In the thick of it: New MAGNET HQ designed as a neighborhood manufacturing linchpin

Ethan Karp, president and CEO of Cleveland’s Manufacturing Growth Advocacy Network (MAGNET), knows it would have been easy enough to tuck the organization’s new headquarters away in some suburban industrial park. Thankfully, weaving manufacturing into the fabric of the Cleveland community aligns much better with MAGNET’s larger mission.

MAGNET’s new HQ facility is already connecting people to training and jobs while increasing manufacturing innovation and providing Northeast Ohio factories with advanced technologies.The advocacy group’s recently completed new home is in the renovated Margaret Ireland Elementary School in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood. The 53,000-square-foot facility, purchased in 2020 from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD), is already connecting people to training and jobs while increasing manufacturing innovation and providing Northeast Ohio factories with advanced technologies.

Meeting these goals would be far more difficult without the visibility offered by the streamlined former school building, says Karp. Ideally, the $18.5 million project will demystify local manufacturing on two key fronts—job availability and attractiveness.

Putting it simply, manufacturing is no longer a dark, dirty, or dangerous industry.

“There’s an educational purpose to what we’re doing,” says Karp. “Ever since we opened, it’s been an absolute joy to welcome a crossroads of people. We’re having an impact on student groups and adults needing retraining.”

Though all was quiet during a pre-Thanksgiving facility tour taken by FreshWater Cleveland staff, the nonprofit’s manufacturing hub has been a beehive of activity since its launch in late October. Along with space for 60 staff members, the reimagined building has classrooms, a prototyping lab, a STEM-themed playground, and a technology showcase and engineering floor.

The interactive museum feel is no coincidence, as MAGNET developed several displays with help from the Great Lakes Science Center. Visitors are getting hands-on experience with collaborative robots and other Industry 4.0 technology, or they’re being directed to a job concierge for training and career opportunities.

MAGNET team members' work areaA partnership with CMSD will bring in 3,000 K-12 students annually to promote innovation and smart manufacturing for regional small- and medium-sized manufacturers. With older workers retiring, Northeast Ohio’s builders are filling openings for welders, programmers, skilled maintenance technicians, and other jobs that deliver stable careers in a clean environment.

“The number of ‘wows’ we get when people see what we’re doing is incredible,” Karp says. “This building has a purpose far beyond housing our staff. It’s truly meant to help people get jobs.”

‘The future of our factories’
Officially known as the Manufacturing Innovation, Technology & Job Center, the facility is funded by area foundations, corporations, and governmental entities—among them the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and the Greater Cleveland Partnership. Programming hosted by the center is run by CMSD, Towards Employment, Women in Manufacturing, and a host of other partners.

Together, these groups are spreading awareness about an industry centerpiece that will create 30,000 jobs within a decade, according to MAGNET officials. U.S. manufacturing itself is primed for a resurgence, due in part to the nation rethinking its dependence on Chinese manufacturing.

China is also a worldwide leader in computer-integrated “smart factories,” which Northeast Ohio can emulate only with a robust talent pipeline in place. As artificial intelligence, collaborative bots, and additional innovations are expected to create upwards of $3.7 trillion in value by 2025, it is imperative for the region to build a skilled labor pool able to utilize these technologies.

MAGNET’s newly minted headquarters can be the focal point for this work, as well as an “an important symbol” of Cleveland’s manufacturing knowhow, maintains Karp.

“The gap we’re seeing is that people don’t understand what modern manufacturing is,” he says. “[University] maker spaces are not designed to have people tour all day, so that’s a unique feature for us. If this facility inspires someone to become an entrepreneur, that’s great. Or if it just raises awareness when someone’s neighbor is going into manufacturing, then we have done our job.”

The MAGNET center is part of a growing ecosystem that encompasses market-rate apartments as well as the forthcoming $22 million Cleveland Foundation headquarters. The building is also one facet of the $400 million Innovation District project, which includes the MidTown Collaboration Center that is set for completion in 2024.

To build upon its standing as a neighborhood linchpin, MAGNET has opened its facility to guests from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Visitors can tour the floor, learn about manufacturing employment, or use a playground designed to pique curiosity about an increasingly lucrative industry.

All comers may not choose a manufacturing career, but just creating those interactions is a win for both MAGNET and the larger community.

“Part of this vision is seeing that future workforce,” says Karp. “Companies are saying that these individuals can be the future of our factories.”

Read more articles by Douglas J. Guth.

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.