By Jack Schron
When General Moses Cleaveland founded the city that now bears his name, he could not foresee the circumstances that would enable the community to take the role of world-class manufacturing center.
When the Ohio and Erie Canal was completed, it positioned Cleveland to become an important transportation hub, linking the city to the Atlantic Ocean through the Erie Canal, and the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River. Through that capability the city became an important manufacturing location, incubating and growing a number of prominent companies and acting as a key component in our nation’s productive capability.
While we have never lost our manufacturing edge, we find once again that we are strategically positioned to become the locus of a dynamic and growing economy.
The first leg of our three-pronged strategy is manufacturing— but not as we used to think of it.
Today it is one of the most important components of a sustainable economic future for our county. While not commonly known, it is the largest contributor to earnings growth in our region.
It is now more high-tech than most technology companies, with sophisticated networks, precise visioning capability, robots and computer-controlled machine tools. At Jergens, for instance, we machine to 0.0002 (two ten-thousandths) of an inch tolerances, an order of magnitude beyond what could be done with machine tools only a decade ago. Once bigger was better; now small is not only beautiful but mind-bending.
Likewise, the workers in today’s high-tech manufacturing enterprise are highly trained and skilled at a level unimaginable a short while ago. Yes, there are not as many of them as there used to be, but that is because their productivity is extraordinarily high.
As you probably know, manufacturing leads our country in exports, and we are seeing a new trend of re-shoring with some companies re-investing in domestic production capability because of the quality demands of today’s products.
Education is an essential part of manufacturing, too. Tooling U has succeeded because of the local demand for trained manufacturing personnel, and a capable workforce is a real selling point for the region. We can do more by developing educational programs at the high school level to prepare our young people even earlier for these rewarding careers.
Make no mistake: these are not the boring repetitive-motion jobs that most people picture when they think of manufacturing. These are positions that demand intelligence, flexibility, and the desire to constantly learn. At Jergens our line personnel buy into the vision, work to exacting standards, and have total control when it comes to making decisions about quality and readiness for finishing processes.
Another key component of the county’s long-term economic development is, of course, the world-class medical treatment capability found here, along with all of the ancillary and support industries that are necessarily involved.
The Medical Mart, now called the Global Center for Health Innovation (GCHI), is a visible sign of the importance of the medical field to our region. But it is so much more than that. It should now be the beginning of the discussion when we talk with companies about locating or showcasing their products there.
When we talk to companies that are part of or using GCHI, we need to take them beyond downtown to what Cleveland is: a great place to live, world-class entertainment with the Theater District and Severance Hall, incredible recreational venues and activities, a strategic mid-continent location, nationally-ranked schools and a reservoir of hard-working and conscientious workers with Midwestern values.
We should be talking to them about setting up manufacturing facilities here at a capital cost lower than most regions of the country. We should show them intriguing possibilities for locating support and administrative staff, and talk to them about savvy capital firms willing to invest in tomorrow’s technologies in partnership with the incredible innovation capabilities of the Cleveland Clinic or University Hospitals aligned with some of the best universities in the world.
Even Hollywood is again reacquainting itself with Midwestern hospitality, filming portions of the Captain America sequel and Draft Day in our area over the summer. Not only will this present us with an opportunity to show that we can support major motion picture production, but Location Greater Cleveland can craft important new dialogue about developing media as a key industry.
We already possess a well-deserved reputation for thrift and hard work, and our governor and state legislature has enabled us through tax incentives to attract these kinds of projects. Further, there is other tax money available to invest in ways that can grow our presence on the world stage for media development and production. The timing for a feature role is right, as media companies on both coasts questioned high taxes and local governments hostile to the entrepreneurship, which of course is at the heart of creative processes turned into business.
Throughout Cuyahoga County we have a number of firms lending supporting roles in the world of new media: electronics, digital content development, graphics design and development, music production and public relations. The Cleveland Institute of Art has world-class programs in animation, graphic design, and video production.
The cast doesn’t stop there. Ivan Schwarz, the dynamic Executive Director of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, is pursuing opportunities to convert prominent county locations into multimedia film production centers. There are projects to use the Masonic Temple as a home for recording studios, and Cuyahoga Community College boasts an impressive studio available for use today.
We should be excited by these prospects, and become evangelists for Cuyahoga County – preaching about our capabilities in manufacturing, medical innovation/support and media.
Admittedly, we have work to do in simplifying taxes and regulation, in providing an educated workforce and in developing a culture of entrepreneurship and investment. All of the pieces are here; we simply need to envision them as parts of a comprehensive e long-term strategy.
Once again, the mouth of the Cuyahoga is set to command the stage.
Cuyahoga County District 6 Councilman Jack Schron is a retired Colonel of the United States Army Infantry and President and CEO of Jergens, Inc. Recognizing the need for qualified workers in manufacturing he founded a successful Internet education enterprise, Tooling U. He is Chairman of the Economic Development and Planning Committee, and is a member of the Finance & Budget and Education, Environment & Sustainability Committees.