NorTech and Team NEO Will Merge Into New Regional Economic Development Organization With New Focus


Little can be gleaned from the news, which broke Monday night, that regional economic development organizations NorTech and Team NEO will merge. The restructuring has been painted, by the civic and philanthropic leaders manning the “Regional Competitiveness Council,” as the first step in a strategy to bring more jobs to the region. The merger had been in the works for awhile now, though few knew exactly how the final details would shape up, which is kind of how this thing goes.

The new organization looks like it’ll still be called Team NEO and is slated to officially launch before 2015. But it currently has no permanent leader — Team NEO’s CEO Tom Waltermire is stepping down, and NorTech’s CEO Rebecca Bagley intends to take her talents to the private sector — and a mission which caters primarily to big businesses in an effort to keep pace with national trends in job growth.

“Going big” is in fact the battle cry trumpeted by Regional Competitiveness Council co-chairs Ward Timken Jr., Chair and CEO of Timken Steel, and David Abbott, the George Gund Foundation’s executive director. Instead of focusing on an array of industries with businesses at all stages of development, the new goal seems to be focusing on bigger, well-established companies and facilitating their increased growth.

“Our goal is to create a more holistic suite of resources that can be leveraged to serve local needs,” Timken told Crain’s, with the sort of empty rhetoric that sounds cut and pasted from a Hilton brochure — Take a tour of our holistic suite… .

Specifically, the new organization will focus on players in the biomedical industry and “ most likely shale gas.” Crain’s reported that they’ve set “ambitious goals,” hoping to increase job growth from the current 10,000 jobs per year to 19,000 jobs per year by 2020.

“We went in and looked at the landscape and said, ‘something’s not working, we’re not generating the kind of jobs the rest of the nation is,’” Timken told Crain’s at a briefing last week. “Had we been on track with the rest of the nation for the last two decades there would be 400,000 more jobs today in Northeast Ohio. That was one of the ‘ah-ha’ moments for us as a group.”

The lofty projections are part and parcel of the already mercurial economic development sector, but it's unclear whether or not the uphill battles in talent attraction and job growth in a city like Cleveland and a state like Ohio will be at all ameliorated by optimism. 

The "go big" game is reflected very much in a regional mindset — The 9! NuCLEus! — that's leaving small businesses behind. What help might they need? And aren't they at the center of actual change? Those questions seem to slip by the wayside with Team NEO's new focus. And that never-ending grab for numbers — 400,000 new jobs! — and the idea of keeping pace feel very much like an empty numbers game. But time will tell.

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