Deadline Now: Former UT President Dan Johnson

Deadline Now: Former UT President Dan Johnson

Friday, November 8, 2013

For more than a century, everybody has agreed that Toledo has two things: great potential -- and an inferiority complex. The city did well in the twentieth century as a manufacturing center with strong ties to the automotive industry. But times have changed, and Toledo and the region need to reinvent themselves for the economy of the future. But how do we do that -- and how do we get there? Former university of Toledo president Dan Johnson has been thinking and writing these issues for a long time. Now, he has published a book: Toledo Vision: Personal Reflections on Strategies, Best Practices and Bold Initiatives. Dan Johnson is this week's guest.

Special Offer from WGTE and "Deadline Now:" Support "Deadline Now" with a donation of $10.00 and receive a copy of Toledo Vision: Personal Reflections on Strategies, Best Practices and Bold Initiatives by former University of Toledo President Dan Johnson. Please call 419-380-4646 to reserve your copy.

Here are Jack Lessenberry's Final Thoughts for this edition of "Deadline Now."

The late Paul Block Jr., publisher of the Toledo Blade for more than forty years, believed the key to the city’s salvation was a vibrant, revitalized downtown. He did his best to help make that happen.

Yet though Toledo’s downtown undoubtedly improved throughout the 1980s and afterwards, it hasn’t proven to be the magnet he hoped. A lot of people had hopes that the Portside Festival Marketplace would be a major economic catalyst.

But it lasted barely five years. That doesn’t mean downtown is dead, however; witness the enormous success of Fifth Third Field, or of the Valentine Theatre. Turns out it has been more able to flourish as an entertainment center than a business or residential one.

And much of the rest of Toledo has weathered the Great Recession far better, say, than Detroit.

There’s an open question as to how much advance planning can really guarantee a region’s future prosperity. That’s because we are necessarily limited in our ability to see the future.  No urban planner a century ago adequately understood how the automobile would change lifestyles and housing patterns. Twenty-five years ago, nobody saw how the World Wide Web would transform society.

The logical conclusion is that we are going to be transformed further by jobs that haven’t been invented yet.  Obviously, this means we can’t precisely calibrate Toledo’s economy for the future. But there are things we certainly need to establish a good seedbed.

Those include better education, better infrastructure, and a regional approach to economic development. 

In Toledo Vision, Dan Johnson identifies our challenges and offers some thought-provoking suggestions. I would advise any thinking person in these parts to read his book.    

As he notes in his introduction, nearly a century and a half ago, Jesup Scott saw Toledo as potentially the “next great city of the world.”  For years, it has been easy to laugh at that prediction.

But in the words of that greatest of philosophers, baseball’s Yogi Berra, it ain’t never over till it’s over. And Toledo is hardly over yet.