City leadership fills a void

CBJ Editorial 

We don’t live in a perfectly cohesive region, but fortunately that hasn’t been a major impediment, because our regional economy is strong.

One reason for that is our cities are generally well-managed, with solid bond ratings, reasonable property taxes and good services. They’re performing at a high level because of good elected leaders who have recruited talented and experienced managers and staff.

It appears this won’t be changing soon. The city of Cedar Rapids is adding to its team of economic development officials, as some of our state’s growth-focused communities have done in the recent past.

The city of Cedar Rapids started its economic development office in 2013 with one dedicated employee, Jasmine Almoayyed. With the approval of a new workforce development position and the transfer of a staffer from the community development staff earlier this year, the economic development staff within the office of city manager will consist of four full-time employees.

“Cities have a direct interest in who’s coming to the community from an economic development perspective and who stays in the community,” Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said in a recent news report. “Most progressive communities’ city governments are very involved in economic development. It’s not unique to Cedar Rapids.”

We would prefer that those economic development efforts be regionally focused, but we don’t begrudge cities taking a more proactive approach. They are, after all, in a strong position to see the return on investment from economic development, and to optimize its workings with other city departments in areas like building permits, stormwater control, planning, zoning and transit.

Mr. Pomeranz was hired to help transform Cedar Rapids into a robust economic development engine after the floods of 2008. By all accounts, he’s done that, much like Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth.

We do wonder how the growing city role in economic development will impact organizations like the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance, Iowa City Area Development Group or ICR Iowa, which has seemingly set up to execute some of these efforts on a broader scale.

Apparently, they aren’t doing everything that the cities would like to see.

“We applaud regionalism, but also need to focus on the city of Cedar Rapids,” said Mr. Pomeranz. “We aren’t trying to do other people’s work but there is definitely a void from our perspective.”

We could be stronger as a cohesive region pulling together, but we may not get there until we have the political will to consolidate our myriad levels of local government into a unified regional government, such as the “unigov” in Lexington, Kentucky, or create some type of shared tax base structure with incentives for our city managers to improve government efficiency.

Getting there may be impossible without leadership from the state or federal government. We just don’t see it happening because our economy has been sound. We’re not stuck on a so-called “burning platform” that would bring voters and leaders to clamor for serious change. But even compared to our slow-growing peer group of Midwestern metro areas, we’re not on fire with growth, and we should spend more time thinking about our potential than our past results.•