But as Brad Whitehead, president of the Fund for Our Economic Future, told members of the local business community gathered for the annual meeting of the Wayne Economic Development Council (WEDC) earlier this month, Ohio - and Wayne County’s - economy is once again on the upswing.
“The last several years haven’t been very kind to us economically,” said Whitehead, noting that a quarter of a million businesses filed for bankruptcy over the past three years and nearly a million Ohioans are without good jobs.
While Ohio’s per capita income was historically higher than the rest of the country, in the 1990s it slipped below the national average, said Whitehead.
“If you were to go back 10 or 15 years ago and look at Northeast Ohio and Wayne County you would see that we were in the (bottom) quartile in this nation in terms of job growth, income growth…(and) product output,” said Whitehead.
Stories like the closing of Rubbermaid were repeated throughout the area.
“Probably even worse than that was the general sense of drift that we had. The sense that manufacturing was our past but we don’t see what our future can be,” said Whitehead.
“There was this collective hand-wringing about what we might do. It was a sense of collective civic despondency,” he added.
“But it was about 10 or 15 years ago that groups of citizens began to mobilize and to start to take action – individually, institutionally and collectively.
“Wayne County is Exhibit A in that,” said Whitehead, citing the formation of the precursor of the WEDC in 1996 and other similar groups throughout the region that began to formulate strategies for economic growth.
The regional efforts blossomed in 2004 when a group of foundations, individuals, universities, corporations and local government entities came together to form the Fund for Our Economic Future to support economic development throughout the Northeast Ohio region.
According to Lud Huck, a local businessman and fund trustee, through the efforts of the fund and its partners, 47 companies have been attracted to Northeast Ohio since 2006, bringing with them $151 million in annual salaries and 3,800 jobs.
Whitehead noted that the success of the region comes from the balance of regional and local strategies and the symbiotic relationship that results when “the region is in service to what the local is trying to do and the local gives to the broader asset based on the capabilities of the best in the region.
“Rather than not knowing what we can be, we now collectively are starting to have a sense of what we can be as a region. We have a sense of what the future might be,” said Whitehead, adding, “we have this sense that we are able to compete.
“We’ve gone from being Nowheresville in terms of entrepreneurship to now where we have companies like ABS Materials and quasar…that are carrying this region forward,” said Whitehead of the mobilization of capital to fund new businesses.
“After decades of falling behind we’re actually closing the gap on the rest of the country,” said Whitehead, adding that Wayne County has “been right at the forefront of a lot of that.
“You have the X factor – the intangible that really is making you an example of what can and should be done elsewhere in Northeast Ohio,” said Whitehead, adding, “you are strategic and you’re well organized.
“It’s an extraordinary story here,” said Whitehead. “You guys have it goin’ on.”
To learn more about the Fund for Our Economic Future, log on http://www.futurefundneo.org.
Published: February 15, 2012