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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

LA Times: Cleveland is Cool, Economically Speaking

Posted By on Wed, Feb 23, 2011 at 4:11 PM

Just dont call it a comeback.
  • Just don't call it a comeback.

Well, we lost a bet made with the guy who changes the Scene-mobile’s snow tires: it turns out the entire West Coast has not completely forgotten about us simple folk here in the frozen heartland. We were sure Californians only saw us as that patch of flyover smog on the red eye from LA to NYC. But no. The proof: the Los Angeles Times just ran a lengthy spread on our fair city — and the coverage, for once, was not some cheap-shot misery orgy about how we suck. Quiet the opposite, in fact.

The gist of this good piece is that Cleveland has weathered the Great Recession and shown more resiliency than other industry-dependent metro areas. Now . . . drum roll please, it’s actually a . . . wait for it . . . model for economic recovery, the city [FILL IN THE BLANK] wishes it could be.

A lot of this is foreplay associated with President Obama’s economic summit here on the shores of Lake Erie, but the Times makes a compelling argument about the political battle currently underway regarding what economic philosophy is responsible for the local bounce-back.

The reason the region didn’t swan-dive into Detroit-status is not exactly news: we already had footing in a economic suck-rut from way back when, so the dramatic market upheaval of the late ‘00s didn’t throw us completely out of orbit. As the article notes, Northeast Ohio’s jobless and productivity rates “have tracked with the national average instead of being much worse.”

This gave Cleveland’s industries a head-start in reinvention. Over the last couple years, area manufacturer have had as many facelifts as a gyrating congo line of Orange County housewives: “the remaining steel mills have come to specialize in higher-end materials. Old plastics and glassware factories now make things such as cellphone heat-shields that compete with the best products coming out of Japan,” the article states. Pair this with a blooming bio tech sphere, and you’re cooking with fire.

With a diversified production base, the real question is how this happened. And your interpretation of the success might depend on whether or not you want to see the president’s birth certificate.

That new story line is what draws President Obama to the city Tuesday, as he works to sell his new budget plan and the broader philosophy on which it relies. The American economy should update itself Cleveland-style, he believes, and the federal government should nudge it along with smartly placed investments.

Republicans such as House Speaker John A. Boehner, an Ohioan, believe quite differently. They maintain Cleveland's success owes to innovation by business, and that the best way for government to help is to get out of the way — in budget terms, by cutting spending and taxes.

Ahhh yes, the ol’ Big-Government-Small-Government debate. You probably didn’t know you were living on a hotly contested piece of potential propaganda, the city both sides are trying to cart out as the evidence for their agenda. It’s nice to be wanted. And envied. Next time you have step out into that February Ohio air wrestling frantically to top out at 40 degrees, just say Stockton or Sacramento three times fast. Those Golden State cities would kill to be as economically boss as the 216.

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