It’s time for an economic development summit in Cleveland

April 30, 2018



This article originally appeared in Smart Business, May 2018.

In my last column, I called for a tough conversation about what’s driving our region’s lagging economic performance. Since then, I’ve received an overwhelming response, including hundreds of calls and emails from business, civic and community leaders across Northeast Ohio.

Unfortunately, after the column ran, we’ve continued to see discouraging news about the economic health of our region.

Cuyahoga County suffered the third biggest drop in population among counties nationwide last year, losing nearly 5,000 residents. Franklin County (Columbus), which in 2016 overtook Cuyahoga as Ohio’s largest county, has about 1.3 million residents after gaining nearly 22,000 last year.

From 2011 to 2016, the city of Cleveland’s population dropped by 0.6 percent, while Columbus grew by 9.8 percent. In that same period, GDP in Columbus grew 28.9 percent, Detroit grew 22.6 percent and Cincinnati grew 18.2 percent. Cleveland trailed with 17.8 percent GDP growth.

As of February, the unemployment rate for the Cleveland Metropolitan Statistical Area stands at 5.7 percent, as compared to 4.3 percent in the Columbus area, 4.1 percent in Cincinnati and 4.9 percent in Detroit. While economic conditions are improving, we continue to lose population and are falling behind our competition.

To speed our economic recovery, we need unprecedented collaboration and alignment within our economic development ecosystem. Over 100 local organizations need to be part of this conversation, including major employers, nonprofits, foundations, educational institutions and government entities.

To get this conversation started, we need to call a summit to start developing a unified regional strategy that includes:

  • An analysis of competing cities’ economic development models to identify best practices. Let’s study and adopt their playbooks.
  • A mapping of our regional economic development ecosystem so we can clearly understand who is doing what.
  • Defined metrics to measure regional performance so we can agree on what “winning” means.
  • Data aggregation and analytics to track demographics, job growth and population trends.
  • A first-ever web-based regional economic development and jobs portal that fosters alignment and communication across the ecosystem, allowing regional companies to find local growth drivers like suppliers, manufacturers and talent.
  • A population growth plan that utilizes marketing and big data strategies to track and target millennials and NEO ex-pats who are key to rebuilding our population. We should align with regional universities to share data and build a program to convince students to stay.
  • Finally, a true regional strategic economic development plan that sets achievable goals and metrics and is built around innovation, not parochialism or politics. Team NEO already did incredible work in this area and it’s time to restart the conversation.

For all our talk of “regionalism” over the past two decades, this collaborative approach has never truly materialized. Our region has incredible organizations trying to make a difference. I have seen firsthand the immense power of our region when it truly aligns. Now’s the time, and we need to start with an economic development summit that puts Northeast Ohio’s major players in one room to start formulating a plan.

Please help spread the word.