Sean Watterson to Lead Hospitality Sector Recovery Initiative

by | Jan 18, 2022

Fund for Our Economic Future Names Sean Watterson to Lead Hospitality Sector Recovery Initiative 

CLEVELAND—January 18, 2022—The Fund for Our Economic Future today announced the appointment of Cleveland venue operator and business owner Sean Watterson to serve as Senior Consultant, Hospitality Talent and Strengthening Workplaces. Watterson is a seasoned leader in the sector with a deep background in coalition-building, innovation and analysis.

“I am excited to work with Cuyahoga County’s hospitality businesses and workforce to make this sector more sustainable for all involved,” Watterson said. “I look forward to reaching out to local restaurants, hotels and venues and to our counterparts across the country, through relationships built in developing the National Independent Venue Association, to find workable solutions to improve the environment, both for the businesses and for the individual workers on whom these businesses depend.”

This role is housed within the Fund for Our Economic Future with funding support from Cuyahoga County’s Department of Development, the Deaconess Foundation and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, and with additional support from Destination Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. In this role, Watterson will be responsible for identifying both short-term and long-term solutions to improve the hospitality industry’s ability to attract, retain and promote workers.

“For nearly two years, businesses and workers in hospitality have endured significant pandemic-induced uncertainty,” said Bishara Addison, director of job preparation for the Fund for Our Economic Future. “Together we—philanthropic, civic and public partners—recognize the critical role hospitality plays in our region’s economic success. Sean’s work will help restaurants, event venues and other hospitality businesses, and the people these businesses employ, navigate today’s uncertainty and build toward a better tomorrow.”

“Restaurants, hotels and others in hospitality are having a terrible time finding workers. The County is pleased to provide funding to help businesses in our hospitality sector develop better ways to recruit, hire, train, and retain workers by bringing on an expert consultant,” said Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish. “COVID hit our restaurants, bars and hotels especially hard, so we felt it was important to step up with funding to help this critical sector to complement our workforce sector partnership work. I want to thank our partners at Destination Cleveland and the Fund for Our Economic Future, who see the value in this effort and look forward to our ongoing work to strengthen our workforce in Cuyahoga County.”

“We are thrilled to be part of this collaboration in support of the hospitality industry, which has been decimated by the pandemic. This community-wide collaboration and dedicated position are crucial to our efforts to not only build the industry back, but to build it back stronger and more sustainable than before,” said David Gilbert, president and CEO of Destination Cleveland. “Sean is a passionate member of our community with a deep understanding of the hospitality industry and the needs of its employees. We look forward to working with him and our community partners to drive necessary, urgent change to ensure the industry’s long-term growth.”

“This collaboration between the public, civic and philanthropic sector is an example of the unprecedented levels of alignment I see all over the County, including in workforce development, where Deaconess Foundation focuses,” said Cathy Belk, Deaconess Foundation president and CEO. “When we are this aligned, we can develop, test and scale solutions that work to address our economy’s most pressing challenges.”

Watterson is well known across Cleveland for his role as the president and co-owner of The Happy Dog, a bar and music venue in Gordon Square that has served as both a symbol of the neighborhood’s revitalization over the past decade as well as an archetypal representation of the struggle restaurants have faced in the wake of the pandemic.

“I am fortunate that I can rely on our staff and my co-owner, Tony Cross, to keep The Happy Dog vibrant, bringing live music, conversation and good food and drink to our community,” Watterson said. “I look forward to applying the lessons I’ve learned from our incredible staff to the important work ahead.”

Watterson’s work directly connects to the Fund’s mission to advance a more equitable economy, and a newly adopted three-year strategy that seeks creative solutions to the region’s most pressing economic challenges. Additional work underway to support Northeast Ohio employers and workers includes a multi-part analysis, entitled Where are the Workers, examining current talent shortages. The analysis is comparing employer experiences and practices with the needs and desires of Northeast Ohio’s working-age adults to identify and bridge gaps between the two. While the body of work expands across sectors, it will include hospitality businesses and workers to support Watterson’s efforts. More information about Where Are the Workers is available at

About the Fund for Our Economic Future

The Fund for Our Economic Future is a creative space for philanthropic funders and civic leaders to explore what matters and implement what works to achieve equitable economic growth, emphasizing systemic, long-term change. Our vision is a growing Northeast Ohio economy creating good jobs and rising incomes for everyone, regardless of race or place. To achieve this vision, we focus on interconnected, cross-sector initiatives that advance job creation, job preparation and job access with deliberate attention to systemic racial inclusion. Learn more at

Media Contact:

Sara McCarthy