Baiju R. Shah is the president and CEO of Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), the region’s business leadership group and chamber of commerce.
“GCP’s history traces back to 1893 when the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce was formed to focus on civic matters,” Shah explains. With more than 12,000 members, GCP is the largest metropolitan chamber of commerce in the nation. It focuses on strategic initiatives, member services and advocacy to build a thriving environment for all businesses and individuals.
GCP recently released its All In plan for Greater Cleveland to become one of the great regions in the Great Lakes. To achieve this, Shah and leaders from the private, public and nonprofit sectors developed a system in which these groups work in unity for the betterment of the region.
“The system is powered by All In values that define the mindset, spirit and practices expected in civic initiatives,” Shah explains. “These values start with being INspired and end with IN-unity, always focused on working together for community outcomes.”
From that foundation, GCP works with partners on the priorities outlined in the All In plan.
Priority 1: A thriving region is built on dynamic businesses.
“Businesses must leverage technology for both productivity and innovation — because if they’re not, their competitors are,” says Shah.
The Manufacturing Blueprint, an effort led by MAGNET, is one example of an initiative. Its goal is establishing Greater Cleveland as a global leader for smart manufacturing.
“This priority also focuses on growing research institutions, including NASA Glenn, and better connecting their technologies and capabilities with local companies,” says Shah.
GCP and partners including Team NEO, JobsOhio and the Ohio Aerospace Institute developed an advocacy strategy for increasing funding for NASA Glenn in the country’s space and defense missions.
With the leadership of Ohio’s federal delegation, NASA Glenn recently secured up to $80 million in new defense funding for enhancing its hypersonic testing facilities.
“NASA Glenn is a treasured resource and a major economic asset to the region,” says Shah.
Priority 2: Dynamic businesses need abundant talent to grow.
In addition to increasing degree and certificate-program graduates in growth sectors, the strategy is focused on broadening work-based learning experiences such as internships, apprenticeships and career awareness at all educational levels.
“Through industry sector partnerships and the Greater Cleveland Career Consortium, 110 different employers are working with community colleges, workforce partners and high schools to connect students to programs and career opportunities,” Shah says.
The effort also focuses on attracting talent through the Cleveland Talent Alliance, led by Destination Cleveland and supported by many partners.
Priority 3: Abundant talent requires inclusive opportunity.
GCP’s focus on diversity reaches all aspects of business — from workforce to executives to ownership.
“Our goal is for business employment to reflect our region’s demographics in ethnicity, gender and foreign-born background,” Shah says. “Our work with employers is focused on ensuring individuals feel welcome and have a chance to advance.”
GCP is also home to the Minority Business Development Agency, which supports scaling minority businesses through connections to business opportunities and growth resources.
Priority 4: Appealing communities attract and retain dynamic businesses and talent.
“Talented individuals can live anywhere, especially today,” Shah says. “We want rising generations to choose Greater Cleveland because of its appeal as a place to work, live and play.”
Plans are in the works to enhance downtown through development and activated public spaces, better connect and create access to the region’s lakefront and riverfronts and expand recreational amenities.
Priority 5: Confidence that accelerates the first four priorities.
“The fifth priority is the accelerant to it all,” Shah says. “In particular, ‘business confidence,’ the recognition that the region is not only a great place to live and visit, but also to work and grow businesses.”
To advance this, GCP is planning a campaign to ensure leaders are more aware of the companies investing in thriving throughout the region today.
“Ambition and innovation are in the region’s business DNA,” says Shah.
Shah noted a number of growing companies and also the governor’s and JobsOhio’s recent success in securing Ford’s $1.5 billion expansion for electric vehicle production that will create 1,800 jobs.
Bill Koehler, CEO of Team NEO, a nonprofit organization that works to accelerate growth and prosperity in business development throughout 18 counties in Northeast Ohio, applauds the highly synergistic relationships that exist among Northeast Ohio’s economic development organizations, including Team NEO and GCP.
“We’ve built a nice network of organizations that work together,” Koehler says. “Each organization brings different capabilities to the table, and we’ve knit them together to identify and capitalize on the opportunities we see in our region.”
Paul Dolan, GCP’s board chair, says he appreciates the all-in spirit of inclusion the plan incorporates.
“What appeals to me more than anything is the broadening sense that we’re not going to be a vibrant business community unless we have talented people living here,” says Dolan, who’s also the chairman and CEO of the Cleveland Guardians. “In order to be at the top of the list of regional peers that include Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Detroit, we need to make sure all people in our region are ably positioned to participate in the workforce. Our economy doesn’t stop at the city’s border. It’s much bigger than Cleveland and Cuyahoga County. And, as its name suggests, GCP is dedicated to working in partnerships to make Greater Cleveland a great region on a Great Lake.”