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Personal View: Northeast Ohio needs to land people attraction campaign

Author: 
Mark Rantala

Attorney Jon Pinney's City Club speech on June 8 has started a new round of debate on making Northeast Ohio competitive. That conversation is long overdue.

The region's last conversation about a competitiveness strategy resulted in shuffling the deck with a new strategy for Team Northeast Ohio. The four points of that strategy known as the Regional Competitive Strategy (RECS) included:

  • 1. A larger commitment to industry clusters.
  • 2. An increased emphasis on business retention and expansion.
  • 3. More support for startup entrepreneurship and scaleups.
  • 4. Addressing workforce issues and alignment.

These are all worthwhile objectives for the region, but the failure to expand the discussion of talent and talent attraction to include a strategy to address the core people needs of the region is a monumental failure of RECS.

As executive director of the Lake County Ohio Port and Economic Development Authority, I have experienced firsthand the challenges of a shrinking workforce. At the Port Authority, we have done a deep dive into the data at the county level. In 10 years, Lake County will experience a shortage of between 4,000 and 8,000 people to fill all the existing jobs in the county. From retail clerk and cook, to CNC operator or chemist, from nurse to physician, we will not have the people to fill all the existing jobs — let alone provide the workforce necessary to support the future growth of businesses currently operating in Lake County or new businesses we attract. No population growth means no workers — which means no ability to attract new businesses. We are fast approaching a crisis point as retiring baby boomers are not being replaced.

The reality is this is not only a Lake County issue. At a macro level, this problem exists throughout Northeast Ohio and may be worse in many other counties than in Lake County.

Northeast Ohio lacks a clear talent acquisition and retention strategy. Our alphabet soup of economic development organizations — Greater Cleveland Partnership, Team NEO, JobsOhio, the Fund for Our Economic Future, Destination Cleveland and Global Cleveland — only pay lip service to this problem at best. I have made the rounds of all these organizations pleading for a coherent, comprehensive and aggressive people attraction campaign, without success.

Nearly every market in the United States has some type of campaign to attract people. A few examples: Ten years ago Michigan started a campaign as part of the Pure Michigan campaign. They spend $2 million annually from their travel and tourism campaign on trying to repatriate Michiganders that left in the Great Recession. Their campaign is having some impact — the lights have not gone out in Detroit.

Nashville, in an effort to attract people for the IT industry, runs a successful campaign called WorkIT Nashville.

The Youngstown Business Incubator has a successful campaign to attract talent.

Dallas, one of the fastest-growing markets in the United States, has a campaign called Say Yes to Dallas. On average, more than 300 people move to Dallas every day, over 100,000 people each year.

And yet, here in Northeast Ohio, we are watching the U-Hauls and businesses line up to leave for markets where there are people to support the needs of businesses. We watch as our talent leaves the region for greater opportunities.

So how bad is it?

In 1990, the Cleveland-Akron-Canton region ranked 11th in the U.S. with 3,253,750 people. Our share of the U.S. population was 1.3%.

Twenty years later, in 2010, our population had grown to 3,494,596. However, we had slipped to the 16th-largest market in the U.S. with 1.1% of the U.S population.

By 2030, the U.S. population is projected to reach 360 million, and our share of the population will have fallen to 0.94% and dropped to about 3.36 million people.

At what point will we no longer be able to attract the talent for our major corporations? Will they have to move to find the talent necessary to be competitive? I think we are close to that tipping point today.

Between 1990 and 2030, the U.S. population will have grown by 110 million and Northeast Ohio will have grown by 110,000. Our share of the U.S. population will have fallen from 1.3% to 0.94%. Will we even be a middle market in 12 years? It would take 1 million people by 2040 (about 40,000 year) to just maintain our standing. What corporate headquarters will leave or which sports franchise will we no longer be able to support?

In a region that regularly muddles its message and messengers, we need a single voice to let college students know there are opportunities here so they will return from Columbus or Ann Arbor when they graduate. We need a strategy that aggressively recruits from the college campuses of Chicago and elsewhere beyond the Ohio borders. We need to seek to repatriate Northeast Ohio residents who left when times weren't so good.

The region needs a new approach. A team of "recruiters" assembled from the ranks of college recruiters, alumni relations representatives, IT and technology recruiters, health care and manufacturing that can become the nucleus to lead the campaign. It can use the resources of Destination Cleveland and its national marketing campaign while collaborating with Global Cleveland and the Cleveland Plus network to carry a far more aggressive campaign message.

If we don't address the need to attract and retain people now, yet another "new" strategy to make Northeast Ohio competitive will fail. Without people, no strategy can succeed.

http://www.crainscleveland.com/opinion/personal-view-northeast-ohio-needs-land-people-attraction-campaign