Global Employer Summit: Realizing the Untapped Potential of Global Talent in NEO

Expert Strategies + Global Talent = A World-Class Cleveland

May 31, 2017


Panel Discussion: International Talent as a Regional Economic Driver

Moderator: Tracey Nichols, Director of Economic Development, City of Cleveland

Dr. Giovanni Piedimonte, Chairman, Cleveland Clinic Pediatric Institute; Physician-in-Chief, Cleveland Clinic’s Children’s Hospital; President, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation

Jacob Duritsky, Vice President, Strategy & Research, Team NEO

Dany Bahar, Brookings Institution and Harvard University

Jeff Duerk, Dean of Engineering, Case Western Reserve University


To set the stage for understanding Northeast Ohio’s role in the State and the nation, Team NEO’s Jacob Duritsky explained that the 18-county region accounts for approximately 40% of Ohio’s overall economy with $212 billion annually (as of 2012); includes 4.32 million people with 1.94 million workers; covers 5 metropolitan areas (Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Lorain, and Youngstown); and represents the 15th largest market in the US.

Cleveland faces some significant challenges, which Team NEO is identifying as it updates a 2014 study for The Cleveland Foundation. The US overall labor force has grown more than 9 times faster than the labor force here in the region; there are 160,000 fewer people in the workforce today in NEO than in 2008. In addition, Cleveland’s BA attainment rate (the rate at which people attain Bachelor of Arts degrees from 4-year colleges) is 25%, compared to other growing cities where the rate is more than 30%. Moving forward into the future, 65% of all jobs will require post-secondary credentialing, meaning there is a misalignment of the degrees offered in the region and employers’ needs. In particular, 15 of 18 in-demand occupations are misaligned, meaning only 3 fields have the talent they need to move ahead.

Case’s Dean of Engineering, Jeff Duerk asked the crowd to think of the University 10 years ago: “International students were probably 2%. Today, they make up 14-15%,” he said. His predecessor never traveled outside Ohio, he told the room, “but in the past 5 years I’ve been in 15 countries—touching based with alumni, business partners, and entrepreneurs.

“It comes down to talent, and talent exists anywhere on the globe,” he said. The challenge, he explained, is whether NEO employers are willing to join the competition for international talent by participating in the H-1B visa lotteries. “Are the employers here willing to buy a ticket to participate (in the H-1B lottery)? The chances of winning over 3 years is 75%.”

“Data tell us we are facing significant shortage of physicians in this country—some states are missing every specialty—even primary care,” the Clinic’s Giovanni Piedimonte said. “There aren’t enough Americans willing to fill those positions in those locations.”

“What makes America unique is that it’s the creative engine that makes the US the leader of the world,” he said. “It’s the ability of a person to move his job from one city to another; it’s the opportunity—the concept that people who work hard can actually do well for their families. The US is a meritocracy, where people who work hard get higher and higher [on the socioeconomic ladder] and get what they deserve.

“The US has always been in global leadership,” Piedimonte said, “but there is no way we can do that if we have no internationals among us. If we lose the ability to bring the best and brightest to this country, we will not be America.”

When asked about Thinkbox, Case’s center for innovation and entrepreneurship or maker space as some call it, Duerk described the 49,000-square-foot design and innovation space as a place that allows students to take ideas in their heads and get them into their hands and work with law professors to create businesses. “It puts them on a level playing field with anyone else…. we provide resources that make this environment sticky enough to want to stay.”

“The facility encourages people to take ideas in their heads and see what the market thinks about them—will they sell? It’s open to everyone and definitely an asset to add to list of Cleveland’s WOW factors,” Duerk said.

The Brookings Institution’s Dany Bahar told the crowd there are 3 main issues with international talent as a regional economic driver.

First, he said, migrants have the ability to leave and go to other cities and expand markets—and we want them to come here to do that. Second, immigrants are entrepreneurs who create jobs. And third, their diversity of skills spreads and creates knowledge.

There is a relevance for public policy favorable to immigration, he said, because migrants are necessary to grow economically as a country and he pointed to the fact that risk capital tends to be invested locally. He told the crowd that Israel encourages this by investing $7 for $1 invested locally. “Why do they do it?” he asked, “because they get returns.”

But Israel’s public policy also plays another role: it sends a message. “Being allowed to fail,” Bahar said, “it’s part of the process…entrepreneurs need to know there is a safety net and they can start again. And they will start again and again in the same place when they know that safety net is there.”

Team NEO’s Duritsky said that what attracts internationals to an area is business fundamentals. “They want a place that’s inclusive, that has an element of openness and opportunity,” he said, “but we could do more.” He noted that it’s against the law in Ohio to put government dollars into a company, but other states have gotten around their own such laws and Ohio needs to figure out how, lest we lose out.

Duritsky also said there are regional issues in terms of locations, and that the coasts may doing better, but it may be that those entrepreneurs need to be closer to Asia or Europe. In response, other states are looking at their existing immigrant talent pools already and trying to better integrate them locally. He said the report referenced at the opening of the session is meant to identify the misalignment so solutions could be sought. “We want to explore how we can better connect people already here.”

The report is also looking for policy perspectives. “We don’t have a building inventory [of what’s available], we have aging infrastructure, we have talent we can’t get to jobs (center city to Solon),” he noted. So, they are beginning to look at existing bus routes, at how to upskill existing talent, and everything in between.

“The elephant in room, however,” interjected Bahar, “is the immensely broken immigration system in the US. There is a huge talent pool already here that could be exploited if we could fix the system.” He noted that employers are not willing to pay the price for the H-1B visa process and he lamented the fact that the system doesn’t break down skills, but rather uses a one-size-fits-all approach. “Canada and Australia make it easy for migrants to work there,” he said.

Duerk agreed the process was problematic and noted that Case had hired a person to help students navigate the US immigration system and to work with employers to get funding to do so.

–Reporting by Janice T. Radak for Global Cleveland