OP-ED: Steps to a stronger economy? Think efficiency
December 04, 2009
Published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Friday, Dec 04, 2009
When labor leader Samuel Gompers was asked what labor wanted, he famously answered, 'More.' When we asked local government leaders and more than 1,000 area residents what they wanted from EfficientGovNow, the answer was the same as Gompers, 'More.'
The Fund for Our Economic Future, a collaboration of philanthropies working to strengthen the region's economic competitiveness, introduced EfficientGovNow earlier this year to encourage greater government collaborations and engage the public to advocate for change.
We invited local governments to submit proposals to strengthen economic competitiveness through collaboration. We then invited the general public to select which proposals received funding through electronic and mail-in ballots. The fund offered a total of 300,000 philanthropic dollars to fuel as many as three projects.
We were overwhelmed by what happened next: More than 255 local governmental entities submitted proposals to implement a wide array of collaborative projects. Collectively, the projects projected one-time savings of nearly $40 million and anticipated annual savings of more than $22 million. Equally exciting, nearly 15,000 citizens cast votes for change.
The message? Opportunity is everywhere — the payoff is big — and the public wants action.
Plans included shared information systems, combined fire dispatch, joint maintenance depots for public vehicles, economic development zones, and more — not especially glamorous, but just the kind of value that pays for more education, improved services, lower taxes and other moves to make our region more competitive.
The first EfficientGovNow program answered the question of whether opportunities exist to create economic value through government collaboration. Even so, plenty of hard work lies ahead. Further developing, let alone sustaining long-term government efficiency in Northeast Ohio, will require the commitment of many.
In September, the fund began exploring running a second round of the program. We are working with the Kent State University Center for Public Administration and Public Policy to evaluate EfficientGovNow to learn lessons and gather input from participants. We intend to apply these learnings to further initiatives in government collaboration and efficiency.
We recently surveyed Northeast Ohio government officials about the current standing of the projects they submitted to EfficientGovNow, and what they would like to see in a potential second round of the program.
Of the 54 participants:
- 64 percent are moving forward with the projects they submitted to EfficientGovNow.
- Of the 36 respondents whose projects are not moving forward, 75 percent noted a lack of funding as the primary reason.
- 52 percent noted a lack of outside funding is slowing progress of the projects that are currently moving forward.
- 40 percent said the projects they proposed to EfficientGovNow have already yielded benefits to their communities.
- 88 percent want residents to stay aware of and encourage government collaboration efforts.
As fund members evaluate the opportunities, we can be confident that our local governments have the ideas and desire to work together, and that a public voice in the matter will remain.
Want us to do it again? Let us know and give us your ideas for how to run the program at www.efficientgovnow.org.
We're committed to getting it right. How about you?
Whitehead is the president of the Fund for Our Economic Future.