Although the city of Cleveland generally gets most of the attention, and credit, when talk turns to Northeast Ohio’s economy, what happens in Lake County also affects the entire multi-county area. Indeed, the 232-square-mile area has plenty to offer businesses and consumers.
On the map
What gives Lake County an edge is that its residents don’t need to rely on Cleveland for jobs. The region has several viable industries that supply a strong employment and income base. Lake County is not simply a compilation of suburbs where Cleveland workers live. Its residents are happy to live and work there.
“(Lake County has) the second-highest per capita income in the state, and so we’re more than happy to spend it in Cleveland for all the amenities,” says Janice Lipscomb, community development director for the city of Willoughby. “But I think the best way that we drive (the regional economy) is through the employment opportunities and the income that the residents earn and spend in this region. We have a great manufacturing base here, which provides employment throughout the region.”
Both Willoughby and Mentor lay claim to a strong manufacturing presence. The most recent economic census of the region placed Mentor seventh and Willoughby eighth in the state by number of manufacturing companies. They were in the company of cities such as Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, Akron and Dayton. Mentor was also the tenth-largest manufacturing employer in the state with 7,969 employees.
“We’re certainly a force to be reckoned with,” says Ronald Traub, Mentor’s director of community development.
The city’s industrial area, comprised mostly of Tyler Boulevard, boasts of more than 250 companies from all walks of business.
“For someone that’s looking for space, we have a wide variety of opportunities from multi-tenant small spaces to large, multi-tenant industrial buildings and a fair amount in between,” Traub adds.
Similarly, Mentor is also gaining a strong retail presence. The development of Mentor Commons and Creekside Commons in the mid-1990s brought several big box retailers to complement the already-popular Great Lakes Mall.
“Mentor has always been an attractive area for retail development,” says Traub, “and our success has simply bred more success because retailers want to come in where other retailers have been successful.”
An attractive offer
So what makes Lake County so appealing to businesses?
Mentor in particular has been further bolstered by improved freeway access, including the addition of an interchange at state Route 2 and Heisley Road and the construction of an interchange at state Route 615 from Interstate 90 in November of 2003.
But besides the access to highways and the proximity to several airports and the city of Cleveland, Lipscomb says it’s the business-friendly governments. The majority of city governments in Lake County are proactive for business and are always looking for new opportunities.
“Getting any kind of approval process through [Willoughby’s] city council is fairly easy,” says Lipscomb. “We help business get through the planning commission process as fast as possible.”
Then there are the tax abatements and incentives often used to lure businesses to the area.
“Mentor was an early and aggressive user of the tax abatement program,” says Traub. “One of the nuances of our tax abatement agreements was that companies that received this had to provide both a work experience as well as a scholarship with Lakeland Community College.
“We recognized the need for a trained labor force if we’re going to successfully compete in the 21st century. The real economic future of places like Mentor or Lake County is not necessarily the number of jobs but the skilled laborers that we’re able to either retain or create. So our inducements, rather than being oriented towards the number of jobs they had during the 1990s, our incentives are now focused on total payroll.”
But there’s one thing that these city officials seem to value more than anything else, and that’s the quality of life in their communities.
“We have amenities to support all of the employees,” says Lipscomb. “We’ve got the historic downtown, restaurants, parks everything to support the quality of life for employees that a business would bring in.”
Thomas Thielman, Mentor’s economic development director, says he likes to tell prospective businesses about what a great place Mentor, and Lake County as a whole, is to raise a family.
Thielman knows what kinds of things are important to a business’s employees good schools, good housing, recreational opportunities and he believes the communities in Lake County, specifically Mentor, have them all.
In fact, the city was attractive enough to convince Avery Dennison, a global leader in pressure-sensitive technology, self-adhesive base materials and self-adhesive consumer and office products, to move its Roll Materials Worldwide and Fasson Roll North America headquarters to the Newell Creek development currently under construction near state Route 615 and I-90. The company is expected to occupy 130,000 square feet of office and laboratory space, as well as 20,000 square feet for Avery Dennison’s new R&D facility. Approximately 500 employees, generating an estimated $40 million payroll annually, will occupy the headquarters when construction is finished.
