Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Rust Belt Leadership: Cleveland

I'm a big fan of the one great person theory for economic development. Brilliant policy innovations won't get very far without a talented advocate to sell it, inspiring citizens to rally around the plan. One of Cleveland's rock stars is Richard Herman, who dreams of helping not only his city but the entire Rust Belt with the promise of immigrant entrepreneurs:

Cleveland Council on World Affairs President Mark Santo and immigration lawyer Richard T. Herman lead a group of local business leaders and academics working on making Northeast Ohio the latest "center" for a unique visa program designed to lure high-tech investors. The "EB-5" immigrant-visa program, which gives high-tech immigrants a coveted green card if they invest at least half a million dollars in economically depressed areas, already has brought jobs to a score of locations from California to Vermont.

But the Clevelanders are thinking even bigger. They want to make the Great Lakes region a test bed for unlimited high-tech visas - a project that would require legislative changes but that has drawn support from urban chambers of commerce throughout the region, said Dan Berry of the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

The final idea threading into the others is to designate one local urban center as an "H-1B City," so named for the visas awarded high-tech workers, to demonstrate how immigrant smarts can expand urban opportunities, rather than the reverse.

Youngstown would be the perfect H-1B city. It is open to radical approaches to reversing its fortunes, ready and willing to take the necessary risks. I get the sense that Cleveland is not as receptive to Richard Herman's ideas. Youngstown is in a much better position to act as urban laboratory.

Bold approaches to shrinking city problems can find expression in Youngstown. That's the value of a frontier city, a place where you are not locked in to doing something a traditional way. Despite the economic woes, most Rust Belt cities have not reached that point. Corruption and cronyism still hold sway.

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