BOARDMAN — The leaders of communities in northeast Ohio must change the mind-set of going it alone to one of regional collaboration and cooperation if the area is to thrive.
That’s the message delivered Friday by speakers at a regional collaboration conference, held by the Regional Chamber at the Holiday Inn in Boardman.
“We should focus not on being against each other, but competing together globally,” said Hudson Mayor William Currin, chairman of the Northeast Ohio Mayors & City Managers Association.
The 16-county region of northeast Ohio, which includes Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana, is stronger when it works together, he said.
A concept supported by the association would include economic incentives for all communities in the 16-county area to attract businesses to northeast Ohio.
“We haven’t had the collaboration effort to properly grow the region,” Currin said. “We wouldn’t want any mergers of communities. It’s important for communities to keep their identities, but we need to work as a region.”
Richfield Mayor Mike Lyons, a member of the association, said the concept is far from being worked out, and there’s a question whether it’s permissible under state law.
But implementing such a program would make northeast Ohio, which has struggled economically for several years, a viable and thriving region once again, he said.
Collaboration among the communities in northeast Ohio is a necessity, said Warren Mayor Michael O’Brien, a member of the association who attended the conference.
“It gives us a competitive edge,” he said. “The mission is if everyone works together, everyone will benefit.”
The first step in moving the area forward economically is to have elected and appointed leaders talk to one another and share ideas, said Tony Paglia, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs.
“It’s all about making our communities and public institutions stronger, and saving money for our citizens,” he said. “We are stronger as a region than if we work individually. There’s strength in numbers.”
Communities in northeast Ohio have taken steps to share services such as emergency 911 and purchasing road salt as a group, said Laura Steinbrink, director of regional partnerships for the Fund For Our Economic Future.
The fund includes more than 100 foundations and organizations in northeast Ohio that focus on the region’s economic competitiveness.
“Regionalism helps economic competitiveness,” Steinbrink said. “It’s about collaboration and sharing.”