Northeast Ohio’s Biggest Secret: Philanthropy

by | Dec 25, 2012

First in a series


About a year ago when I was in Seattle, discussing economic strategies with civic leaders, several of them expressed jealousy of the philanthropic community in Northeast Ohio.


Given the breadth of our foundations, it is common for me to hear people speak with envy of what we have. But this Seattle experience was especially surprising because down the road, less than two miles away, was the Gates Foundation, the world’s largest foundation, with more than $37 billion in assets. To give a sense of magnitude, $37 billion is about three times the size of Greater Canton’s total economy.


Why would economic leaders be jealous of what is happening here? Because the philanthropic community here has created the Fund for Our Economic Future, a one-of-a-kind collaboration that is partnering with leaders from the business, government, higher education and civic sectors to fundamentally change and strengthen our regional economy.


Our Fund is a collaboration of more than 50 philanthropic entities across 16 counties, including Stark. As we enter our 10th year, we have granted nearly $70 million and mobilized the power of our members to support regional initiatives in entrepreneurship, business attraction, work force development, government collaboration and land use.




The Stark Community Foundation and the Sisters of Charity of Canton have been key members and voices of our coalition. We are also proud of the partnerships we have built with the business community through the Stark Development Board and the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce.


At our inception, we realized two things:


•Only if our region connected its many local assets could we hope to become and remain competitive on the global stage. We decided we must “walk the talk” of collaboration ourselves and make joint decisions about our actions.


• We must partner with business and public leaders in Canton, Akron, Cleveland and the many smaller communities to develop and advance regional strategies that address the economic needs and well-being of all the people in Northeast Ohio.


We began in 2004 by issuing grants to regional economic development intermediaries with the goal of adding jobs, capital and payroll to the region. Organizations we fund, such as JumpStart, Team NEO, NorTech and MAGNET, have partnered with the Stark Development Board, the Canton chamber, Stark County, the city of Canton and their peers around the region to create more than 10,000 jobs and more than $300 million in payroll and attract more than $2 billion in capital. Team NEO estimates that its work with local leaders have resulted in more than 1,300 new jobs attracted to Stark County.


But we also know that to achieve lasting improvements, whole systems must shift, change and work together to drive growth and opportunity. Our support for 9-1-1 dispatch consolidation in Stark County is one example of this, as is the partnership between JumpStart and the Canton chamber to increase funding to local entrepreneurs.




What do we call our first decade? A good start. Now we are building on the experience of our past work and laying out a path for greater leverage, heightened impact and improved efficiency. We are especially hopefully about an emergent partnership with the business community to develop a shared and sustainable regional economic competitiveness strategy. Stark County business and philanthropic executives are at the core of this work, so the needs and opportunities of Canton, Massillon, Alliance and elsewhere will be well-represented.


We are learning that Stark County and Northeast Ohio are back in the game and we’re even getting good at playing it. We are at the threshold of a new era of economic competitiveness that promises more jobs, higher incomes and greater access to opportunity. Our Fund stays ready to seize this opportunity with you.


From the collective experience of our Fund members, we have learned that collaboration not only drives results, it also is paramount to making Northeast Ohio a competitor on the global playing field. Collaboration works.


Brad Whitehead is president of Fund for Our Economic Future at


A link to the full article is here.