Cleveland boasts several of the country's most prestigious colleges and, in fact, celebrates more than 27,000 college graduates annually. But buzzwords like "brain drain" and "the quiet crisis" suggest graduates are fleeing the region in search of better job opportunities, a better quality of life and even better weather.
But is there really a mass exodus of college graduates once their diplomas are in hand? Inside Business magazine met several recent Northeast Ohio college graduates who opted to stay in the area and seek career opportunities after graduation. Their stories are inspirational and may just be the start of a new trend.
Jeffrey T. Verespej
Case Western Reserve University
Jeffrey Verespej graduated from Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies in 2007. Today, he is an admissions counselor for his alma mater, recruiting students from central Ohio and as far away as Houston.
As an undergraduate, Verespej was a student tour guide for CWRU where he ran into the occasional Cleveland pessimist. "A woman once asked me what it was like to go to school in such a depressed and failing city and I [responded with] a 10 minute discussion on the past 50 years of cities and urban sprawl toward the Sun Belt, and I pointed out why many cities across the country face the same issues Cleveland does," he says. "She certainly asked that question to the wrong tour guide!"
In his quest to find a job, Verespej says there were plenty of opportunities in the area, but he thinks many jobs aren't being marketed to recent graduates. "There are a lot of technology jobs that are unfilled and I don't think students know they're out there or where to look," he says. "Plus, I don't think those high-tech companies recruit from the colleges and that's really where the talent is."
Today, when Verespej is off campus promoting the university he comes in contact with many prospective students who are unfamiliar with Cleveland, which gives him the opportunity to plug his hometown.
"You'd be amazed on the amount of positive feedback we get once people come to visit the campus and University Circle," he says. "Cleveland has everything anyone could want -- theater, sports, restaurants, culture. And as a young professional, I can afford it. I think the key [to attracting young professionals] is getting them here to experience it and marketing it in a positive light."
While Verespej agrees there are plenty of graduates leaving the city post-graduation, he believes there are just as many who prefer to stay in the area. "I didn't know very many people who deliberately avoided looking in Cleveland for a job. For most of them, if they were given an opportunity here, they took it," he says. "There's no doubt we have problems and we can always do better. With so many top-ranked schools in the area, we should be able to keep more students around."
He points to the high-growth health-care sector that provides opportunities for both schools and residents in the area. "People come from all across the country to work in our health-care facilities like the Cleveland Clinic. If we continue to grow there it will help our economy and our image," he says. "I think we're lacking in the private sector. We don't have big private companies to attract that kind of talent and I think that would really make a difference."
Now a resident of Little Italy, Verespej was adamant about staying in Northeast Ohio after graduation. Verespej has deep roots in Northeast Ohio. The youngest of four children, he graduated from North Royalton High School, where he starred in many of his school's musicals, played football and sang in the school choir.
Verespej says he couldn't imagine living anywhere else and has no plans to leave Cleveland any time soon. "To me, Cleveland is a major league city with minor league prices."
As a public relations and marketing major, Beth Lawson completed two internships as an undergraduate, one at the Cleveland American Red Cross headquarters in the special events department, and the other at the Berea Children's Home and Family Services. She eventually accepted a full-time position at Berea Children's Home after graduating in May 2007.
The agency provides foster care, group living arrangements and work programs for children and families in need. As advancement coordinator, Lawson's duties include handling the annual fund and coordinating special events. "The 143-year-old home is one of similar institutions in 21 countries around the world; we have facilities throughout Northeast Ohio," she says.
Lawson is among the more than 80 percent of Baldwin-Wallace College (BW) graduates who choose to live and work in Northeast Ohio after graduation. Lawson says her alma mater was very helpful in connecting students with local businesses to better their learning experience. "Our public relations club hosted several events where numerous business leaders would come out and talk with us about their own experiences and offer advice about internships," she explains. "The majority of these leaders also had connections with available internship opportunities and highly encouraged BW students to apply."
The faculty and staff at BW not only helped prepare Lawson for her career, but they truly care about their students and constantly push them to do their best, she says. "My professors really made sure we were on the right track to receive our degree and become the best candidate in the real world for employment opportunities," she says. "[We were] encouraged to obtain internships and our career services department was always available if students needed help doing so."
There are plenty of career opportunities in Northeast Ohio, according to Lawson, it just depends on how one searches for them. She found her current position through an online job database that allowed her to search for positions she knew she wanted. "I think if local businesses want to keep recent graduates in Ohio they need to utilize these databases, in addition to making their employment opportunities easily accessible," she says. "Networking is very important in the business world, but some recent graduates might not have those connections made and it's a shame if these people relocate and Cleveland misses out on keeping an outstanding candidate."
Today, Lawson lives at home with her family, several of whom are also BW alumni. Her appreciation for her job also resonates with her choice to stay in her hometown. "I was born and raised here. I love Cleveland and I'm proud to call it my home," she says.
Kent State University
Barb Reilman, a Newbury native, graduated from Kent State University (KSU) in May 2007 with a bachelor's degree in visual design and communications along with 30,000 other students.
"There is a huge amount of diversity among the Kent population, and that's a good thing if you're going to work for a big corporation," she says.
Reilman, who now lives in Stow, is a production artist at American Greetings Corp., where she makes corrections for many of the company's greeting card lines. She enjoys the fast pace of the company. "The atmosphere here is challenging as we are always coming up with new and appealing products to sell to our customers," she says. "It's a very competitive business but a lot of fun to work with so many creative people.
KSU prepared Reilman well for her position -- in fact, she landed her current position after completing an internship at American Greetings while she was a student. And, although she applied for jobs in other cities like Chicago, they were part of her "just in case" strategy if she couldn't find a job in the area. "I knew I wanted to stay in Cleveland because my friends and family were nearby and this is where I grew up. I felt comfortable here," she says. "Plus, I just think the people are nicer here than in many larger cities."
While Reilman found job opportunities in her field, she says the job market in Cleveland can be frustrating. "I don't feel there's necessarily a mass exodus of people leaving the area, but certain job markets do seem dead. I have friends that are teachers that can't find jobs and had to look elsewhere," she says. "I feel like the city needs some improvements so more graduates can stay here to live and work."