Japanese admiral: He ordered his carrier planes to switch from bombs to torpedoes, and they were caught like sitting ducks on deck when American squadrons dove out of the clouds and — KABLAM.

        If not for bad timing, the war might have gone Japan's way and California would now be watching Sonys, driving Toyotas and eating sushi . . .

        Well, never mind. The point is that it's not always an atom bomb that determines winners and losers. Little mistakes can make big mushroom clouds.

        Right now cities all over the world are launching their fleets into a battle for the global economy — and Cincinnati's still trying to decide: bombs or torpedoes?

        A few years ago, we turned our backs on the Cincinnati Business Committee, because we were tired of taking orders from top business leaders.

        But now we have no admirals and no strategy.

        “Great cities spend most of their time looking outward and comparing themselves to others, not their own past,” said Northern Kentucky University President James Votruba, co-chairman of the Metropolitan Growth Alliance (MGA). “Cincinnati spends more time looking inward and comparing itself to its past.”

        Mr. Votruba was quoting Michael Gallis, who wrote the Gallis Report for the MGA 17 months ago. Mr. Gallis and growth experts from Charlotte, N.C., Phoenix and Indianapolis were brought to Cincinnati for the MGA's Great Cities Symposium.

        The goal, Mr. Votruba said, is to assess our region “from 30,000 feet,” to find out what makes a great city, and figure out how Cincinnati can get there from here.

        To Mary Manager and Bob Bluecollar, being a great city means better jobs, a better quality of life, a more exciting downtown, a place where our children stay to raise families.

        Mr. Votruba said he asked all four guests if they see Cincinnati as a competitor. Nope. “They said we're too busy fighting among ourselves to be a threat,” he said.

        We have new ballparks and a riverfront neighborhood on the drawing board. But even billions can't buy greatness if we lack the basic ingredients: leadership, partnerships, a battle plan and the will to fight for it.

        Our enemy is complacency, said Mr. Gallis: “Sometimes it takes a crisis. Enormous wealth creation has blinded communities to their opportunities.”

        Such as diversifying our Blue Chip portfolio with “gazelles” — biotech, genetics and other rocket-powered industries of the new economy.

        The MGA is trying to educate Cincinnati, to mobilize us without a Pearl Harbor. A show of hands at the meeting revealed that half the crowd of 250 thinks we already have a crisis. The one I had in mind was lame government.

        But fast cities don't wait for government anymore, the experts said. Leadership comes from the private sector. It's the model that inspired Indianapolis and changed Charlotte. It's the model we put away in the back of our closet with the wide ties from the 1970s.

        MGA Co—Chairman Bill Burleigh is reluctant to wear that suit. He knows what happened to the CBC. He wants to build public support slowly.

        But Mr. Votruba is eager for “leadership so compelling that it overcomes inertia and complacency.”

        And Mr. Gallis sided with Mr. Votruba: “We would encourage leaders to be more active and not as cautious about telling the community what to focus on.”

        The MGA's Gallis report told us what to do. Now, 17 months later, the MGA is telling us what other cities are doing.

        But from five miles high, it looks like Cincinnati's planes are still sitting on deck, waiting for a someone to lead the attack.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.


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