Forbes editor: Cleveland must foster rise of the "digital native"

CWRU talk with Randall LaneTony GrayCWRU talk with Randall Lane

Not long ago, young entrepreneurs were designing software or other technological advancements far away from the old-guard industries that didn't rely on high-tech innovation to succeed.

Now that technology has infiltrated most every business, these youthful "digital natives" have a professional advantage, and it's up to Cleveland and similarly sized cities to be part of this powerful sea change, says Randall Lane, editor of Forbes.

"It's not just a Silicon Valley, or Austin, or Boston phenomenon," Lane says of what he believes to be a historically unprecedented event. "It can be a Cleveland phenomenon, or Minneapolis, or any city that wants to grow and tap into this audience."

Tech-savvy millennials grew up never knowing a time without the Internet, meaning their brains are wired for the intricacies of digital entrepreneurship from the jump, Lane told Fresh Water during a March 15 interview, a day before he spoke on the topic at the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center on the Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) campus.

"This is a generation that no longer thinks that working for a big company is the be-all and end-all," says Lane, creator of Forbes'  popular 30 Under 30 lists as well as author of You Only Need to Be Right Once, which chronicles the rise of the young tech billionaire. "They understand there's no lifetime job anymore. The safest career move is becoming an entrepreneur and building an opportunity for yourself." 

The fact that high-tech ideas can take root virtually anywhere is a potential boon for Northeast Ohio, Lane says. Cleveland already has a critical mass of talent from CWRU and other nearby universities; it's a matter of convincing a sizeable percentage of these go-getting agents of change to stick around.  

Ultimately, Cleveland faces the same talent recruitment challenges as Pittsburgh, Columbus and other mid-sized cities that host academic institutions, Lane says.

"Regional schools here are already a national draw," he says. "The easiest thing for these smart, ambitious people to do would be to stay."

A walkable urban city has long been in Cleveland's plans. Creating that exciting culture, along with an environment that nurtures entrepreneurship, can help attract and keep the bright millennial tech heads who are transforming the business world.

"You've got to have enough for young people to say, 'I can plant a flag and grow with this place,'" Lane says. 

Douglas J. Guth
Douglas J. Guth

About the Author: 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.