From the ground up
There’s one final aspect of Lake County that can’t be ignored, and that’s the revenue generated from the county’s agricultural sector. Thanks to the fertile soil and the right blend of climate and topography, nurseries and wineries also plays an important role in how Lake County contributes to the regional economy.
In 2004, $95 million in revenue was generated from nurseries and grape growers, says Don Aldson, an administrator with the Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District.
“We only have about 19,000 acres in agricultural production, but we’re consistently in the top 10, usually in the top five, as far as agricultural revenues [in Ohio],” he says. “We’ve got the highest per farm income in the state at around $326,000 a farm, compared to the state average of $56,000.”
There are more than 115 nurseries in the county as well as eight commercial grape producers, most of whom are under contract with Welch’s for jelly and juice production.
The five wineries in Lake County create a veritable tourism region, attracting thousands of visitors every year. These are also complemented by the neighboring wineries just across Ashtabula County’s border in Geneva and Harpersfield Township.
While many regions cling to one major industry or have just one claim to fame, Lake County possesses a unique combination of strengths that that allow it to contribute in numerous ways to Northeast Ohio’s economy. The region has plenty of viable employment and all the qualities to continue to attract more.
“We have ambitious plans for the future,” says Traub. “We want to continue to be the community that offers a superior quality of life, that continues to offer good services both to the business and residential community. And that can only be achieved if it’s based on a healthy economy.”
HOW TO REACH: Mentor Economic Development Office, (440) 974-5739; Willoughby Economic Development Office, (440) 953-4191
When Bob Merckle and his wife, Bunnie, bought the Electric Sweeper Service Co. (ESSCO), they saw the growth potential of the vacuum cleaner and vacuum cleaner parts wholesaler.
Although the company was successful and well-run, Bob Merckle, president, knew he could take it to another level.
“When we bought the business in ’89, they were a small, quiet, probably a third-tier wholesaler with a small customer footprint,” says Merckle. “The marketing was near nonexistent, and the dealers that we served were basically in Ohio and probably Michigan and portions of Indiana.
“As we began to promote and market our business and our products, expand our product line and come out with an industry-leading catalogue in the early ’90s, we saw some rather tremendous growth, to the point that we became a Weatherhead 100 company.”
In fact, the company just celebrated its 16th year of increased sales under Merckle’s leadership.
But ESSCO faced another obstacle.
“We now had a national reputation, and we had national advertising and name recognition, but we only had a footprint that basically allowed us to competitively ship our products in the Eastern half of the United States,” says Merckle. “We realized that for future growth, it was going to take multiple locations.”
Unfortunately, the company didn’t have the capital it needed to expand or to look at acquisitions, and Merckle hesitated to take on debt.
“We were kind of hesitant to throw all of our eggs in that one basket go out and open those additional locations, buy a competitor because we worked our whole life to finally get ahead, and to put that in jeopardy as we continue to go to the next step and grow to the next level would not have been the smartest move we could make,” he says.
The solution was to find a financial partner. With the help of Western Reserve Partners, a Cleveland-based investment banking firm, the Merckles began to advertise their business and look at offers.
“We wanted somebody that could write the check,” says Merckle. “We wanted a company with a solid reputation and were pleased to find a Cleveland partner.”
The couple chose to align with MCM Capital Partners LP. That partner brings not only financial expertise but managerial expertise, as well. Having MCM as a partner brought new perspectives and ideas and gave the company stability and a clear plan for the future.
“We were not ready to retire,” says Merckle. “We still have plenty of energy and vision in front of us, but we were looking for that financial partner that would take over a majority ownership in the company, which gave us a clear succession plan. [That] was important not only to us, but to our staff who’s been with us for, in many cases, over a decade.
