This Listening Project survey took place from January 1 – March 31, 2014 and focused on regional economic development. The survey garnered 232 people respondents who answered 14 questions. For a number of questions, respondents selected a response from a series of multiple-choice options and had the opportunity to provide additional responses in a comments section. For other questions, respondents rated the importance of each option within a set of options for the given question. And, for a couple of questions, respondents wrote in responses.
Below are the cumulative results of all the responses, as well as summaries of written comments and direct quotations that best represent those comments.
Similar to the results for the multiple-choice selection, respondents provided varied comments for this question with no clear consensus among them. Some respondents were adamant that the economy has not improved:
“Businesses are still being vacated. New start ups are happening but they are gone in several months. Jobs are still scarce and prices are remaining high.”
A few felt that the economic conditions have stayed the same:
“Due to the economic downturn I would say we are at about the same level as ten years go.”
And others thought that the economy improved slightly, but not for everyone:
“The Northeast Ohio economy has stabilized in general, and has experienced select pockets of growth. That growth, though, has been inconsistent and certainly has not reached everyone.”
In contrast to the previous question, the majority of respondents expressed optimism about the region’s future, given the several building projects on the horizon and a sense that the region’s economy is poised for improvement.
“I’m seeing a lot of positive change and energy to improve both the infrastructure that supports business growth, and a focus towards “new economy” related growth initiatives.”
“NEO has all the assets that are necessary to drive the economy forward, we just have to have a positive attitude and the right people in leadership positions.”
“We are at the forefront of the national movement to bring dying cities back to life.”
The comments that respondents provided for this question were consistent with the multiple-choice results; the majority of responders felt that the growing income inequality in the region is evident. Many noted that it is not just a matter of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, but that the middle class has been affected by the declining socioeconomic conditions over the past decade.
“Growing spread between rich & poor with shrinking middle class.”
“The gap between the rich and the rest of the population has grown larger, and there is currently no end in sight. Without drastic changes, this will prove to be a major drag on the overall economy.”
“The gap between wealthy and middle class is growing, and a lot of this has to do with our tax policies.”
Based on their comments, respondents felt that better education policies are needed to make socioeconomic conditions more equitable in the region. Respondents felt that there should be more investment into equal access to education, that higher education should be more affordable to all income levels, and that K-12 should teach more trade skills along with STEM education.
“We need education that teaches value of work and it’s [sic] ethics, and skills at all levels as well not only ‘high tech skills.’ There are rewards in doing manual labor well.”
Many respondents recognized the efforts in recent years to make the region more attractive to outside companies and they see more new local businesses starting up than ever before. Several respondents noted groups like MAGNET, Team NEO, and Greater Cleveland Partnership have done good work to attract companies to Cleveland. However, it was noted that there is a real lack of venture capital in the region and that “there is a significant network of small business entrepreneurship in the area but it’s not often you hear of companies moving here.”
Numerous respondents commented that the region needs more skill training programs and manufacturing apprentice programs. Many noted that there’s a need for trade skills in Northeast Ohio that is not being met by the employment pool here.
“The academic institutions seem to be lacking in developing talent and skills.”
“We spent 3 years trying to find someone to paint a ceiling; young men do not have those skills as they did years ago.”
“Manufacturing companies need to bring back apprenticeship programs and stop suppressing wages.”
Overall, respondents had very positive comments that acknowledged positive gains in the region’s quality of place. Several said that this is a real bright spot for the region and one of its best attractions.
“The Cleveland region has become a much better place to live. It is fabulous compared to the 70’s and 80s.”
“This is one of our best assets, particularly for attracting vibrant young intellectual talent.”
“The food sector is outstanding. Arts and culture is fabulous. The music scene is incredible.”
Many respondents commented that they did not see much effort to try and change socioeconomic inequality in the region. The most consistent thought was that there should be more focus on trying to raise wages and improve access to healthcare if equality is to improve.
“Local efforts will not be able to adequately address the issues of socioeconomic equality, but even so the effort is not being made. Socioeconomic inequality is expanding in Northeast Ohio as it is in the country as a whole.”
Option 1: Attract existing companies to relocate to Northeast Ohio or to open new facilities in Northeast Ohio
Option 2: Develop more start-ups in high-growth industries (e.g. bioscience, information technology, advanced energy)
Option 3: Develop more locally-oriented start-ups (e.g. restaurants, bars, retail shops)
Option 4: Increase technology commercialization efforts at region’s universities and hospitals - process of taking research and lab studies and turning them into commercial enterprises
Option 5: Advance product innovation within existing companies to help them enter and/or grow in new markets
Option 6: Lower taxes and create more job creation incentives for existing businesses
Many respondents felt that lowering taxes does not equate to business growth or job creation and that that revenue is badly needed in the region:
“Lower taxes mean that someone else is picking up the tab. Individuals and businesses need to pay their fair share.”
Respondents also thought that there is too much emphasis being placed on the healthcare and bioscience sectors in this region:
“Way too much emphasis is put on bioscience and IT. We are a manufacturing node. Let’s build on that strength. We have some good bioscience companies like Steris, but without a new invention like the MRI which was huge for Cleveland companies this will be small potatoes.”
Option 1: Retrain adult workers in legacy industries to take on new economy jobs (e.g. from traditional manufacturing to information technology, bioscience, finance, etc.)
Option 2: Develop and/or advance early childhood interventions to get more children on the path towards college degree attainment
Option 3: Develop and/or advance interventions to help more residents achieve a Bachelor’s degree level of education
Option 4: Provide more on-the-job training
Option 5: Attract talented/skilled people from outside the region to come here to work
In response to this question, a considerable amount of people noted that traditional higher education is very expensive and not for everyone; moreover, the job market does not need more graduates with English and social science degrees, but skilled workers in manufacturing and technical trades. Respondents also wondered why so much emphasis and importance is put on getting a BA degree when skilled trades should be viewed as respectable professions.
“Early childhood interventions YES! But not everyone should be tracked to go to college. Society needs good technicians, mechanics, and carpenters as much if not more than college degrees people who have no, skills or work ethic.”
Option 1: Improve public transportation options
Option 2: Improve car transportation options (e.g. more/better highways)
Option 3: Increase amount of and access to arts, culture and entertainment options (including professional sports and restaurants)
Option 4: Increase amount of natural environment recreational options
Almost all of the comments made by respondents for this question related to transportation and infrastructure. Several noted that the region does not need more highways, but that the existing infrastructure needs to be better taken care of—especially with regards to potholes. Another aspect of infrastructure that respondents commented on was smarter street design that is more safe and accessible to bikers and pedestrians.
“NEO should focus on maintaining the current road infrastructure rather than continuing to sprawl out. The bike infrastructure should continue to be built up at a faster rate than it is currently.”
A majority of respondents thought that all of the entities listed are important to the future of the region’s economy and need to work together towards growing it.
“Actually all should work in concert to move the region forward.”
“All of the above must share a common goal of improving the regional economy.”
“Sorry, but I can’t narrow this down to one, or even a “most.” We need all of the above, but what would drive the most positive change would be more compassion and more civility within and throughout every layer of government.”
In addition, several respondents mentioned that they would have liked to have the option to select more than one entity as having an impact on the region’s economy, and that they would have liked to see local K-12 school systems as an option.