The environment, economic development, education, equality and diversity, hunger and safety — each are an important initiative in its own right.
Creating a better Greater Cleveland community is about improving the overall human condition. How to accomplish that depends on who you ask.
We went to a cross section of community leaders — people from finance, business, entertainment, education, government and nonprofit backgrounds — and challenged them to identify initiatives they thought needed to be addressed to move our city forward. As you may have guessed, their answers were as diverse as their backgrounds — especially when it came to identifying the single most important initiative.
But there was a lot of overlap and commonality to their answers as well. Which means we have a few benchmarks on where we should start improving ourselves and our city.
Improving a community is never an easy process. It requires an open and frank discussion on who we are, where we are and what we hope to accomplish. It requires dedication, devotion and, oftentimes, pain.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank these brave folks for going on the record and speaking out. These are people who genuinely care about our city and all of Northeast Ohio. I’d also like to ask our readers to respond — to offer your own initiatives and concerns that you may not see here.
Let this be the starting point of our own initiative-driven mission. Together we will make Greater Cleveland a better place to work, live and play.
Cuyahoga County Executive
Now in his second term as Cuyahoga County executive, Armond Budish has been in active public service for more than 25 years.
We’ve been working on transformative ways to create more jobs by bringing additional businesses to Cuyahoga County. One initiative is the creation of a microgrid, which will give businesses access to the most reliable electricity in the world. Before the pandemic, we put out a request for interest in the project, and 11 of the biggest energy companies in the world indicated they would have an interest not only in being the developer, but also in being an investor. As a result, we believe we can basically set this up at no cost to the county. It will be constructed privately under the direction of the county and city.
We have a tremendous asset here, which is Lake Erie — and we’re totally underutilizing it. Certain businesses, including beverage and food processing, need huge quantities of fresh water. There are a large number of companies in states such as California, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada where drought threatens serious interruptions of water supply. We can market the fact that we have huge and reliable access to water, as well as a well-built infrastructure, which we believe can attract companies to Cuyahoga County. We just have to lead them to water.
We also have 30 miles of lakefront [land] from one end of the county to the other, and much of it is inaccessible. You’ve seen what other cities around the country have done. We can do the same thing, but even better, because we have a huge, beautiful lakefront. We just have to make sure people can access it. One model is what’s been done in Euclid. They’ve turned about a mile of lakefront into a walking and biking trail. I want to see a path like that from one area of the county to the other. One way to accomplish it is to provide a trade-off to lakefront homeowners that if we help with erosion issues, they’ll agree to public access.
Jails around the country have become repositories for people with mental health and addiction issues. Those who struggle with those problems may commit a minor crime like trespassing or some kind of public disturbance, [which leads to the] police picking them up. Since there’s no place to take them other than jail, they sit there for a day, a week, a month or whatever it might take — and wind up with a criminal record and their life destroyed. We’ve created a Diversion Center on East 55th Street, which will be transformative for criminal justice. We’re working with Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services in Cuyahoga County and Oriana House to create a place where people can go for stabilization or treatment for seven to nine days and not be booked or have a criminal record. Once they’re stabilized, they’ll be referred to existing community programs. Police officers are receiving training about this program, and FrontLine Service is providing a 24/7 phone line for them to call when they have questions.
We’ve passed a resolution in the county that says structural racism is a public health crisis, and I’ve stood up to commissions — one looking inward to the county and one looking outward to the community — to study what we’re doing in the ways of equity and how we can do better. I’ve instructed my department heads to perform their jobs through an equity lens. For example, we spend millions of dollars on road maintenance projects and, typically, decisions as to which ones to repair are based on the amount of traffic and the condition of the road. Since we’ve now added an equity lens, we include roads that have been underserved. No one wants to live in a place where the street looks like a crater or a battleground.
President, University Circle Inc.
Chris Ronayne leads a community development corporation responsible for the growth of University Circle, with a focus on health care, education, arts and culture.
We are a great education, medical, arts and cultural center. So we’re always asking the question, ‘What does that mean for everyday residents of Greater Cleveland?’ To answer that question, one of our foremost initiatives is to help young people discover fields that interest them that will be a potential pathway to employment. Not all learning happens in the classroom behind a desk. We’ve created portals of learning for those in kindergarten through 12th grade that include summer camps, apprentice programs and field experiences. When we say find yourself in the circle, you just might find your future career here.
University Circle is the state’s fourth-largest employment hub and the city’s second-largest employment hub next to Downtown Cleveland. With more than 85,000 workers, we have a tremendous amount of commuters, interwoven with 3 million cultural goers every year, as well as residents and students. To provide more opportunities to get around in different ways, we’ve created a Transportation Management Association, uGO, focused on creating a sophisticated infrastructure that’s pedestrian friendly and accommodates people and their mobility needs in different ways. We’re creating a transportation network we hope is a best-in-class proof-of-concept for Ohio — that in a dense square mile or two, you can get around by many other means than just an automobile.
Among its beautiful arts-and-culture institutions, University Circle has a wonderful system of parks that is starting to be connected to nearby neighborhoods. We’re working with partners including Cleveland Metroparks and Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to create really spectacular amenities not unlike The Fens in Boston or Central Park in New York. It will be a tribute to those who planned the spaces a century ago, and we’re adding to that by connecting neighborhoods that have been historically disconnected.
We are home to best-in-class institutions like Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University and the VA. So the question is: ‘How can we take what’s in the heads of the docs and researchers and translate that to a commercial product?’ There is in the making — along the Health Tech Corridor of Euclid Avenue — nodes of innovation districts. They include the landing of the Cleveland Foundation, the landing of the new Circle Square project and other high-density idea centers. We want to catalyze those ideas into a future that translates into a new economy that is health- and tech-based and built off the strengths of the [storied] institutions that have been here for a century or more.
