Times of transition are often times of transformational change and discovery. No one knows this better than Cleveland’s new mayor, Justin Bibb.
Before he took office, Bibb was busy bringing together a well-seasoned and diverse transition team to oversee 10 committees tackling 10 key initiatives that challenge Cleveland. Among them are economic development, education, environment, equity in action, health, modern City Hall, neighborhoods, open government, safety and talent.
Identifying these as top priorities, Bibb named 75 emerging and experienced leaders who represent academia, business, faith, health care and nonprofits, as well as activists and residents to serve on his transition team’s 10 initiative sub-committees. He also created two dedicated task forces: an Operations Task Force and a Public Safety Task Force. It’s a very aggressive agenda, designed to prepare the new mayor to hit the ground running in his first 100 days.
But is it too much? What can Bibb actually accomplish in his first 100 days?
We asked community leaders to offer their insights on what we might expect from this period of transformational change and how the new mayor should address these important initiatives.
Coming Together to Create Momentum
Eddie Taylor Jr., founder and president of Taylor Oswald, a firm that provides strategic risk management and insurance solutions.
“I think the mayor has been very thoughtful of the challenges that confront our city and area. Because of that thoughtfulness, deliberation and diligence that he has done, an aggressive agenda is possible.
“The question then becomes: Can all these things be accomplished in his first 100 days? Obviously, we all know the answer is no.
“However, the momentum he is trying to create is the bigger part of it. That momentum is positive if it is moving in the right direction. If he has able and capable people behind the activities, then I think it is the right agenda.
“What has been put on the table shows the kind of progress that not only the city, but our region craves. I would say that, yes, the agenda is aggressive. Daunting, without question. It will be something that causes many sleepless nights. But, by the same token, if we can begin and maintain the positive, forward momentum on the things he has outlined, it will be an agenda that we can take pride in as a community.
“We, and by that I mean all of us because we are in this together, need to support the mayor. He will need the support of every sector in the community, and not just the citizens who voted for him directly. We need the business community, the civic community and others. If we can collectively aid in these efforts, then we will all be well served.”
Focus on Education
“One of our greatest needs is continuing the progress that has been made in terms of education. We have a capable and long-serving CEO of our public schools. Making sure Eric Gordon and his team have the resources and support to ensure we are educating the kids in our school district, making sure attendance is at a level we can all be proud of and making sure that the issues around the access to learning from an online standpoint and broadband availability are all still priorities.”
Equity in Action
“We have heard many times that this community has to rise together. Equity in action undergirds so much of what the mayor is trying to accomplish — the safety and talent issues, the neighborhoods issues, the modernization of City Hall, health care and the disparities associated with it and economic development. So many of these things can be aided and served effectively through equity in action.
“We have to be sure that there are partnerships in the community — and not just from the business community, but the organizations that serve the underserved in our community. We need partnerships with the county and local mayors outside of the city of Cleveland, and partnerships down state to make sure all of these things are well served.
“In the end, it is really all about the citizens, primarily in the city of Cleveland, but also beyond, and making certain the mayor continues to relate to, touch base with and hear their comments, concerns and input. This will create a community that has safe and vibrant neighborhoods where recreation is possible, a sense of comfort is possible and where there are endless opportunities for gain, advancement and quality of life.”
Going Beyond the 10
Randell McShepard, vice president, public affairs and chief talent officer of RPM International Inc.,
a world leader in the manufacture of specialty coatings.
“Mayor Bibb might not be able to solve everything in his first 100 days, but he may be able to get a handle on what he wants to do with each of his initiatives. All of his initiatives are critically important, and he certainly needs to address all of them in order to turn our city around.
“There are a couple of areas that stand out that are not necessarily on the mayor’s list of 10, but they are related. Under the guise of economic development, I would propose workforce development, including youth employment.
“We need to get people employed because jobs mitigate so many other community challenges. Jobs mitigate poverty. They mitigate health care issues because so many employers provide some sort of health care. Jobs stabilize communities, and they help with issues like transportation because employed people can save for a car or have the money for bus fare. There are so many things that employment impacts, including quality of life.
Improving Homeownership“Under neighborhoods, I would add home ownership. The most painful points in our neighborhoods are areas where we have seen a precipitous decline in homeownership. When people don’t own homes, they don’t necessarily have the same sense of pride in their community. They are not as likely to participate in block clubs, support the local corner store or be involved with schools or civic activities.
“I harken back to the Great Recession; the foreclosure crisis erased the largest amount of wealth in the African American community going back to the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Housing is the No. 1 way people generate wealth. If you pay off your house, you typically have a little nest egg that you can use to send your children to college, or retire. There are not a lot of other ways that lower to moderate income people can generate wealth.
Safety is Paramount
“I agree that we have to do something with the whole safety piece, which is put forward in the mayor’s plan. If we want people to feel like Cleveland is home and they are excited about living here, they have to feel safe. It impacts their entire quality of life because without safety, you can’t take a walk around the block. You aren’t comfortable going to the corner shop, which hurts local businesses. And, you are not likely to meet your neighbors.
Streamlining City Hall
“The whole idea of the modern City Hall and government is also important. We are all in this together. A lot of people believe that we have elected officials over here and businesses over there and neighborhoods somewhere else. But, we all have to come together and row in the same direction — so I love the idea the mayor is talking about.
“He’s also thinking about creating an intra-governmental coordinator that will ensure that people get support across departmental lines. So, if you are a builder, a facilitator or a business owner, you don’t have to go to four separate departments to get permits. This new department, or person, would be responsible for better coordinating and aligning the way departments would work together.
