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Newsletter Question -Greater Ohio's Spotlight on Toledo

What are your community’s assets or historical industries, and how might they be better recognized and/or transformed and leveraged?

A Spotlight on Ohio's Communities: Toledo

Toledo has been engaged for a few years in several local economic development practices that align with the Restoring Prosperity Initiative “playbook,” including leveraging an anchor institution, the University of Toledo; building on assets, like the Lake Erie waterfront; and targeting resources, like new schools, into neighborhoods with market potential.

Transformation: From Glass to Solar

In Toledo, once the glass-making capital of the country, most of the city's output over the years has gone into making everything from windshields to windows for cars and buildings. But as the auto and construction industries have declined, so too, has Toledo's manufacturing sector. To secure its future, Toledo, once known as the “Glass City,” embraced its past; Toledo is where glass was first mass-produced for bottles, buildings, and cars. Now, the city is turning those skills -- and that tradition -- to the sun.

Utilizing an Anchor Institution to Foster Economic Development

Why Toledo? Glass is a key component in solar technology, and the University of Toledo (UT) has been doing extensive solar-cell research for two decades. With funding from the federal government, Third Frontier, other state programs, and private industry, the City of Toledo is now the largest manufacturer of solar panels in the U.S. According to the local Regional Growth Partnership, the region enjoys more than 8,000 jobs related to solar energy, including the jobs created at a number of innovative small companies – many of which spun out of the University of Toledo, like Xunlight Corp., founded by a UT professor and staffed by dozens of UT graduates. A manufacturer of solar products, Xunlight now has more than 80 employees. Many of Xunlight's workers once made auto parts: everything from windshields to vinyl seats. Now they turn out thin, flexible solar modules that power homes and businesses as “green collar” workers.

These investments are consistent with larger strategy to align research at Ohio’s urban universities and industry clusters in places such as Akron, Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, and Toledo. Greater Ohio’s policy agenda calls for taking it a step further by creating Urban Transformation Zones (UTZs). Ohio should replace the expiring state Enterprise Zone incentives with UTZ’s. These zones surrounding anchor institutions would target tax incentives and other state investments to support business and residential development in downtowns and neighborhoods where the anchor institutions are located. This zone concept aligns well with the ODOD strategic plan’s focus on “Ohio Hubs,” as well as OBOR’s centers of excellence. Through UTZs, the state would leverage these new investments and help catalyze the market and spur revitalization in these areas.

Embracing the Waterfront

The Marina District is starting to take shape in East Toledo and, when completed, will redefine Toledo’s riverfront much as the Veterans Glass City Skyway bridge redefined the skyline upon its completion. The Glass City Marina is being developed on the former First Energy/Toledo Edison Acme Power Plant site. The brownfield redevelopment initiative is part of a historic industrial waterfront being redeveloped into a commercial/residential multi-use center.

Another development in downtown Toledo is the construction of a new sports arena, also located on a brownfield site. Projected for completion in late summer, it will complement Fifth Third Field to spur increased development in the central business district.

T he Port of Toledo, located at the confluence of the Maumee River and the western basin of Lake Erie, with nearly seven miles of seaway waterfront and multimodal access to rail, trucking, and air transport modes, is one of the busiest and most diverse transportation centers on the Great Lakes . The Andersons, Inc., based in Toledo, doing business in not only consumer retailing industries, but also grain, ethanol, plant nutrient, railcar leasing and repair, and turf products production, is one of many global companies utilizing the Port. The Marina District revitalization and the Port of Toledo, examples of place-based approaches to leveraging regional assets, align with the Restoring Prosperity to Ohio Initiative policy agenda.

New Schools, New Neighborhoods

In Toledo’s neighborhoods, the New Schools, New Neighborhoods (NSNN) initiative is improving both the learning environments in Toledo’s schools and the living environments in proximity to those schools. The initiative, led by the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce, working with over 50 community partners, is designed to coordinate the timing of investments in community revitalization and school improvements to leverage and spark community growth and development. Redeveloping these neighborhoods makes it possible to transform disadvantaged areas into communities of choice.

The new $6 million, 44,363 Westfield Elementary School reflects the Latino neighborhood both in aesthetics and proposed programs. After two years without an elementary school, the Westfield community again has a central hub for its learning community. The area’s Latino heritage directly inspired Westfield’s warm color palette.  Toledo Public Schools and designers from The Collaborative Inc, a member of Allied Toledo Architects, worked with the community to develop a school unique to its location.

Linking Local Practices and State Strategies to Restore Prosperity

Progress, then, in moving Ohio and its cities forward into the future begins with a critical assessment that clarifies the community’s assets and its role within the larger region and economy. Toledo has taken a close look at its core assets and has made strides in maximizing its potential. Its leaders have asked some hard questions about their strengths and weaknesses. They are undertaking brownfield remediation, and making downtown and waterfront redevelopment a central component of their economic renewal. They are redeveloping their old communities and making under-performing school districts centers of reform and excellence.

The state’s Clean Ohio Fund played a role in spurring the Marina District redevelopment with brownfield redevelopment funding. The state can go further and incentivize its cities to identify their assets, collaborate regionally and build on their strengths. Those places that recognize and leverage their assets are the ones that will succeed in the global economy. In a time of great needs and limited resources, the state can help cities by pulling together disparate policies in areas such as transportation, housing, work force, innovation, and education and concentrating resources in the core places that drive 21st century prosperity.