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SW PA-NE OHIO alliance previews economic development appeal–just in time for President-elect Obama

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Days before ballots were cast for president-elect Barack Obama, leaders of a new bi-state alliance called the Tech Belt Initiative laid out a plan to make common cause for a regional economic revival that stretches from the shores of Lake Erie to the headwaters of the Ohio River. At the heart of the project is a bid for Southwestern Pennsylvania and Northeastern Ohio to talk to Washington about economic development across a broad regional and united front.  

A project of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, the initiative envisions an acceleration of commitments to technology-based economic development that appears to be working but not widely enough along the “megapolitan” corridor that stretches between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

“Our focus will be to continue looking for synergies, identifying our top resources, bringing people together for discussion and collaboration, and attracting the talent, businesses and capital necessary to grow our economy,” says Dewitt Peart, Executive Vice President of Economic Development at the Allegheny Conference.

A white paper for the initiative forecasts strong employment growth over the next decade for domains of high technology related to management, computers and mathematics, architecture and engineering, the sciences, and manufacturing-related technologies. It also cites the substantial investment and growth in biotech for both regions and points to the buffer against economic downturn that the southwestern PA region owes to the diversification of its employment base during the last quarter century.

At the same time, the initiative forecasts a sober outlook for most of the region – especially Northeast Ohio, unless there is a substantial increase in technology-based investment. That’s the program for which the initiative wants to gain support from Washington–a message it put out at the end of last week before voters chose the next U.S. president on Tuesday.

The request to Washington calls for continuing programs that accelerate technological change.  The Initiative’s 27-organization steering committee wants the 134-mile-long Tech Belt to be recognized as a Premier Innovation Zone. It also seeks continued support for technological innovation by small businesses, reinstatement of manufacturing extension partnerships, continuation of alternative energy tax credits, and more funding of research by universities and industries into strategies and projects that help regions in transition.

With the boost that President-elect Obama received from these two neighboring states, it’s likely there will be someone in Washington willing to listen.

Sources: Allegheny Conference on Community Development, Tech Belt Initiative
Writer: Joseph Plummer

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