Thursday, November 14, 1996
Let's get in shape to run with gazelles

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

You know, I think this gazelle thing could work for Cincinnati.

It even sounds like something we might like to be, doesn't it? A gazelle. A graceful little antelope - beautiful, gentle, perfectly formed, swift, ahead of the pack. Call me superficial, but I like the sound of this a lot better than bloated, rusty dinosaur or rhinestone-encrusted casino port or temporary parking place for the Olympics.

A gazelle. That's the buzzword now for a city when it leaps ahead of everybody else to attract jobs. ''We want to run with the gazelles,'' Joe Kramer says. He heads the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce's economic development department, so you can probably figure out that he is not talking about galloping over the veld with a lion at his hocks.

He's saying he doesn't want to look at the tail ends of Atlanta; Nashville, Tenn.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; Indianapolis; Louisville; and Columbus in the race for prosperity.

Nobody does. We have our pride, but we really haven't been willing to give up everything we like about our city in order to run with the big dogs. Now we don't have to. We can run with the gazelles.

Lifestyle R Us

Somebody has finally noticed that jobs are coming in huge numbers to safe, ''family friendly'' cities. The people in charge of relocation are not crazy. They might have to live there themselves.

They're packing their corporate bags for cities with good hospitals and a museum or two, maybe a symphony and a really nice zoo. Throw in a big, clean amusement park, two professional sports teams, churches, synagogues and mosques, three-way chili, a five-star French restaurant and an international airport.

Bingo.

That's us. Quality of life. We've got it. It's what we are instead of what some consultant told us we ought to be. We don't have to tart ourselves up to look like something we're not.

Matrixx Marketing's vice president Michael Callaghan says when he recruits out-of-towners for his company, ''I just tell 'em my story.'' I wait to hear some drama. I was hoping he'd say he came here with a mysterious rash, took a ride on the Racer, ate a three-way, went to a Jimmy Buffet concert and was cured.

Low drama, high numbers

The truth isn't as dramatic, but it's very familiar. He came here eight years ago and is crazy about it. Just like that.

Think of the times you've heard about executives transferred here, kicking and screaming. Three years later, you couldn't get them to move if they had blasting caps in both ears.

Matrixx has created 1,450 new jobs just this year at its Norwood headquarters. Mr. Callaghan says his company has been especially pleased with the work ethic here. He sounds like a sincere guy, but it's not all heart.

He says Matrixx has a 200-point screening process when it is looking at cities, and ''Cincinnati consistently pops up in the top five.''

When he says Cincinnati, he means, of course, Greater Cincinnati. And that's where we need to make sure everybody is getting a crack at the good life. We need to start thinking of ourselves as a region, sharing costs for public transportation, education, infrastructure.

If we don't, we're going to be running with the black-horned rhinos or flying with the passenger pigeons.

In other words, we'll be out of business.

Urban planner David Rusk, author of Cities Without Suburbs, warned a leadership workshop here a year ago that our most critical problem is a high concentration of poverty in the cities of Cincinnati, Newport and Covington by race, neighborhood and political jurisdiction.

You already know this. You already know that life is not wonderful for everybody. Mayor Roxanne Qualls warns that the steady movement of jobs out of downtown has isolated people most in need of work. Despair isolates them more.

We are not dazzling. We are not huge. We are simply a lovely place to live, which gives us bragging rights and a shot at total excellence. And including everybody is not just nice. It's the only way to live.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU (91.7 MHz), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.