“At the end of the day, we have a company that started in 1924. It had gone through two or three family transitions through its lifetime, and we wanted to be good stewards for that family business while it was our family, and [we] passed it along to make sure it was going to be healthy moving forward.”
With the new partners in place, ESSCO is ready to seek opportunities.
“We’ve identified the direction that we want to pursue and have begun the process of reaching out and pursuing those goals,” says Merckle.
HOW TO REACH: Electric Sweeper Service Co., www.essco.net
“I was picking something up at the hardware store, and this guy said, ‘Hey, you interested in buying a business?’” says Morrill, CEO of Pacific Pavingstone. “It turned out that he had a paving stone business. And I had, at that time in 1999, never heard of paving stones before, even as a contractor.”
Morrill hired the company install a paving stone project at the job he was working on as a general contractor and was so pleased with the outcome that he bought the business. Seven years later, he also runs Morrill Landscape Group and California Waterscapes, companies he opened to complement his paving stone business.
Pacific Pavingstone grew from $9.3 million in revenue in 2004 to just under $13 million in 2005.
Smart Business spoke with Morrill about how he uses referrals, marketing and stellar management to grow his businesses.
How do you build a positive reputation for your company that encourages referrals?
You produce a product that’s beyond the expectations of the customer. We also get Better Business Bureau reports, which are available to the public, and we do that with ourselves and our competition. It lists the number of reports or complaints ... and then how those were handled, if they were handled.
We’ve had no complaints, where our competition could have 14, 15 complaints. When we enlighten our customer, we tell them the type of company we are, that we’re really, really interested in quality.
At the end of each job, somebody with our quality control section, they’ll call up the customer and ask them to rate the salesperson on a scale of one to five, rate the crew on a scale of one to five, rate what their expectations [were] there’s a whole series of questions that we do so we can catch right away and then correct if we have an unhappy customer.
How do you train employees to be problem-solvers?
A lot of people think that a good manager is someone who can handle any problem that’s thrown at them, but ... we take the viewpoint that they need to present us with a solution, not with a problem, because otherwise, that’s what buries an executive. All he does is handle problems.
And any time somebody ... has a problem, then they can’t present the problem without also what they consider the solution is. It gets them to constantly think of solutions, and a lot of times they’ll end up implementing the solution and it just works, and they don’t need to check with the manager.
How do you find competent management?
We put people through a series of very preliminary [tests]. We do an IQ test. We do a basic aptitude test on all new employees or applicants, and then we’ll do some more practical tests ... where they’ll work for a couple days with pay, and they’ll have specific tasks that they’re asked to do that we know, because we’ve done them before, how long those tasks should take.
For instance, there could be a task of putting together some (promotional) packs that we do, and we know the task should take three hours, and there’s clear instructions on what to do. ... And a day later, after 15 questions, and (that person) continues to ask about (how to do the task), you know that person is not the guy for the job.
How do you adjust to fluctuations in sales?
We look at every week what we produce. ... We collect all the data, we look at them, we measure all these graphs and we see how we did that week. And if we did less sales than the week before, there’s certain actions that we take, formulas that you take, that are different than if you did more sales.
If the sales statistic is going up, then you find out what’s making it go up and you strengthen it. If the sales statistic is going down, then ... you need to promote more. You don’t cut your promotion like some companies do. You promote more. And using (this system) has helped us grow from four employees to over 100 employees in six years.
How do you decide how to allocate your marketing?
We actually have a way to trace all of our marketing. We literally have about 15 different sources that work comes from. And I can tell you what each one costs us.
I can look at Yellow Page ads and last year what it cost us for both [the] paving stones, ponds and landscaping [businesses] to get somebody to call, what it costs per job sold and what percent of the marketing budget is in each area. That way, we can constantly throw out the things that aren’t very successful and try new things and watch how they do and see if the cost to get that sale is better than, say, postcards.
If we weren’t as aggressive as we were, we could probably just live off of referrals, but there’s no way we can have a 40 (percent) to 50 percent growth.
