CLEVELAND - Cleveland could become a thriving metropolitan area that showcases the utilities of its suburbs while becoming an international draw for education and business.
That is the vision of Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who laid out a long-term vision of change in his annual State of the County address Wednesday.
FitzGerald often got applause for proposals he made during his address at the Renaissance Hotel Cleveland in an address hosted by the City Club of Cleveland.
FitzGerald touted the amount of progress since Cuyahoga County’s transition into a new form of government. The culture of corruption that resulted in the ongoing Cuyahoga County corruption investigation and federal trails, also lead to the elimination of three county commissioners, and FitzGerald’s election into the new county executive position.
FitzGerald said he entered office at a time when the public trust in county government was at an all-time low, so he’s made it a goal to try to restore the public trust and confidence in county leaders. FitzGerald said his vision is to develop Cuyahoga County into the premiere county government of America. He also said he expects the achievement of this goal to outlast his time in office.
He said Cuyahoga is suited now more than ever to capitalize on growth and development. FitzGerald cited the Greater Cleveland Aquarium just opening, the investment into the east bank of The Flats, new hotels being built, museums being revitalized, the plans for a Medical Mart, the new convention center and the upcoming opening of the Horseshoe Casino.
Fitzgerald hopes the actions in the last year and the promise of Cuyahoga County’s future could be an antidote to the cynicism that many have formed.
“Every day it gets harder and harder for them to persist in their view that everything keeps getting worse.” FitzGerald said, jokingly. “Only our professional sports teams provide them with support for their depressing view. And, no, I do not have a plan to address that problem.”
But FitzGerald did present a 12-point plan to develop growth and community in Cuyahoga County while changing its image. Referencing Cuyahoga County’s history, FitzGerald calls his plan for the county’s future the Western Reserve Plan.
The first step involves implementing a practical strategy for county government. In a county with some 59 municipalities, FitzGerald said, “It wasn’t that the wrong people were in charge of the county. No one was in charge of the county.”
The county executive wants to consolidate certain local services, while letting cities retain individual rights and privileges.
“Over time, we will have the prospect of finally becoming a cohesive metropolitan area,” he said.
The second point is to establish greater Cleveland for job growth, by making funds available through partnerships. FitzGerald noted, “I’m frequently asked, 'how are we going to bring back the Fortune 500 companies that used to exist here?' It’s a great question, but it’s the wrong question. They started here. We want to retain the businesses that we have. We also want to become a county that retains and expands our businesses, which will become the Fortune 500 companies of tomorrow.”
The third point aims to develop a location-based economic development strategy, recognizing Cleveland as the economic center of Cuyahoga County.
“Cleveland is the county seat. It’s truly the capital of this county,” he said. He hopes to develop a world-class downtown image that match the downtown assets we already enjoy. This goal will focus on the area stretching from West 6th to Cleveland State University, spanning from Lakeshore to the Innerbelt Bridge.
The fourth goal aims to align public and private resources around human services needs. FitzGerald said one of the most important ways to start this goal is early intervention in social problems. For instance, in Cuyahoga’s juvenile justice system alone, 56 percent of juvenile offenders will return to juvenile court before they turn 18. FitzGerald hopes intervention programs can reduce that recidivism.
The fifth point is a focus on education as a central factor in community success. FitzGerald hopes to improve the statistic that 71 percent of Cuyahoga County students graduate from high school.
“If you do not receive a quality education, you will in all likelihood spend the rest of your life in poverty,” he said.
The sixth point is to create a health and wellness environment in Cuyahoga County that mirrors its image.
“The great irony is people from all over the world come here for our medical resources, but our residents’ health doesn’t match," FitzGerald said. Now, the county will launch the Pilot Health and Wellness Initiative, which will design wellness education programs and activities that make sense for individual communities. An oversight system will be established to keep track of the initiative’s progress.
The seventh point focuses on creating an atmosphere of economic inclusion in economic development.