"I shouldn't have to tell you how bad the Jewish food is in California," Marc Canter laments, as if still trying to rid his mouth of the distasteful memories. "I am already on a first-name basis with the owner of Jack's Deli."
When we talk about "big thinkers," Canter ranks right up there with Jobs, Gates, and whomever it was that invented the Buffalo chicken wing. Tech nerds of a certain age may not know Canter by name, but we most certainly know of his work. That haunting melody in the 1983 Bally Midway smash arcade game Spy Hunter? He programmed it. Recall the interactive guided tour diskette that shipped with your first Macintosh 128k? His nascent company produced it.
But the little bit of genius that turned Marc Canter into a digital rock star was Director, the first computer authoring tool that enabled people to create multimedia content. Director later became Flash when Canter's company, Macromedia, merged with Adobe.
Over the years, Canter's big thinking has taken him from gig to gig in cities like New York, London, Hong Kong, San Francisco, and his hometown of Chicago. But since 2009, the serial entrepreneur has called Cleveland home. And he has no desire to leave.
"I didn't realize until moving here how much I missed authenticity," Marc Canter says over a lunch of Turkish shawarma at Anatolia Café. "There really is no place like this elsewhere – the history, the people, the homes, the neighborhoods."
As for those homes, well, Canter kind of hit the jackpot. While trolling Craig's List for a rental, he landed on a beauty just off Shaker Square. Of the many notable residents the house has sheltered in its 100-year existence, few are better known the most recent: former mayor Jane Campbell. "In San Francisco I was paying twice as much for half the house," notes Canter. "And I couldn't send my kids to public school."
But Canter did not land in Cleveland for the public schools; he came here to create jobs. His track record is pretty good, too, considering that upwards of 100,000 jobs have been created on the backs of his technologies. "I did not know I was creating an industry while I was doing it," he says. "But if you add it all up, roughly 85 percent of the world's multimedia content was created with our tools."
Through his company Digital City Mechanics, Canter aims to help create 5,000 local jobs in five years. By partnering with numerous civic institutions, and utilizing an open software platform that encourages network building, Canter says he will turn Cleveland into "a digital city creating digital jobs for its digital citizens." Recent partnerships include associations with Case Western Reserve, Cleveland Public School's MC2 STEM school, and Fund for Our Economic Future's Civic Commons project.
"Rather than train people for jobs that don't exist except in other markets like New York and L.A.," explains Canter, "the key is to first create the gig that necessitates the hiring and training of people." Those "gigs" will be in the burgeoning multimedia content production field. Canter says he chose Cleveland as his base for obvious reasons: "If you're doing economic development and you want to be noticed for your efforts, you don't do it in New York. You do it here, where the economy is essentially flatlined. And Cleveland being a big small town, you have the opportunity to get to know all the important players."
Canter, an Oberlin College grad, says that he makes a habit of establishing a level of intimacy with each new city he calls home. He encourages his friends to use his name when dining in Milan, say, or Amsterdam. It frustrates Canter that he doesn't yet know the exact location of Rockefeller's tomb in Lake View Cemetery, or the quickest route to the Beachland Ballroom. But don't let him fool you; despite his relatively short time here he has managed to amass enough personal favorites to pen a guidebook. Pacific East for sushi; Sokolowski's for pierogies; Grog Shop for live rock; and Nighttown for live jazz.
Canter's fresh perspective on Cleveland may be just the ticket when it comes to moving the economic agenda forward. His creative three-for-one model for job growth promises to spin out skilled workers trained in relevant and growing fields. The money, he stresses, will be effectively spent rather than used to pay expensive salaries.
"Look," he says, "if things were working out the way some people have planned, there would be beaches along Lake Erie instead of salt mines. Our auto factories have been shutting down for decades – we have had plenty of time to gear up."
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