HOW TO REACH: Pacific Pavingstone, www.pacificpavingstone.com
With his Internet-based network, companies are better able to consolidate operations, access information and save on shipping costs.
“Our systems decide how best to deliver goods,” says Sanker, CEO of the Santa Monica-based supply chain logistics outsourcing company. “Clients use (our system) to better predict future demand so they can manufacture the right amount to meet future orders, or so they can load the warehouses with the right amount of product. This reduces out of stocks and reduces inventory carrying costs.”
The company grew from $24 million in revenue in 2004 to $35 million in 2005.
Smart Business spoke with Sanker about what sets his company apart and how he plans to continue its rapid growth.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
We are firm believers in the concept of collaboration as a tool to reduce costs and build sales. The industry has not been well-known for collaborating with trading partners, but we’re really trying to do that.
We have a technology platform; there’s nothing like it in the industry. For example, we have a series of optimizers that each and every transportation or warehouse (transaction) feeds through to determine the least-cost, highest-service alternative. It’s easy to use. It’s easy to integrate with. And it has a lot of functionality, and that’s critical.
Every time we upgrade anything for one client, we just upgraded it for every client, and nobody has to do anything. And that’s a pretty big competitive advantage as well.
Our goal for next year is to double the size of this company.
How are you preparing to meet that goal?
It requires a constant vigilance to issues I mentioned before. It’s almost like we’ve been restructuring for six years because we want to keep growing. The minute we stop for a quarter, there will be implications to that.
We’ve ... restructured the (organizational) chart quite a bit, so there’s different roles that exist, there’s different people in the roles.
Beefing up customer service is a huge one. I really value a higher level of customer service and leveling the playing field for our clients. We all need to have a very sort of ‘dog with a bone’ attitude as far as customer service goes. It’s not easy to keep that, and I think this is a year for us to really renew that.
Some of it is just culture. We need to actually care about every customer’s shipment like it mattered to us because it was our shipment. It comes down to that level of detail. Every single shipment needs to matter. It’s a cultural thing where you try to empathize with customers.
How do you maintain that attitude as you grow?
I don’t think it’s a kind of manual-driven type thing. It goes beyond just training, but there is a training aspect. There are some people that can’t grasp it, and unfortunately, they can’t stay.
If they stay, they will, over time, deteriorate the culture.
It’s something that’s very difficult because you have to constantly readdress the issue. It’s not a small issue, but it’s a lot of small nuances every day. It’s easy to just brush them under the rug. And you don’t always get to them as fast as you probably should, but it’s one of those issues that you really have to take a hard look every once in a while.
How do you enable employees to contribute to the success of the company?
We constantly restructure things. There’s certain things people like to do and they’re good at, and instead of trying to make them do things all the time that they don’t like and they’re not good at ... why not try to put them in positions where they are set up to succeed?
The way to do it is to let people get some multifunctional experience. One, it helps them find their niche. Two, it gives them broader exposure so that whatever job they do next, they’re probably better at it. Because if you move from an operations role to a sales role to an accounting role to an engineering role ... then you’re going to be a better manager, and eventually we’re going to be able to promote you.
I really want to get people to have good career paths and to get the experience they need. It’s really management’s job to make sure that people have a path above them. It means they may need to take a break and do some other thing for a while.
HOW TO REACH: CaseStack, www.casestack.com
But recently there has been some talk in Ohio of imposing stricter property tax exemption requirements for nonprofit hospitals or eliminating them completely.
It’s a move that hospital administrators feel would be detrimental to those hospitals and the communities they serve.
“Most of the hospitals [in Northeast Ohio] are not-for-profit and provide a huge amount of free care and other services to their local communities,” says Daniel P. Cunningham, senior vice president of legal services for Akron General Health System. “If the state of Ohio is going to use a different measuring stick than we’ve become accustomed to, that is going to have an impact on our costs.”
