Concern is mounting that Northeast Ohio leadership is growing old. For instance, name this area's last big project. Now name one person under 40 who was directly involved with implementing that plan. Scratching your head? That's probably because there are only a handful of young professionals who are considered "in the loop." Our series, Making Change has been exploring what is involved in Reinventing Our Economy. One key element is strong leadership. But who is in line to replace "the old guard?" Ideastream's Shula Neuman reports on those who have said they are willing to assume the mantle.
Abby Horn moved to Cleveland from the east coast a few years ago when her husband, a native of the area, had accepted a professorship at Case Western Reserve University. Horn followed him with trepidation born from years of absorbing unsavory images of Northeast Ohio. But once she settled in, Horn found that Cleveland's notorious reputation is mostly myth.
ABBY HORN: And here I was coming in, feeling very excited about moving to the city and actually living in the city and meeting amazing people and feeling it was so vibrant.
Horn found herself talking up Cleveland's assets to her friends back east. But at the same time, she was picking up negative vibes from the locals who seemed almost blind to Cleveland's charms. During lunch at Market 25, one of her favorite Cleveland hangouts, Horn says it's as though the city suffers from low self-esteem. She decided she had to do something to change the natives' attitudes.
AH: And I thought this has to change. That's probably part of the problem why this city doesn't have the reputation for being as cool as I know it to be from living here now. So in many ways I felt we had to create a group of people who are living in the city who know it is a cool place to be living and get the word out and figure out what else we can do as committed city livers and make it happen.
Horn sent out word and now is part of a nascent group of young professionals bent on promoting Cleveland's cooler side. Other cities, like St. Louis, Detroit and even Pittsburgh, have fairly well-established, large, young professional organizations that do everything from lobbying for certain issues, to volunteering in the community, to planning social events, to training members in leadership skills. In Northeast Ohio, rather than one large group, there're a slew of relatively new, smaller organizations. There's the Cleveland Professional 20-30 Club, the Connection Series, the Bridge Builders... and that doesn't even count the ethnic groups like MotivAsians or the Young Latinos Network. Sure, each organization has a slightly different agenda, but they also share one common goal: get young professional's energy and ideas about economic development to the table. The question is, is any of the old-guard ready for that?
DICK POGUE: I don't sense that the, I guess you'd call it the established leadership, is in any way reluctant to bring new people along, in fact I think it's just the opposite. I think they tend to be very interested in bringing in new people with good energy, good ideas, good enthusiasm.
As a member of that so-called established leadership, Dick Pogue played his role in shaping Cleveland beginning with the dark days of the city's economic default in 1978. He's been affiliated with The Cleveland Foundation, United Way, the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, The Greater Cleveland Roundtable and the Presidents Council…just to name a few. Pogue says there may be a perception that leaders of his generation are reluctant to let go of the reigns, but that's only because they want to make sure the next generation knows what to do.
DP: The people who want to move up have to recognize, you don't just snap your fingers and get placed; you have to work. And if you want a position of authority you have to make some sacrifices and do the work and weather that's always there or not, I'm not sure.
To help make sure, Pogue was instrumental two years ago in setting up Cleveland Bridgebuilders—a kind of training ground for tomorrow's leaders. Executive Director Laura Steinbrink says the founders of Bridgebuilders had all been through similar experiences on junior boards; they didn't know what they were doing and they got very little support from the senior members.
LAURA STEINBRINK: And we really just wanted to help. So we started talking and saying, "what can we do," and first we thought we'd just help ourselves in these little networks or young professionals and then we realized, no this is never going to help because we are never going to learn and we're never going to integrate unless we are sitting at the table.
Now with two sets of Bridgebuilder "graduates" running about town, Steinbrink says the group is seeing a lot more community support than when they were first starting out. Stephen Ong - a Bridgebuilder board member and one of the founders of the Asian young professional group MotivAsians - says he understands why established leaders want proof of a young person's capabilities. But he also speculates that there may be philosophical differences getting in the way.
STEPHEN ONG: Part of the reluctance, if you will, for the old guard to be more accepting to the new guard coming in is because of the fact that there are different ideas out there. And some of these are non-conforming ideas - nonconforming to what the old-guard believes should be the right thing.
Ong says while the old school believes jump-starting Northeast Ohio's economy will come from attracting businesses and creating jobs, the young punks are looking at what amenities Cleveland needs that will attract educated, energetic people who will then start new businesses that create jobs.
Eventually, time will be on the side of the young up and comers. In the meantime, it's up to the old guard to not only make room, but to share the wisdom.
In Cleveland, sn, 90.3.