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

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.