Guest blogger: Confronting economic polarization in NE Ohio
Posted on 08/31/15 in Economic Development
National media has quickly caught on to what we know too well in Northeast Ohio: Many people here have been left out of our region’s nascent recovery. As Cleveland and Northeast Ohio take center stage this election season, the main story aside from the political coverage is quickly becoming “the tale of two regions,” one in the midst of an economic and cultural renaissance and one where entire neighborhoods have fallen seriously behind amid rising poverty, crime and inequality. This tale, of course, has been told before. But suddenly, the whole world is watching.
Yes, new industries are forming, entrepreneurship is thriving, jobs are slowly coming back, and those jobs are generally good-paying jobs (hooray!). Yet, many residents—roughly one in 20—throughout the region are increasingly disconnected from the jobs. Why? There are certainly many factors at work, but top of the list is that most new jobs are out of reach for those who need them the most, due to a mismatch between open jobs and available workers’ skills and to the fact that jobs are much more dispersed and harder to get to today than they were even 10 years ago.
Granted, this is oversimplifying a bit, but these trends are clear and they are troublesome; they’ve led to an economically polarized region that acts as a brake on our overall economic recovery. So what can be done about this? Is there anything already being done? Luckily, the answer on both counts is yes.
Many individuals and organizations across sectors are working to link economically distressed areas to the regional economy. Efforts are under way to create good-paying jobs with opportunity for advancement; to prepare our workforce for the jobs of today and tomorrow; and to improve access to the jobs we’re creating. Specifically, these efforts include initiatives to support entrepreneurs in core cities; a pilot program to better connect workers and employers using a skills-based approach to hiring; and the development of an economic growth strategy for Opportunity Corridor to create good jobs for those who need them there. Other efforts are happening to address the critical and often overlooked component of job access.
Perhaps one of the best examples of a positive intervention that is driving both growth and opportunity is WorkAdvance, featured prominently in this new video from the Fund For Our Economic Future.
WorkAdvance is a national workforce development pilot in its fifth and final year in Northeast Ohio, serving Cuyahoga County and the Mahoning Valley in the manufacturing and health care sectors. The program is a cross-sector collaboration of employer groups, foundations, government agencies, and nonprofits working with employers and low-income workers to ensure that companies have access to the talent they need and that lower-skilled workers can get, keep and advance in jobs.
The goal of WorkAdvance is to connect the dots for low-wage workers who are starting out with multiple barriers to their progress. It guides them through the complex set of services they need to enter employment and then develop the competencies necessary for advancement. Of the nearly 400 participants placed in jobs in Northeast Ohio, roughly 40 percent have advanced, earning average wage increases of 25 percent. On the employer side, more than 470 businesses have participated in the program, and many more are interested in how it can be applied in their workplace. And it’s already influencing reform at the regional, state and national levels.
There are numerous other stories like this one unfolding all over the region. Want to know more? Email me. Let’s embrace our successes and not shy away from the challenges we still face; let’s all be advocates for Northeast Ohio and build into the kind of place where others can only find positive things to talk about.
Let’s make sure the lasting story is not “a tale of two cities,” but a tale of many cities and towns and villages and counties within one region working together to create both growth and opportunity for all of our residents. This must be the real renaissance narrative for all the world to see.
Brad is president of The Fund for Our Economic Future.