Thoughts on bashboards, civic engagement, NEO and the New Economy

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 06/26/2005 - 01:21.

In a recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, posted to the NEO Excellence community, business editor Paul O'Donnell wrote "I really didn't need Forbes magazine to tell me that Cleveland ranks 113th out of 150 metropolitan areas for best places to jump-start a business or career". Based on Forbes' analysis of our assets, O'Donnell observed one would conclude "the region is predominantly populated by reasonably educated engineers who spend discretionary income on the arts or sports, who work at companies that pay well but aren't hiring, and who live in safe neighborhoods filled almost exclusively with native Northeast Ohioans."

This assessment of the region is marginally accurate. We are much more than just engineers, we don't spend enough on arts and culture, and we are too broadly dispersed across 15 counties for generalizations about our neighborhoods to be realistic. That we are collectively rated 113th is realistic.

What does it mean to be 113th? We must accept reality and better leverage our strengths and address our weaknesses.

At the 06.24.05 City Club forum, Fund For Our Economic Future (FFOEF) Chairman Robert Briggs outlined his vision for how NEO can pull out of its economic tailspin, which consists of funding a "dashboard" of metrics benchmarking the performance of our regional economy, funding a discussion of 10,000s of residents and leaders, called "Voices and Choices", intended to determine where we should go from here, and funding four initiatives for improvement, being TeamNEO, NorTech, BioEnterprise and JumpStart.

According to FFOEF's website, the regional “dashboard� of economic indicators will provide an overall set of measures for the region. This dashboard will include pure economic indicators as well as measures of quality of life and fairness/inclusion. Until their dashboard is developed, FFOEF's "long-term goal will be that the combined metropolitan regions achieve a “Top 75�
Milken Institute best performing cities ranking". The Milken dashboard looks at one and five year job and income growth and high-tech concentration, and in 2004 our regional rankings out of 200 were as follows: Canton/Massillon - 196; Cleveland/Lorain/Elyria - 187; Youngstown/Warren - 175; Akron - 153. In every case, but for Canton, these
scores were improved over 2003 rankings.

Forbes' dashboards on NEO performance are more insightful. Read Forbes' analysis of our business attractiveness to learn why they consider us 113 out of 150 large regions they analyze across America. Forbes also analyzes our appeal to singles and we are 33rd out of 40. None of our many universities are ranked by Forbes as most computer connected or entrepreneurial, and none of our business schools rank in Forbes top 67. Looking all the way to the grave, Ohio is ranked the 49th worst state in which to die.

Forbes and Milken are powerful voices that provide important data about our region, but it is not very actionable. FFOEF is seeking more insightful performance data for their regional dashboard, and seeking other voices to help plan a more actionable strategy for the future.

FFOEF is not the only area group seeking higher-level insight into regional performance. In Akron, the Chamber of Commerce hired Next Generation Consulting to benchmark the appeal of Akron to the Generation-X population (those born between 1961 and 1981). Through this analysis, Akron leaders gained actionable new insight that energized their community - read more posted on REALNEO here and here. One interesting conclusion of Next Generation Consulting's analysis is that regionalism matters... the city of Cleveland is one of Akron's greatest strengths. Without all that Cleveland offers nearby, living in Akron would be much less desirable to the Generation-X and NEO's suburbs would be farmland - Cleveland is NEO's greatest competitive advantage.

In his speech to the City Club, Briggs suggested we need to show and feel more confidence in our strengths. Well, Next Generation Consulting and Forbes found good performance in our arts and culture, and other "dashboards" find our best universities and hospitals are ranked highly - in many cases as world-class. Those are some of our saving graces, deserving appreciation by our residents, and in every case our strengths are rooted in Cleveland.

Voices and Choices will take 14+ months to play out, so it is too early to determine the value offered. There is no doubt surveys, interviews, focus groups and town halls may offer valuable insight, if well designed and facilitated, but as we wait for these results and the FFOEF funded regional performance dashboard, the first step to saving this region is to accept that salvation depends on leveraging the competitive advantages of Cleveland, which are rooted in our arts and culture, education and health.

In the time it will take to hear 10,000s of regional voices and choices we can do much to improve the strengths of the region. As other fresh perspectives come from new voices and dashboards and initiatives funded by the FFOEF, so much the better.