When Clevelanders think about a revitalized city, they often picture West 25th Street in Ohio City. There, farm-to-table restaurants, microbreweries and the West Side Market anchor a nationally respected food scene.
Ohio City has become an "it" neighborhood, not only a place to play, but also to live. Much of the near West Side, including Tremont and Detroit Shoreway, is going through a similar transformation. So is downtown.
These developments are welcome, but they are not really enough to sustain a resurgence in an entire city's economy. Much of the activity in those neighborhoods is related to what some economists call the "consumer city": places where money is spent consuming local goods, be it a Great Lakes Brewing Co. beer or an Ohio City loft.
But to buy a pint or pay the rent, you need a job. This is where the "producer city" comes in. As the real engine of the regional economy, it is fueled by the production of value, not simply the consumption of things.
For most of Cleveland's history, manufacturing drove our producer city capacity. We made products and shipped them to the world. Lately, Cleveland has become a global player in health care delivery and technology. A recent Business Times piece, for example, had a respected Malaysian hospital angling to be "the Cleveland Clinic of Asia."
Our ground zero for this health knowledge cluster is the HealthTech Corridor, which runs from downtown to University Circle, along a 3-mile stretch of Euclid Avenue. It is there that the seeds of the region's new economy rest.
Health care employment along the HealthTech Corridor increased by more than 13,500 jobs from 2000 to 2011, a study by the Center for Economic Development at Cleveland State University found. That's an increase of 55 percent.
The jobs are not only in the hospitals, says HealthTech Corridor director Jeff Epstein, but also in the startups that are "springing out of the health care and academic institutions and are rapidly growing within the corridor." Explorys, a global leader in the analytics of big data generated by health care organizations, and Cleveland HeartLab, which analyzes blood samples to advance cardiac care, are two newer firms making a big impact.
"There are dozens of other newer companies locating [in the corridor] because of Cleveland's status as a global health care leader," Epstein says. "These companies are transforming our regional economy."
You can think of the HealthTech Corridor, then, as the region's emerging central business district — an area enabling the income that is spent in various bedroom communities throughout Northeast Ohio. One in three residents of zip code 44113 — Tremont, Ohio City and parts of downtown — are employed in education, medicine and the professional and scientific sectors.
In other words, we have microbreweries because we know microbes.
Now, why does this all matter?
Because while Cleveland's West Side neighborhoods get all the accolades, the region's economic future lies in the predominantly African-American East Side neighborhoods adjacent to the HealthTech Corridor, such as Hough, Glenville and Fairfax. The physical reinvestment in that area is coming. The Cleveland Clinic's new $276 million Cancer Center and the $42 million Upper Chester apartment complex are evidence of that, and the building boom is likely to continue.
The question, however, is how much existing East Side residents will share in the fruits of this future.
"Cleveland has an unusual opportunity," says Walter Wright, a project director at the Cleveland Foundation's Greater University Circle Initiative. Our areas of greatest neighborhood decline overlap with the areas of greatest regional economic growth.
Wright says we need to match area residents with jobs in the medical and educational institutions that have become our new regional powerhouses. He's correct. The East Side, with its patchwork of industrial factories and warehouses, was long the center of the region's producer city economy. Area residents were employed in the global manufacturing sector — hence the rise of the black middle class.
Then the economy shifted from less brawn to more brain. Blue-collar workers lost their jobs and their skills became obsolete. Whole communities became isolated from the global marketplace.
Today's producer city footprint exists in the backyards of those most economically displaced. The issue boils down to whether local residents can be brought into the knowledge economy through educational or on-the-job training. (Mayor Frank Jackson's administration is thinking along these lines. I've had some preliminary conversations with the mayor's staff, as an unpaid consultant, on how the city government could help the producer city.)
There is already evidence of some success on this front. In parts of the East Side neighborhoods of St. Clair Superior, Hough and Glenville (the 44103 zip code), nearly 37 percent of employed residents work in education, medicine and the professional and scientific sectors (slightly more than on the near West Side). More than 70 percent of these residents are African-American.
Longtime Hough resident and writer Mansfield Frazier, a pragmatic optimist if there ever was one, has noted the change. "The jobs [the institutions] provide have helped to stabilize adjacent neighborhoods by spurring new home ownership, and the rehabbing of older homes," notes Frazier.
While this employment connection between the HealthTech Corridor institutions and surrounding communities is still underdeveloped, it's being promoted through initiatives such as University Hospitals' Vision 2010 — in essence, a plan to buy local to jump-start community wealth. Such efforts are a far cry from the 1950s through the 1990s, when University Circle leaders were often criticized as adopting a fortress mentality toward surrounding neighborhoods.
Frazier thinks things are changing.
"The relationship between University Circle institutions and the surrounding communities of color, which historically had been frosty at best, has entered into a new phase," he says, "one that creates a win-win for all involved."
For the victories to continue, the oversight and neglect of the East Side's importance to the regional economy needs to stop. After all, we can't consume if we don't produce. And the heart of Cleveland's production will increasingly run along Euclid Avenue, from East 18th to 118th streets. The future of the region rests where most people think it doesn't.