Northeast Ohio’s Network, a Work in Progress

December 17, 2014

The Metropolitan Revolution describes how cities and regions are taking hold of their economic futures with local solutions. Crucial to the effort is a leadership network across the public, private and civic sectors.

The book also describes the network of stakeholders working to strengthen the economic competitiveness of Northeast Ohio as a work in progress. Our network is and always will be evolving, as is our regional economy.

In November, network partners announced a particularly significant evolution.

Dozens of network members agreed to merge two existing regional economic intermediaries, Team NEO and NorTech, and add new capacities to enhance regional job creation and job preparation efforts. The new entity will retain the Team NEO name, symbolizing that regional economic competitiveness is truly a team sport.

The collaboration I am fortunate enough to serve—the Fund for Our Economic Future—joined with our region’s business-led organizations and corporate leaders to design this new strategy after it became clear that our decade of progress was insufficient for true transformation: the kind that would position us to outperform the national economy. While we had worked together to rebuild our region’s entrepreneurial culture, promote the rapid growth of our emerging bioscience industry cluster, and spur more innovation by our small- to mid-sized manufacturers rigorous economic analysis told us we needed to move faster and further.

Our “What Matters to Metros” research, an analysis of 115 metro economies around the United States, told us we needed to do more to make sure our economic strategies didn’t exacerbate economic disparity. We cannot sustain economic growth if large percentages of our region’s residents remain disconnected from the economy. Our Fund is now focusing our resources and leadership to support strategies designed specifically to achieve both economic growth and increased access to opportunity, an approach we call “Growth & Opportunity.”

We are encouraged by our network’s shared commitment to growth and opportunity, especially for residents of our most distressed neighborhoods. Together with our partners, we have incorporated a key measure of success (labor force participation rates in economically distressed neighborhoods) to accompany the goals of employment, per capita income, and output growth. We also require that each funded initiative include explicit strategies and goals related to both growth and opportunity.

The “new” Team NEO, to launch in 2015, will provide services and resources to the region’s network of business development organizations so that they can provide more proactive assistance to companies in targeted industries to accelerate their growth. We will continue to strengthen our entrepreneurial ecosystem and enhance our ability to attract companies to our region.

Yet, for our region to outperform the national economy our established companies will need to lead the way. While some of this can be achieved through better innovation and growth services, perhaps an even more critical task is to strengthen the network of players addressing talent development. Our region has a vast system of stakeholders from many sectors—educational institutions, employer groups, career centers, public workforce entities—but we do not yet have a system that is sufficiently responsive and market-driven. The partners in Team NEO, especially our corporate leadership, are set to engage with the many stakeholders to make this happen. 

Like the broader network itself, our region’s talent development system will always be a work in progress. And it will constantly evolve.

Welcome to the network.