Cleveland's millennial brain gain fuels its national resurgence

In the past year, Cleveland’s rapid urban renewal has been in the forefront of the media’s attention, with key outlets, including the Daily Beast, The New York Times and US News, covering its revival. Many immigrants choosing to relocate to Cleveland come from bigger cities, like New York and Chicago.

The city's current resurgence is in part driven by an increasing number of young high-skilled professionals moving to Cleveland for better employment opportunities, while also escaping the substantial living costs, taxes and regulations that come as the inherent burdens of living in big cities.

These young professionals are part of a migration pattern that is currently reurbanizing cities that experienced outmigration and disinvestment in previous decades.

According to a recent report by the Center for Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University, Mapping Adult Migration in Cleveland, Ohio, through the arrival of these millennial high-skilled professionals, Cleveland is experiencing a nascent brain gain and increasingly diverse neighborhoods. The latter trend stems from the fact that while African Americans and Hispanics are moving into historically white neighborhoods, white immigrants are moving into areas of color.

Two changes are gradually shifting the population dynamics, leading to redevelopment and challenging local authorities to find ways to embrace and promote diversity by ensuring that all residents can prosper.

While Cleveland ranked third in the nation’s metro regions for population loss between 2000 and 2013, with over 83,000 leaving, during that same period of time it gained over 87,000 people with four-year degrees. This raised its educational attainment rate to 29.8 percent, slightly higher than the nation as a whole. According to Richey Piiparinen, senior research associate at Cleveland State’s Center for Population Dynamics, the new immigrants are more educated and productive, raising Cleveland's total income, adding that population growth doesn't equal economic growth.

According to the report, in 2013 college-educated millennials were more likely to live in the urban core, as compared to their counterparts in the 2000. In particular, high-density and gentrified neighborhoods are benefiting from this trend, with the number of college-educated millennials living there increasing by 17 percent. This new pattern of immigration has affected mostly downtown Cleveland and neighborhoods adjacent to it, such as Ohio City, Tremont and Detroit Shoreway.
Eds and meds: the pull factors 

According to Piiparinen, one of the experts writing the report, the migration of highly skilled young professionals became more or less a byproduct of knowledge-creation, investment and research. They are moving to Cleveland primarily attracted by two knowledge-creation domains that the city has been shifting towards from manufacturing: the medical and higher education fields. Half of individuals in Cleveland with graduate or professional degrees are currently employed in “eds and meds.”

Healthcare service innovation companies with new economic components, such as big data pioneer Explorys, purchased by IBM from the Cleveland Clinic, as well the combination of manufacturing and engineering companies in fields like bio-engineering, are ensuring new job opportunities, attracting new waves of high-skilled migrants to Cleveland.
According to Piiparinen, the Cleveland Clinic is now creating exportable health care, selling it globally and creating knowledge. In turn, local universities such as Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University are now providing funding for research and development to encourage innovation and idea creation.

The expert warns that an important threat to Cleveland’s continuous long-term development is government cuts to higher education funding, which means that universities are less able to invest in research. While research benefits tend to be reaped by private companies, those companies are often not interested in investing in frontier research,and instead fall back on the government. Some firms, however, are providing subsidies to public universities and research hospitals.

Apart from eds and meds, there are other fields attracting high-skilled individuals, such as advanced manufacturing, the arts and technology startups, which are often spinning out of or tied to universities.

The tech sector, however, is not specific to Cleveland. Tech is growing in a variety of smaller cities around the country, which are now starting to compete with the big tech industry cities due to lower costs, the ease of access to venture capital, and cloud computing.
Where are people moving? 

The growing cohort of young professional immigrants is moving into urban neighborhoods, drawn by amenities such as walkability, social connectivity and proximity to retail and nightlife. They tend to prefer an urban lifestyle.
Piiparinen emphasizes that for these neighborhoods to retain more young migrants as well as an older demographic, they need to diversify their housing opportunities by providing family-oriented accommodation, ensuring generational recreational activities and other opportunities, and developing high-performing schools. At the same time, the neighborhoods needs to ensure equitable development, which prevents gentrification and the displacement of lower-income individuals while ensuring the arrival of continuous inflows of immigrants.

From a racial perspective, the report highlights three main patterns of migration for individuals in Cleveland. First, a significant number of those moving into the inner city and high-density neighborhoods tend to be white or Asian American. The highest white growth regions are situated on the east side of Cleveland, including the University Circle, Central and Hough neighborhoods, whereas the Asian migrants also cluster around University Circle, Hough and Shaker Square. This migration is in its emerging stages.

Second, some African Americans and Hispanics are conversely heading toward the suburbs, displaying upward mobility patterns. The Hispanic growth, for instance, focuses on periphery neighborhoods situated in Cleveland’s southern and southwestern edge. The incentive for these families, which are predominately aged 35 to 44 and have children, is to move into the suburbs with bigger housing and better schooling opportunities for their children.

Third, in a similar pattern, another group of white migrants is leaving the suburbs and moving into exurban counties, such as Medina and Lorain, primarily with the intention of raising families and having better educational opportunities for their children.

While the number of national immigrants settling in the city is growing, Piiparinen emphasizes that Cleveland remains a parochial economy, which needs to attract more international migrants. The latter can act as agents of globalization, building new forms of community capital. The city of Cleveland has launched an initiative called Dream Neighborhood, which aims to provide housing to refugees by rehabbing some of the old empty buildings on the west side, which might otherwise be demolished.
Apart from helping to diversify neighborhoods and supporting refugees in their effort to integrate in the city, the initiative also improves living conditions for local residents already living there. Another effort to attract international migrants is the statewide Ohio Post-Secondary Globalization Initiative, which focuses on developing mechanisms to attract and retain students from abroad in Ohio by helping them develop a sense of belonging in the state.

The report was commissioned by Cleveland Neighborhood Progress (CNP), a nonprofit striving to improve Cleveland’s neighborhoods and enable their residents to enjoy a better quality of life. Joel Ratner, president of CNP, stresses that the report will provide engaged stakeholders with a solid understanding of the dynamics in Cleveland’s neighborhoods, while guiding community development corporations (CDCs) on how to invest in programs.
CNP is currently focusing on disseminating the report as widely as possible to decision makers. Over the long term, it aims to help neighborhood organizations develop strategies to establish their own brand that engages recently settled migrants, while also attracting new ones. Some neighborhoods have already started achieving this goal successfully. Detroit Shoreway and Collinwood are establishing themselves as arts districts, while Ohio City has made a name for itself through its microbreweries and public market.

According to Ratner, the "Mapping Adult Migration in Cleveland, Ohio" report marks a highly important moment for the city. It highlights the fact that “the city’s situation is changing and can change and that, while a significant amount of work still needs to be done, there are plenty of opportunities to be harnessed in order to move Cleveland in an increasingly positive direction.”

In order to ensure that development and benefits permeate through all of Cleveland's neighborhoods, the city’s anchor institutions have to invest in developing the skills of local Clevelanders, especially the poor. Two ways to achieve this are through hiring locally and offering Cleveland residents opportunities to advance in their careers at these institutions.