By Peter Truog, director of civic innovation and insight, and Bethia Burke, director of strategy and resource allocation
At the Fund for Our Economic Future, we strive to position ourselves on the leading edge of advancing Growth & Opportunity across Northeast Ohio. We constantly review and assess initiatives we support to scale what works, modify what can be improved, and leave behind what’s ineffective. (For highlights of how we’ve adapted our strategy over our nearly 15 years of operation to meet the region’s ever-changing needs, take a quick tour through our “Fund Museum.”)
A recent assessment of our work, however, was particularly noteworthy. A significant amount of our grant dollars—and energy!—have supported the missions of regional economic development organizations BioEnterprise, JumpStart, MAGNET, and Team NEO. We regularly measured many aspects of their performance, including jobs created, payroll added and capital attracted, as well as these metrics for minority-owned or led businesses.
Over time, as the organizations matured, and as we became increasingly focused on connecting and advancing Growth & Opportunity, we began asking more questions about their impact. Where are the jobs located? Can you get there if you do not own a car? Do the jobs pay a family-sustaining wage? Do all of the jobs require a four-year degree? How do we know that our job creation grantmaking is differentiated from what is happening in the economy overall?
We leveraged years of grantee performance reporting, the brains and experience of local community partners across Northeast Ohio, and a variety of other data sources to examine these questions and identify ways to increase our Growth & Opportunity impact. Below, we summarize the primary findings of this multi-month-long undertaking.
These observations have reinforced some of our existing strategies, and have already begun to shape how we think about future initiatives. They also are informing a forthcoming statement from our Fund about what should be Northeast Ohio’s regional economic priorities.
Job Creation: Our emphasis on traded-sector jobs matters.
By design, approximately 90 percent of the jobs our grantee partners helped to create are in the traded sector of the economy. This is a significantly higher share than in the overall economy, where about 50 percent of jobs in the fastest-growing industries are tradable. Firms in these traded-sector industries sell their goods and services locally, regionally, state- and nation-wide. Their ability to access geographically diverse markets means their growth is not limited to local demand and helps bring new wealth into the local economy. On average, traded-sector firms pay twice as much as firms in population-serving industries, and create nearly five-times as much in subsequent economic benefit. Continued attention to traded-sector growth and innovation is an economic imperative, and we feel good about the kind of job outcomes produced with support from our grantee partners.
Yet, the geographic distribution of outcomes from the Fund’s regional economic development grantees varies significantly across Northeast Ohio. Local leadership and local economic assets heavily influence a community’s likelihood of benefitting from the growth supported by our job creation partners. This finding was reinforced by the data we analyzed and conversations we had around the region.
Local leadership is needed to strengthen base assets, such as ready, available sites, and shape and respond to opportunities to grow and attract businesses. Local economic assets are the base from which to build future industries. We are actively working with local leaders and supporting the development of local plans (like “Strengthening Stark”) to reinforce and build upon the local assets that are the foundation of our regional economy.
Job Preparation: We must push for quality jobs, pathways to advancement and an understanding of the economic costs of barriers to employment.
Questions about whether the jobs our grantees help create pay living wages and are accessible without a four-year college degree lay at the heart of our Impact Assessment. Our findings are encouraging. Job growth supported by our grantees pays a living wage on average. In contrast, the majority of jobs created in recent years by the 25 fastest-growing industries (in the Northeast Ohio economy as a whole, not through the work of our partners) are in industries that, on average, pay below a family-sustaining wage.
Further, many jobs associated with our grantee outcomes do not require a four-year college education. Rather, they are in industries where between 20 percent and 90 percent of jobs are accessible with an associate’s degree.
Still, many community conversations highlighted the importance of deliberately building pathways into these jobs. Job placement and advancement for individuals is limited by not only types of available jobs, but real and imposed barriers like criminal histories, drug use, language barriers, or inadequate geographic access to quality, affordable child care and/or workforce services.
We are currently exploring stronger sector-based partnerships to create pipelines of job-ready talent and push employer-led conversations about job quality, leveraging career-pathways research to help employees advance into higher-quality jobs over their careers. We’re also working to better understand the economic cost of barriers to employment, such as having a criminal record.
Job Access: Geographic access to jobs is a challenge across the region.
The geographic patterns of our region’s growth are creating job access challenges for employees and employers across Northeast Ohio. Our residents have trouble getting to work, and employers struggle to find the talent they need. The job access challenge manifests in our Fund’s job creation outcomes, as well as in the economy overall, in every corner of the region. Perhaps more alarming: Across the region, the kinds of industries with jobs less likely to require post-secondary education are the same industries locating farther from our core cities, where more residents are struggling to find work.
These findings suggest two primary strategies. First, we must find innovative solutions to connect people to where jobs are now. We are leading work with a group of Solon-based employers to explore how innovative mobility solutions like ride sharing or on-demand transportation can help address this issue.
Second, we must begin to set the table for accessible future growth by creating competitive, transit-accessible job hubs in all counties of our region. These efforts will require collaboration across the public and private sectors to align strategies for how and where to incentivize economic development activity in a way that mitigates future job access challenges.
To explore our findings in more detail, please find summaries for different counties on our website. We hope you share our excitement about the potential for these findings to shape our work and that of many others to advance a growing, more inclusive, opportunity-rich economy.