Thursday, June 23, 2005

The Immigrant Solution

Attracting more immigrants to Northeast Ohio is a venerable goal. Today the PD’s Joe_Frolik introduces us to a Cleveland immigrant success story. This column was an addendum to previous “Quiet Crisis” reports that argued the importance of immigrant contributions to a region’s economy.

Joe will join others tonight at 8 p.m. on WVIZ to discuss the issue of attracting immigrants to Northeast Ohio. We hope Joe and his contemporaries spend more time focusing the conversation on economic fundamentals and less on suspicions about our region’s culture.

Fundamentally, immigrants are like any other human resource. In an era of global sourcing, they will typically be attracted to areas that reward their skills with the highest values. Cleveland needed masons and bricklayers at the turn of the century, resulting in an influx of Italians with such skills. These immigrants gave rise to Cleveland’s Little Italy neighborhood, as many of them were employed at Lakeview Cemetery. We venture that none of these transplants chose Cleveland as much as the region’s economic demands selected them. The same principles hold true today. Our regional labor supply is adequately serving its demand for labor, which unfortunately means no need for outside sourcing.

The only way we can make our region more appealing to immigrants is to affect both sides of the labor equation. This means we must apply our regional focus on creating demand for labor and spend less of our precious resources determining how to make the region more appealing to immigrants. They will tell us how to do that once they arrive.

It's our opinion that if we focus our collective resources on creating demand for specific skills and labor, problems like immigration and many of the other Quiet Crisis symptoms will remedy themselves.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Solutions Under the Collective Nose

We need not look far for breakthrough thinking for our region's economic malaise. Richard Clark, founder and principal of Cleveland's St. Martin de Porres High School is an example of an unconventional entrepreneurial thinker who is addressing the fundamental challenges confronting our region.

Clark spoke at Baldwin-Wallace College in Febraury as part of a speaker series that was designed to encourage students and community members to identify passions, understand the need for entrepreneur competence, and to inform NEO residents about available entrepreneurial resources in the region.

Other than a stint selling appliances during the summer at his father-n-law's store, the former St. Ignatius principal had little exposure to conventional business. However, these limitations didn't discourage Richard Clark from adopting an entrepreneur's can-do mentality as he sought market-based solutions for children locked in impoverished neighborhoods and under-performing schools. The school's formula for success was told recently by PD's Sam_Fulwood.

Change is possible. In fact, its power is all around us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

A Case for Focused Public Investment

If we want to see the benefits of focused public investment, we need not look further than neighboring Columbus,_Indiana.

In 1957 the leadership of the sleepy county seat of 39k made a fundamental commitment to being a “good town” when it accepted the offer and challenge of the Cummins Engine Foundation, which said it would pay an architect’s fee for any new school that was designed by someone from a select list of renowned and respected architects. The offer was later expanded to include a variety of public buildings.

As time passed the city’s focus on architecture and public art became infectious as other companies and church congregations decided to seek architects who would add to the community’s quality of design. Soon the city was attracting even more like minds as offers for free services poured in from aspiring architects who wanted to have their work displayed in the company of great artists. These actions perpetuated even more recognition and attention, as leading architects like Eero Saarinen, Harry Weese, Richard Meier, and I.M. Pei led the American Institute of Architects to rank Columbus sixth in a list that included Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington DC for architectural innovation and design. How often is Cleveland compared favorably to any of these destinations?

Monday, June 13, 2005

We Need a Litmus Test

Our region's leaders need a litmus test for determining when and where they direct our collective focus. When deliberating over public investments, we need to ask ourselves will it serve the fundamental needs of our region's economy. If the evidence isn't clear, we drop the issue and move on to the next. We can't afford to waste resources examining issues/ideas/concepts that don't serve the fundamental challenges we face when reinventing the region's economy. Such a litmus test is a result of vision and strategy, which are products of leadership. If the current regional leaders aren't delivering, we need to rotate the stock.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Focus is our most precious resource

I was reminded yesterday of how precious our collective focus is and why it must not be squandered. I attended Parade on the Circle with friends. The event is always refreshing, as it’s a great reminder of the creativity that abounds in our region. A friend and I were saying as much as we returned home. Our discussion quickly turned to Cleveland’s need for reinvention. My friend’s recommendation struck me as poignant. He suggests that rather than Cleveland trying to be all things to all people, he asks that it be a specialist so that it's meaningful to somebody. This would allow the region to focus resources in much the same way, rather than doing a little of everything and achieving nothing.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

While Rome Burns...

Today’s Plain_Dealer_reported that more money is being dedicated to researching taxpayer tolerance for a new or expanded convention center. What disturbs us is that Cleveland leaders have given incredible levels of consideration to potential convention center concepts and have done so at the expense of more pressing fundamental problems such as widespread poverty, under-performing schools and eroding infrastructure. Recently published research by a University of Texas at San Antonio professor makes a compelling case as to why our leadership might be misspending our most precious resource – our collective focus.

