We know from our Fund’s flagship research “What Matters to Metros” that job access—the level of connectivity between people and jobs—matters to the health and sustainability of our economy. And we know from the Fund-supported Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium (NEOSCC)’s Vibrant NEO 2040 report that unchecked, no-growth sprawl is harmful to our region fiscally and environmentally, and is not sustainable. Subsequently, in September 2015, our Fund issued a report titled, “The Geography of Jobs,” which showed the human cost of sprawl and poor spatial job access: long commute times and a decline in the availability of jobs nearby. These “costs” affect all people in Northeast Ohio, but most acutely those living in areas of economic distress.
We closed the report with an observation of how to best continue the conversation around job access. Since then, we’ve worked closely with Cleveland-based nonpartisan think tank PolicyBridge to engage the community around our research and to gather input on how we can and should address the growing disconnect between where people live and work. The recommendations that came out of this process can be summed up as:
- Move people to jobs: Use existing and new resources to create affordable and sustainable ways to help residents, particularly residents living within distressed and polarized neighborhoods, travel to their jobs.
- Bring jobs to people: Business development strategies, including strategies that address business location decisions, should be structured in ways that encourage job creation proximate and accessible to residents living within distressed and polarized neighborhoods in our region’s urban centers.
Of course issues of sprawl and spatial access to jobs are not new problems. Indeed, they’ve been in the public discourse before, and many individuals across the region have tried to address them. Yet it remains, we’d argue, the piece of our three-part Growth & Opportunity frame (job creation, job preparation, job access) that receives the least attention from civic leaders overall. And we’d like that to change. As jobs in Northeast Ohio climb back to pre-recession levels, understanding job growth patterns is critical to avoiding the pitfalls of promoting isolated pockets of limited growth, particularly if the region’s limited population remains flat.
For more information on what the data tells us about job access in Northeast Ohio, please see "The Geography of Jobs;" PolicyBridge's follow-on report, "Roads Less Traveled;" the Vibrant NEO 2040 report; and some additional, complementary research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland on the subject here. For more on our Fund's job access strategy, click here.
 Access can be defined spatially, economically, socially, culturally, and politically. In our work, we focus on improving spatial access (geographic distance, measured in time or miles), as this factor has been and remains a critical contributor to economic performance, as well as social access (the level of opportunity given to a person based on one’s place on the socioeconomic ladder).