A visitor's take on Cleveland's redevelopment

This past summer, I took a sabbatical from my role as deputy chief executive of a United Kingdom (UK)-based economic development focused think tank and research organization, the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. I travelled to a number of cities in the United States, including Cleveland. My visit came about as a result of a frustration in the way in which the UK undertakes economic development activity and the impact it has upon local places and people.

Economic development activity in the UK is largely driven by the central state (but without a national economic development strategy), so the central government develops programs of activity that they think address local challenges. With this set up, little power and resources around economic development is devolved to the local state.

Economic development activity in the UK is also framed by the notion of trickle-down economics, where investment in a place or infrastructure is perceived to bring benefits for the most impoverished communities. This often does not happen.

In addition, economic development activity in the UK is often undertaken on a silo basis with little effective collaboration across the public, commercial and social sectors. There is rhetoric but little collective action.

And finally, the focus of economic development today is upon economic growth and increasing the output and productivity of places and business. This fails to recognize that some places do not have the capability to grow economically and instead there needs to be an emphasis upon social growth and working within environmental limits.

I wanted to come to the United States to see whether economic development was undertaken differently and how cities were and had responded to economic decline. My chosen cities (Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Providence) were quite deliberate -- they were cities that had lost core industries, they were cities that had experienced population decline and associated poverty, and they were cities that had adopted new approaches to economic development.

I chose Cleveland because of work that has been showcased in the UK around the role of anchor institutions and cooperatives in re-invigorating the economy.

Five key lessons can be learned from Cleveland from my perspective and in relation to forwarding the UK’s approach to economic development.

First, collaboration has been absolutely critical to Cleveland’s response to economic and population decline. The City of Cleveland, Cleveland State UniversityUniversity Hospitals, the Cleveland Foundation and others have been working collaboratively for a number of years toward a common vision around harnessing the potential of the local economy. This has been particularly important in the University Circle strategy and actions. Stakeholders in UK cities need to collaborate more effectively.

Second, Cleveland has realized the importance of key anchor institutions to its local economy and its people. The university and the hospitals are organizations that spend a significant amount of dollars each purchasing goods and services, they are organizations that host significant numbers of jobs, and they are organizations that are unlikely to leave.

The organizations adopting the collaborative approach described above have also sought to harness the wealth of these institutions. This has been done through procurement processes, through developing new businesses including cooperatives to deliver aspects of services, and through linking people from deprived parts of Cleveland into employment opportunity. The concept of anchor institutions is relatively novel in the UK; and there is much scope to harness their wealth further for the benefit of local economies.

Third, the local government has played a key stewardship role in the rejuvenation of downtown Cleveland. This has included a focused economic development strategy and key investment in both construction activity and community development projects -- with all this activity seeking to stimulate local business and foster enterprise creation in underserved markets. Cleveland is also embedded in the anchor institution activity. In the UK, the local state does not have the same clout, power or resources to drive economic development activities.

Fourth, Cleveland benefits from significant philanthropic capital from the Cleveland Foundation. This resource has contributed significantly to the Greater University Circle Initiative and is also important to an array of community economic development activity. The Evergreen Cooperatives, funded initially through the Cleveland Foundation, are providing services required by the anchor institutions and are providing jobs for some of the most impoverished communities of the city.  

Neighborhood Connections is providing grants to community groups for neighborhood activities and also developing community skills so that they can access employment opportunities. Cities in the UK simply do not have philanthropic capital on the scale of places like Cleveland, which means that community development is not as pronounced.

Fifth, the approach in Cleveland is not just about economic growth. While the rejuvenation activities being undertaken in downtown and University Circle are enabling the growth of business, they are also balanced with addressing social and environmental challenges. Cities in the UK are undertaking work around economic growth and the reform of public services, but not necessarily linking this to address social issues.

While the approach in Cleveland may be effective, I would argue that there remains a significant distance to travel. Part of the east side of Cleveland, which is on the doorstep of the anchor institutions in University Circle, remains dilapidated and characterized by high levels of unemployment, ill-health and crime. It is also incredibly under-served in terms of business and the availability of food. Inequality in UK cities is not of the same scale or as visible as in the United States.

One of the key gaps in the Cleveland approach is around measuring impact. This is something that in the UK my organization is a leading voice upon and deliverer of research. While we know that the Cleveland collaborative approach is developing jobs and business and the reputation of the city, the wider impact it’s having on addressing unemployment, stimulating local supply chains, developing apprenticeship, and addressing local environmental challenges remains to be seen. The collaborative approach in Cleveland needs metrics which enable these outcomes to be measured.

Matthew Jackson is deputy chief executive of the Centre for Local Economic Strategies. Read more about the findings of Matthew’s work in the United States here.
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