Jon Pinney, managing partner of Kohrman, Jackson, and Krantz, challenged Cleveland’s leaders to better align our efforts to accelerate Cleveland’s and Northeast Ohio’s economic growth and shared prosperity with a greater sense of collaboration and urgency.
While it is important to appreciate and applaud the excellent work of Mayor Frank Jackson, County Executive Armond Budish, the Fund for Our Economic Future, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, Team NEO, JumpStart, BioEnterprise, the Cleveland Foundation, the Gund Foundation and many other organizations, companies and individuals…. Pinney is right.
As a site selector recently noted, “It’s no particular organization’s fault. It’s a failure of the collective.” We need, as Baiju Shah, chief executive officer of BioMotiv, noted, “a bold, captivating vision.” We need to disrupt and align the system.
In 2008, I spoke at the Cleveland City Club in my capacity as Ohio Lt. Governor, director of the Ohio Department of Development and chair of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission. I unveiled Ohio’s first economic-development plan and told the emerging story of our state’s journey from auto glass to solar panels, from steel to wind turbines, from tires to polymers, from gliders to turbine engines and lunar rockets.
Later, I served as president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, a nationwide cross-sector city learning network, and worked with mayors and community leaders in over 40 midsize U.S. cities such as Pittsburgh, Columbus, Indianapolis, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Greenville, Knoxville and Greensboro to help develop plans and strategies for inclusive economic growth.
Too often cities move too quickly to strategies and tactics before they establish an inclusive, open process for developing the best solutions. I have found that the single most important thing a city can do to grow its economy is designate or create a cross-sector “backbone” group or organization charged with aligning the community around a common agenda. We must make sure that a far more inclusive group of leaders is in the room where economic development thinking and planning happens.
So here’s my recommendation: Let’s create Open Table CLE.
It’s about getting the right people in “the room where it happens,” or, as Jim Collins notes in Good to Great, the right people on the bus. While the key, established actors must be at the table, that’s only the beginning, not the end. It must be an open table that attracts a diverse group of disrupters, changemakers and connectors. They are the new city CEOs. Trust me, they are everywhere, often hidden in plain sight.
Sustainable change happens when diverse leaders come together to share a vision for change that includes a common understanding and framework for addressing the challenges and opportunities facing their city. Too often, each sector and organization is its own audience, working inside an echo chamber and operating within a narrow frame.
The five conditions for collective impact are a common agenda, shared measurement, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication and a backbone organization that supports fidelity by the cross-sector players to the common agenda. Each of our economic and community development organizations are making a positive impact, but to change the trajectory of our city and region, we must do it collectively.
We are at a tipping point in the future of our city and region. I want to share the lessons I’ve learned from years in the trenches of economic development and public policy — I call them, somewhat presumptuously, the 10 ingredients of the secret sauce of city success.
1. Imagine and Believe. Create a vision of who we want to be and believe in it. When I had the honor of serving as Ohio Attorney General, I met young men and women in prisons who could not see their own future. Any future. For many of them, prison was a land beyond pain. For them, their zip code was their destiny — lost potential, lost productivity, lost hope. I’ve come to believe that the greatest gift you can give a person, city or region, is the ability to imagine, envision and believe in your own future.
We must believe in ourselves. We must believe that despite the inevitable setbacks, fumbles and failures we will face, there is a future for which to strive and believe in. Virtually every small and midsize American city I visited as president and CEO of CEOs for Cities had some form of inferiority complex. But those cities that reinvented themselves were the ones that embraced their failures as lessons learned, and celebrated and invested in their distinctive assets. These cities understood that failures and successes are not moments, they are trajectories.
2. Collaborate and Trust. It is critical to engage in collective impact by working together in the economic kitchen across borders, sectors, generations, genders, races and cultures. The economies that will win in the new networked economy are those that make their boundaries porous to new ideas and talent and demonstrate the humility to understand that there is always something more to learn from someone else, somewhere else. No sector — public, private, nonprofit, philanthropic, academic — can do it alone. The collective impact of leaders from multiple perspectives and experiences working together to advance city success never has been more essential. None of us is as smart as all of us, and no one sector, organization or generation can create sustainable change alone.
3. Reinvent and Disrupt. Approach our future with a new R&D mindset. The R&D I have in mind is not research and development; it’s reinvention and disruption. Embrace our disrupters who are leaning into the city and grabbing it. Our disrupters don’t wait for permission; they refuse to sit at the kids table until the older generation gets off the stage. They’re not angry. But they are
impatient. And, most of all, they see possibility where others see barriers and roadblocks. As Wayne Dyer said, “If you change the way you look at things, the things that you look at, change.”
4. Plan and Align. Develop a strategic plan that links and leverages our city’s distinctive assets of people, place and opportunity and the best ideas of our citizens and leaders. If you google “strategic plan” and “Cleveland,” you will find a number of very thoughtful, well-written strategic plans from a number of nonprofit economic and community development organizations. But you will not find a growth plan that aligns, connects and unifies these plans with a common framework of shared goals, strategies and metrics for our city and our region.
