Month: January 2015

What’s Possible in Ashtabula County?


I think we have just barely scratched the surface in visualizing future possibilities for Ashtabula County. Read these quotes about possibility and give it some thought.

“The Wright brother flew right through the smoke screen of impossibility.” – Charles Kettering

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible!” – Walt Disney

“What is now proved, was once only imagined.” – William Blake

“The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible.” – Arthur C. Clarke

“Whether you believe you can or not, you’re right.” – Henry Ford

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Shunryu Suzuki

“The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious.” – John Sculley

“When nothing is sure, everything is possible.” – Margaret Drabble

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” – Albert Einstein

“If you can’t, you must. If you must, you can.” – Tony Robbins


Ashtabula County Needs to Create More Meaningful Work

“Knowing who we are and how we want to be in this world, this is what makes work fun. The way we do it — in fashion or electrical engineering or waste management — doesn’t matter as much as the awareness of self.” Source: Rena DeLevie’s You Are More Than Your Job.

Yes, we are more than the job that we perform each day to make a living. That is not to say the money isn’t important, because it is very important. I also believe work can be a way for us to discover ourselves, or create greater self-awareness. In that way, work becomes meaningful to us.

Why is meaningful work important? Very simply, if work isn’t meaningful to us, we are not fully engaged in our work! Look at a 2013 report by Gallup Inc, which found that only 30 percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work — in other words, they’re passionate about their work and feel strongly committed to their companies. The remaining 70 percent of American workers are either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” in their work (Gallup, 2013). Gallup defines unengaged workers as those who are “checked out,” putting in time but without much energy or passion. Actively disengaged workers, meanwhile, act out on their unhappiness, taking up more of their managers’ time and undermining what their co-workers accomplish. According to Gallup, disengaged work has a hefty economic price: Active disengagement costs U.S. companies $450 billion to $550 billion per year! Ouch!

Economic development is all about jobs and work. Unfortunately, economic development has not given much attention to meaningful work, and creating an environment in communities and workplaces for workers to create and discover personal meaning in the work they do. The Growth Partnership and its partners should be giving attention to meaningful work creation in Ashtabula County. Here are some things we should pay attention to as we approach this priority. A recent survey revealed five key things missing from many workplaces that people deem to be very important to their work:

• Helps you to fulfill a life purpose.

• Helps you to become what you were “meant to be” in life.

• Is a major source of life happiness (e.g., makes you feel “alive”).

• Involves tasks that you would do for pleasure on your own time.

• Enables you to do good things in the world.

If you’re shaking your head no to the importance of these work qualities or characteristics, you’re kidding yourself. The absence of these “opportunities” may be exactly why your organization cannot attract the skills and talent it needs to succeed. So what can any organization do to make work more meaningful? A recent article suggests these ten actions can make a positive difference:

1. Measure meaningful work on your next employee survey. Make sure your survey taps the workplace features mentioned above: a job that helps fulfill a life purpose, a job that helps people be what they are meant to be, etc.

2. Find out what really matters to employees. Try asking this on your next employee survey: “If you woke up tomorrow morning with $20 million in the bank and five years to live, what things would you do for the rest of your life?” Now, find “low-cal” ways of making work in your organization seem more like these things.

3. Communicate meaningful work that’s already there. Meaning is partly a state of mind. Employees may already have opportunities for meaningful work that are not well communicated. Make the connection between individual jobs and the purpose of the organization.

4. Connect employees with people who have been changed by your organization. Invite people to give testimonials at annual meetings and town halls. Start a “twinning” program among employees and clients. Collect and share client stories or videos.

5. Ask your employees how they can have a bigger impact. Conduct surveys and focus groups. Get ideas and empower employees to implement them.

6. Enable employees to do philanthropic work outside of work. Donate the time and money, set up a program and offer a suite of opportunities.

7. Offer career counseling “plus.” Not all development is career-related. People are human beings before they come to work. Consider what they’re trying to accomplish in their nonwork lives and who they’re trying to become. Support those efforts.

8. Coach managers to provide better feedback and recognition. These are two “must haves” of meaningful work that I’ve identified in my other research, and they’re relatively free. This could be done tomorrow. Recognition is important for employees to see their impact.

9. Use meaningful work to attract and recruit people. If you’ve got meaningful work in your organization, flaunt it. Review your current strategies for acquiring talent and make sure the message is there.

10. Make a pledge about job and organizational redesign. This is a longer-term goal, but get it on the radar. Revisit job descriptions and reporting lines. Get employees to brainstorm how they could do their jobs differently. This is at the heart of “job crafting,” a technique from Amy Wrzesniewski at the Yale School of Management. Don’t assume that meaning is inherent only in certain jobs. Most of them can be imbued with more meaningful features.

Let’s start an ongoing conversation about how to bring about more meaningful work in Ashtabula County. Work doesn’t have to be a bitch, and then you retire!

