Cleveland Lays Out the Welcome Mat
Thinking about moving? You should consider Cleveland. That's the pitch of Global Cleveland – and it's a more reasonable appeal than it might have been a few years ago.
One of the key nodes of the Rust Belt, along with Detroit, Pittsburgh and Buffalo, the Forest City suffered horribly with the collapse of manufacturing in the latter half of the last century, losing dozens of major businesses and about 60 percent of its population since 1950, according to the 2010 census.
But that tale of decline has been reversed in recent years, mainly via deep investments in economic diversification, infrastructure and the arts. Ongoing development projects in the Cleveland area total $7 billion, according to the Greater Cleveland Partnership. Big-ticket projects include a $560 million makeover for University Hospitals Case Medical Center, a $465 million convention center and medical mart and a $350 million casino on Public Square, the city's central plaza.
The city's University Circle area is getting spiffed up with the Farshad Moussavi-designed Museum of Contemporary Art and some sleek new apartment buildings. The neighborhood, which includes a clutch of healthcare institutions, colleges and arts groups, has gained thousands of jobs and residents in the past few years.
The region is also reclaiming some manufacturing might. Chrysler plans to invest $500 million in its Toledo plant, while Ford is shifting some of its production from Mexico and investing $128 million in its suburban Cleveland plant.
The government is pitching in as well. The state of Ohio has reportedly offered Sears a package of incentives worth as much as $400 million to relocate its 6,200-employee headquarters from Chicago – possibly to the Cleveland area.
And the Ohio Department of Development just launched InvestOhio, a $100 million tax credit program to help small businesses attract investment, grow and create jobs.
That program should help Global Cleveland, which hopes to attract 100,000 new residents in the next ten years. The nonprofit launched in May with a summit of over 300 local community and business leaders and will open a Welcome Hub at Public Square next month.
Executive Director Larry Miller, a former vice president at Lubrizol, a chemical producer, is mainly targeting skilled immigrant professionals and so-called boomerangs – young college grads with Cleveland ties who might consider a return. He believes Global Cleveland's work will be easier than most people think. "Cleveland already is appealing for a variety of reasons: cost of living, cultural amenities, vibrant neighborhoods, an active local food scene, three major sports teams," he wrote in an email.
Miller is working to build pipelines to funnel skilled immigrants into as many as 20,000 jobs in healthcare, IT and financial services. Global Cleveland's first program is helping foreign-trained doctors, nurses and physical therapists find work. In 2012, Miller expects to attract between 5,000 and 10,000 newcomers, with plans to reach out to former Clevelanders in cities like Chicago and New York.
Carla Santasuosso, a Chicago nurse who grew up in a Cleveland suburb, will not be among those returning. She's seen many of her friends and family leave the Cleveland area and has embraced her adopted home and her work at Rush University Medical Center. "Cleveland can't compete with the salaries and benefits offered in a stronger market," she says. "Sure the cost of living is much less, but I'd rather have a higher cost of living and enjoy the wide variety of experiences that Chicago has to offer."
Such opinions are unlikely to deter officials from Global Cleveland and other, similar efforts. A group from the Cleveland Leadership Center recently began organizing boomerang events to meet with former Clevelanders to network and share info on current job opportunities back in Cleveland in an attempt to lure returnees. They've held events in Boston and Chicago, and are planning another for Las Vegas in March.
Whether their siren-song will succeed is another story. At the very least, it seems a less tawdry approach than Pittsburgh's bribery scheme.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Iaffy4K.