Sunday, July 20, 2003

Regionalism must be our new focus

By Greg Harris
Guest columnist


Greater Cincinnati is currently caught in a cycle of economic cannibalism. Neighboring communities are being played off one another as corporations seek massive taxpayer subsidies to either stay or move.

Recent examples include corporate giants Kroger Co. and Convergys both threatening to leave downtown Cincinnati for neighboring communities unless they collectively receive over $80 million in tax incentives. (Cincinnati agreed to build a $15 million parking garage for Kroger; the $66 million Convergys package is pending.)

Both Kroger and Convergys offer Cincinnati Hobson's choice, one that will presumably lead City Council to make the difficult decision to soak taxpayers for fear of losing a major corporation. If Cincinnati wins its battle with Boone County to house a newly consolidated Convergys Headquarters, it will be to the detriment of neighboring Norwood (which will loose its Convergys jobs).

As the Enquirer so aptly wrote in its recent editorial, ("Secure the jobs," July 15), the Convergys controversy "only reconfirms the need for companies and governments here to unite to minimize brutal bidding wars and the ripple effect from relocations within the region."

This dysfunctional form of competition also plays out on a daily basis for small scale economic projects (often "mall wars"). Individual townships and municipalities constantly engage in intra-regional civil war in order to displace existing business from one community to the next. As a result, the region enjoys no gain in net wealth.

In a global economy, we must learn to stop fighting the enemy within. Instead, Greater Cincinnati must unite as a region to compete with the likes of Greater Portland and Greater Paris.

Fortunately, Cincinnati's civic sector has provided road maps for pursuing this path (examples include the Gallis Report and Myron Orfield's Cincinnati Metropatterns.

But foundations must move beyond simply commissioning these studies and start supporting implementation work. More importantly, our political leaders must stop treating regionalism as an esoteric concept, and instead, recognize it as a practical model of governance for the 21st century.

Enacting regionalism involves reforming our systems of taxation in such a way as to create incentives for neighboring communities to cooperate as opposed to compete with one another to attract new business.

This can be accomplished by limiting our reliance on the earnings tax and property taxes, and implementing some form of revenue sharing that enables all of Greater Cincinnati's communities to benefit from new commercial and industrial development regardless of location.

We must also pursue economic development strategies that transcend community boundaries, and draw on specific assets of various parts of the region for specific types of development (commercial, industrial, residential, recreational) or conservation (farmland, green space, etc.)

Sustainable economic prosperity in Greater Cincinnati will come only by way of facilitating regional collaboration at the local, state, and federal levels on matters of economic development. Let us strive to build a more prosperous future on a foundation of regionalism.

Greg Harris is the former executive director of Citizens for Civic Renewal, a public policy organization that promotes good government and regionalism.

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