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Ed Morrison · Whither the Future Fund?

February 13th, 2010

The Current Situation

The recent decision by the Cleveland Foundation to reduce its commitment to the Fund for our Economic Future (the “Future Fund”) opens the door to a new, promising future for Northeast Ohio. In the past, the Future Fund concentrated its investments on a handful of important regional initiatives.

Now, it appears, these regional organizations will continue to move forward, but with different funding formulas. The Cleveland Foundation has invited these organizations to apply directly for support. This step frees the Future Fund to concentrate on the development of a more network-based approach to regional economic development.

The development of a truly regional strategy in Northeast Ohio has been slowed to some extent by the perception that most regional initiatives are anchored in Cleveland. In other words, the regional entities based in Cleveland (including the Future Fund) faced difficulty to overcome the perception of being too “Cleveland centric”.

Concentrating too much on Cleveland ignores the major competitive strength of the region. Unlike most regional economies, which rely on a single anchor metropolitan economy, Northeast Ohio operates with multiple metros. This diversity creates strength, if the assets of each of these metros can be strategically linked.

The Opportunity

The Future Fund has the opportunity to pursue a more networked approach throughout the region that generates “link and leverage” strategies which tie together the strengths of these metros. We are already seeing these types of alliances emerge. The Innovation Alliance between The University of Akron and Lorain County Community College represents one example. Lorain County Community College is also partnering with Youngstown State University to develop new community college options in the Mahoning Valley. These are only two of the many alliances are beginning to form.

An effective regional economic development strategy can build on these networks. The Future Fund can provide the catalyst for accelerating the development of these networks. In order to serve this role, the Future Fund must take two steps. First, the Fund needs to reframe the opportunities of regional development in Northeast Ohio around the concepts of open innovation and networks. Second, the Future Fund needs to form an effective alliance with all of the postsecondary institutions within the region. These institutions have the talent and the innovation assets that the region needs to rebuild its economic foundations.

To varying degrees, colleges and universities strengthen regional economies in three important ways. They generate knowledge (research); they disseminate knowledge (teaching); and they leverage knowledge (engagement). Most people are comfortable understanding the role of colleges and universities in research and teaching. Yet, some of the most dramatic advances in redefining the role of colleges and universities are taking place with redefining engagement.

So, for example, Penn State University has convened more than 20 research universities with its Roundtable for Transformative Regional Engagement. In coming months, the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities will be issuing an important report on the role universities play in anchoring development in cities. The Association of University Technology Managers has another important initiative underway to redefine the metrics for measuring the impacts of university investments and initiatives on regional economic performance. The Association of Public and Land Grant Universities is also actively involved in redefining the role of public universities in regional economic development.

Northeast Ohio is fortunate to have The University of Akron. President Proenza is playing a leading role nationally in defining the new pathways for university engagement in regional economies. MIT’s recent work on the role of universities in regional economic development looked closely at Northeast Ohio with two important reports by Sean Safford, now at the University of Chicago’s business school: Searching for Silicon Valley in the RustBelt: The Evolution of Knowledge Networks in Akron and Rochester and Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown: Civic infrastructure and mobilization in economic crises.

The University of Akron gives the Future Fund a valuable vantage point on these important developments and can move Northeast Ohio to the top tier of regions around the country that effectively leverage university assets for regional economic development.

(Disclosure: The Purdue Center for Regional Development, where I am on the staff, is working closely with The University of Akron on redefining the university role in regional economic development. Purdue and The University of Akron are also partnering with Penn State to deploy these network based models of regional economic development. The video below shows how we have used these strategies, working with the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, to build that region’s water cluster. The second video shows how we used these strategies by combining Purdue, Indiana University-Kokomo, and the Kauffman Foundation to respond to the downsizing of the auto industry in Kokomo. The main advantage of these network strategies: speed and focus.)

Strategic Doing and the Milwaukee 7 Water Cluster from Ed Morrison on Vimeo.

Kokomo Innovates: Using networks to re-engage from Ed Morrison on Vimeo.

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One Response to “Whither the Future Fund?”

  1. The Urbanophile » Blog Archive » Cleveland and the Regionalism Challenge Says:

    [...] Morrison is generally a Cleveland critic, but he sees significant upside potential in the Cleveland Foundation decision. In his view, the Cleveland Foundation can concentrate on [...]