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A Foundation Center 50th Anniversary Feature:

Five Questions about Economic Development Grantmaking for Four Ohio Community Foundation Leaders

In celebration of the Foundation Center's 50th year of service to the nonprofit and philanthropic community, we are offering special programs, events, and online features throughout the year. The Foundation Center—Cleveland is pleased to present the following interview, the fourth in a series with leaders of four Ohio community foundations.

50 YearsAligning community and philanthropic resources with initiatives and activities relating to the economic vibrancy of Northeast Ohio is currently of high interest to funders, government agencies, and organizations located throughout the region. One funding coalition in particular, The Fund for Our Economic Future, includes several community foundations among its many partner organizations that are devoting time and resources to economic development. To find out what's on their minds, the Foundation Center—Cleveland asked representative leaders from those four foundations the same five questions about their economic development work.

Ronn RichardOur fourth interview is with Ronn Richard, President, The Cleveland Foundation.

Foundation Center (FC): How do you define economic development and what is your strategy for making grants in this area?

Ronn Richard (RR): If you simply look it up in the dictionary, “economic development” is defined as an effort or undertaking that aids in the growth of an economy. If you delve a bit deeper, you find that these efforts typically center on the creation of jobs and an increase in income for residents of a particular geographic area. We at The Cleveland Foundation obviously agree with these definitions, as our Board of Directors has identified economic transformation to be one of our five priority areas for funding. Our end goal is to transform Greater Cleveland’s economy from one battered by global forces to one that excels in the global marketplace. We firmly believe that this goal is essential to the Foundation’s mission of enhancing the lives of all of our community’s residents, now and for generations to come.

Our end goal is to transform Greater Cleveland’s economy from one battered by global forces to one that excels in the global marketplace.

Our strategy to achieve this lofty goal is to take the long-term approach of collaborative community intervention. First, we plan to build economy–sustaining industries through regional collaboration. This has been underway for some time now through our work with the Fund for Our Economic Future and its grantees. As an example, through the Fund we have supported BioEnterprise, which has helped accelerate more than 40 companies in the bioscience sector and attracted more that $170 million in outside capital to area bioscience companies in 2005 alone. Second, we are encouraging a thriving, competitive urban core. To do this, we are working closely with the city, county, state, Case Western Reserve University and University Circle to accelerate specific development plans for downtown Cleveland and University Circle. These plans include projects in transportation, housing, retail, and green space. Lastly, we are supporting and promoting efforts to build a specific new core industry in the region that will be based on sustainable/renewable energy. The new wind turbine that now sits in front of the Great Lakes Science Center signifies our first step in building this new industry.

FC: How does your foundation's work in economic development fit within the more traditional silos of grantmaking by program area, such as arts and culture, human services, civic affairs, etc.?

RR: As I said, our strategy for achieving a vibrant, growing economy in Greater Cleveland is through collaboration. If we are going to be successful, our work must really cut across all areas of traditional grantmaking. This collaborative approach incorporates our five main program areas: child/youth development; neighborhoods, housing and community development; arts and culture; education; and economic development. For example, we are working on a couple of neighborhood revitalization projects that include potential new businesses, retail and housing in traditionally depressed neighborhoods. This effort includes discussion with private companies about relocation, conversation with developers about new housing, and meetings with high-potential schools in the neighborhood to attract our brightest youth. We have truly moved away from the silos of traditional grantmaking and realized that proactive efforts, like the ones we are undertaking, take grantmaking and collaboration from all of our areas.

This is not to say that we have abandoned our traditional grantmaking, though. We still funnel one-third of our flexible grant dollars into responsive grantmaking. In other words, when an organization submits a proposal and has indicated a need for our support, that request is considered and weighed by our program officers just as it always has been. We have simply had to realign our focus in response to the changing needs of Greater Cleveland.

FC: What impact do you want your economic development grants to have? What does success look like?

Greater Cleveland and Northeast Ohio will be a destination for young, educated adults; for international companies looking for access to the U.S. market; and for those looking to develop the next hot industries.

RR: Our shared success will be based, in part, on the world-class research and commercialization being done at Greater Cleveland’s universities, hospitals and private and public research institutions. Capital will flow into Greater Cleveland as investors and corporations look to convert our innovations into products, services and even entirely new industries. Entrepreneurs and investors will find a welcoming community that has adopted public practices and policies that encourage wealth and job creation.

Our residents will be the beneficiaries of diverse educational and professional opportunities focused on the principles of lifelong learning and inclusion. They will find ample opportunities for employment, speak proudly of their home, and hold high expectations for its future. Greater Cleveland and Northeast Ohio will be a destination for young, educated adults; for international companies looking for access to the U.S. market; and for those looking to develop the next hot industries.

We see signs of this globally competitive Greater Cleveland in many manifestations, such as the new ideas being generated by the Civic Innovation Lab, the new companies being launched with the help of JumpStart and BioEnterprise, and the unprecedented civic engagement fostered by Voices & Choices. But there is still much that remains to be done.

FC: How are your economic development grantees measuring their success?

RR: I really think it varies by grantee and mission of the organization. Our program director for economic development initiatives, Brad Whitehead, evaluates each grantee on basic Foundation-wide metrics. Beyond that, some grantees like JumpStart are driven by the number of companies they have assisted or accelerated, or by the number of jobs created in the region. Others, like the Urban League’s Multicultural Business Development Center, focus on assisting and growing minority-owned companies and bringing them to scale. Both of these grantees have success metrics around activities and impact, but others might focus on just one or the other. As an overarching theme, we hope our grantees consider how each of them can contribute to furthering the goal of creating a globally competitive Cleveland.

FC: In your opinion, how can any type of nonprofit contribute to the region's economic development goals?

RR: As we say around the Foundation, it takes a region to raise an economy! It will take all of us in the public, private, civic, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors to achieve success as we see it. If I were leading a local nonprofit agency, I would encourage staff and our constituency to stay informed about the initiatives going on in Greater Cleveland, and get involved. Nonprofits in Cleveland have tremendous influence and should use that influence to channel information and encourage involvement. If we are to create a strong future for every last resident of our community, we must all move in the same direction.
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