Our Impact

We know the economy is uneven and unequal. The only way to get different outcomes is to do things differently. The Fund provides a creative space to explore, develop and advance new ideas that promote inclusive economic growth.

“There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.”
― Edward de Bono

Key Initiatives

Fueling technology-led
growth and prosperity


ince late 2018, our Fund has worked closely with the Cleveland Foundation, Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP), Team NEO, and JumpStart to identify, prioritize and align around actions that can improve Greater Cleveland’s growth in future industries through work known as the Cleveland Innovation Project (CIP). Following two years of assessment and planning, CIP has now entered its implementation phase. The initiative had its first major “win” in January 2021 with the announcement of a nearly $300 million investment from the State of Ohio to support a Cleveland Innovation District, which provides significant momentum to innovation-focused work, especially in health care.

Working at Scale
Hear what Baiju Shah, new president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, has to say about the importance of developing systems and working at scale through the Cleveland Innovation Project.

CIP’s mission is to strengthen technology-led economic growth and prosperity, with the goal of establishing Greater Cleveland as a Midwest leader in innovation and inclusion by 2030. CIP focuses on accelerating growth in three sectors where Greater Cleveland has competitive advantage: health technology, water technology and smart manufacturing. CIP is advancing four initiatives across these sectors that will enable innovation-led, inclusive growth—talent, capital, digital equity, and innovation districts.

Innovating for Equity
Hear what Teleangé Thomas, chief advancement and relationships officer at JumpStart Inc., has to say about the role of equity and inclusion in innovation efforts.

Through all of these strategies, CIP is focused on advancing economic growth that is racially equitable and has set ambitious goals for each initiative area.

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Our Fund has agreed to take the lead on the talent initiative to allow for close integration and leverage with our other job preparation work in Greater Cleveland, especially the Workforce Connect sector partnerships, of which we are a co-funder and for which the Fund’s Janine Kaiser serves as the facilitator.

CIP Talent Goals
Hear Janine Kaiser, who’s leading the CIP talent initiative on behalf of the Fund, talk about the goals of the talent work.

The goal of CIP’s talent initiative is to increase the total number of workers and overall diversity within Greater Cleveland’s STEM workforce. Our Fund’s role is to align and connect the efforts of implementation partners across a talent continuum (starting with K-12 education to workforce to advanced degrees), monitor progress against CIP talent goals, and catalyze investment and action to address gaps.

Our Fund is committed to the CIP for several reasons:

  1. It’s a promising strategy that can address The Two Tomorrows‘ inclusive growth priorities at scale in Greater Cleveland.
  2. We bring experience and critical relationships to the talent stream of work to ensure its success.
  3. Racial inclusion is a stated priority but requires vigilance. We are an important partner driving the continued emphasis on this priorityWhile CIP has established goals, strategies and capacity related to racial inclusion, we must continue pushing for refinementeffective implementation and accountability for tangible outcomes.  
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Boosting awareness
of high-quality job training

In the summer of 2020, the Fund initiated an effort to boost awareness of high-quality training opportunities in areas with significant underrepresentation in employment of Black and Latinx workers, which disproportionately bore the brunt of layoffs resulting from the pandemic.


ith additional funding from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions and Westfield Group, the Fund is working with partners across Northeast Ohio to increase equitable access to recovery training in the near term and generate improvements to the training and placement system in the long term by deepening collaboration between community-based organizations (CBOs) and workforce development institutions.

While there have been great success stories of CBOs and workforce and training service providers working together, these efforts have generally been programmatically siloed and difficult to scale. More common is minimal connection. As local organizations trusted by residents, CBOs are in many ways better positioned than the more centralized workforce system to help advise and connect residents to career services and training. At the same time, a fully decentralized approach is not cost-effective.

The main focus of this initiative is to develop consistent, accurate and culturally competent outreach materials and navigation supports for career and workforce training options that are co-shaped by CBOs and workforce partners.

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A second core focus is on exploring current connections and handoffs between CBOs and workforce organizations, surfacing opportunities to strengthen the process. The funding is supporting demonstration efforts in Cuyahoga, Summit and Stark counties, with the potential to spread to other parts of the region. Each pilot is taking a different approach to outreach and navigation support. This diverse portfolio will help inform what works. Measuring outcomes is central to this initiative, and the Fund will consolidate findings into recommendations for the future.

A lot must happen to eliminate employment disparities; this one intervention is not meant to be a silver bullet. Rather, it is seeding new ideas that have the potential to drive systemic improvements—something that is difficult for partners to do on their own within existing systems.

