Developing the Economy of Cuyahoga County

U.S. Representative Marcia Fudge chaired a volunteer committee to advise newly-elected County Executive Armond Budish on issues he should focus on during his four-year term of office.  While long on broad ideas and things for the county to do and pay for, it was short on specifics as to how to pay for new initiatives.  In addition, it did not clarify how to help the county grow economically, a vital concern for the future of the region.

The Plain Dealer published a short article on the committee’s findings which didn’t focus on the most important concern not addressed in the recommendations for the county: economic development.

Former Bentleyville mayor and company CEO Michael Canty has authored a letter to the paper explaining what really needs to be done to move the economy of Cuyahoga County forward.

 

…I read with interest your article on economic goals provided to the new Country Executive from a group headed up by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge.  Most of these nine goals listed had to do with social welfare programs that would likely need to be paid for with new taxes, paid for by those few who actually pay taxes in the region for the benefit of far too many who do not.   

Don’t misunderstand me, we have significant need to address in Cuyahoga County, and we need to address it.  However, I would expect that a $1.4 Billion county budget should be able to do this without yet more taxes that drive both companies and those individuals who pay taxes out of the county.  That has been the case now for decades.

As a long time business person (current manufacturing CEO with 78 employees) and resident of the County – one who pays a significant amount of taxes – let me offer a few alternative “economic” goals to those provided in your article. 

  • Regulations.  Streamline every regulatory process in the County, and encourage with incentives every municipality to do likewise.  It is incredibly difficult to do business in Cuyahoga County, and impossible to do business in the City of Cleveland.  Hire a team of lean experts and make both the county and the city of Cleveland models of regulatory efficiency.  To start, set up a process similar to the state government’s CSI process, and staff it with business types, not government officials.  Until the county and all municipalities make it easy and attractive to do business within their borders, they will continue to lose business and population to those outside their borders. 
  • Reduce taxes.  Why should a homeowner in the county with a $500,000 house pay $15,000 to $20,000 or more per year just for the privilege of owning a home?  Or a company with a small manufacturing company pay $100,000 in property taxes?  And to pay income taxes of 2% to almost 4% both where he / she lives and where he / she works, on top of county taxes, on top of state taxes, on top of federal taxes?  Certain levels of taxes are necessary to maintain schools and basic services, but when the collective government takes 50% or more in income and property taxes from those who work hard, government provides a disincentive to work, and an incentive to find places to live and work that levy few taxes, and an incentive to source jobs elsewhere.  Unfortunately, the County and the city of Cleveland have not found a tax that they did not like, and both have been in decline because of it.    
  • Charter Schools.  Take the Breakthrough concept and work with the State government to dramatically expand it from its current 3,000 kids to 30,000 kids, and from grade schools into the high schools.  Insure that every section of the county has access to such schools, and insure that the public schools have real competition as an incentive to improve their standards, their performance, and their focus on children – not in 3 years, but immediately and forever.  The county and the region needs to stem the “loss” of our children due to failing public schools.  Business cannot start, grow, or relocate to this area without workers who possess basic education.  The county and all municipalities will continue to spend significant precious resources dealing with poverty, crime, and other social ills due to uneducated kids who roam our streets with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  There are only so many hamburgers to flip. 
  • The Trades.  Require all high schools to provide education in the trades, and help fund two year colleges to step up their programs in the same.  Wood shop.  Metal working classes.  Welding.  Auto mechanic and equipment repair.  Machining.  Etc.  If only 25% +/- of our kids get a college degree, we need to insure that those who do not are prepared for starting work beyond high school.    
  • Minimum wage / prevailing wages.  I agree, residents need to make a reasonable living.  We start all employees off at our company at a minimum of $12 per hour, and go up from there.  However, if the County and surrounding cities take the minimum wage up much higher than $9.00 per hour, companies that can move will, entry level workers who need this start won’t get it, and the region will not thrive.  And get rid of prevailing wages where possible for construction.  We worry about infrastructure but generally pay 20 – 25% higher than market to pay for it.  What if the County and surrounding cites could repair 25% more roads, repair 25% more bridges, build 25% more buildings, etc. with the dollars it has.  That means less disrepair and 25% more jobs.
  • Abandoned homes & commercial buildings.  “Find” $100 million per year in the County and surrounding community budgets without raising taxes and move far more aggressively to tear down abandoned buildings that plague our communities and attract drug dealers and gangs.  Strength building codes to require property owners to either repair or tear down in short order.  Bill back – sue if necessary – property owners for the cost.  We all know this is a problem, and we all need to be much more aggressive in solving it.            

There are many other areas that this county should focus on to stop the decline and rebuild itself.  The five areas above are just a start.  More taxes, more regulations, more social welfare programs are not the answer.  We all know the old saying, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime”.  

 

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