As if being listed as a top-ten dying city last year wasn’t enough of a wake-up call, Dayton’s largest and most famous home-grown company NCR has announced its relocation to Atlanta and sent shock waves throughout the region and up to the state capital. While various city, regional and state leaders spent their media time complaining about NCR’s unwillingness to return phone calls or come to the table, they might have inspired more confidence in our community with the following:
“We’d like to thank NCR for the 125 years they’ve been an integral part of the Dayton community. We appreciate the support you’ve shown to our local arts & culture groups and other non-profit organizations over the years, and we will always cherish the rich history that your company has had with Dayton going back to the days of John Patterson. NCR’s departure comes as no surprise to those of us who have been trying to work with the company over the past several months to no avail, and we regret their decision to unceremoniously abandon Dayton. But starting this very minute we will look forward to new opportunities with emerging and growing businesses and remain committed to all of those companies that actually wish to stay and grow in the Dayton Region. We will not dwell on what has been lost, but we will take advantage of this opportunity to make the bold changes necessary that will transform our city and region.”
“Dayton’s past represents the era of a few mega corporations that the community relied on in every facet of life, but Dayton’s future represents a brand new environment created to attract and nurture thousands of small and medium-sized businesses that are able to innovate, grow and retain top talent. This new reality will require a completely new way we operate government at the local, regional and state levels, and we are dedicated to making the hard decisions that will get us to where we need to be.”
Those are simply words, and words alone will not push our community forward – bold action is required. It seems as though NCR’s ‘sudden’ departure has struck quite a nerve at the highest levels in state government, and it is time to capitalize on the attention we now have from the state. Here are some things I would focus on if I was leading the charge:
Transform Tax Structure
We must completely overhaul our antiquated tax structure that may have made sense decades ago but is now the single largest force against our region’s ability to work together. The current system forces cities to rely on income tax, the counties to rely on sales tax and townships to rely on property tax. Added to a political climate which pits rural and suburban communities against urban cities, it is no wonder our region is so divided. Change must happen at the state level in order to implement a more equitable tax structure that encourages communities to work together rather than compete against one another.
Consolidate, Cut, Streamline, Simplify
We must consolidate similar organizations when at all possible, cut every duplicate administrative role possible and streamline our remaining organizations to become as efficient as possible – thereby freeing up more resources that can be invested in our communities and businesses. It is never easy to kill positions, but businesses do it every day in order to survive – we must do it if we are to survive as a region. In addition to cost savings, simplifying our system gives us a better opportunity to speak to businesses with one regional voice – an ability we’ve paid a significant price for lacking all of this time.
Change the Culture
We must finally transform ourselves away from a series of individual counties and communities competing with one another and into a single region that values the unique identities of our individual communities but that works closely together to ensure that every investment and development decision is made to maximize the benefit to the entire region. Only when the diversity of choices our region offers both residents and businesses alike is considered an asset rather than an “us vs them” argument will we become a unified region. And only when we become a unified region will we become attractive to outside business and investment. Culture change is not easy, but it can happen with true leadership and an effective message to the community at-large.
Strengthen the Core
Our entire region is seeing the effects of having a weak urban core, as we are seeing our largest businesses flee to regions with strong central cities. While others debate whether or not the city’s current leadership has effectively done its job for the city, those we elect in the future must be able to inspire confidence and speak not just for the city but for the entire region – even if they do not have any official regional power outside of the city’s borders. City government must do a much better job at attracting responsible residents and businesses to the core. And at the same time, the region at large must get over its irrational attitudes and biases against the city and understand once and for all that we’re all in this together.
Change is never easy, and the type of change that will be necessary to push the Dayton Region forward will be especially difficult. It will require true leaders who are unified with their mission and message to a region that is now extremely divided. Politics must be set aside, and individual egos and personal agendas that conflict with the greater good must be fully exposed and destroyed. The question is – do we have the will to make Dayton emerge a different yet stronger city and region? Or will we simply become paralyzed by the enormous challenges we face as Dayton sinks further into irrelevance and becomes a far-away exurb to Cincinnati? What do you think?