Smart Business spoke with Cunningham about the benefits nonprofit hospitals provide their communities, how they qualify for the benefits of tax exemption and the changes being proposed.
What kind of benefit does this tax-exempt status provide?
Part of what we’ve been able to do over all these years ... [is we take] everyone that comes in the door. Nobody gets asked if they can pay. They all get to come in to our facilities and be treated.
Part of the benefit of tax-exempt status is that it helps us keep our costs down for all patients. So our tax exemption really goes back to benefit the citizens in the community and the patients we treat.
What are some of the requirements to receive tax exemption?
Only those hospitals that are regarded as charitable, nonprofit hospitals are eligible to get tax-exempt status, whether it’s federal or state. The federal government looks very closely at certain aspects of our business for us to enjoy that privilege. For example, we have to have an emergency room that’s open to all people regardless of ability to pay, and we have to take Medicare and Medicaid patients.
The federal government looks at it from the standpoint of, ‘What is the benefit you give to the community?’ They don’t look quite as closely at how much charity care you do, although that’s a piece of it. The government at the federal level recognizes that you’re expected to take charity care, but it can’t be all you do.
What possible changes is the state of Ohio looking to make?
It appears now that the state is looking for more in the way of actual charity care being delivered at every site that is asking for property tax exemption, which is a relatively new emphasis. Clearly, some medical facilities may provide more charity care than others, just based on their geographic location.
Most not-for-profit hospitals are very prudent about asking for property tax exemptions for a particular facility. We need to remember that whether a certain location is rendering direct treatment or performing support services, all that activity contributes to the hospital’s overall mission.
I’ll give you an example. If we have an office building that carries on administrative functions for the hospital billing and things those contribute to the overall operations. Not every square foot (at a hospital) is dedicated to treatment. It can’t be.
You have to take a look at the business as a whole and say, ‘Okay, does that function ... contribute to the overall mission of the hospital and the community benefits that it gives?’
How would losing tax-exempt status affect hospitals and the communities they serve?
If a state decides that a hospital or group of hospitals should pay property taxes, then it will have a negative impact on costs. And today, more than ever, people don’t want to see those costs go up.
If we’re going to pay more ... that takes away from revenues. You have to at least make enough in your revenues to keep going. And if you’re running red ink you either have to charge people more, or ultimately, you can’t keep the doors open.
It’s very probable that (hospitals) have not done a good enough job in letting our constituents know about all the good work that we do for our communities. That’s why you’re starting to see more hospitals publishing information on their community benefit.
Daniel P. Cunningham has been the senior vice president of legal services for Akron General Health System since 1985. The System is the parent company of three acute care hospitals, a rehab hospital, a home health care company, a long-term care facility and many outpatient centers. Cunningham can be reached at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or (330) 344-7626.
OEConnection LLC in Richfield is a provider of Web-based technology solutions for automakers, their affiliated dealers and others in the automotive parts business. More specifically, OEConnection provides e-commerce parts procurement and analysis tools that enable users to better market, manage and move their original equipment parts inventory.
Or as Ted Fellowes, vice president of supply chain solutions, likes to put it, “Right part. Right place. Right time.”
The company’s D2D Link Web-based supply chain technology connects nearly 12,000 automotive dealerships and eight domestic and import Original Equipment Manufacturers, including DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Toyota.
The technology allows dealers to locate a part at the nearest participating OEConnection subscriber instead of wasting time and money calling random dealerships all over town or waiting for a part on national backorder.
It works like an online parts exchange or parts sourcing portal. A service technician can simply look on the network to locate the nearest part, greatly reducing dealers’ fill rates the percentage of times a part can be made immediately available or made available as quickly as possible to service a vehicle.
For example, oftentimes when a vehicle is taken in for regular service or maintenance, another repair or problem is detected, which may require a part that the service department does not have in stock. The technician could use the parts locator to find a dealership in the area that has that part, enabling the dealer to meet its original commitment to have the car back by 5 p.m. that day.
