Saturday, May 24, 2008

Erie Economic Development

Jim Berlin, part of the GlobalErie blog team, once posted about a project called "Highway H2O:"

Highway H20 is a wonderful “back to the future” effort to alleviate the growing congestion/backlog in our ocean port cities, on our highways, bridges and rails, and to utilize a largely underutilized resource (the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway) to move containers in a more environmentally-friendly manner.

This would not only take trucks off of our highways, spew less gas into the environment and save fuel, but it would create jobs and viability by making the inland port cities such as Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Duluth more active once again.

Heeding John Austin's suggestion, Toledo is exploring its own transportation assets. Is Toledo's gain Erie's loss? Toledo's competition is, according to the article, Columbus and North Baltimore (south of Toledo on I-75). I would guess that the development of the port city (i.e. Toledo) would benefit other port cities such as Erie. While the success of inland transportation hubs might marginalize the advantage of sitting on one of the Great Lakes. Regardless, what is going on in Toledo should concern businesses based in Erie.

Highway H2O is just part of Erie's economic development portfolio. As the Great Lakes go green, America's North Coast should see a boost in tourism:

When Kevin Molloy gazes out the windows of the $110 million glass-encased Erie convention center he doesn't see the vacant, decaying buildings along the lake's shores and downtown.

Instead, the center's general manager envisions business travelers dressed down and crowding the city's seven miles of pristine beaches, sailboat-packed marinas and a glittering casino that are still usually patronized by a more local set. He imagines those businessmen and women returning with their families, bringing their children to frolic in an indoor water park and to shop at local stores.

His dreams are shared by Erie's mayor, a new tourism bureau, hotel owners and investors, all of whom are determined to turn this once prosperous industrial northwestern Pennsylvania city into a tourist destination that will rival Niagara Falls just two hours away.

Instead of getting a larger share of the regional tourist pie, Erie should try to help increase tourism to all of the lower Great Lakes. What concerns me is the zero-sum game attitude: Rust Belt city versus Rust Belt city. The above Toledo story is a good example of the problem. John Austin, promoter of Great Lakes collaboration, recognizes an opportunity for Toledo. But the competition for the development project is other cities within the same mega-region (actually, within the same state). Such an initiative is, ultimately, counterproductive. If Erie is competing with Toledo or Cleveland or Buffalo, then we all lose.

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