Global Cleveland launches with a goal of attracting 100,000 new Clevelanders
Hundreds of people gathered at Cleveland State University to brainstorm ideas to attract people to the region. Attendees share their thoughts in interviews.
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Lin Ma came from China to earn a finance degree at Case Western Reserve University and recently took her Mandarin fluency to Huntington Bank's downtown offices, where she works as a financial analyst. She's 21, lives in Little Italy, and sighs to watch the sun set over Lake Erie. "This is a great place," Ma said she tells friends back home.
According to designers of the Global Cleveland Initiative, talented newcomers like Ma can help build Cleveland a new future, much as an earlier generation of immigrants and migrants shaped the past.
Their crusade began Wednesday, when nearly 300 civic, business and cultural leaders gathered at Cleveland State University to brainstorm ideas for molding Cleveland into a more global, welcoming city. At the launch of Global Cleveland, organizers asked for ideas for achieving their initial goal of attracting 100,000 new Clevelanders in 10 years--insisting the challenge is realistic.
"I think it's going to be easier than people think," said Daniel Walsh, regional president of Huntington Bank, which has pledged $500,000 to the initiative. Walsh and other Global Cleveland supporters say the city can use its cultural attractions, cost of living and growing job base in advanced industries to attract talent from near and far. Global Cleveland hopes to connect newcomers with opportunities and with their cultural communities, improving the chances they will move here and stay.
Many of the new Clevelanders will come from other cities and other states, organizers said. But many also will, like Ma, arrive from foreign lands. Welcoming them will present a challenge to a region almost entirely native-born.
For a model of success, many pointed to Cleveland's past. "When you think about Cleveland, immigration is woven into the DNA," CSU President Ronald Berkman told the gathering in CSU's Student Center Ballroom. "There are very few cities with these ethnic communities. It gives us something to build upon."
That theme resounded Tuesday night, when a diverse crowd of several hundred filled the City Hall Rotunda for the Global Cleveland Launch Party.
Mayor Frank Jackson, following a set by a steel drum band, told the throng that today's immigrants are economic catalysts and that Cleveland needs to look more like it did a century ago. "What we want to do is replicate the past," Jackson said. "We are going back to the future."
County Executive Ed FitzGerald pointed out some of the statistics that lend the vision a sense of urgency. Cleveland lost 17 percent of its population last decade to become the fastest declining major city after Detroit. It has lost more than half its residents since 1950, when the city was 15 percent foreign-born, compared to 5 percent foreign-born today.
The regional population has begun to slip as well, shrinking by 2 percent last decade. To replenish lost population and revive urban neighborhoods, other cities have found success with international welcome centers, which typically reach out to high-achieving immigrant groups with the kinds of information and guidance that entice newcomers to settle.
Others see jobs as the more compelling reason to attract international talent. About a quarter of the nation's high-tech companies were founded by immigrants, according to a Duke University study, and many economists say high-skill immigrants are a key ingredient in growing regional economies. "Research by many, many scholars tells us that diverse communities are thriving communities," said Baiju Shah, chairman of Global Cleveland's 40-member board of directors.
The designers of Global Cleveland studied other welcome centers to shape a program distinct to the region. They think Cleveland can benefit from the fondness former residents feel for their hometown, as well as local job openings in science, engineering and high technology.
The plan calls for a relatively small staff, led by a yet-to-be-hired executive director, to connect "boomerangers" and talented newcomers to area jobs and to market the city to the world. Work officially begins July 1, though Global Cleveland's Public Square offices will not be ready until the fall.
Shah said he's encouraged by the interest and the passion coming from the community, much of it evident Wednesday.
After listening to several speakers, summit members disbursed to separate break-out sessions. They were asked to suggest strategies for reviving Cleveland with new talent and cultures. Many dove to the task with gusto. "New ideas. New innovation. You have to diversify just to stay ahead of the game," said Paul Hill Jr., who led East End Neighborhood House for 30 years before retiring in January. Hill, 65, said he fears Cleveland has been slow to embrace a multicultural era. "I think we've been tied to the past. I think my generation held us back a bit," he said.
Not anymore. "If we want to succeed in the future, we have to join the international community," Hill said. "We have to do this."
Conversations begun at the Global Cleveland Summit are continuing on the website of Civic Commons, www.theciviccommons.com. You can also connect with the initiative through the Global Cleveland website, www.globalclevelandinitiative.com
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