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Cleveland's Job Creation Network

Photo by Janet Century

A decade ago, a network of foundations, organizations, and local institutions committed to expanding jobs and opportunities in five poor neighborhoods in Cleveland's Greater University Circle. Is it working?

Cleveland, Ohio has long epitomized the tragedy of the nation’s rustbelt: lost industry with few new opportunities to support a declining population. Even before the Great Recession, systemic changes in Cleveland were necessary if the city was to break from its trajectory of increasing poverty and urban decay. In 2005, a new model of development began to emerge, attracting national attention and providing reasons for optimism about the city’s future.

The model centers around Greater University Circle east of downtown, where three large institutions, University Hospital, Case Western Reserve University, and the Cleveland Clinic together spend several billion dollars a year and employ more than 33,000 people. The Greater University Circle Initiative (GUCI), driven by the anchor institutions, the Cleveland Foundation and local community organizations, has evolved its mission to reflect a push for economic and community development: “Buy Local,” “Hire Local,” and “Live Local.”

Local hiring has been the most successful aspect of the initiative in recent years: In 2013, the hospital and clinic hired more than 500 people from surrounding neighborhoods in less than one year—hitting the decadal goal. Investments in neighborhood and arts activities have further strengthened the communities. Our case study shows that while the leadership structure of GUCI remains mostly top-down, the initiative has made great strides in breaking down the invisible divide that exists between the wealthy University Circle institutions and the surrounding low income neighborhoods. There are many aspects of the initiative that suggest longevity and replicability, and which promote the creation of an economy where growth reflects a concern for environmental impact and an equitable distribution of resources.