By Sue Botos
Whether or not all communities in Cuyahoga County can be one big happy family is debatable. But County Executive Ed FitzGerald’s proposed anti-poaching protocol, which calls for county municipalities to work together to stop luring businesses away from each other, is slowly being accepted by city councils. Ed Jerse, the county’s director of regional collaboration, is making the rounds promoting the proposal, and gave a presentation to Rocky River City Council last week.
“This does not preclude attracting businesses to communities. All it says is, Please don’t go knocking on someone’s door,” explained Jerse. He stressed that the measure does not discourage a city from trying to promote business, but attempts to draw the line between fair economic development and “pirating” at the expense of another city.
FitzGerald’s proposal came on the heels of the announced move of American Greetings Corp. from Brooklyn to the wealthier city of Westlake. Officials in Westlake have denied any stealthy dealings to secure the greeting card company, stating that American Greetings had been considering relocation for more than a year, and that Westlake met all the criteria.
Jerse added that the proposal required the “respectful, confidential” notification of the mayor of the municipality, from which a business is moving, by the mayor of the new location before a change is made public. He said that although some communities, such as Rocky River, are not fans of revenue sharing, the option of that discussion is available under the protocol. The identification of an economic development “point person” is also a requirement of the protocol. “Sometimes we don’t know who to contact,” said Jerse, noting that Rocky River already had that aspect covered in economic development Director Kory Koran.
An attempt to level the playing field among the county’s 59 communities is the impetus of the measure, according to Jerse, noting the uneven economic development in the county. He said that in the past, the county has played a “minimal role” in business promotion, but under the county council, which has been in place for a little more than a year, the role will be strengthened. He said that 20 communities, including Lakewood and North Olmsted, have already signed on.
“It’s counterproductive to fight among ourselves,” said Jerse, adding that the Greater Cleveland Partnership, a regional chamber of commerce, does not want this to be the last step when it comes to collaboration. “We want everybody to lift their game,” he added.
“This is an effort by (FitzGerald) to think outside the silos. This is a small, modest step,” Jerse said of the tendency of communities to consider only what is inside their own borders.
Jerse said the protocol is backed by a $100 million fund. “This is a new day for Cuyahoga County, and this is part of the matrix,” said Jerse, noting he had seen a story in USA Today that cited Cuyahoga as an example to the other 88 counties in the state. “It’s our chance to make a difference.”
Responding to questions about penalties, Jerse noted that a similar protocol in the Dayton area has such a provision. He said Cuyahoga County wanted to avoid penalties. “This is designed for all communities, from the wealthiest to the least,” he stated.
Councilman at Large Dave Furry stated that the proposal “looked good on paper,” and cited the recent move of a company from Rocky River to Westlake. Mayor Pam Bobst, who did not name the company, said that it was not offered incentives by Westlake and that the deal was made completely through a broker.
Although supported by many county officials, County Councilman David Greenspan has spoken out against the anti-poaching measure. When reached after the meeting, he said that the measure is “irrelevant” if surrounding communities are not participating. “No one can demonstrate that poaching exists. If you can’t demonstrate it how can you prove it? Is that the message you want to send?” he asked.
Jerse reported that only one city, Mayfield Heights, has refused to sign the protocol. “That was mystifying. There seemed to be some misunderstanding,” he stated. He added that Westlake, where officials seemed unsure of their stand on the issue, was his next stop.