Recently, the Greater Cleveland Partnership endorsed Bill 744, a comprehensive immigration reform initiative before the United States Senate. José Feliciano, a lawyer at BakerHostetler and a leader in the Latino community, was quoted in The Plain Dealer as saying he hopes the endorsement “makes a difference.”
“When you see the business community stating that this really needs to get done,” Feliciano added, “I think that increases the volume in the debate.”
What he didn’t say, but what’s been brewing just beneath the surface of the debate locally, is that the initiative to make Cleveland a welcome city for immigrants hasn’t been all that welcoming. Mayor Frank Jackson only reinforced that cold-shoulder during his State of the City speech last March, when he mentioned the importance of “taking care of our own” and improving the lives of those here already.
With talk like that, it’s easy to see why some politicians and other public figures have been reluctant to publicly voice their private support for immigration.
On the other hand, who can blame those who live in the city for being wary about additional competition for jobs? The most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimates show the city of Cleveland has a 34 percent poverty rate, compared to less than 12 percent for Cuyahoga County as a whole.
As much as I want to see the lives of those who live within the city improve, I also want to see thousands of immigrants make Cleveland their home. I want to see the city grow and prosper. There is only one way to make this happen, and it isn’t passing an immigration bill. Simply put, we must make Cleveland one of the world’s great centers of economic opportunity.
The importance of this mission cannot be underestimated. Job creation will determine which cities succeed and which fail. Only a coordinated and collaborative effort to grow businesses and create jobs will give Cleveland a chance.
As I see it, there are four steps we need to take in order to make Cleveland a world-renowned center for economic opportunity.
Step one is to create a center that provides education and money to growing businesses and startups. Your immediate reaction may be that we already have a number of such organizations, and you’re correct.
The problem is incubators and economic development organizations too often lack coordination in the help they provide. Unfortunately, they aren’t always built with the customer in mind. I have yet to hear one out-of-towner say they view Cleveland as a hotbed of business entrepreneurship and growth.
The good news is that we have so many organizations already engaged in the mission of growing businesses. It is time to bring them together as a customer-driven collaboration.
I remember how surprised I was to learn the world-famous Texas Medical Center was virtual — not a single brick-and-mortar location, but made up of more than 50 hospitals and health organizations throughout Texas.
Step two is a natural outgrowth of the first step: Brand Cleveland as the place to grow a business — a real center for economic opportunity.
It is ironic that a city that is home to some of America’s top brands, such as the Sherwin-Williams Co. and the Cleveland Clinic, is as inept as it is at promoting itself.
Step three is to train workers for jobs. If it is true what we hear — that at any given time 20,000 jobs go unfilled because our workers do not have the right skills — we should be ashamed. We must be close enough to companies to help them find all the qualified workers they need. There shouldn’t be a job we can’t fill.
Step four is about management. Growing businesses and creating jobs is a highly competitive business. We are going to have to be very good to compete with Chicago, Pittsburgh and Detroit.
No business can run without constantly measuring its results, and we should be no different. How frustrating it is to live in Cleveland and never know where we are and where we’re going.
The management of our center for economic opportunity will measure businesses growth, job creation, population — all the information a city and its residents need to know to believe the place they live and work is moving forward, not backward.
Many of us have played organized sports sometime in our lives. So we have likely experienced a coach yell at us for not playing up to our potential.
I grew to hate the word potential. But it is the perfect word to describe where Cleveland stands in its struggle to become a successful American city.
If there is something Cleveland has in abundance, it is potential: health care, arts, education. In these and more, the city is maximizing its potential. Yet when it comes to the most important thing we can do to secure our future, we have failed to make the most of our assets.
Equal opportunity has come to mean sharing the pie that is already baked and on the table. Economic opportunity is all about filling the table with dozens of pies, so many that there are more than enough to go around and even have leftovers.
If we were doing what we should be doing — creating jobs — we wouldn’t give a thought to who is going to get the next job. Rather, we would be talking about whether we have enough skilled workers to fill all the jobs available.
That would be my definition of a very welcoming city.