Grow our local economy by pursuing an economic development approach that prioritizes supporting locally owned businesses while also exploring development opportunities that align with our city’s value commitments and unique community dynamics.
Think of our local economy like a bathtub, the kind with jets that circulate water around, and the water is the capital in that economy. The faucet provides capital from outside the city, and the drain is where our money leaves our city. When we buy locally, we are running those jets and circulating that water around, and it stays in the tub. But it’s impossible for any resident to spend all of their money locally—our mortgage is paid to a bank in Delaware or our rent to a non-local landlord, or we go on vacation, and so on. In order for our local economy to sustain itself and grow, we need faucets that bring in more capital than is draining out.
For decades, economic development in our nation has focused on city governments subsidizing, through tax breaks and other incentives, large, profitable corporations to move in and provide jobs. And, yes, there is a community benefit to having, for example, some big-box stores in our city. Home Depot provides a one-stop-shop for almost any home and construction need a person may have, and it is a source of materials for local contractors. But it is also taking more local money in sales than it is paying in wages and local taxes—if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be profitable, and Home Depot would close the location. Therefore, from a local economic development perspective, prioritizing investment in non–locally owned businesses is a recipe for slowly draining our local economy.
Here in Cleveland Heights, we need to make sure we stay focused on supporting local businesses, particularly businesses that bring in capital from outside the community. Whether it’s restaurants that gain a regional reputation, professional services serving clients outside our community, or businesses that sell products far and wide, the more we help them grow and prosper, the more local people they are able to hire and the more capital they pull into our local economy.
And when these local-economy-growing businesses thrive, our smaller businesses—those whose customer base is almost entirely local—will thrive as well. And the stronger they become, the more they will attract customers from outside Cleveland Heights too.
But we need to also understand our local limitations. When it comes to large-scale development projects, such as Severance Center, we will need to forge partnerships with developers. However, we must always be sure to seek out developers capable of delivering projects that fit our community’s goals, aesthetics, and values. We will develop project parameters and objectives through close coordination with our residents, particularly surrounding neighborhoods, as well as our local business owners to ensure that any large-scale development investment meets our unique needs.
Further, when we build a robust local economy driven by a diverse ecosystem of locally owned businesses, our economy will be more resilient and better able to weather national economic fluctuations. We will be contributing more to our public revenue, which in turn will result in improved and expanded public services. This will make our city an all-around better place to live, and we will attract new residents and see our property values rise.
How We Can Build a Thriving Local Economy
We need to create a long-term strategy that involves our mayor’s office and city departments, our City Council, our community development corporations (CDCs) and other area nonprofits, our special improvement districts (SIDs), our existing businesses, and other community partners working together—all through a coordinated effort led by a clear vision for our economic potential.
We must nurture and leverage our creativity, our strong sense of community, and our unique location and topography to grow our local economy in a way that reflects the best of what Cleveland Heights can do.
This work and coordination includes:
- Our mayor should work with our Economic Development department to create a robust strategy for economic gardening that will empower and assist our current businesses that want to grow and remain in Cleveland Heights, and will help local entrepreneurs start businesses with a strong foundation and plan for the future.
- Our Economic Development department should work with our CDCs and area nonprofits to better align strategies, taking greater advantage of programs already available for placemaking, assistance for minority- and women-owned businesses, programs for micro-lending, and more.
- Our Economic Development department should work with SIDs and business owners from every commercial district, as well as conduct quality community engagement with surrounding residents, to identify each district’s distinct needs, potential, and identity. It should then develop plans with each district for placemaking and branding/marketing, as well as accessing resources and encouraging businesses to work together to be more intentional in shaping their district’s growth trajectory.
- Our City Council should work with area business owners to better understand how our current codes, regulations, and policies are affecting their ability to prosper. Which programs should be expanded? What programs can we add? What municipal codes and regulations make it more difficult for small businesses to succeed? We can then pass legislation to amend our codes and create more programs to make our city as small-business-friendly as we can be.
- Our City Council and mayor should work to improve other vital infrastructure necessary for a successful local business ecosystem, including improved and more affordable broadband, better public transportation, increasing walkability and bike-ability, workforce development, and public safety.
- Our mayor and City Council should work together and with local nonprofits to attract more people to come here, focusing on investing in amenities such as recreational facilities, quality outdoor and community spaces, cultural offerings, public art, and so on.
- Our city’s Communications department should advise and coordinate the marketing and communications strategies for everyone involved in this work—not just what the city is doing but also the CDCs, SIDS, commercial districts, individual businesses, area nonprofits, local artists, and more. There should be a unifying messaging tone as well as Cleveland Heights pride that comes through all marketing and communications for our local economic development work.