Worthington City Council on Sept. 17 voted unanimously to enter into an economic growth agreement with Bexley, Columbus, Gahanna, Grandview Heights, Groveport and Hilliard.

Worthington City Council on Sept. 17 voted unanimously to enter into an economic growth agreement with Bexley, Columbus, Gahanna, Grandview Heights, Groveport and Hilliard.

Economic development manager Jeffry Harris said the agreement, which also has been called an anti-job-poaching agreement, is designed to encourage the various jurisdictions to work cooperatively to retain companies at home, to expand existing central Ohio companies and to attract companies from outside the region to locate here.

"But another key goal of the agreement is to prevent or to limit the swapping of companies from one central Ohio jurisdiction to another," Harris said. "What typically will happen is, ABC company will get on the phone and go down its list, calling Bexley and asking, 'What will you give us to relocate?' And then Columbus, Gahanna and on down the list."

Notable for their absence in the agreement are Dublin, New Albany, Westerville and Whitehall -- omissions that gave councilwoman Bonnie Michael pause.

"I was worried that the agreement may create two different playing fields: one for the six jurisdictions who have signed on and another for the six as it pertains to our dealings with the other three," she said.

Dublin, New Albany and Westerville are the current behemoths of economic development in central Ohio. But Harris said most of the job swaps the agreement is intended to prevent would be on a smaller rather than a larger scale.

"We're talking about the inefficiency of moving an eight- to 12-man shop around from one place in central Ohio to another because they were offered an abatement," Harris said. "In the case of that smaller shop, when we get the phone call, we'll say we can't really offer them anything unless there is, say, a net addition to the company's job numbers, say another 10 or 15 or 20 employees. Then we could run the numbers and see if we had anything to offer."

Michael said the idea behind the agreement -- and the reason it passed unanimously -- is that "we're hoping to foster an atmosphere of cooperation between jurisdictions, to build better relationships based on common interest rather than on competition."

Harris and Gleeson reassured council members that the city would continue to pursue economic development aggressively in competition with Dublin, New Albany and Westerville.

"So they're fair game?" Michael asked.

"Yes," Harris said.

Worthington was the last of the six jurisdictions to sign on to the agreement.

"There is a question with the agreement of enforceability," Harris said. "This agreement is really more of a handshake, a gentleman's agreement that when a business approaches one of us about a partner, we'll call the partner and let them know what's going on.

"Then we'll try to come to a mutually acceptable solution that may or may not include, say, revenue-sharing."

The agreement will be in effect until Dec. 31, 2013, when it will be reassessed.

Harris said he hopes more municipalities in central Ohio would contact Worthington to join in the agreement.