By Nicole Hennessy
Despite encouraging numbers and visible business growth and investment in downtown, a recently released Brookings Institute study showed that jobs have been moving to the outer suburbs of Cleveland more quickly than in most metro areas, with almost 47 percent of Greater Cleveland’s jobs located between 10 and 35 miles from downtown.
“That surprises me a little bit,” said Jenny Febbo, vice president of marketing and communications for Team Northeast Ohio, a regional marketing firm that attracts new businesses to the area.
“I could, off the top of my head, cite a lot more companies that are moving into Cleveland than I could companies that have made the decision to move out of downtown Cleveland to the suburbs.”
Included in the list of companies that have both moved into downtown, as well as those who’ve chosen to expand, are Alexander Mann Solutions, Chamberlain College of Nursing, Radio One, AM Trust Financial, Horseshoe Casino and many more.
Notably, Eaton Corp. is in the process of making its move from downtown to Beachwood, but Febbo says it’s moves like these that get focused on rather than all the new businesses the region, particularly Cleveland, has attracted over the past few years.
In the three years since the last census and the point at which the Brookings Institute gathered the data for its study, encouraging numbers and visible downtown business growth and investment continue to be reported.
For example, a few weeks ago, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson announced downtown’s offering of apartments and condos are now almost completely full with 13,000 residents, expected to increase by up to 12,000 within the next decade.
Still, the surrounding area of Cleveland has and continues to struggle with population loss, as well as families moving farther away from downtown, as new housing developments continue to be built. And transportation issues remain throughout the state.
With a manageable average commute of 20 minutes within the Greater Cleveland area, some, like Febbo, maintain that the physical location of businesses is not important as long as they choose to locate or remain within the region.
“People will travel to get to the jobs,” she said.
But for those without access to a car or those who put an emphasis on green transportation options, that can be difficult, since outward migration and job sprawl, paired with the state’s disproportionate focus on highway infrastructure in lieu of aggressive public transportation initiatives, creates a pattern of car dependency that dictates how or if Northeast Ohio residents get to work.
“While the typical state provides 23 percent of needed operating funds for transit, (The Ohio Department of Transportation) provides less than 1 percent,” said Joe Calabrese, CEO and general manager of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA).
He also added that nationally, Ohio is ranked 12th in transit ridership but 40th in state funding.
Continuing, Calabrese explained, “Outward migration and sprawl is a major issue, not just to RTA, but to all transit systems and most municipalities.”
RTA does not have the resources to follow or chase sprawl, and public transit works best in areas of higher population density.
However, newly developed areas that create a high demand for transportation do dictate where and how improved service is focused.
An example is the opening of the Flats East Bank complex, which resulted in RTA resuming seven-days-per-week service on the Waterfront Line. This is not always the case for newly developed residential communities.
“While Westlake is highly residential, it also has Crocker Park, which is a regional destination,” Calabrese said. “While many Westlake residents take the bus to jobs downtown, for example, many non-Westlake residents also take the buses through Westlake to Crocker Park to shop and work.”
Having attracted the newly built Global Center for Health Innovation (previously called the Medical Mart), downtown Cleveland continues to pass on the benefits to companies like Hyland, which are working with the center to provide software locally, nationally and internationally.
Brenda Kirk, Hyland’s vice president of strategy, said, “The only way we’ll be able to realize the dividends that we all know are here for our companies” is to focus on a regional approach to business. This includes both available networks for business to help each other grow, and a strong core city.