The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 25, 2008

State, city leaders want to make the city vibrant again

By SHELLEY TERRY - Staff Writer -

ASHTABULA — Breathing new life into Ohio’s older industrial cities is a big concern for state leaders.

Gene Krebs, co-director of Greater Ohio, touted as the state’s Smart Growth Organization, and Ann Seller, project director, met Wednesday with more than two dozen city officials and local leaders to gather ideas on how to make Ashtabula a vibrant city again. The meeting was held at the Ashtabula Area Chamber of Commerce on Main Avenue.

Economic development director Alicia McFarland said it was wonderful to see such a variety of people from the community.

Krebs agreed.

“The time is now,” Krebs said. “We have a new (state-level) administration committed to turning Ohio around.”

Wednesday’s two-hour exchange of ideas and information was part of the Brookings Institution’s national Restoring Prosperity Initiative, which was launched a year ago with the release of its study “Restoring Prosperity: The State Role in Revitalizing America’s Older Industrial Cities.”

The Brookings Institution and Greater Ohio are partners in taking this national report to the state level by performing a more detailed analysis of Ohio that examines economic and development patterns across 32 Ohio cities, including Ashtabula.

Krebs said communities like Ashtabula are struggling because of brownfields, a poor and undereducated population, too many houses and too many vacant houses.

“Greater Ohio is taking on a community development initiative,” he said.

Ashtabula County Commissioner Daniel Claypool said the county has shifted from industry to tourism but people haven’t accepted it.

Ashtabula County Commissioner Peggy Carlo agreed.

“People don’t believe the numbers,” she said.

Ashtabula City Manager Anthony Cantagallo said the county boasts wineries, covered bridges, Lake Erie and the Ashtabula River. He believes the problem is an undereducated 18-25 age group.

On Sept. 10, Greater Ohio will be hosting a policy summit in Columbus to unveil its suggestions from the feedback Krebs and Seller received while talking to residents across the state.