William Patient made his mark on the Cleveland business scene in 1993, when his led the spin-off of Geon from BF Goodrich and took the plastics company public.
Today, nine months after his retirement from Geon’s top post, Patient is still deeply entrenched in the local business community. As the chairman of the board for Cleveland State University, he is charged with helping position the school to build business leaders for the 21st century.
Patient recently sat down with SBN to offer his take on the state of business in Cleveland and how well he believes Northeast Ohio supports entrepreneurs.
How would you evaluate Cleveland’s environment for nurturing business?
That question is one that’s on the minds of a lot of leaders in Northeast Ohio. People are still concerned when they look at entrepreneurship in Northeast Ohio and how well it’s doing. I’m probably a little more optimistic than some.
There are a lot of people in Northeast Ohio who have good ideas about business. There is hardly a lack of educational institutions in the area. I think the educational resource capability is good, but I don’t think we’re as well developed in the area of capital resources.
If you talk to some people from capital companies, they’d say we have plenty of money, we just don’t have any good ideas. I’ve always been a little suspicious of that. There are an awful lot of opportunities in the region requiring what I would call seed start-up money for ventures. The right kind of capital availability is important, and I’ve never felt comfortable that we’ve had enough of it in this area.
Is there a trend of business students getting their education here and then leaving after graduation?
I don’t see a terrible flight of people out of Cleveland. Statistically, 85 percent of the people who graduate from CSU stay in Cleveland and the area. The statistics for some private schools are much lower, like Case Western, for example.
Statistically, they probably do have a lot more (leave). ... One thing I do see as a negative is we don’t spend enough time working in the minority community. We’re just starting to develop that. Cleveland is a community with a very large African American and Hispanic community, and if you’re going to develop businesses in this region, you’re going to have to develop it in those communities.
Why do you think Cleveland is lagging behind other cities when it comes to Internet start-ups?
Part of it is really just people’s mobility and the fact they can live places where the sun shines more often than it does in Cleveland. I’d be surprised if it was anything more than that, because I’ve lived in a lot of places, and I’ve never seen a place that is more business friendly than Cleveland.
Governor (Bob) Taft has picked up on it and I do think he’s really intent on supporting technology and technology development. Whether there’s a specific result for that or whether it’s just this kind of aura that we’re technically friendly, it’s important. Taft is certainly intent on making people understand that.
We also have to turn around and look at our strengths. We have probably one of the strongest areas of medical research anywhere in the country. University Hospitals and Cleveland Clinic are two powerhouses of medical research. We’re also developing some very interesting capabilities in software and a lot of software is being written here.
When you look at Cleveland’s overall ability to support business, what aspect would you change?
There has to be a resolution of the airport issue. I never thought about it because Geon’s business is not that people intensive. We were more capital intensive. But, when you sit down and talk to people whose sole resources are their people who travel, you start to see how much money they spend out of their total budget on air travel.
For consulting firms and knowledge factories, that’s a huge part of their expense. There has to be a place where they can get economical and good air service.
Cleveland cannot escape that we are moving away from a capital intensive business climate, and that means mobility. That also means you have to be in a location where people feel comfortable that they can jump on an airplane and conveniently and economically get where they want to go.
If you can’t, you’re going to be at a disadvantage, period.
How to reach: William Patient, Cleveland State University, (216) 687-2000
Jim Vickers (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an associate editor at SBN.