By Peter Truog, Fund Director of Civic Innovation and Insight, for Crain's Cleveland Business
As evidenced in the recent Crain's Cleveland Business article by Jay Miller on job hubs, our region is increasingly seeing that physical access to jobs is one of the community's most pressing workforce issues that limits our overall economic growth.
People who live closer to jobs are more likely to work, and when they are out of work, they tend to find new jobs quicker, research by the Brookings Institution shows. In short, it matters where jobs locate.
Unfortunately, our land use and transportation policies, practices and investment decisions of yesterday have resulted in people having longer and more difficult commutes today. Indeed, among large metros, Cleveland saw the largest drop in the number of jobs within a typical commute distance for the average resident from 2000 to 2012.
This growing distance between people and jobs creates a significant drag on our region's economic competitiveness in several ways.
One, it burdens workers who spend more and more time and resources commuting to work. Based on data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Housing and Transportation Index tool, Clevelanders spend a greater share of their income on transportation than on housing (and the same can be said for residents of other cities in the region).
Two, it affects businesses that struggle to fill open positions or that have workers who cannot get to work on time.
Three, it strains the fiscal health of municipalities that are required to spend increasing amounts of their tax revenue to not only expand the infrastructure base for new development, but also to maintain the vacant, underutilized infrastructure that has been left behind.
And, four, it's also detrimental to our environment, as longer car-based commutes to work result in poorer air quality.
For a long time, civic leaders have recognized the need to work across disciplines on factors that influence business location decisions. But figuring out how to work together has been hard. Professionals in transportation, economic development, community development, philanthropy and elected officials all use different languages, and the desire to develop mutually supportive strategies has often been lost in translation.
This is where job hubs come in.
The Fund for Our Economic Future, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, Team NEO and other key stakeholders across the region have defined and mapped the region's job hubs: Specific areas with a high volume of jobs and multiple traded-sector employers that sell their goods and services outside of the local market.
Equipped with a shared definition and a clear picture of where jobs are locating, civic leaders now have the ability to use the same language to a powerful, prosperous effect. History does not have to repeat itself. Aligning strategies across economic development, transportation planning and workforce organizations to support priority job hubs will allow us to raise the bar for sustainable, inclusive growth in our region. How can this shared language be used?
Economic development organizations can identify upgrades required to priority sites within job hubs for business attraction and expansion, and can identify site aggregation opportunities to bring new products to market.
Elected officials and other civic administrators can modify land use and zoning policies, shift business attraction and expansion incentives, and leverage "placemaking" strategies to enhance the regulatory underpinnings for growth in regional job hubs.
Transportation and infrastructure planning can prioritize new projects as well as maintenance and repair work based on the extent to which they advance the economic competitiveness of a regional job hub.
Transit organizations can assess their current route network and determine whether job hubs are currently served by transit, and how service could be improved.
The benefits extend to workforce agencies, community developers, educators and others that can incorporate job hubs into elements of their strategies as well. We're encouraged to see a number of progressive chambers, cities and counties already beginning to champion job hubs and transportation strategies to get people to them, and we look forward to others joining them soon.