“I think it would be interesting to follow, months down the road, the differences that have been made in the way City Hall operates; what they have learned or what they have done to make significant change. It will be interesting to see what the mood is of contractors or entrepreneurs who are knocking on the door of City Hall — are they getting the kind of support they had hoped for?”
Partnering for a Better Tomorrow
Joe Marinucci, recently retired president and CEO of Downtown Cleveland Alliance, an organization that attracts talent, jobs and investment to our city’s downtown.
“I have to commend Mayor Bibb. He has identified key areas of focus and has his hand on the pulse of the opportunities and challenges we face. He’s right on target when it comes to the areas we have got to concentrate on in the months ahead.
“For those who say there are too many initiatives, step back and take a look at the transition team he has put together — and the cabinet that he will ultimately put in place. He also will be able to move forward with these initiatives by partnering with the many institutions we have in our community. I think it is important to try and tackle all of these issues.
“City Hall can’t solve every problem, but it needs to work collaboratively with organizations to put in place institutional changes that will benefit everyone.
“From my perspective and background, I always think in terms of economic development. It is very important to attract investors throughout the city and in all of the neighborhoods in our city. And, it’s important for those investors to create jobs for all of our residents.
“The second most important initiative is the modernization of City Hall — it affects most people’s lives on a daily basis, whether it’s the water department, service department, if you’re looking for a permit to do some home improvement project or put together an economic development package for a potential investor.
“City Hall affects most people’s lives on a daily basis. So being able to modernize City Hall and make all of our government systems and departments more accessible and efficient is an important priority. How efficient is our water department or trash collection? All of these things can be looked at and modernized. That would positively affect people’s experiences of living and working in Cleveland.
“Third, while education has been a priority for some time, we need to continue the momentum that has been created with Eric Gordon and Cleveland Public Schools. Accelerating that momentum in the next few years will be important. There are things that happened during the pandemic that have opened our eyes. We need to think about early childhood and daycare, and the importance of our ability to create new jobs. We need to give people with jobs better options for their children while they are at work.
“All of this doesn’t happen in 100 days. But, we have a lot of good organizations in the business community, in the nonprofit community and in the philanthropic community. I am a big believer in the government working collaboratively with other organizations to put solutions in place that benefit everyone.”
Jack Schron, CEO of Jergens Inc., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of standard tooling components.
“Clearly, economic development and jobs have to be the No. 1 priority. But in order to get there, you also have to take a look at talent. The third issue is inclusivity.
“All of these issues are kind of joined at the hip, and they all work together. They are not independent, and they are all fluid. And there are often lines that get blurred between them.
“In terms of job creation, we have two leaders in our GDP. Most people think medical is No.1, but it is actually manufacturing, which doesn’t get the same visibility.
“Medical gets a lot of attention because of the great powerhouses we have in our area, including: Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, MetroHealth and our Veterans Administration’s Medical Centers. But medical is only about $24 billion in terms of our GDP, while manufacturing represents about $44 billion, and those figures come from Team NEO.
“But they are both important for what we need to focus on and what we need to do. We need to make sure these two are joined a little closer, because everything that goes on in a hospital, except for the actual treatment, has to be made by somebody.
“Those four large medical organizations should be working closer with our manufacturing sector. Everything from the forceps to the bed pans has to be manufactured. The air ducts handling various gases have to be manufactured or machined, so there are a lot of synergies that need to be brought forth between medical and manufacturing.
“We also need to talk about inclusivity when it comes to workforce development. When we talk about being inclusive, we often tend to think about just two groups: minorities and women.
“In manufacturing, our tent is getting very big. We, as manufacturers, have started a new program around employing folks who have been formerly incarcerated, giving them a second chance. You also don’t hear about people with special needs, folks who have a limited amount of skills. But those skills can be included and tapped as a resource in our workforce efforts.
“When you talk about inclusion, you often don’t hear about people who are autistic. We can’t be thinking they have their own special programs. If you are going to include them, include them from the very beginning. So, when we think about inclusivity, we need to think about everyone.
“Another area we should focus on is hospitality. Prior to the pandemic, hospitality was one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy; our theater district was going crazy, so were our restaurants, entertainment and sports teams — they were all going gangbusters.
“Hospitality jobs teach great skills, such as being dependable and on time. In manufacturing, we can train people to do specific tasks, but having those essential jobs skills is an important foundation to any career path.”
Focusing on Neighborhoods, Safety and Education
John Habat, president and CEO of Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity
“Mayor Bibb should prioritize revitalization of East Side, inner-city neighborhoods. There are bright spots, but not nearly enough.
“From my experience, the best way to turn around struggling neighborhoods is through home ownership programs. Homeowners have a stake in their neighborhoods. They will watch, and they will know what is going on. That creates safety that protects their investments and opportunity to build housing and financial equity.
“We have surveyed Habitat homeowners on their experience of owning their own homes, and they report dramatic improvements on health, education, housing and economic stability. For example, 86% of respondents say that their lives are more stable; 96% have greater confidence in their ability to care for their families.
“The second initiative should be on public safety and establishing mutual respect and trust. While it is a national challenge, it has to be addressed and resolved at the local level.
“The third initiative is public education. Families with choices continue to move out of the city in search of better schools and safer neighborhoods. Unfortunately, public schools have had to assume and absorb too many responsibilities beyond education.
“We can address these issues and, at the same time, promote equity in housing, education and health care.
Overall, access to health care in our city is good thanks to several strong network providers. But, be aggressive in remediating the lead that poisons the kids.
“Mayor Justin Bibb has a long to-do list, but he needs to focus, focus, focus on his top priorities. He has a unique window to advance some key initiatives critical to Cleveland.”