A Strategy for Addressing Workforce and Talent in Ashtabula County

The aging workforce issue and young talent retention and attraction issue are related when building a “workforce for the future” strategy for Ashtabula County. Local employers, economic developers, educators, and workforce developers are well aware of these issues. The key is finding the right strategy and team to deal with these issues in Ashtabula County. One of the Growth Partnership’s strategic thrust areas in its new action plan is “Workforce, Talent, and Education.” We will be giving major attention to this area this year and on an ongoing basis. This article helps set the context for our strategy in this area. The key elements of our strategy for moving forward are discussed in this article.

It’s important for Ashtabula County to have an informed strategy for dealing with these issues. Knowing bigger picture trends and localizing them to Ashtabula County is useful in this regard. For this reason, we call attention to recent work by Gallup on the aging workforce issue.

According to a new Gallup study, the first members of the huge baby-boom generation in the U.S. have reached retirement age in recent years, and these older boomers are retiring in large numbers, just as Americans in their mid- to late 60s did a few years earlier. While about eight in 10 boomers in their early 50s are in the workforce, the percentage employed drops to about 50% for boomers who are 60, and the proportion accelerates downward with each year of age thereafter. Only about a third of those aged 67 and 68 — the oldest boomers — are still working in some capacity.

These workforce estimates are based on 134,168 Gallup Daily tracking interviews conducted in 2014 with Americans aged 50 to 64 — those born from 1946 through 1964, the post-World War II years commonly used to define the baby-boom generation. Americans are classified as being in the workforce if they report being employed full time for an employer or self-employed, working part time, or not working but able to work and actively seeking employment.

The study also observes that much attention has been paid in recent years to pending changes in the work status of aging baby boomers, with some suggestions that boomers may work longer and postpone retirement. While the last boomer will reach age 65 in 2029, the early indications from the available evidence suggest that boomers are retiring “on time.” The percentage of 65- to 68-year-olds still in the workforce in 2014 is almost identical to what Gallup measured among the pre-boomers of this age range in 2010. Thus, the vanguard of the boomer generation is retiring at nearly the identical rate as were pre-boomers four years ago.

A recent Ashtabula Star Beacon editorial speaks to this very issue in Ashtabula County: ” Within 15 years, about a third of county residents will either be at or knocking on the door of retirement age. This year, that 60 and older age group makes up only about a quarter of the county population. But Ashtabula, and Ohio as a whole, are aging rapidly, according to projections from Scripps Gerontology Institute researchers at Miami University in Oxford. Not only are many baby boomers getting older, but younger generations are having fewer children. The number of preschoolers (4-year-olds) in Ohio is expected to drop by 16,000 in 2030. It isn’t simply a reduction in birth rates, it’s also a migration of the working/parental-age group out of the county and state. In Ashtabula County, the 20-to-49-year-old population is expected to drop by 10 percent in the next 15 years.” Source: Star Beacon, January 27, 2015.

So what needs to be done about these issues? The Growth Partnership’s new action plan identifies strategies to strengthen workforce, talent and education in the future.

Strategic Thrust: Strengthen Workforce, Talent, and Educational Advancement by:

  1. Assisting existing employers to upgrade and expand their workforces in the short term on an individual and group basis (for one, replicate the Industrial Maintenance Training Program in other training need areas).
  2. Assisting existing employers to retain and attract the management, technical, and creative talent they need to grow and expand locally.
  3. Assisting local employers to develop the workforce and jobs of the future through labor market analysis, employment forecasting, and strategic investment.
  4. Assisting local public and private schools and Kent State University, Ashtabula to increase educational attainment in the county and retain this educated population in Ashtabula County. • Assisting employees of local companies and residents to increase their ability to create personal wealth (through the Financial Fitness Program with Wells Fargo and possibly other initiatives.)

Key performance metrics:

  1. Success in developing new tools (e.g. website, data and information, training resources, talent marketing tools) needed to support workforce and talent development and educational advancement.
  2. Number of companies assisted with workforce and talent issues.
  3. Jobs upgraded and created as a result of company assistance efforts.
  4. Dollar investment in workers by companies and public workforce programs.
  5. Business expansions enabled by meeting workforce and talent needs.
  6. Educational advancement metrics to be set with educational partners.
  7. Number of employees and residents trained in financial fitness.

Key Partners:

Employer human resource managers, A-Tech, KSU, Ashtabula, LEADERship Ashtabula County, Young Professionals of Ashtabula County, MAGNET, JobsOhio, Business Resource Network (BRN), Workforce Investment Board 19, public and private schools in Ashtabula County, JobsOhio, Educational Service Center for Ashtabula County, Civic Development Corporation, Morrison Foundation, and other resources.


