Northeast Ohio’s unrecognized industry is right under our noses

Let’s say that after a long day, the governor falls asleep and begins to dream. In his dream, an aide rushes into his office and announces, “We’ve got it! We’ve got it.” A major industry is coming to Ohio.

This clean, non-polluting, high-technology enterprise is part of a global conglomerate with annual worldwide revenues of half a trillion dollars, of which several hundred billion is raised in the U.S.

This enterprise is expected to generate billions in annual revenues in Ohio, and will locate facilities in about 175 municipalities across the state for a net capital investment of $27 billion.

It will create more than 154,000 jobs for Ohioans and pay out in excess of $10 billion in annual salaries, wages and benefits. An unusually high percentage of these jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree, and tens of thousands will require advanced training in science and engineering at the master’s and doctoral level.

This enterprise will have 30 locations in Northeast Ohio, producing 25,000 jobs and generating about $2 billion to $3 billion in annual revenues. It will build a customer base of more than a quarter million, many of who will become repeat customers.

And of course, thousands of Ohio suppliers will benefit from this enterprise as the net annual economic impact to Ohio hovers near the $30 billion mark.

This is not a dream! Such an enterprise already is a reality in Ohio, and it is called higher education!

By the numbers

Research by CEOs for Cities indicates that for every 1-percentage-point increase in Northeast Ohio’s educational attainment, the region will see a $2.8 billion increase in personal regional income. Now that is a talent dividend!

Sandy Pianalto, a proud Akron alumna and former president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, stated the situation quite elegantly when she said, “Simply put, areas of the country that have more ‘knowledge capital’ perform better than areas with less.”

Last year, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland issued a report on education attainment trends from 1980 to 2010 for the top 100 Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Overall, Northeast Ohio increased its attainment rate to 30 percent from 28 percent in 2009.  Better, but still a far cry from the 50 percent plus educational attainment seen in places like Boston and San Francisco; or even the national average of nearly 39 percent. In fact, Ohio ranks 39th in the country for educational attainment.

Working together

If our private and public sectors collaborated to raise Northeast Ohio’s college attainment rate toward 50 percent, economic benefits would accrue immediately and continue to accelerate as the region attracts high-tech talent, industries and companies.

To do so, we need to restore the common understanding among business, community and legislative leaders that higher education is a public good, not merely personal gain for students.

In other words, it already is an industry with a high rate of return on investment.