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Promoting better coordination
to bring jobs closer to people

For the region to achieve inclusive economic growth, it matters where jobs locate. The Fund continues to champion an alternative approach to business development that can increase businesses’ access to talent, improve residents’ access to jobs, save local governments money, advance racial equity, and lower carbon impact and help the environment. The strategy centers on focusing development within job hubs across Northeast Ohio. These hubs of activity meet thresholds for number of jobs and types of employers and are located in both urban and rural areas.


trategically coordinating development and focusing resources in these areas is different from the current, long-standing approach, which prioritizes short-term gains. The Fund’s assertion has been that focusing development within job hubs — both the places that meet the definition currently and those with high potential to — can lead to highly attractive, accessible business locations and be a differentiator for the region as it competes globally. (The region becomes even more competitive when this strategy is combined with a well-functioning talent development system and sector-specific strategies for growth of in-demand, family-sustaining jobs.)

To test this belief, the Fund and its partners have been advancing a multi-part strategy to build up and reinforce job hubs, focusing on building organizational capacity, understanding the fiscal impact of such an approach, awareness building, and the support of pilots to demonstrate the efficacy of the approach.

In 2020, the Fund engaged the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research to explore whether the clustering of business locations in proximity to each other and to civic resources is beneficial to competitiveness and to the fiscal health of a community.

The research team found that measurable competitiveness benefits are created when companies locate in proximity. The ability to share infrastructure increases access to talent and fosters the spread of ideas and connections. Concentrated development provides fiscal and economic benefit, too, even though traditional modeling techniques don’t typically reflect the potential positive impacts.

The Fund also has been supporting three job hubs pilots — in the “Aerozone” located around Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, in the city of Barberton in Summit County, and in northern Stark County — to demonstrate how the approach can benefit both urban and rural areas.

In each of these places, local leaders have come together to map the job hubs and prioritize sites available for development. This work is leading to near-term, tactical site improvements and is expected to support longer-term plans for the hubs to attract investment.

For instance, the Aerozone has developed a strategic plan that focuses on expanding technology transfer and maximizing the impact of business retention and attraction all within a highly-connected physical district. This strategic work is the result of leaders in local and county government, business, transportation, workforce, and utilities coming together to coordinate around a bigger vision.

Explore Job Hubs

Positive results can also be found in Stark County, which has become the first recipient of grants from the Ohio Site Inventory Program (OSIP) from JobsOhio. OSIP offers grants and low-interest loans to support speculative site and building development projects with no identified end-user.

Perhaps most importantly, these efforts represent strategic alignment and meaningful commitment to both short-term gains and long-term opportunities — evidence that business as usual isn’t the only way.

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Testing innovative solutions
to bring people to jobs

Even with better coordination that can bring jobs closer to people, a troubling paradox prevents many in the region from currently accessing better opportunities: no car, no job; no job, no car. In June 2019, we launched The Paradox Prize to tackle this paradox head on through an open call for innovative mobility solutions that can improve connections of people to jobs and give businesses greater access to needed talent. Through the platform of a public competition, we also aimed to elevate the conversation around transportation challenges to inspire long-term change.

Over the course of three rounds of competition, an Advisory and Selection Committee comprised of leaders in transportation, planning, workforce development, community development, and business sifted through 141 proposals from 12 counties. From this pool, nine pilots were awarded a total of $764,000 to test a range of mobility solutions across different geographies with expectations to serve up to 700 users.

Funded innovations promise to:

  • Improve effectiveness within transportation agencies through innovations in how routes are tested/added/optimized, how agencies can integrate non-bus solutions, and how to manage non-car-based solutions in rural counties.
  • Activate leadership beyond transportation agencies from the private sector through employer-designed practices and better, more creative integration of transportation into workforce programs.

While COVID-19 caused delays in the launch of some pilots, eight of the nine were operational by the end of 2020. Early data collection from the active pilots shows promise. Of a total of 336 unique users being served in Wayne, Lake, Stark, Lorain, Summit, Portage, and Cuyahoga County, 163 are persons of color and 128 are women (as of January 2021). All report declines in commute costs and times as a result of their participation in their respective programs. A total of 61 employers are engaged in pilots so far. Of 21 employers that were surveyed, 13 have reported increased employee retention among participating users. Additional quantitative and qualitative analysis is ongoing, and a full report of findings and next steps will be published in the second half of 2021.

What’s hatching through The Paradox Prize? Hear from a few of the winning teams about what they’re learning so far.


Beyond the programmatic success of these efforts so far, the seeds of lasting change have been planted. New federal and local funding, new partnerships and a greater awareness among partners across the economic development sphere—direct results of the effort—ensure these ideas will live on past the pilot period and, we hope, spur additional ideas that can make our region more innovative, accessible and inclusive.

In addition to our Fund, sponsors of The Paradox Prize include the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, The Lozick Family Foundation, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cuyahoga County, the Cleveland Foundation, and DriveOhio.

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Designing a community
wealth-building tool

With the net worth of a white family being, on average, nearly 10 times greater than that of a Black family, the racial wealth gap is a real and urgent issue.