“I think that the most significant benefit is improved customer satisfaction,” says Fellowes. “And that’s a benefit that (points) to not only the dealer but the automaker.
“The automakers are now able to view the billions of dollars of parts out there as part of their virtual warehouse. They are no longer limited by what they have at the factory or a specific warehouse. They now have thousands of virtual warehouses.”
HOW TO REACH: OEConnection, www.oeconnection.com
It has become a paradox, really. Without a core population, there was no reason to build new housing, and downtown businesses closed and moved to the suburbs like most of the city’s inhabitants. But now, without inviting housing and retail, the city is having trouble drawing people back to its core.
It’s a problem city officials and area real estate developers are determined to fix.
“If you listen to what everyone is talking about and read between the lines, it’s a vision of an active, more metropolitan central city than what we’re experiencing today,” says Mitchell Schneider, president of First Interstate Properties Ltd. in Beachwood. “Whether it’s 24/7 or not a 24/7 city, it certainly has a lot of room to grow in the direction toward a core, urban, metropolitan, inviting city.”
Schneider, who developed Avon Commons and Legacy Village, and who is developing Steelyard Commons, a large, multitenant shopping center in West Tremont, says the key to revitalization lies in getting a critical mass of occupants in the core city through residential development.
“I think that without a critical mass of residents I’m talking more than 20,000, and it perhaps might need to be 30,000 as a foundation to grow from that it will be very unlikely that the core city will have an opportunity to flourish beyond what it is today,” he says.
With a firm inner-city population in place, Schneider believes the retail side of the core downtown will be able to prosper again.
“It creates opportunities for different kinds of retail to take place at the first floor level, at the street level,” he says. “I think that it then allows for the creation of small businesses that would have an office in the core city as opposed to in the suburbs, and that it really allows for all the components of our overall daily activities to come together so that we might envision a city where you don’t have to leave the city in order to have all of your basic goods and services.”
It’s an idea echoed by other Cleveland developers, including Developers Diversified Realty Corp. CEO Scott Wolstein, who has a $240-million plan to revitalize the Flats.
“In order to bring back the streetscapes with vibrant retail, you have to have enough population that lives in the city to supplement the commuter population,” says Wolstein. “It’s very difficult to support retail with just people who come and go to work every day. I think if we had a more significant urban populace, there’s no question that you could see the same kind of retail return to the city that you now only find in the suburban malls.”
If you build it ...
While bringing a critical mass of people back to the city is necessary to draw businesses downtown, Schneider and several other developers realize it’s also necessary to create and build new retail to draw those people back to the city in the first place.
“When coming into an area ... everybody looks at the schools, but almost second, everybody wants to know where there’s convenient shopping,” says Schneider. “How far do I have to drive to get the stuff that I want or need? I think [what] Steelyard Commons does for downtown is that it really helps to support a decision to move downtown. It removes one of the barriers, because for all of your basic goods and needs right now, those Cleveland residents, by and large, need to drive out of the city to go to a shopping center. Now, literally, within a five-minute ride from their home closer than most suburbanites have it you can be at the Target, you can be at the Wal-Mart ... and all of those things that are so convenient to do in suburban life will now be very easy to do if you want to make the choice to live downtown.”
But even more important than new retail is the need for new, attractive housing, says Gordon Priemer, president and founder of Heartland Developers.
“You’ve got to have housing,” Priemer says. “You have to have all kinds of housing, whether it’s loft, single-family or townhomes. You’re not going to get jobs unless you have places that are fun and exciting for people to live.”
Priemer’s company is working on several developments in Warrensville Heights, Ohio City and Slavic Village that it hopes will attract young professionals to Greater Cleveland. Heartland’s developments are planned to offer people what Priemer has learned homebuyers want: green areas and landscaping, easy access, closeness of shopping, newness and bright, open spaces.
With Priemer’s newest project, the Lofts of Avalon Station, he hopes to stress the importance of transit-oriented development development that is planned around public transportation hubs to provide quick, easy access to other parts of the city and he expects that idea to rub off on the Euclid Corridor project.
