By HOLLY SCHOENSTEIN
The focus of the event was to prompt the three cities to collaborate and renovate the Great Lakes region’s economy.
YOUNGSTOWN — The Cleveland-Pittsburgh-Youngstown Regional Learning Network had its first of two initial sessions Friday in attempt to prompt the three communities to join together in rejuvenating the lagging economy of the Great Lakes region.
“I believe as leaders and practitioners in our various fields — whether it be in universities, city government, business or nonprofits — that our collective goal is to create healthy, resilient and sustainable cities and metropolitan regions,” said Bobbi Reichtell, senior vice president of planning for Cleveland-based Neighborhood Progress Inc., which sponsored the event.
By working together, the three cities can leverage their assets and strengths, she said.
Reichtell founded The Regional Learning Network in February.
About 100 people attended the free session, which was open to the public, at The Youngstown Club.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland, D-10th, have pledged their support for the initiative.
John Austin, executive director of the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan and advocate for the economic redevelopment of the Great Lakes region, was the keynote speaker. The New Economy Initiative was founded as an effort to transform the economy of southeast Michigan.
He told the audience that despite the challenges the Great Lakes Region has endured as it has moved from an economy of industry to one of technology, its assets make it an ideal area for the initiative. He identified its challenges as population and job loss, and its assets as waterfronts, 10,000 miles of coastline, mass transits and adequate water supply.
He pointed out that many cities within the region have assets. For example, Cleveland has The Cleveland Clinic and is home to many legal firms, and Minneapolis has been known as the biomedical capital of the world.
Austin also offered the following recommendations to strengthen the economy of the Great Lakes region: Focus on innovation and create new jobs from it; create sustainable development of the “freshwater coast,” which entails cleaning up lakes and rebuilding sewer systems; and create a vision of “a secure and barrier-free border for the Great Lakes and beyond.”
Another session to promote the initiative has been scheduled for this fall in Youngstown. Additional Regional Network sessions may follow, depending on participants’ interest and comments on this session’s evaluation forms, Reichtell said.
“I’m hoping that some themes develop from today that people are interested in,” she said.
The Surdna Foundation of New York City, a national organization that funds community development programs, funded the session.
Small group sessions about programs that the three cities in the network have implemented were open to audience members and included economic development strategies, designing sustainable communities and addressing vacant and abandoned properties.