Much of our collective energy in Northeast Ohio focuses on the competition occurring on baseball diamonds, basketball courts and football fields. We love to root for our home teams. Simultaneously, a very different competition is happening in our region — one that also requires teamwork, but is anything but a game. At stake in this competition is the ability for all Northeast Ohio residents to enjoy a high quality of life.
To create and sustain a growing, opportunity-rich economy, we must excel against a relentlessly advancing field of competitors. We will win this high stakes competition if all our players – particularly private sector and philanthropic supporters of economic growth efforts — align their resources and actions to promote good jobs, vibrant communities and equitable access to opportunity.
In 2004, a troubled regional economy plus fierce global competition prompted the philanthropic community to unite and form the Fund for Our Economic Future. Northeast Ohio needed to develop efforts strengthening its ability to compete by thinking, planning and acting like a region.
Nearly 10 years later, Northeast Ohio is much more competitive in many critical areas. For example, our fund is proud to have played a role in helping our region become more effective in competing for venture dollars, with more than $2 billion invested in Northeast Ohio’s most promising young companies. We’ve successfully competed on other levels as well, including attracting 67 growing companies with nearly 6,000 jobs since 2007.
Yet, we have a long way to go to strengthen the vibrancy of our communities. New research sponsored by our fund highlights a disturbing trend indicating that these positive results could mask even deeper problems.
One of the critical findings of the just-released What Matters to Metros analysis is that metropolitan areas with the strongest job growth in the past two decades also have some of the highest rates of poverty, crime and income inequality. No one is in favor of an economy that adds jobs but also exacerbates poverty. While we need to be cautious about oversimplifying economic research, the data clearly indicate that it is not enough for our economic strategies to focus merely on job creation.
If we are to have truly vibrant communities — where all residents can prosper — we need strategies that create more than just jobs. We must also ensure equitable access to those opportunities for all our residents, particularly those who historically have been left behind.
What Matters to Metros also offers good news: The study found that entrepreneurship is associated with increased opportunities such as more jobs and higher incomes, particularly among historically disadvantaged populations. Promoting entrepreneurship is the primary focus of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and a key element of our region’s economic development efforts. What Matters to Metros should encourage us to strengthen our efforts in Northeast Ohio to increase entrepreneurship, to enhance both job growth and access to opportunity.
Both the What Matters to Metros research and additional work our fund has jointly undertaken with Northeast Ohio business leaders have identified other key economic priorities within our region. For example, to reverse our decades-long economic underperformance we must increase our pool of educated and qualified employees by focusing on strategies to improve educational attainment and develop an effective workforce.
As the new chair of the Fund for Our Economic Future, I am committed to helping philanthropy forge a strong partnership with private sector leaders to strengthen Northeast Ohio’s ability to address these and other economic priorities. To align our respective resources most effectively, we need key stakeholders from across our diverse region to support this process in meaningful ways.
We all have a stake in our region’s economic future and can help shape efforts designed to strengthen it. Together, we have the resources, leadership and ingenuity necessary to accelerate the pace of positive change for all our citizens.
Northeast Ohio has made tremendous progress over the past decade, yet the bar set by our global competitors keeps rising. Private and philanthropic leaders are responding to the challenge by creating a framework for increased engagement and alignment of our respective resources and efforts. If we want a growing, opportunity-rich economy for all people of Northeast Ohio, this is one competition we can’t afford to lose. And the only way we can win is by working together.
Hoover is the president and chief executive of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and the chair of the Fund for Our Economic Future.