Ed Morrison · Alternatives to the Med Con

February 22nd, 2009

PD reporter Robert Smith asks a good question:

  • How would you spend $500 million in taxpayer money?
  • One suggestion: Cleveland should be looking at the alternatives as an investment, not an expenditure.

    Memo to Commissioners:

    Estimating a return to a $500 million investment matters.

    Also, please tell Fred Nance, your spokesman, to focus on getting us (the public, aka the investors) the numbers and toning down his salesman’s puff. He’s hyperventilating.

    He wants us to get sweaty because he believes we need to be the first Medical Mart.

    Here’s an economic development secret. You want to avoid being the first to try out a big idea. You want to be second or third, so you can learn from the mistakes of others. That way, you can customize the big idea in ways that are faster, better, cheaper.

    In their 2005 Annual Report, the Cleveland Fed outlined the key drivers to regional prosperity: education and innovation. (Crain’s Scott Suttrell comments here. Sandy Pianalto, the Fed president, summarizes here. You can download the report here.)

    Some alternatives to consider:

  • Expand Invest in Children as an economic development strategy: Minneapolis is following this approach, led by research from the Minneapolis Fed.

    Memo to Commissioners:

    Think of investments in early childhood as investments in brainpower and economic development, not a social service.

    if this step seems too squishy for you or Fred Nance and the Greater Cleveland Partnership to consider, recognize that the corporate heavy hitters at the Committee for Economic Development recommend this approach.

  • Create a Cleveland Promise, similar to the Kalamazoo Promise or the Pittsburgh Promise to provide scholarships for any college or university in Cuyahoga County.
  • Invest to put Project Lead the Way in every high school in the county.

    Memo to Commissioners:

    Project Lead the Way is a nationally recognized pre-engineering curriculum that has an Ohio network forming.

    With Purdue’s leadership in Indiana, we now have the largest network of Project Lead the Way high schools in the country.

    Recognize that the future of Cleveland is about engineering and that the competition is heating up. Places like Mexico are churning out engineers.

  • Invest in research and innovation. (Evidence that we are slipping: CSU has almost lost the Wright Center for Sensor Systems Engineering for lack of investment.)
  • Invest in the design district and focus on developing an open innovation network. Winston Salem has been following this strategy with far fewer assets than Cleveland. Closely related opportunity: Digital media. Check out Georgia. Or, Vancouver. Or, …Toronto. Louisiana has figured this out. So have Ball State and Muncie. Closely related concept: Gaming. Check out Austin.

    Memo to Commissioners:

    Digital media is an expanding market, conventions are a declining market.

  • Promote technology based economic development by investing in Innovation Zones — partnerships of business, government and universities — like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington State. The County even has its own pilot program. A closely related idea: Creating communities of innovation. The outcome: Focus on creating “hot spots” where interdisciplinary innovation can flourish along the Euclid Avenue corridor. Purdue is using the same approach with Discovery Park.

    Final memo to Commissioners:

    Another economic development secret: Avoid the big bet. Focus on placing a lot of small bets.

    That will increase the economy’s resilience over the long run. And in a turbulent global economy, resilience matters.

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    4 Responses to “Alternatives to the Med Con”

    1. Douglas Craver Says:

      I wouldn’t spend it on the Med Mart that’s for sure.

    2. Susan Miller Says:

      The economic development “secrets” you laid out here are good Ed. Uh.. maybe someone should email this to the BOCC – do they read blogs? Are they tech savvy? Uh…”check the fence”.

      Not a silver bullet – silver shrapnel. Base of the pyramid. But really they do need to get with the systems thinking soon. Or make way for some new thought leaders.

      Who’s ready to run for office?

    3. Ed Morrison Says:


      These “secrets” are, of course, not secrets at all to professionals experienced in regional economic development.

      Sadly, though, the region’s strategy has been prone to a relatively high number of misfires: the convention center fiasco, the $ But million Voices and Choices, the “regional” Cleveland+ brand, the NorTech “scenario strategy”.

      Returning to the Med Con, the project is about power not civic responsibility, as John Polk advises us.

    4. Frank Z. Revy Says:

      Great stuff…
      Cleveland can do it.
      There are enough people here who realize innovation and constant progress are needed to create a cosmopolitan and world class town.
      Cleveland can do it.
      Of course, there are plenty of people who do not have vision, and they happen to be in positions of power.
      It’s time for a good old upheaval, Cleveland style.