The 200-loft unit in Shaker Heights will be within walking distance of the Avalon Station RTA stop. The $60-million project is also within walking distance of popular retail spots and will have all the quality and amenities that today’s young homebuyers are looking for.
“People want nice surroundings. One of the things that I see happening more and more [is] people want quality,” Priemer says. “And they’re willing to pay. ... They want that quality of life.
“We need to keep young people, and that’s how we do it. We have nice housing, nice quality of life. If it’s a dismal place to live, you’re not going to work here. You’ll go find some other place.”
And as Wolstein points out, it’s an opportune time to create this type of housing.
“Demographically in the United States today, most new household formation is couples without children it’s either baby boomers who have become empty nesters or it’s echo boomers who are having their children later in life and don’t have children yet of school age,” says Wolstein. “So the traditional impediment to living in the city, which has been a general feeling that the suburban school systems provided a better education, is no longer an issue for most people looking for a new home.
“And that gives cities like Cleveland and really, all cities in the United States an opportunity to really attract people to live in the city without having to worry about things like that.”
While attracting people, and thus businesses, to downtown is the central component to a rebirth of Cleveland, there are other issues that remain critical to building a positive image of the city and strong self-esteem.
Bob Stark, CEO of Stark Enterprises, sees a need to rethink and redevelop the port of entry into the community Cleveland Hopkins Airport.
“One of the things that is obviously missing in that regard is a terminal experience,” says Stark. “I think part of that went away when the security issues separated what was once considered the terminal portion of the airport from most of the public. But I think we must build a new terminal experience that you enter when you are arriving from out of state or when you are leaving the area that reinforces a very strong image and identity of Cleveland.
“I’d like to see a terminal [like] the type that you walk into when you go to places like Denver or a million great cities, where there’s a large, open space with great architecture and lots of retail almost like a mall environment that’s active and forward-thinking. It makes an impression. It’s designed to create a strong identity statement.”
Although Stark believes the progress made by other developers is a step in the right direction, he sees the need for something on a much larger scale. Instead of rebuilding an old city, he believes in creating a completely new one and would like to build on the success of his Crocker Park and Eton Chagrin Boulevard projects.
“The experience of doing mixed-use (development) ... has proven that there is a demand for mixed-use density lifestyle that is much greater than the supply, and that no suburban location could ever satisfy it either in quantity or quality,” he says. “The only answer to satisfying that demand lies in the urban center. And now that we have an example, a model, a laboratory experiment if you will ... we can take those truths that have been uncovered there, those principles, and we can apply them in much bigger scale and build a new downtown.”
How to reach: Heartland Developers, www.heartlanddevelopers.com; Developers Diversified Realty, www.ddr.com; First Interstate Properties Ltd., www.first-interstate.com; Stark Enterprises, www.starkenterprises.com
Then his life took a dramatic turn when his niece was diagnosed with leukemia nearly 25 years ago, says Paul. Although treatment saved her life, the then 15-year-old was devastated at the thought of losing her hair.
“So I made a promise,” he says. “And when you make a promise to a kid, you keep it.”
Paul quickly discovered most wigs available at the time were made for adults and lacked a realness of appearance and style. Although he received more than 500 donated wigs when he initiated a wig bank, most were more suited for grandmothers or hadn’t seen the light of day in many years.
“We started to realize how much there was a need (for children’s hairpieces),” he says. “Chemotherapy became the medicine of choice, and that side effect was devastating to kids’ self esteem.”
Paul began doing research and working with doctors and prosthetics specialists to develop a hairpiece that would withstand typical kid activities such as swimming and gymnastics and came up with a wig that adhered to the scalp under the most aggressive conditions.
It was the beginning of Wigs for Kids, an international, nonprofit organization that provides free, custom-made hairpieces to children who suffer from hair loss due to cancer treatment, alopecia, burns or any other medical condition. Paul says that since that time, he hasn’t looked back once.
