Northeast Ohio has been enjoying a wave of positive local, national, and, yes, even international media attention of late. Between the spotlight on Cleveland’s hosting of the Republican National Convention, the Cavaliers’ NBA Championship win, the opening of the beautifully renovated Cleveland Public Square, and Ohio’s crucial role in the upcoming presidential election, there has been no shortage of media stories about our people, our community, and our economy.
Beyond the flashy headlines, though, Northeast Ohio is experiencing a genuine revitalization—a strengthening regional economy, growing job and housing segments, and the lowest unemployment levels in a decade. Yes, things are looking up. According to rethinkCleveland.org, $8 billion in new development has been invested in the city from 2011-2015, and there are numerous large-scale development plans in the works.
As small businesses play a leading role in economic development, we asked several COSE members to weigh in with their thoughts on where to focus the region’s resources next. This might come as no surprise, but they had strong opinions.
RELATED: View a list of our members’ most anticipated Northeast Ohio projects that are in the pipeline
Philpott Solutions Group
What I Want Is: A Culture Shift
“The recent development in the city is incredible,” says Mike Baach, president and CEO of Philpott Solutions Group in Brunswick that employs approximately 50 people. “The influx of investment, the creation of business activity and commerce—it benefits us all. Any resources spent on economic development activity can create a turnover of those dollars many times over.”
That doesn’t mean that there isn’t more that can be done in Northeast Ohio. Specifically, Baach is looking for a jobs and culture shift. He wants a greater investment in what is required to get a great paying job.
“Economic development, coupled with an able-bodied workforce, is essential for continued growth,” says Baach. “We need a culture shift that goes against social norms and encourages and respects the decision to go into trades and manufacturing versus the college path,” he says. “These are high-paying, skilled jobs, and there is not only demand but funds and programs in place to train people. We just need to encourage people to enter those programs.”
What I Want Is: A Seat At the Table
“Focusing economic development dollars on downtown Cleveland was the right starting point,” says Sharon Toerek, principal at Toerek Law in Cleveland. “You have to start in the center city—making it attractive for residents, businesses and visitors—and then ideally you can begin to capitalize on that momentum.”
What’s important going forward is that small business owners get a seat at the table as future projects are discussed, she says.
“I’d like to ensure that small businesses are seen as a priority and completely integrated into the economic fabric of the region,” says Toerek. “Small business must continue to have a seat at the table along with government and corporate leaders when establishing economic development priorities. COSE and the Greater Cleveland Partnership are doing a great job of giving small business a voice, and now small, middle-market, and enterprise-level corporations need to work together to keep things moving in the right direction.”
Oh, and one more thing made her list. Toerek’s wants big business to make a significant investment in small business. “I’d like to see enterprise-size companies get in the game by participating in small business entrepreneurship – whether by investing directly in small businesses or creating and funding programs that help establish and encourage entrepreneurs,” she says. “Big companies should be taking calculated risks in communities that are important to them through mentoring and investments in small businesses.”
What I Want Is: Community Development
Deborah Rutledge, COO at Rutledge Group in Cleveland, is pleased with the development of the CLE brand.
“All the new hotels and entertainment centers will serve us well economically in the long run,” she says. “Building up the brand of CLE helps attract more residents, businesses and travel to the city, which can have a huge impact on the economy.”
And now that Cleveland has made an investment in its entertainment neighborhoods downtown, it’s time to start looking farther out, she says.
“Although the recent progress in the city is great, the surrounding neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs are not yet seeing the positive effects,” Rutledge says. “I hope future economic development planning includes improvements that spread out into the communities.”
What I Want Is: More Forward Momentu,
Tim Reynolds, president of Tribute, Inc., in Hudson, wants to keep the momentum the region gained during the past several months moving forward.
Reynolds believes that one thing Cleveland’s hosting of the RNC proved was the region can handle big conventions and large-scale events.
“The region can benefit from increased convention business,” he says. “As we look forward, travel, tourism and convention business will be a real contributor to the economy.”
And, striking a similar note as Rutledge, this will also necessitate investment in neighborhoods that surround Cleveland.
“It’s important to invest in neighborhoods that make a significant difference in not only the physical landscape and overall economic condition, but that create conditions where a quality workforce is available for area businesses,” says Reynolds.
A lot of development has taken place in Cleveland of late with a lot more to come. We asked our sources to give us their take on what they’re most looking forward to. View a rundown of their responses.