Business, Philanthropy Leaders Adopt ‘Go-Big’ Strategy To Accelerate Northeast Ohio Job Growth, Outperform Nation

CLEVELAND and AKRON, Ohio – November 10, 2014 – Northeast Ohio’s business and philanthropy leaders aim to accelerate the pace of job growth and outperform the nation through a new regional economic competitiveness strategy announced today by the Regional Competitiveness Council (RCC).  The forward-thinking strategy is designed to enable the region to compete globally and adapt rapidly to changes in the economy.

“As Northeast Ohioans, we can all take pride in the progress we have made over the past decade in stimulating entrepreneurship, identifying promising new industry opportunities and rejuvenating our iconic manufacturing sector,” said RCC Co-chair Ward J. "Tim" Timken, Jr., chairman, chief executive officer and president of TimkenSteel Corporation. “Even with all that we have done, however, the fact remains that the pace of job growth here is inadequate. In fact, we would have 400,000 more jobs today if we had just kept pace with the national average over the past two decades.

“Moreover, the region has a high degree of economic polarization, with roughly 200,000 Northeast Ohioans living in neighborhoods disconnected in large measure from the regional economy.”

Northeast Ohio’s corporate, chamber of commerce and foundation leadership created the Regional Competitiveness Council in 2013 to set goals and identify actions to strengthen the region’s economy. The council based its conclusions on findings that indicate Northeast Ohio continues to underperform the rest of the country on three key metrics of economic development – job creation, gross regional product and per capita income. Business leaders intend for the organization to follow JobsOhio’s example of developing, designing, and creating economic development strategies to attract jobs and investment to Northeast Ohio.

“A key priority of our efforts will be to ensure opportunities for ‘disconnected’ segments of the region to participate in and benefit from the resulting job growth,” emphasized Deborah Hoover, chair of the Fund for Our Economic Future and president of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation.

Building on earlier studies of the regional economy, the 15-member steering committee spent several months developing its recommendations. More than 100 community members, executives, consultants and others contributed to the comprehensive effort, volunteering their time, offering wide-ranging perspectives and providing specialized expertise.

“Our regional economic competitiveness strategy was built around a comparative analysis of our job-growth performance and the practices of the most successful regions,” said David T. Abbott, executive director of The George Gund Foundation and RCC co-chair. “Our goal is to accelerate the pace of job creation by 50 percent and ultimately outperform the nation.”

Abbott said the strategy will focus initially on a few critical areas:

  • Make larger commitments to fewer industry clusters – evaluating biomedical and one or two others that will be identified. Analysis of regions that have adopted this “go-big” cluster strategy suggests it can deliver almost half of the RCC’s targeted job-growth improvement.
  • Increase the emphasis on business retention and expansion. Greater attention will be paid to having growth-oriented conversations about how to match the most promising local companies with the many innovation assets in the region’s universities, intermediaries and industry sectors. This will be accomplished by connecting with more companies, executing with more consistency and quality across the region, and building more robust regional value chains, particularly in the region’s major industry sectors.
  • Continue and enhance support to startup entrepreneurship and extend innovation and business assistance services to “scaleups” – established companies with significant growth potential. This is critical to maintain and extend growth trends from efforts already underway.
  • Address pressing workforce issues by connecting job provider networks with growing industries to align development around specific employer needs.

“Regions that have enjoyed strong growth in recent years are marked by a concentration of companies and other strengths in industries with high growth potential, which our ‘go-big’ approach will seek to achieve and surpass,” said Abbott. “We will concentrate our efforts on a smaller number of industry clusters and take a more holistic, in-depth approach to the clusters that we choose to pursue.”

Abbott said the focus will be on industries where Northeast Ohio already has a strong base of established companies and opportunities to build upon that foundation. Efforts will more formally and more explicitly nurture deeper connections with both established companies and prospects – as well as the region’s many other innovation assets – and provide them the resources and support they need to invest and grow within the region.

To facilitate job-growth acceleration, the RCC recommended aligning some elements of the region’s economic competitiveness system. This has resulted in the establishment of an organization that will operate as a collaboration of the region’s major chambers, foundations, businesses and JobsOhio. Though many details have to be worked out, including the new organization’s leadership, staffing and funding, its role is to:

  • Drive a regional competitiveness strategy, establish priorities and goals, eliminate overlaps and ensure growth is accompanied by opportunities for all segments of the population
  • Enhance the retention/expansion efforts of our chambers of commerce with shared expertise and services such as data analytics and industry specialists
  • Coordinate a workforce agenda to meet cluster and retention/expansion/attraction needs and address new issues as they arise
  • Identify future clusters
  • Leverage and expand the impact of business/philanthropy funding and efforts
  • Serve as the JobsOhio Regional Partner for Northeast Ohio

Under the proposal, the functions of both Team NEO and NorTech, along with new functions such as workforce integration, retention/expansion support and strategy coordination, are being folded into the new organization, which is expected to be launched by the end of the year and adopt the Team NEO name. The boards of both Team NEO and NorTech have voted to approve the plan.

“The specialized expertise and services capabilities that currently reside within both Team NEO and NorTech will be as important as ever to Northeast Ohio’s economic competitiveness efforts,” said Timken. “By moving those functions into the new organization, our goal is to create a more holistic suite of resources that can be leveraged to serve local needs.”

Timothy M. Reynolds, president of Tribute, Inc. and chairperson of NorTech, said, “We’re excited about the opportunity to apply NorTech’s industrial expertise and engagement in developing world-class innovation hubs more broadly across the economic development system. By strategically linking retention, expansion and attraction activities to global demand, we have an opportunity to accelerate the pace of innovation and job growth in Northeast Ohio.”

Team NEO Chairman Paul Clark, regional president of PNC Bank, Cleveland, said, “We’re very proud of the significant impact Team NEO has had in attracting new businesses to Northeast Ohio and the regional marketing that enables that work. The new organization will allow even greater regional collaboration and industry expertise, and allow this important work to continue.”

The attraction marketing campaign of the Regional Marketing Alliance, currently housed within Team NEO, will be housed within the new organization. Other regional economic development organizations will continue in their current roles of providing service and support to major industry sectors. BioEnterprise, for example, will play a critical role in developing a “go-big” strategy for the biomedical cluster.  JumpStart will lead regional efforts in entrepreneurship, while MAGNET will support and champion manufacturing across Northeast Ohio, and both will partner to add more emphasis on “scaleups." The Fund for Our Economic Future and the region’s chambers of commerce, meanwhile, will all operate in their current functions while serving an advisory role within this alliance of business and philanthropy.