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Survey supports regional approach



Published: Sat, July 30, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



About half of the local respondents rated the economy as bad or very bad.

By KANTELE FRANKO

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A Gallup survey shows many residents of Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties would support a regional approach to help Northeast Ohio compete in the global economy.

The Gallup Organization worked with Cleveland State University to organize The Northeast Ohio Barometer of Economic Attitudes, which measured public perception of economic development.

The Cleveland Foundation funded the study on behalf of The Fund for Our Economic Future, a collaboration of about 70 area philanthropic organizations.

Researchers collected data from 2,200 interviews in 15 counties of Northeast Ohio. The results were weighted to reflect demographic census estimates.

Researchers surveyed 401 residents in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, where more than half of the respondents in each county said the economy is worse than it was five years ago.

A similar number rated the economy as bad or very bad, but more than 85 percent supported the idea of counties working together to develop a plan for economic growth. Respondents from other counties expressed similar support.

A plan for improvement

To develop that kind of shared action agenda, The Fund launched an 18-month initiative called Voices And Choices to involve citizens and leaders in improving the economy of Northeast Ohio. The plan would provide economic priorities and choices for business and community leaders to consider in an effort to mutually support one another by improving the economy.

"Northeastern Ohio can be much more competitive than any one area can alone," project director Shara Davis said.

The project will have three phases and utilize the help of America-Speaks, a nonprofit organization encouraging deliberation between citizens and leaders.

In the current phase, the initiative is seeking residents to conduct citizen interviews and learn more about the region's assets. About 1,000 leaders from different facets of society also will participate in leadership workshops throughout the 15 counties.

Residents interested in participating should contact Jamael Brown at (330) 941-2499.

The second phase will consist of online deliberations, community forums and a 21st century town hall meeting involving 1,000 people from Northeast Ohio, and the project will conclude in the third phase with a second town hall meeting and a set of leadership workshops.

A regional approach to jobs and the economy would be beneficial because about 25 percent of workers in the region live in one county but commute to a job in another county, Davis said.

Regionalism would build off the area's assets, such as a strong work ethic, local institutions of higher education and a large manufacturing base.

Keeping and creating jobs

Despite economic strengths, data shows that residents worry about the stability of jobs and the area's ability to attract business.

In Columbiana County, 13 percent of respondents rated Northeast Ohio's efforts to keep jobs from leaving the area as good or very good. Mahoning and Trumbull counties posted similar responses at 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

Residents responded more positively to the area's ability to attract new businesses. Of the responses from Mahoning County, 57 percent rated that ability as fair, good or very good. Trumbull and Columbiana counties posted ratings of fair or above at 46 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

Improved communication between companies and increased productivity in recent years have sparked positive economic action in the Mahoning Valley, said Reid Dulberger, executive vice president of the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Though some jobs have been lost, the area has kept as many jobs as it could while remaining competitive, he said.

"Nothing draws success like success," Dulberger said. "But it's questionable if it's enough success to spur the kind of growth that people in the area want to see."

Northeast Ohio has a good outlook for success if leaders take the right steps, said Donald Curry, a local labor market analyst with Ohio Job and Family Services.

Curry said he believes regionalism will be the best option for the area to compete in a global market.

While the region's efforts at economic diversification have been good, the loss of about 5,000 jobs since 2000 is some cause for concern, he said.

"We're not sinking, but we're not swimming either," Curry said. "We're treading water."




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