Prof. Heywood Sanders contends that the convention center market is oversaturated with offerings and that the diminishing demand promises it can’t catch up anytime soon. “Over the past decade alone, public capital spending on convention centers has doubled to $2.4 billion annually, increasing convention space by over 50% since 1990. Nationwide, 44 new or expanded convention centers are now in planning or construction,” according to Sanders' research, which was published in January by the Brookings Institute.

Simple economics say that most, if not all convention centers will suffer in this environment. Sanders points to Boston as an example, which opened a new $800 million convention center last summer and hosted about six events, which were attended by 65k in 2004, far short of projections. Consequently, surrounding hotel room night projections were merely a third of the estimates made in the feasibility study that sold the project to taxpayers. Worse yet, Washington, D.C. and St. Louis are operating at such substantial losses that they are unable to adequately pay down bonds secured by taxpayers. This means other government services or worse yet public schools will suffer at the expense of serving convention center debt.

There are only two cities experiencing favorable trends, Orlando and Las Vegas. However, Sanders points out that Las Vegas has seen attendance dips in recent years, due in part to the emergence of privately owned convention centers like Mandalay Bay and the Sands. Bookings in Orlando have returned following a steep decline in 2001, yet these are still below 2000 levels when measured by attendance.

Our aggravation would be diminished if Cleveland’s leaders had the wherewithal to actually put forward a business case as to why and how much investment in a convention center is needed to achieve a desired return on investment. This would entail a business plan that identifies which markets or trade shows they wish to attract, a description of the market and its size, as well as the investment size necessary to compete. A private convention center, such as Mandalay Bay or the Sands, had to do so to justify investment in Las Vegas, which probably explains why each was prepared to compete and contribute to the erosion of business at the nearby taxpayer-funded facility.

First and foremost, we would like to know how a new or expanded convention center serves the fundamental challenges in our region before anyone asks for investment.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Stop Waiting for Godot

While walking through Cleveland's Playhouse Square during the lunch hour, I overheard a business man asking another, "so do you think there will ever be a day when a big company arrives in Cleveland to save it from despair?"

I've grown to despise such questions. These suggest that the solution to our region's economic woes resides outside of NEO. This mindset is part of our fundamental problem. Too many of us in the region are waiting for the solution to arrive. We're like the tragicomedy's lead characters, Estragon and Vladimir, in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot who believe an outsider will deliver them from despair. They pass the time waiting with inactivity and indecisiveness and continue to do so when all indicators point inevitably to the conclusion that Godot will never come.

I, too, was guilty of waiting for the next private-public solution to inspire some kind of renaissance in Cleveland. My view changed after meeting Peter_Rea, chair of the business division at Baldwin-Wallace College. He reminded me that the corporate players and market dynamics are no longer in place where Cleveland and NEO can place one big bet as it did in the early 1980s. He says re-invention will be a result of a lot of little fires from civic groups like Cleveland_Bridge Builders, 20/30 Club, and start-ups and other entrepreneurial efforts.

Rather than waiting for Godot, Peter recommends placing our collective bet on building a culture that fosters risk taking and creativity. He's asking us for fundamental change. Anyone committed to the region should be making the same request, as the waiting game is proving to be tragic.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Isn't it ironic

The 6/1 New York Times has a feature about the redevelopment of the former Stapleton airport in Denver and its developer Forest City Enterprises.

Interestingly, Cleveland is home to Forest City, the nation's leader in gentrification development. The model for its business is a byproduct of rehabbing the Terminal Tower.

Is it me or does anyone else find it ironic that Forest City's expertise isn't being applied in its home city; a town desperate for re-invention. In fact, the company hasn't been active in development inside NEO since the Tower City project in the mid-1980s. What's keeping it out?

Forest City EVP Ron Rattner gave some explanations to the National Trust when it met in Cleveland in 2003. He cited archaic laws, inflexible legislators and a political mentality that's intolerant to the tax breaks that are necessary to inspire urban redevelopment and make the effort profitable for a publicly held company like Forest City, which is responsible to shareholders.

A quick visit to Forest City's website ( gives easy testimony to inspired urban growth from redevelopment and re-use of historic buildings.

Again, isn't ironic that inspired solutions to our region's malaise are right under our collective noses.

Growth is a Four-Letter Word

Growth is a four-letter word in Cleveland. Why? Because it demands R-I-S-K. If we treat our region as a business, we must decide if we're focused on growth or income when planning. The former demands investment with risk. The latter involves leveraging existing assets to produce steady, stable returns. Unfortunately, our region is looking to those who can afford to lose to take the risks that will lead us to growth. These leaders, however, are focused on maintaining income and not growth, yet we continue to put our fate in their collective hands. Wake up, Cleveland. Our chances for break-through leadership are far better with those who have nothing to lose than the few with plenty.