As recently as five years ago, you could practically picture tumbleweeds rolling through the streets of downtown when the clock struck 5 p.m.
"By 6:15, there would not be a person on Public Square," recalls Margy Judd, owner of Executive Arrangements
, which works with area employers to introduce the city to prospective hires.
But not anymore.
"Now there are people on the sidewalks and the city feels vibrant," she adds.
Kudos go to the thousands -- yes, thousands
-- of young professionals who are now opting to live and work in the city. Ask them why and here’s what they'll likely say: It’s affordable, and with burgeoning social scenes like E. 4th Street, Gordon Square, Warehouse District, W. 25th Street and, soon, the Flats, it’s a heck of lot of fun, too.
Yet, even with all of this, Cleveland and its businesses can (must
) do more to make the city attractive to young professionals on the job hunt, say recruiters and other pros tasked with luring talent to the city.
"Young professionals considering Cleveland over other metropolitan areas are asking, ‘Can I work, play, live easily, and meet people like me here?'" explains Michelle Halloran, an executive recruiter in the region. "We have some room for improvement."
Topping the list: Adding more vibrant neighborhoods like E. 4th, Detroit Shoreway's Gordon Square, and Ohio City's Market District.
Projects like University Circle's Uptown, the Flats East Bank, the Medical Mart and Convention Center are major steps in the right direction, says Executive Arrangement’s Judd.
"The fact that the Flats is now an active construction zone is wonderful," she says. "An Aloft hotel will be going in. There’s going to be 1,200 feet of boardwalk space along the river. These are all the kinds of things that younger professionals are looking for."
More city living
A nearly saturated downtown residential market, with months-long waiting lists at many downtown apartment buildings, means that young professionals who want to live in the city center can't do so.
The good news?
Developers are paying attention and scrambling to place more units on the market. A conversion of the Hanna Building Annex in PlayhouseSquare by K&D Group will add 100 apartments by next summer. The Uptown development in University Circle began leasing 100-plus apartments on Euclid Avenue, just steps from the shimmering new Museum of Contemporary Art
. And plans are in the works to convert the 21-story East Ohio Building, at E. 9th and Superior, into more than 200 one- and two-bedroom units.
Living in the city means being able to, well, live
in the city. That means having amenities like grocery stores, dry cleaners, even big-box stores or warehouse clubs, where some of life's more mundane shopping can get done. (Not everything can be purchased at a boutique, after all.)
"It’s about creating a lifestyle," says Gautam Pai, president of Balance Financial Concepts, and president of Cleveland Professional 20/30 Club
. After living downtown for a couple of years, Pai relocated to Solon, where he found he didn’t have to struggle as much to shop for groceries and other essentials.
"Cleveland is a place to work, but it also needs to be a place where people can embrace their lives -- like going to the grocery store," he points out. "There’s Constantino’s and Dave’s [in Ohio City] and many smaller ones, where you can get the job done, but it’s not easy."
Of course, to attract these types of businesses, there needs to be a population of shoppers who will support them. This is happening in a handful of neighborhoods, like Uptown, where a second Constantino’s market opened this summer.
Better green space
Another must-have amenity for today’s younger set -- and an area where Cleveland is lacking, say those in the know -- is green space.
"This is a generation that is more outdoorsy," notes Executive Arrangement’s Judd. "They grew up with exercise and seem to have sports in their blood."
Indeed, when young job seekers cast their eyes to nearby cities like Chicago and Pittsburgh, which have spent years developing green space in neighborhoods and along their lake or riverfront, Cleveland is a harder sell.
The picture will look different in a year or two if city and civic leaders have their way. As part of the new Medical Mart and Convention Center
, there will be an overhaul and expansion of the now 12-plus acre Mall, an opportunity developers say to replicate the success of Millenium Park in Chicago. Flats East Bank also will feature a new three-acre beach (complete with sand volleyball), with 10 additional acres of public recreation space.
"That will be very appealing to young people," agrees Evan Ishida, a 30-something professional with Eaton Corp
., and co-founder of Engage! Cleveland
(now part of Global Cleveland). "We also need to think about what we can do with the lakefront."
The Cleveland Metroparks' recent acquisition of two-acres at Rivergate Park along the Cuyahoga River in the Flats offers one glimmer of hope. Starting with Rivergate, the Metroparks plans to create a new reservation in the heart of the city for the first time that will include improved access to the lake.
More bike lanes
"People are really excited about bikes," says Judd. "They really want to bike to work or use their bike to get around town."
Cleveland is slightly ahead of the curve when it comes to building a more bicycle-friendly city. In fact, this summer Cleveland was named one of five up-and-coming bike cities by Bicycling Magazine
, thanks in part to a growing network of bicycle lanes -- and riders -- in city limits.
More (hipper) jobs
But at the end of the day, say the pros, amenities are just one part of the recipe for Cleveland's success. What is most attractive to young talent are jobs -- and not just any jobs, but opportunities that appeal to the young-professional set.
"We have a bit of an image problem. Our core industries are not necessarily that sexy," concedes recruiter Halloran. "People in middle management understand that these companies can still offer really interesting work. But the younger generation does not understand that; they want to go work for Facebook."
But, stress Halloran and others, the types of jobs available to young Clevelanders are changing fast, with the addition of numerous high-tech and biomedical startups offering precisely the kind of innovative (dare we say hip) workplaces that appeal to YPs.
They’re opening their doors along the city’s burgeoning Health-Tech Corridor
, in the Warehouse District Downtown and around E. 4th Street, even the inner-ring suburbs.
"Our biggest struggle is creating the awareness of what kinds of jobs we have in Cleveland," says Sean Turner, senior recruiter for the start-up incubator JumpStart Inc
. "In the tech world, a lot of people think they have to go to the East or West Coasts. But they don’t. We have those jobs right here."
Opportunity for impact
Meanwhile, more mainline employers, like the Cleveland Clinic, Eaton and Sherwin-Williams, are also recognizing the need to appeal to younger workers, who are especially looking for flexible work environments and the chance to make an impact early in their careers.
"The Clinic has a young professional group that has become a source of innovation within the organization," notes Ishida. "That’s exactly the kind of environment that can help bring young and creative talent to a community."
That’s what Bernie Gosky, executive director of Summer on the Cuyahoga
, hears from the 50-plus high school and college interns she brings each summer to Cleveland (from schools like Yale University and Smith College). The interns live on the CSU campus while working for local firms and non-profits like JumpStart, Medical Mutual and Key Bank.
"These young people tell me that Cleveland has all the amenities that major cities have, but it’s so much more livable," says Gosky. "Their message is they will come here if there are the right kinds of job opportunities -- and they really mean it."
Photos Bob Perkoski
Flats renderings courtesy of The Flats East Bank
Rivergate Park rendering courtesy of The Cleveland Metroparks