Cleveland Heights leader briefs Obama transition team in D.C.

President Obama and his transition team have asked for innovative ideas that will stimulate the U.S. economy. So in December, Cleveland Heights resident Toby Rittner briefed the Obama transition team on matters related to the proposed stimulus package.

Rittner got the ear of the president’s transition team because he is president and chief executive officer of the Council of Development Finance Agencies, a national organization that represents almost 300 public, private and nonprofit entities involved in economic development throughout the United States. He presented his ideas along with a team of economic development leaders from across the country, offering suggestions that could have a positive impact on Cleveland and other urban communities across the United States.

“The Obama administration is looking to make the biggest, quickest impact possible on day one with a stimulus package,” Rittner said. “It was an honor to be invited to present to the Treasury Transition Team and offer ideas that would support the president’s objective to jump start our economy.”

Rittner’s recommendations are outlined in the council’s Economic Development Finance Policy Paper, which was released to the public on the council’s Web site, at

The policy paper includes strategies, both large- and small-scale, to help local governments get the tools and financing they need for economic development.

What does this mean for Cleveland Heights? If these strategies were put into action, cities like Cleveland Heights would have more resources to attract and support small manufacturers and technology companies, such as those located in the research centers in the University Circle area.

Most notably, Rittner proposed an Urban Grants Program to support development projects in the country’s top 50 urban cities. This program would encourage development that is energy self-sufficient and driven by green principles, designed to reduce urban sprawl and bolster central business districts. Should Obama introduce a program of this nature, the economic vitality of the city of Cleveland and surrounding first-ring suburbs such as Cleveland Heights would be strengthened, he said.

Rittner said he firmly believes that Cleveland Heights should encourage the growth of a knowledge-based innovation economy, and his recommendations would give the city access to more financing options to do so.

The Council of Development Finance Agencies, a national nonprofit organization based in Cleveland, offers education, research and advocacy to the development finance industry. The council was formed in 1982 and includes such local organizations as the Cuyahoga County Department of Development, the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, KeyBanc Capital Markets and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey.

Rittner has served as the council’s chief executive since 2004. He  relocated the organization from Washington, D.C., to downtown Cleveland in his first year. Since establishing the council in Cleveland, Rittner has created four new jobs and has advised many local economic development leaders on development financing tools and the best ways to use them.

“Cleveland has been a great home for CDFA,” Rittner said. “We are thrilled to be able to make a difference in a community that can benefit from the education and research expertise that we offer.”

Rittner continues his dialogue with the Obama transition team and expects to meet with congressional leaders later this year to discuss his recommendations for spurring the economy by expanding the availability of economic development financing tools.

Katherine Kramer is the development director for the Council of Development Finance Agencies. 

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Volume 2, Issue 2, Posted 1:22 PM, 01.13.2009