Arts isn’t just about a visual arts experience. It’s about economic development. Organizations such as the Cleveland Institute of Art — where students are learning about future products and the commercialization of ideas in the many ways they can contribute to — is the home of one of the greatest digital gaming centers and graphic design [programs]. It’s just one example of how we can take art and leverage it into our local economy.
President, Cuyahoga Community College
President of Cuyahoga Community College since 2013, Alex Johnson has led his school to record numbers of graduates while strengthening its mission of providing affordable training and education.
During the pandemic, the reality of Cleveland’s economic divide worsened, characterized by increasing disparities for poor people — especially those of color — in almost every determinant of upward mobility. Unemployment rates soared, food and housing insecurity climbed, and educational opportunity was abruptly halted.
We can no longer afford simple fixes to aid our fellow citizens who struggle daily. Our response to this now more complex problem must reach beyond mere programmatic intervention to transform social, educational and economic systems.
To do this, we must first ensure that families and children have access to quality services — starting with comprehensive health care during the prenatal period and early years. Educational systems must be unified in offering, without disruption, pre-K through postsecondary education that leads to economic prosperity. Parents should receive assistance with nutritional and housing needs to help them retain quality jobs.
The impact of living in crisis can also contribute to mental health issues. It is important to set aside resources to ensure these issues are addressed through social services.
Finally, we must acknowledge that many of the disparities heightened by COVID-19 have racial overtones. More engagement is required to ensure that both words and deeds lead to an inclusive, fair and just community.
Chief Information Officer, KeyBank
As head of KeyBank’s 5,000-member technology, operations and services organization, Amy Brady has a vital influence on innovative technology, cyber and physical security, customer transactions and more. Brady is also chairman of the board of Playhouse Square.
Disney (Theatrical Productions) has chosen Playhouse Square as its launchpad to restart the national tour of “The Lion King” in October. That’s a huge testament to Cleveland and Cleveland supporters of Broadway. There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s part of Cleveland’s reopening of theaters, businesses, restaurants and sports. That’s critical to the impact on our cities, and I believe each of us has an opportunity to help.
Getting people back to work is part of our continuing recovery. That goes hand in hand with addressing unemployment, current supply chain issues and filling jobs. KeyBank has a long track record of supporting small businesses, especially those that are part of low- to moderate-income communities.
We have to help people become more proficient and skilled for the technology jobs that are available. But we also need to make sure there are enough tech companies that continue to brand this region as a place where tech talent can stay and have a great career, or where people can bring their careers back from either coast.
Education remains the key to the future, beginning in early childhood. I feel fortunate to live in a community that makes education a priority.
Mayor Frank Jackson’s long tenure is coming to an end. It’s really important as we look to the future that all of Cleveland is active through civic engagement (in electing and supporting a mayor) to take us to the next leg of our journey.
Interim Executive Director, The Foundry
In 2017, native Clevelanders Gina Trebilcock her husband, Mike Trebilcock, opened the Foundry, a rowing, sailing and fitness training center in the Flats. The facility is accessible to all youth, as well as world-class athletes.
The most striking aspect of our region is our own Great Lake and the Cuyahoga River, but both are underutilized in terms of the development of our youth. We need to create more access and opportunities to connect our youth to nature and what we have here so they appreciate and stay in their hometown.
We don’t have very many opportunities to even get close to the lake or river. The river is very intimidating, and it takes a lot of training to know what you are doing. It’s very important to have the confidence of learning a skill that will take you out there. The sports we teach here are only one vehicle to teach that confidence. We don’t really care if you ever learn to row or sail. We just want you to know how to enter the water. We are just providing pathways to opportunities.
We also need to promote positive progressive development and allow our youth to connect with kids from all over the city. When they work together to do something really difficult, like taking a rowing shell out of the boathouse and carrying it down to the river or getting in a sailboat and having to rig it and account for the wind, those are the moments that produce positive progressive steps.
And we need to reinvest in Cleveland’s neighborhood recreation centers. We also need to encourage more corporations, small businesses and mom-and-pop stores to mentor youth and provide job opportunities.
The Foundry is a little initiative, but we can still have tremendous impact. There are very few things that you put your energy into that sort of magically takes on wings of its own, but the lake and the river make it happen.
CEO, Team NEO
With more than 20 years of banking experience, Bill Koehler today heads an organization that is focused on seeing Northeast Ohio’s economy grow and thrive.
At Team NEO, we are focused on strategies that drive projects relating to the encouragement of investment here either through expansion opportunities or through attraction of new businesses.
First of all, we need to promote Northeast Ohio to the outside world, so they see us as a place where businesses thrive.
The adoption of new technology is also important. We have more than 10,000 manufacturing facilities throughout Northeast Ohio. But in order to maintain our global competitive strength, we need our manufacturers to accelerate the adoption of technology in their manufacturing processes to improve efficiency and effectiveness — and perhaps even create new value propositions that their supply chains can take advantage of using.
Finally, we need to see a better alignment of talent and opportunities. We need to make sure we are graduating and training more students with credentials or degrees that are aligned with them getting jobs. In the past, there has been a big mismatch between qualifications and the jobs that are available.
There is currently a large supply and demand gap in terms of talent in our region. A lot of people were displaced during the pandemic. But the employment opportunities are now in different industries or have different functions. So there is a lot of work that needs to be done.
When you get into misaligned opportunities, you also have to start looking at the systemic barriers to the completion of degrees or programs and the impediment to training or educating young people, especially people of color.