Wednesday, August 07, 2013

A Near Perfect Summer Day [except for those pesky Tigers]

What? You didn’t know that Cleveland sat in a valley with mountains to the south?
On this day, standing in front of the Cleveland Botanical Garden, you could at a glance mistake the curved steel roof of Case Western Reserve University's Peter B. Lewis Building for some distant mountains. 

Today was a day to celebrate Cleveland. We had some typical Cleveland weather — a sudden late-morning rainstorm that momentarily transformed the upper Larchmere area into a feeder stream for the nearby Baldwin Reservoir, followed by a perfectly lovely sun-drenched canopy for Wade OvalWednesday in Cleveland’s unsurpassed University Circle.

Wade Oval Wednesdays always suggest the kind of generative spirit that outsiders see as emblematic of Cleveland’s potential. It’s a summertime party for the community, a casual recapitulation of a healthy cross-section of our diverse region, and seemingly a far remove from the tortured spirits of the Anthony Sowells, Ariel Castros, rogue cops, and predatory lenders that prey on the abandoned neighborhoods and people of that larger community.

I came to Wade Oval today fresh from a smart assessment of the opportunities and challenges of our regional economy, presented by the Center for Community Solutions. I think of the Center as having a somewhat distant and sterile diagnostic approach to assessing what ails us, but that sense may stem from my once having been a board member there when it was known as the Federation of Community Planning. Then, as now, it was the pedigreed agency anointed with the task of analyzing Cleveland’s emerging socio-cultural issues and charting strategic approaches to mitigate those challenges. As the establishment agency of choice, it has both the credibility to sound the alarm but too often not the temperament to match the temperature. The data may be alarming but the analysis remains dispassionate.

But today the Center was on point doing one of the things it does best: convening a host of dedicated social and civic workers for a quality
Sandra Pianalto, president of the Cleveland
district of the Federal Reserve Bank
presentation on issues of the day. Keynote remarks were delivered by Sandra Pianalto, president of the Cleveland region of the Federal Reserve Bank.

As PNC Bank Cleveland president Paul Clark noted, our city is fortunate to be a capital city of an FRB region. It stamps us as a major league player in the same way as the Cleveland Orchestra or the Cleveland Browns.

I’m not a financial reporter so I will make no attempt to parse Pianalto’s remarks, which primarily addressed the labor market recovery and the significance of recent economic developments for the region and the nation.

I did think her appearance at this event — the Center for Community Solutions annual Human Services Institute — was noteworthy, since I don’t think her royal economic lineage affords her many opportunities to get out among the hoi polloi.[1]

Pianalto offered a sober but not hopeless picture of the US’s continuing slow recovery from the Great Recession that started December 2007. She pointed out that while the unemployment rate has declined to 7.4% from 8%, there are actually 2 million fewer people working than in in December 2007, even though the labor force has grown. She said that an unprecedented 3.1 million people had been out of work for more than a year, observing that such a prolonged period of unemployment typically contributed to declining skills.

Speaking of the Cleveland region, Pianalto said that we have 85,000 fewer workers than in 2000, that a large part of that decline was due to manufacturing job losses. She observed that manufacturing jobs were a larger share of the economy here than elsewhere and that the region’s other economic sectors had not been robust enough to offset those losses.

Pianalto’s prescription for regional growth was straightforward. Growing a talented workforce, raising the area’s education level, and focusing on innovation were essential steps she emphasized. She said that Cleveland’s recovery would require patience, commitment, and endurance. Further, she pointed out how other communities, most notably Pittsburgh, had rebounded by emphasizing regional cooperation as opposed to competition.

Finally, she said that economic inclusion was important to the success of the region. To insure such inclusion, she said, “leadership at the top has to set the tone.”

Johnathan Holifield, NorTech
Responding to Pianalto’s comments, and extending them, were a strong
Ziona Austrian
Cleveland State University
panel, comprised of Ziona Austrian, director of
Lisa Bottoms, Cleveland Foundation
the Center for Economic Development at Cleveland State University’s College of Urban Affairs; Lisa Bottoms, the Cleveland Foundation’s program director for human services and child and youth development; Paul Clark, PNC regional president; and Johnathan Holifield, the vice president of Inclusive competitiveness at NorTech.

Each of the panelists spoke with energy and passion, perhaps none more than bank president Clark. Once he referenced his Cleveland roots as a 1971 graduate of St. Edward’s. And he closed with comments that were both
Paul Clark, PNC Bank
personal and almost poetic, saying that he thought of Cleveland’s economy as a large and growing array of brush fires [small businesses, minority entrepreneurs, innovators all around] that collectively possessed the essential ingredients to lay the basis for a robust 21st century economy.

The program was held at the Benjamin Rose Institute, a stunning facility that on this day afforded an impressive view of Cleveland’s skyline about eight miles to the west. BRI sits on the site of the former Kaiser Foundation hospital, just uphill from the Baldwin Reservoir, and at the western tip of one of Cleveland proper’s neater neighborhoods.

[1] There are only twelve Federal Reserve Bank districts in the entire system. The Cleveland-based 4th district consists of Ohio, western Pennsylvania, the northern panhandle of West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky. The other districts are based in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco.


John Ettorre said...

Seeing this reference to the old Federation for Community Planning reminds me of how wags of my acquaintance used to lampoon the inward-focused nature of this organization by privately nicknaming it the Community for Federation Planning.

Richard said...

Upon further reflection, perhaps those wags of your acquaintance may be closet Trekkies.