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Investing in Cleveland post-COVID-19

A Blueprint that starts with CSU

aerial view of Cleveland State University campus and downtown Cleveland​​​​​​​As civic, public sector, and business leaders in Cleveland continue to assess the economic, social, fiscal, and health impacts of the pandemic, it is increasingly clear that high quality, low-cost public education will play a defining role in our collective future. Whether considering short or long-term changes in our post-COVID-19 economic and social norms – remote working environments, preventative health measures, travel practices to name a few – the time for deciding how to create the inclusive kind of growth we need and best invest in building our future talent base is now.

This pandemic, unlike other crises we have faced, magnifies a confluence of economic and social disparities that will require a more thoughtful, creative, and transformative way of thinking and collaboration. Any vision and blueprint for success begins with the transformational power of a public urban research institution to drive inclusive growth and innovation and build partnerships and pathways that remove barriers to social and economic mobility. Why? Because city-centric, public research universities like CSU are where creative thought and intellectual capital “collide” to drive problem-solving in health care, industry, and public policy – and create talent pathways for companies to grow.

How could this work accelerate in Cleveland? Five components:

  1. First, invest in specific educational pipelines to increase the number of 4-year degrees awarded - with specialty training geared to specific skills - where demand will be high in our new, post-COVID economy. Before the pandemic hit, Cleveland had more than 30,000 job postings in the health care sector alone, with more than 11,000 openings for registered nurses. Although some of that demand has temporarily slowed, current projections show significant current and future needs in urban and community health, public health, digital and connected medicine, information technology, biomedical engineering, and an entire host of health prevention and disease management support-related fields. CSU is already looking at ways to help address these gaps. Through our “CSU 2.0” process, we are reimagining how we meet future needs of our community and the region by working on ways to reposition our Colleges and Schools to align with these needs. Since over 80% of our graduates choose to stay, work, and live in Northeast Ohio after graduation, who is better equipped to “fuel” the number of higher education degrees, certificates, adult learning opportunities and virtual education programming that support current and future industry growth?
  2. Make improving and sustaining the health of our community our number 1 priority. Cleveland, with three major successful health systems in the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and the MetroHealth System, and two large research universities in CWRU and CSU, is one of the leading health care research and teaching hubs nationally. Nonetheless, more than half of Cleveland’s children and more than 30% of its residents—triple the national rate—still live below the federal poverty line, and this drives poor health outcomes. Cleveland residents are below national averages on most accepted and reported measures of health. Economic vitality and successfully attracting new industry depends on our communities being healthy. There is no better time for an integrated Public Health Initiative – that focuses on education, training, solving the urban public health challenges of Cleveland, and creating jobs around our new public health narrative – to finally and ultimately improve lives for all Clevelanders.
  3. Create a research and education Innovation District where Cleveland becomes a destination for future entrepreneurs and job creators. In Mid-Town, community leaders are discussing ways to create an Innovation District (modeled after successful districts in St. Louis and Philadelphia) to accelerate commercialization of university research, recruit local innovators and global companies, and provide co-op training and paid internship experiences for students and apprentices. Along with PhD and graduate students, these districts focus on creating and developing advanced health care and smart manufacturing positions at all technical, skill and education levels. At CSU, we have already instituted the “CSU Promise” to all current and future students: any student who seeks a paid internship, externship, or co-op will get one. This builds upon our rich tradition of placing students at companies here in NEO – many of whom are first generation college students and underrepresented minorities.
  4. Collectively invest in re-educating and graduating the 1.5 Million Ohioans - 315,000 who live in Northeast Ohio – who have some college education and no degree. Upgrading workforce skills – particularly important in times of economic downturns - leads to higher paying jobs. Although various stand-alone certificate programs and specific training can pay short-term dividends, nothing equals a four-year degree as an economic “equalizer” for wealth disparity and prime driver in social mobility. Creating talented graduates at scale transforms regional economies, draws companies in, and prevents industry and company “flight” when talent pools are thin. CSU, recently ranked by U.S News & World Report as the #1 public university in Ohio among “Top Performers on Social Mobility” and #119 nationally, is already a leader here, and will be looking to significantly expand, direct and streamline pathways to meaningful degrees that lead to jobs. Talent development is the key to Northeast Ohio’s future.
  5. Double-down on partnerships that leverage our strengths and are specifically focused on broad-based talent recruitment, growth and development. Recently, focused conversations among local corporate, civic, educational, and philanthropic leaders have led to several specific concrete commitments on public-private partnerships uniquely fitted to Cleveland. One example: the Parker-Hannifin Living Learning Community at CSU, a residential experience that integrates academic support, leadership, training, mentorship and experiential learning. All 30 students from year 1 are back for sophomore year – an extraordinary achievement that demonstrates our unique approach to “Engaged Learning” that changes lives. Another: the partnership between CSU and Case Western Reserve University on the Internet of Things, a research collaborative funded by the Cleveland Foundation to position Cleveland as a leader in digital innovation. The initiative, which has already resulted in attracting top academic talent and the creation of research labs, was recently awarded additional funding which will further support the work impacting cutting-edge digital technology.

Over the next 5-10 years, we have a unique opportunity to define our own future here in Cleveland, and CSU stands ready to do its part: in promoting accessible, meaningful, and affordable education, in producing workforce-ready graduates, in enhancing connections to good jobs, in leveraging intellectual capital to drive innovation and economic growth, and in building the kinds of public-private partnerships that give all of us confidence we can pull together, work together, and make the necessary investments to move us forward.

There is no better time to start than now.

Read the article on Crain's Cleveland Business