When a family doesn’t have the opportunity to build wealth—to accumulate savings or invest in the stock market or real estate or other assets that hold value—individuals are prevented from fully participating in the economy, unable, for instance, to manage an unexpected job loss or access training or education to get a better job. This contributes to inequitable outcomes and is a strain on economic growth.

Among the factors that contribute to the wealth gap are low levels of local ownership and significant undervaluation of assets in communities of color. The harm to communities is compounded by exclusion of residents from development and investment decisions in their neighborhoods, which often leads to displacement and disenfranchisement from the political process and significantly undercuts opportunities to benefit from future growth. At the same time, residents can never benefit if there isn’t any growth at all.

Working in tandem with Metro West Community Development Organization, our Fund is trying to forge a new growth paradigm through real estate ownership. Along with a host of local and national partners, we are exploring a promising model to increase local ownership and decision-making—a Community Investment Fund (CIF)—beginning with the Clark-Fulton neighborhood on Cleveland’s near west side. Recent investment commitments—totaling upwards of a billion dollars—in Clark-Fulton and surrounding areas are driving rapid change and represent a significant opportunity for residents to benefit if the right tools are available.

What is a Community Investment Fund?

The design of a CIF requires technical understanding, community engagement and stakeholder alignment. The product must meet rigorous investment standards. It must also be culturally competent and reflect the unique needs of resident investors and the neighborhoods they seek to influence.

We’ve pulled together a group of local and national experts to assist in this work, including the team behind Nico Echo Park in Los Angeles as well as Seventh Hill LLC, the firm that worked with residents on recommendations to develop West 25th Street as a walkable, transit-supportive, mixed-use corridor. Additionally, this work is being supported by The Kresge Foundation, which has developed a “community of practice” to share learnings and advance the concept nationally.

In the emerging post-COVID world, when a “land grab is imminent,” well-designed and executed community-investment models are needed now more than ever, writes Elwood Hopkins, presidential fellow at The Kresge Foundation.

If executed well, this initial CIF could create an avenue for residents of this neighborhood and others across Northeast Ohio to have a real ownership stake and benefit from the upside of growth—necessary conditions for the region to be truly inclusive.

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Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion
within the Fund and beyond

The Fund’s work to advance systemic racial inclusion is embedded throughout our job creation, job preparation and job access initiatives. We also support systemic racial inclusion as a standalone agenda.

Building on the significant restructuring of our board in 2019, in which eight civic members joined to diversify our leadership and improve our issue area expertise, wconvened an ad hoc committee to evaluate how to incorporate better diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) metrics and benchmarks as they relate to the Fund’s governance and internal processes. Through this effort, we hope to provide leadership and guidance for our members in promoting this essential practice within their own organizations. 

Also in 2020, we provided funding to support an evaluation of the Racial Equity Institute (REI) trainings conducted throughout Northeast Ohio over the last several years, of which more than 6,000 individuals have participated. ThirdSpace Action Lab is conducting the evaluation to understand what has resulted from the trainings and to develop and promote an action agenda for participants, both past and future. We look forward to sharing the results of this work in the second half of 2021.

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Zoom In: Different Approaches to Outreach


The Akron Urban League, faith-based nonprofit Open M and The Well CDC are working together to launch the Neighborhood Ambassador Program to raise awareness of IT training opportunities as well as virtual job and training fairs. Through this effort, a team of 10 “job ambassadors” will be deployed to connect job seekers to Akron Urban League’s IT Career Pathways programs, services and supports, leveraging the resources and connections of ConxusNEO, Summit County’s sector partnership intermediary.


In Cleveland, MidTown Cleveland, Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc. and Metro West Community Development Organization have worked with Towards Employment to launch a Neighborhood Career Hotline to connect jobseekers with a dedicated career coach who can assist with referrals to training programs, supportive services, and if requested, job placement services offered through the Cuyahoga County Workforce Development Board. These services are available in both English and Spanish.

Click to watch a video about this pilot program on wkyc.com
Click to watch a video about this pilot program on wkyc.com


Strengthening Stark, an economic development collective, is working with the Greater Stark County Urban League, ICAN Housing, Stark County Community Action Agency, and OhioMeansJobs of Stark and Tuscarawas Counties, to help connect job seekers to training pathways. The focus of this project is on the promotion of career navigators and job and training fairs.

Click to watch a video about this pilot program on wkyc.com

Hear what Baiju Shah, new president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, has to say about the importance of the Cleveland Innovation Project.

Hear what Teleangé Thomas, chief advancement and relationships officer at JumpStart Inc., has to say about the role of equity and inclusion in innovation efforts.

Hear Janine Kaiser, who’s leading the CIP talent initiative on behalf of the Fund, talk about the goals of the talent work.