The Cuyahoga River Valley may not hold the glory and force it once wielded in the early 20th century. But a movement is afoot to repair the valley; making it a place where industry, recreation, housing and the environment can exist to benefit the entire region. The movement is called the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative. It's spearheaded by the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission but involves an array of business, environmental and development groups as well. In this second report in her series on the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative, ideastream's Shula Neuman focuses on a specific site on the river where a flurry of activity between businesses and between neighborhoods is Making Change: Reinventing our Economy.
An impressive industrial landscape lies underneath Interstate 490 in Cleveland. Smoke stacks from ISG's steel plants reach into the sky; railroad tracks run along side the Cuyahoga River like a jumble of twisted licorice sticks; silos and old brick buildings look out over the river which widens at this particular bend. This backdrop contrasts oddly with a field of wild grass where birds rest and sing their songs Because of the overlap of industry and nature, this spot has been singled out for a makeover as part of the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative.
Catherine Greener is with the Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit think tank that's studied the Cuyahoga Valley and is helping to get the initiative off the ground. She says this area of the river - known as the regenerative zone - could put Cleveland on the world's radar as a new business model.
Catherine Greener: Cleveland is known for being one of the seats of the industrial revolution and what we're seeing is a new industrial model that can emerge. How can you create manufacturing jobs, industry jobs without jeopardizing the health and welfare of all the people involved and also, to overuse a word, to "green" the area around it.
Industry's presence will remain strong here, but the idea is also to incorporate environmental and social principals which could attract new businesses. The first step toward achieving this end is through something called industrial symbiosis, which is kind of a way to share resources.
Catherine Greener: Sometimes I think about it as finding money in your pocket after you've washed your pants. It's always a bonus and you've always had it. And the resources that you have here you're just reinvesting in them and finding them and looking at them differently.
Through the Maingate Development Corporation, businesses in the valley had already begun to sniff out opportunities for sharing resources before anyone had heard of the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative. Joe Turgeon, CEO and co-owner of Zaclon, a chemical manufacturer in the valley and a member of Maingate, says the initiative sped things up.
Joe Turgeon: We pull all the members together and say "OK, this is what I've got, this is what you've got; here are some of the materials I need, here are some of the assets I have." And an asset can be anything from a truck scale to a rail citing to byproduct energy to chemicals.
Zaclon and its neighbor General Environmental Management have already begun their symbiotic relationship. GEM now buys a Zaclon by-product, sulfuric acid, and in turn Zaclon purchases a GEM's byproduct. GEM president Eric Loftquist says the benefits go beyond simply saving his company money.
Eric Loftquist: We do business all over the country; but when you look around you see that for every dollar you keep in this county, that generates taxes, jobs and the benefits just keep rolling down. So you always want to look within as much as possible.
Loftquist's motto is "buy Cuyahoga." He says the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative is coming together at the right time, bringing together businesses with government and area non-profits.
Eric Loftquist: When you have good open communications like that, good things happen. People come together and business prospers and communities prosper. But you have to have some leadership in order make that happen.
As it happens, there are a lot of leaders lending a hand to the initiative. The Cuyahoga County Planning Commission is spearheading the effort and a group called Entrepreneurs for Sustainability is guiding the industrial symbiosis aspect. At the same time, two neighborhood development corporations are at work creating Kingsbury Run, a recreational trail that will trace its way through a side-valley connecting the Garden Valley-Kinsman area and Slavic Village. Bobbi Richtell is development manager at the Slavic Village Neighborhood development corporation.
Bobbi Richtell: The valley is three miles long starting at East 79th and it come north and swings west. Then if you keep following it west, it goes right to the Cuyahoga River.
Kingsbury Run touches the properties of many companies in the valley, including Zaclon and General Environmental Management. Richtell says having green space that crosses both residential and industrial areas raises property values, but it also raises the quality of life for everyone in the area.
Bobbi Richtell: It's desirable because people can go out on their lunchtime and walk the trail. This would be an amenity not just for visitors and neighborhood residents but for employees as well.
Kingsbury Run would literally be the common ground between the regenerative zone's businesses, environment and residents that exemplifies the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative's innovative approach to economic development. The only thing missing from the regenerative zone is someplace to buy the freshest vegetables and fruit around, but that's happening downstream from the zone, and that's the subject for the next story. In Cleveland, Shula Neuman, 90.3.