Here’s the good news: Northeast Ohio is adding generally high-paying jobs; entrepreneurship is thriving; new industries are being created and old ones are being reinvented. Now for the not-so-good news: In recent years, Northeast Ohio has lost population; underperformed in the area of job creation; and increased income inequality in economically distressed neighborhoods. Racial and ethnic minorities, especially those who reside in economically distressed urban central cities in Northeast Ohio, are for the most part not included in Northeast Ohio’s recovery.

One of the most difficult conditions the region is experiencing is the increasing distance between where jobs are located and where people live. Over the last decade, this issue has gotten worse for all Northeast Ohio residents, especially residents in distressed neighborhoods who need jobs the most. The Fund for Our Economic Future (the Fund) looked at this issue in more depth in “The Geography of Jobs,” released in September 2015. The Fund concluded that this issue must be addressed so as not to undermine the region’s economic vitality and prosperity.

The Fund wanted to gain insights and solicit feedback from regional thought leaders about how to address the spatial access to jobs issue in Northeast Ohio. The Fund commissioned PolicyBridge to conduct community engagement and opinion research with a select group of regional civic leaders and community stakeholders, and develop policy recommendations and cross-sector strategies focused on improving economic inclusion and regional economic competitiveness.

PolicyBridge facilitated five focus group sessions in four Northeast Ohio counties and conducted eleven interviews with individual community leaders and stakeholders from various sector across the region, engaging a total of more than 100 civic leaders. Five overarching themes emerged from participants’ responses:

  1. The spatial access to jobs issue in Northeast Ohio is not surprising or new.
  2. Cross-sector leadership is required to create a sense of urgency around this issue.
  3. Flexible and innovative solutions are necessary to make change.
  4. Short-term transit options are a critical component of the solution.
  5. We must also focus on economic/business redevelopment and reinvestment in urban core cities.

Ultimately, there must be systemic and structural reforms and targeted strategies designed to improve participation in the economic prosperity many in this region enjoy. As Dr. Harry S. Green, a systems change theorist at the University of Chicago has written, “Every system is exquisitely designed to produce the result it gets.” So if we are to believe Dr. Green’s theory, Northeast Ohio designed an economic ecosystem that excluded segments of its population. THIS MUST CHANGE.

All stakeholders in Northeast Ohio must band together to establish a new vision that significantly transforms conditions for economically disadvantaged people living in central city neighborhoods, first by thinking differently about this population and the environments where they reside, to thereafter act differently. PolicyBridge offers the following recommendations to address this issue:

Recommendation #1: Cross-Sector Leadership – Organizations, institutions and individuals from all sectors must assume shared responsibility and leadership to create a sense of urgency and refuse to tolerate the status quo.

Recommendation #2: Culture Change –Bold efforts to significantly change our systems, structures and policies will not occur without a change in our values to produce a cultural shift.

Recommendation #3: People to Jobs – Use existing and new resources to create affordable and sustainable ways to help residents, particularly residents living in distressed neighborhoods, travel to jobs.

Recommendation #4: Prepare People for Jobs – Align workforce development and economic development strategies in ways that measurably improve the opportunity for residents living in distressed urban core neighborhoods.  

Recommendation #5: Jobs to People – Business location decisions should be structured in ways that encourage job creation proximate and accessible to residents living in distressed neighborhoods in our region’s central cities.

The time is NOW to address the spatial mismatch of jobs that is hampering Northeast Ohio’s growth and prosperity.


PolicyBridge’s latest research report, “Roads Less Traveled,” authored by Gregory L. Brown and Randell McShepard, was released the week of May 9.