“The reward is beyond my imagination,” he says. “I would do it for anything beyond the call of dollars and cents. It’s all about the kids and the life-changing experience we can give them.”
Paul and his partners also discovered how to process human hair for wigs. Today, each handcrafted wig is made of about 150,000 strands of natural hair. The individual strands are hand-tied onto the foundation of the wig, which is created from a mold of the person’s head for a snug fit.
The organization also works closely with the Locks of Love program. At participating salons, customers can donate 12 inches or more or hair to be made into a wig in exchange for a free cut and style.
HOW TO REACH: www.wigsforkids.org
This year, the insurance agency invested nearly $600,000 in organizations it believes make the community a better place to live and work. Its list of community efforts and contributions continues to grow every year.
“I think that our employees are a pretty kind group of people,” says Westfield CEO Robert Joyce. “A lot of the employees realize that we need to take a leadership position in the community.”
As the largest employer in Medina County, the company’s employees understand the importance and see the impact of Westfield’s community service and donations.
The company has supported Habitat for Humanity by giving employees the opportunity to participate on “Westfield Wednesdays.” Westfield provides transportation and lunch for employee volunteers, as well as financial support for the project. Over the past five years, more than 800 employees have hammered, plastered and painted to help provide families with new homes.
The company also continues its close partnership with United Way as both a financial and volunteer contributor. Employee pledges and Westfield’s $50,000 company match brought this year’s total contribution to more than $114,000.
The company will also donate $500,000 over a five-year period to the building of a new university in Medina County. This learning center will provide career education and training through a partnership among education, business and community leaders in Medina County, and The University of Akron, which will staff, own and operate the facility.
The company reached even deeper into its pockets this fall to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. It initially donated $250,000 to the American Red Cross before matching another $40,000 raised by employees.
Joyce said the company knew it needed to go above and beyond its projected annual giving amount to help with the unexpected tragedy. The company went a step further by giving additional money to employees whose family members were directly impacted by the hurricane.
Westfield’s Business Continuity team also donated 10 satellite phones to the Medina County Emergency Management Agency to provide an alternate means of communication in the event that cell phones or other technologies are not available.
HOW TO REACH: The Westfield Group, www.westfieldgrp.com
It’s a value Jeffrey Neuman, president and director of Barnes Wendling, says has been at the center of the business since it was founded 60 years ago.
The firm regularly supports the interests and efforts of individual team members often sponsoring walk-a-thons and fund-raisers and conducts charitable raffles at its social events. The amount raised from ticket purchases at events is matched by the company and donated to a charity.
But the company is about more than just attaching its name to an organization or making a contribution, says Neuman.
“All we ask is that if one of our employees wants to become involved, they truly be involved,” he says.
Every spring, employees can make a weekly $5 donation to the Harvest for Hunger food drive in exchange for the chance to wear jeans to work on Fridays. This year, the firm raised $1,148 through that drive.
It has also made a significant impact on area schools.
For the past five years, Barnes Wendling has made donations to the art departments at Dike Montessori Center in Cleveland, Tennyson Elementary in Sheffield Lake, and St. Mary’s and St. Paul’s elementary schools in Norwalk, where the firm has offices. The company sponsors a Thanksgiving card design competition at these schools, and one winner from each school has his or her artwork displayed on the front of the company’s Thanksgiving card, which is sent to clients.
At each school, the company hosts an awards ceremony at which Neuman and his associates present a check to the school’s arts programs and prizes to the winning students.
The firm has also made contributions to Providence House, Rainbow Babies and Children Foundation, United Way and the Cleveland Sight Center, among others.
Barnes Wendling also offers reduced rates for services performed for nonprofit organizations, and for the past 12 years has donated bookkeeping and tax return services to Malachi House, a home for indigent and terminally ill people with no family or support network.
HOW TO REACH: Barnes Wendling CPAs Inc., (216) 566-9000