5. Measure and Monitor. Develop a set of vital signs by which we can measure, monitor and improve our economic health and use data to improve, not prove. The Ohio economic-development strategic plan that we developed had key metrics such as per capita income growth rate, job growth rate, venture capital investment, population growth rate and educational attainment. At CEOs for Cities, we created a set of “City Vitals” whereby we benchmarked the performance of U.S. metropolitan regions on over 30 economic indicators. Most of Cleveland’s economic development organizations use performance metrics, such as the Fund for our Economic Future’s excellent Growth & Opportunity Scorecard. The challenge is for our leaders to reach consensus on the best goals and metrics and then to align our city’s and region’s strategies around them.
6. Motivate and Accelerate. We should develop a set of economic dividends. A City Dividend is the return on investment for achieving a targeted, measurable actionable goal toward your city’s and region’s economic success. At CEOs for Cities, we focused our action agenda on City Dividends and Dividend Prize competitions, premised on our research and experience that measurable progress, or “moving the needle,” on targeted work reaps huge economic-growth dividends for cities and accelerates movement on important goals. These dividends must be clear, achievable goals and rallying points that create small wins and demonstrable progress and sustain momentum. City Dividends is based on what Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile calls the “progress principle”— the single most important motivator and catalyst of positive action is making progress and showing forward momentum in meaningful work.
7. Connect Our Capital. We must connect our physical, human, social and digital capital. Geography matters more than ever and success depends on physical capital and authentic placemaking. Technology, engineering, science and economic development must mix comfortably with art and design. Each neighborhood must have its own distinctive blend of day and night life. Every neighborhood must be knowable and walkable, where you can buy a quart of milk without having to burn
a gallon of gas. We must be able to connect light rail and bus rapid transits to jobs and go from one neighborhood to the next safely and effortlessly 24/7. Our waterfront must be more at the center of gravity of downtown — not the edge of downtown — and connected to all parts of the city. Our multiple transportation corridors must be lined with mixed-use and mixed-income residential, retail and commercial development.
8. Innovate and Invest. We must create an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and opportunity. It’s the new geography of innovation. It’s about embracing disruption, risk and change and linking entrepreneurs to capital. We must be a city where there are clearly defined clusters and hubs of innovation and opportunity anchored by knowledge centers like colleges, universities and hospitals that partner with adjacent large and small companies and start up incubators. As the late David Morgenthaler once told me, an innovation district is where, if you lose your job, you don’t lose your parking space because the brain hub creates and attracts so many jobs. Our employers’ short- and long-term workforce needs must be met by those who supply customized training and education. In innovation, a company’s success depends on more than just the quality of its workers — it depends on the critical mass of the entire ecosystem that surrounds it. It’s well known that college graduates make more than high school graduates, but what is far less known or understood is that college graduates in brain hubs — where there are concentrated geographic clusters of companies and knowledge centers — earn 50 percent more than college graduates who work in areas without such innovation clusters. And the same is true for un-skilled workers. In other words, brain hubs pay higher average salaries to un-skilled and lower-skilled workers too.
9. Be Distinctive and Authentic. We must stir our secret sauce until our flavors have reached our own distinctive blend. We cannot and should not try to be something we are not. We must be authentic. As Dolly Parton said, “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.” We must find our DNA and then invest further in our game changers such as health care, bioscience, higher education, fresh water and innovation. Bernie Moreno’s effort to invest in blockchain technology and make Cleveland “Blockland” is a great example of an effort to make our city more distinctive.
10. Grow, Attract, Retain Our Talent. The most notable City Dividend we developed at CEOs for Cities was the Talent Dividend, which measured the number of two-year and four-year degrees attained in a metro region. Just a one percentage point increase in the four-year college attainment rate for the population aged 25 and older in the 51st largest U.S. metropolitan areas means that for every additional person who obtains a college degree or above, he or she will earn, on average, a dividend of an additional $974 each year in income. Each one percentage point increase in degree attainment in Northeast Ohio has a positive $2.8 billion increase in the per capita income for the region.
American workers are increasingly sorting along educational lines. In fact, there is what Enrico Moretti calls in The New Geography of Jobs, the Great Divergence. Today, he says, there are three Americas. At one extreme are the brain hubs — cities with a well-educated labor force, skilled workers and a strong innovation sector. They are growing. At the other extreme are cities once dominated by traditional manufacturing, which are declining rapidly. And in the middle are the bubble cities. They are on the bubble and, depending on how they chart their paths, will either become a brain hub or fall into a downward spiral. Cleveland, like most cities I worked with throughout the country, is on the bubble. The three Americas are growing apart at an accelerating rate, so there’s no time to lose. This is urgent.
Placemaking, innovation, entrepreneurship, talent development, attraction and retention and distinctiveness are essential ingredients for a great city.
But the real secret sauce for economic success starts with an inclusive open table that establishes a bond of trust among its citizens and leaders. Change happens at the speed of trust.
Lee Fisher is dean of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law at Cleveland State University. He is also senior fellow at the CSU Levin College of Urban Affairs and urban scholar at the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs and the Great Cities Institute, University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the former Ohio Attorney General, Lt. Governor, director of the Ohio Department of Development, chair of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission, president and CEO of the Center for Families and Children, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, state representative and state senator. During the time he served as Ohio Lt. Governor and director of development, Ohio won the nation’s highest state economic development award, Site Selection magazine’s Governor’s Cup, three consecutive years.