Citizens and leaders are working to solve key regional challenges.
AKRON -- After engaging nearly 20,000 Northeast Ohio residents over the past 18 months, Voices & amp; Choices is setting the stage for its culminating event.
Its second and final regional town meeting will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 16 at the University of Akron's James A. Rhodes Arena. The forum is expected to be the largest town meeting ever held in the region.
Voices & amp; Choices, a grass-roots initiative through which citizens and leaders are working together to solve key regional challenges and to create a public agenda for improving Northeast Ohio's economic future, is seeking hundreds of residents from Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and 13 other Northeast Ohio counties to participate.
"We're rounding the final corner in our public engagement journey to develop and implement an action plan that revitalizes northeast Ohio," said David Abbott, co-chairman of Voices & amp; Choices and executive director of the George Gund Foundation.
People from all walks of life will spend the day working in small groups to prioritize solutions to six regional challenges identified by thousands of citizens who have participated in Voices & amp; Choices since its commencement.
These challenges are improving public school funding and accountability, training workers for current and future jobs, reducing racial isolation and income inequality, attracting and growing jobs and businesses to the area, reducing government fragmentation and managing urban sprawl and regional connectivity.
Computer technology will help identify common themes emerging from the small-group discussions and will allow organizers to report back on those emerging themes to participants throughout the day. Tools like keypad voting also will be used to identify the group's priorities. Every participant will receive a brief report detailing the outcome of the day before leaving the meeting.
After the meeting, leaders from across the region will work to finalize and implement the public's agenda. The public will have a final opportunity to weigh-in on regional priorities through an online deliberation process.
In preparation for the regional town meeting, Voices & amp; Choices is asking all northeast Ohio citizens to complete a series of surveys called Online Choicebooks (www.voiceschoices.org/choicebook, through which citizens can provide input on their preferred solutions to the six key challenges. Citizens also can receive paper Choicebooks by mail by calling (800) 929-2319.
Data from the Choicebooks will be used to frame the discussion at the regional town meeting. The Choicebooks are comprised of a series of options, or "tough choices," for overcoming the region's greatest challenges.
For example, in the area of competitive business environment, options include creating a fund to support entrepreneurs, offering regional tax subsidies for businesses that move to the region, creating labor-management councils to improve labor relations and advocating for the state to develop a universal health care program that would relieve businesses of the burden of rising health care costs.
The options developed for the public school funding and accountability challenge range from shifting the state's funding formula for public schools to offering pre-kindergarten programs for all children.
"The final regional town meeting is an historic event that provides an opportunity for citizens to impact northeast Ohio's future, make tough choices and commit to becoming part of a solution that will produce more jobs and create better opportunities for our families," Abbott noted.
The meeting is free, and anyone can register to attend. Lunch will be provided to all participants, and transportation is available. Space is limited to 1,000 attendees. Organizers seek to recruit a diverse group of citizens that will accurately reflect the population of the 16-county region. To register, or for additional information, visit www.voiceschoices.org or call (800) 929-2319.
Voices & amp; Choices is a project of the Fund for Our Economic Future, a multiyear collaboration of more than 80 philanthropic organizations from across northeast Ohio dedicated to improving the economic competitiveness of the region. Visit the Fund online at www.futurefundneo.org.