To bring jobs back to Cleveland, we must create space for them

by | Feb 20, 2023

Shrinking economies of core cities should matter to anyone who cares about the economic future of Northeast Ohio, city of Cleveland resident or not, because place matters for economic growth.


This op-ed appeared in the February 20, 2023, online edition of Crain’s Cleveland Business – click here to read it on Crain’s.

By Bethia Burke
President, Fund for Our Economic Future

A casual drive around the city of Cleveland might suggest plenty of potential places for companies to locate. Vacant parcels and abandoned buildings are, unfortunately, an abundant reality. These parcels are also unrealized — and currently unrealizable — potential.

They aren’t ready for companies to move to or, in many cases, even for developers to develop. Individual lots generally are too small, not aggregated, saddled by past environmental hazards and zoned for a prior use. To be competitive for economic opportunities, the city needs a portfolio of larger aggregated sites, remediated of environmental hazards, and ready to be marketed.

One example of site reuse came last year, when, on a celebratory day, MAGNET opened its new Manufacturing Innovation, Technology and Job Center in what was a long-shuttered elementary school. The promise of the center is real. I am among those who believe in and embrace the center’s potential and the criticality of manufacturing to our economic present and future.

However, until the city of Cleveland has attractive, ready sites that work for businesses, too much of this promising future in manufacturing will lie outside of the city limits, limiting the economic prospects of current and future residents.

Here’s a reality check: While manufacturing grew by nearly 9% across the United States between 2010 and 2022, it declined by 1.5% in Cleveland in the same period. And, while manufacturing is particularly important given its relative size, strong average wage and accessible entry points, Cleveland also lags in other industries that offer good jobs: Traded sector employment grew nearly 22% over the past 12 years nationwide, yet, over the same period, grew approximately 9% in Cleveland. More than 10 percentage points is a meaningful gap — those are real jobs missing for residents. Looking back to 2001, Cleveland is down 36,346 traded sector jobs, 22,000 of them in manufacturing.

Shrinking economies of core cities should matter to anyone who cares about the economic future of Northeast Ohio, city of Cleveland resident or not, because place matters for economic growth. When jobs are closer to people, everyone wins. Commute time and expense decrease, and effective wages go up; commute emissions decline; and companies expand talent pools.

A strategic investment of at least $50 million from the city of Cleveland to capitalize an industrial site fund, designed to leverage funding from other public and private sources, would transform the economic future of the city for its current and future residents. Imagine 500 to 1,000 acres of productive land hosting thousands of good jobs. Such a fund would pay dividends for generations.

Establishing this fund will take courage and long-term strategic thinking. Tell Cleveland residents their economic future isn’t in a distant suburb or in the outskirts of Columbus. It is here. Build the assets today that can capture the economic growth of tomorrow.