Allison Goebel, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, spoke Wednesday at the Economic Club Luncheon. 

MANSFIELD – Allison Goebel of the Greater Ohio Policy Center has seen small legacy cities transform themselves, and she believes the same is possible for Mansfield.

The executive director of the statewide research and advocacy organization spoke Wednesday at the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Club Luncheon about how cities with manufacturing legacies and small populations can stabilize and thrive post-recession.

“Cities can’t rely on landing the next big manufacturing employer to turn things around, the economy of the future will be built around a different set of industries of those in the past,” Goebel said.

She cited the Century Foundation, stating Ohio has lost about 400,000 manufacturing jobs since the 1990s. The Bureau of Labor Statistics listed manufacturing sector jobs at 7.9 percent of total U.S. employment by major sector in 2016 and projected a drop to 6.9 percent by 2026.

Goebel has seen major metropolitan areas recover by relying on the healthcare and education industries, both growing fields, according the BLS. But it’s different for smaller communities.

“These are compelling stories from Cleveland, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but they don’t necessarily transfer to places like Marion, Akron, Lima and Mansfield – those that don’t hold a flagship University or the headquarters of a major hospital system,” Goebel said.  

At the Greater Ohio Policy Center, she’s seen small and mid-sized “legacy” cities across Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana rebuild by focusing on civic infrastructure and quality of location.

Civic infrastructure relates to how a community holds itself accountable. Goebel has seen places like Lancaster, Pennsylvania build this up through collaboration efforts.

Several organizations addressed the city’s issues by joining forces under the Lancaster Alliance, which merged with the James Street Improvement District (JSID) to form the Lancaster City Alliance in 2013.

Goebel commended Lancaster’s approach, which she described as “bringing relevant actors together around the table to figure out a plan for attacking the problem (and) coordinating resources and responsibilities among themselves to make sure the plan is executed.”

Rather than start a new organization to address problems, the city has created an entity to coordinate the existing organizations and better use its resources.

“We like to think of (this) as building muscle, once you have a certain amount, you can take on heavier lifts and build on that strength, but like building your muscles, it’s a long-term process that requires ongoing work and maintenance,” Goebel said.

Lancaster has already undergone a 15-year strategic plan and has started into its second long-term plan.

Goebel also explained that to be successful three factors must be addressed, business, talent and place. Places need businesses, which need to attract talent, but talented people will be lured in by the place itself.

She mentioned how the city government in South Bend, Indiana restructured its departments, where one now focuses on placemaking. The city has also invested in sidewalks and bike lanes.

“In both of those cases, in South Bend and Lancaster, communities decided to focus on improving quality of life for their existing residents, while also building up the community’s muscle to confront challenges and take advantage of opportunities,” Goebel said. “Neither community is now suddenly problem free – it’s not a slam dunk and they’re walking away – but they are on the path towards having a stronger community.

"We know this is achievable in Ohio as well.”  

Goebel has been with the Greater Ohio Policy Center since 2010. She is responsible for charting the Columbus-based organization’s strategic direction, directing research, advocacy and outreach teams and securing resources for this work. She has written numerous research reports and policy briefs about the revitalization of legacy cities and local governance structures in Ohio.

Goebel earned her Master’s and Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and received her Bachelor’s degree from Miami University.

She resides in Columbus but is familiar with Mansfield, as she lived in the city over the summer of 2005 and 2006 and all of 2008.

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