Romanian delegation visits Independence to exchange ideas

by Laura Bednar

With many nations dealing with inflation, the war in Ukraine and a post-pandemic world, four Romanian dignitaries visited Independence in May to discuss some of these issues with Mayor Greg Kurtz.

The notables hailed from the city of Oradea, population just over 200,000. Visitors included Florin Birtea, mayor of Oradea; Illie Bolojan, president of Bihor County State Council, former secretary general of Romania and former three-term mayor of Oradea; Dr. Paul Negrut, president and founding member of Emanuel University of Oradea; and Silviu Cuc, entrepreneur in the hospitality and oil sectors and founder and owner of Silverval SRL.

Coordinating the meeting at City Hall and serving as translator was Independence resident and Romanian native Gaius Vaduva. He emigrated from Oradea, in Bihor County, in 1989 and is the president and CEO of International Insurance Group in North Royalton.

“I appreciate the way [Independence] is being run and I thought it would be a good exchange of ideas,” Vaduva said.

Delegation members contacted Vaduva with help from his brother, who lives in Romania, and asked to be introduced to someone who can offer ideas for city management. Vaduva kept in touch with delegation members after leaving Romania.

“We had a very robust conversation about the global challenges U.S. and European cities are facing amid rising gas prices, inflation, and economic uncertainty,” said Kurtz. “Both the U.S. and Romanian economies are facing similar post-COVID struggles.”

During the meeting, the delegation said Romanian inflation rose 10% over the past year and gas prices tripled. Kurtz said in Oradea, the government offers businesses incentives, such as land, industrial parks, utilities, tax exemptions and reduced property taxes. The city has a significant amount of land available for development, according to Kurtz.

“Oradea and other Romanian cities are competing for workers who are finding higher-paying jobs in neighboring Germany and other western countries,” Kurtz said.

Vaduva said Romania has seen great changes over the past 30 years, and the United States is a model for them. “Romania was still under communism when I left,” he said. “Oradea has transformed in ways I’ve never thought possible in the last 10 years.”

He added that the city is encouraging free market enterprise and does not want the government to dictate to the community.

Kurtz spoke to the Romanians about the “work from home” model in the U.S. that began as a safety precaution during the pandemic. Businesses have since adopted hybrid workplace models. Much like Oradea is searching for employees, Independence is trying to attract new business.

“Just as businesses rethink how they operate, the city is reimagining the types of businesses we want to attract, i.e., research and development firms, engineering companies, creative industries, light manufacturing, etc. and we are working to identify areas to develop or redevelop,” Kurtz said.

Local relationships

Kurtz also spoke about the Cuyahoga County Mayors and City Managers Association and how members meet on a regular basis to discuss economic challenges, such as smaller municipal budgets and policies and practices within cities.

“It benefits each of our communities to support Greater Cleveland because it is the cultural and philanthropic base for Cuyahoga County,” he said. “There is power in collaborating with a larger group of professionals to develop well-structured plans.”

Vaduva said during the meeting Independence Economic Development Director Jessica Hyser gave a presentation on the city’s business operations.

Dignitaries attended a second meeting at City Hall with the president of the Cleveland Foundation, a community-focused organization that partners with donors to address needs through grants and provide leadership on key issues, according to its website.

Ukrainian war

As a neighboring country to Ukraine, Romania has felt the effects of the Russian invasion. Vaduva said Romania has seen an influx of refugees from Ukraine in the tens of thousands.

Kurtz said churches, city halls, government agencies and individuals are providing support for refugees with housing, meals and medical care. “The Romanian people feel an affinity for the Ukrainians,” said Kurtz. “Romanian schools are opening their doors to Ukrainian children, so they do not fall behind in their education. They are also planning to have summer school.”

Dignitaries said the invasion created new concerns about inflation, the economy and what Russia will do next.

Though Independence has fewer people than Oradea, Vaduva said it is large in traffic and community activity. He noted that Oradea and Independence take pride in their appearance, and he could sense that leaders from both cities had common values. “Being open to new ideas is how we learn from each other,” he said.

Said Kurtz, “We are all trying to navigate the upheaval and uncertainties related to the post-pandemic world by building relationships with others in similar situations. During our conversation, we all agreed that a key to a successful city or organization is to value those who bring a vision, leadership and innovation to the process.” ∞