I was born and raised in Cleveland’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood and have lived and worked in Washington, D.C., London, and New York City. Cleveland is my home and nowhere else compares.
When I returned to Cleveland in 2014, I felt a new sense of energy. The Cavaliers’ resurgence, securing a major national convention and a revitalization of downtown all brought about a new origin story with economic promise.
There are discussions among leaders questioning if Cleveland’s economic renaissance is real. Others asked, can we sustain this moment of renewal? The answer is yes, but only if we include everyone.
Too often, we narrowly focus on brick and mortar development as a panacea for economic growth. A “build it and they will come” mentality is short-sighted. We have an economy that is not working today for the average Clevelander. It does not have to be that way tomorrow.
Economic injustice is our challenge, and we need a strategy that is bottom-up, not top-down. The disenfranchised are too numerous, and we can and must do more.
First, we must embrace innovative policies to foster a more inclusive and competitive economy. For example, Chicago, through its Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy (CASE) initiative, brought together 16 public, private and nonprofit institutions to re-examine its hiring, procurement and investment policies within underserved neighborhoods. This effort assisted 443 businesses, spurring the creation of 180 new jobs and $51.8 million in revenue.
Second, dynamic cities create an ecosystem where all residents have a seat at the table. Minneapolis requires its boards and commissions to reflect the community they serve. Millennials must have a role in boards and commissions as well. We are the incubators of ideas that will guide our city in the future. Failure to enact these types of actions will result in us losing even more talent to cities where new ideas and new people are embraced.
Finally, we must face the truth. Difficult conversations are never easy, but Cleveland is at a critical juncture and we must think boldly about our economic future. The people cannot afford to wait.
Justin M. Bibb is a consulting executive and Cleveland resident.
This article was published as a letter to the editor in Crains Cleveland Business on June 18th, 2018.