Economic Resurgence Not Lifting All Boats

The economy is much stronger and once again it is creating wealth, but the question is for whom?  A new report finds the top 1 percent of earners in the United States are grabbing the largest share of the nation’s wealth in decades, and Ohio ranks among the states with the largest disproportion of growth.The Economic Policy Institute‘s study shows more than half of all of the income growth in the nation went to the top 1 percent between 1979 and 2012. Income grew by less than 20 percent for the remaining 99 percent of earners.

In 17 states, virtually all income growth went to the top 1 percent between 2009 and 2012, the report says. Overall, more than half of income growth went to the top 1 percent in 39 states. Ohio is among those 39 states. According to the study, Ohio’s overall income growth from 2009 to 2012 was 7.1 percent, with 71.9 percent of that going to the top earners. The top 1 percent saw its average income increase by 37 percent, while the remaining 99 percent saw an average gain of 2.3 percent. The average annual income of the top 1 percent in Ohio in 2012 was $852,569, the report shows, while the average for the remaining 99 percent was $40,469.

We need to create more wealth for all residents and workers in Ashtabula County. Our county is one of Ohio’s poorest. Creating the next generation of businesses and jobs is essential to increase local incomes. That job requires us to dedicate ourselves to shared action plan and work both harder and smarter at economic development.

Ashtabula’s Harbor Perks Gets a #1 Vote

Some good news in the Lake County News Herald about Harbor Perks in the Lift Bridge District in Ashtabula. Congratulations Kelly Sposito and Harbor Perks! Thanks Tim McCarthy for passing the information along.

The reviewer says in his article: “I concluded that if there was any coffee shop I would love to call my home today, it would be Harbor Perk.” Read the News Herald story here.

Visit Harbor Perks online here: and in-person here: 1003 Bridge Street, Ashtabula, OH 44004. Phone: 440-964-9277

I will add that my wife Mary and I are also fans of Harbor Perks and we stock up on their Kenya Peaberry beans. Great stuff!

Existing Businesses including Stage 2 Companies and Start-Ups Account for 98% of Northeast Ohio’s Job Growth

The Growth Partnership has set the right future business and job development priorities; that is work mostly with existing companies, including Stage 2 companies. While some job growth comes from new business recruitment, it is very small in comparison to the jobs produced by companies already here and in place. And yes, we will work with outside companies that can be successful in the county, but the lion’s share of our work effort is and will continue to be with existing companies. We also need to incubate some new startups with the right entrepreneurs and investment groups.

A recent Crain’s Cleveland Business article says that research into the sources of job growth estimates that only about 2% of any region’s jobs come from business attraction. That number may be slightly less or more depending on the region and the year, but the message is clear: A region can’t bet its future on a strategy of luring and poaching outside businesses. And that other 98% of job growth? That comes from startups and existing business expansion. These are the new ventures, the tech entrepreneurs, the mom and pops, the region’s businesses that add a new salesperson, or a new product line or a new office.

This is why Team NEO and Jobs Ohio has shifted its direction in the past year. Growth Partnership is aimed in the right direction. Now we need to work hard and work smart in line with our future action plan.

RNC in Cleveland: An Opportunity to Help the Event and Advance Ashtabula County

At least 50,000 visitors are expected at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in July 2016 in Cleveland.

The RNC can be a real visibility opportunity for Ashtabula County! How can we capitalize on the RNC? Here are six ways we can do that.

As a starting point, it is important for us to identify what we can do to make the RNC successful, and in so doing make Ashtabula County successful. Remember the customer or client always comes first. The following ideas are possible “win-win” strategies. If we haven’t already, we need to organize and put forward our ideas to the RNC, the Greater Cleveland Partnership, and others. The Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County is willing to work with everyone in making that happen. From a countywide standpoint, we must set priorities and be clear on what we want!

One strategy already in motion is to attract RNC delegates and visitors to Ashtabula County for special tourism (and learning) experiences. Wine Country along the 534 Corridor (and elsewhere) and the Bridge Street District in Ashtabula are great draws. Our covered bridges are an attraction. Fishing Conneaut Creek, Lake Erie, and Pymatuning Reservoir is a draw for die-hard fisherman. Antiquing is another attraction if we have some unique treasures. SPIRE Institute is an attraction for those eager to see world-class sports education and training activities and resources. And let’s not forget that Ashtabula is the hometown of Urban Meyer!

I would urge us to prepare a special county marketing brochure (for use in electronic and print form) calling attention to what Ashtabula County can offer RNC leaders and delegates. Our various organizational websites should also include information on what we can offer. All this must be done in a coordinated way. We need to be ready well in advance of the RNC event. This would be a great opportunity to use “art” to tell the story of our county. For example, each community could create a piece of art that tells that community’s story. Art is a creative and differentiating way to draw attention to communities.

A second is to use the opportunity to communicate with Republican leaders about our development funding opportunities and needs. Congressman Dave Joyce can be a real asset in this regard. This is a great time for sidebar conversations about grants to support education, infrastructure, Lake Erie coastline, lakefront development, the arts, culture, and music, healthcare and social assistance, community collaborations, and other community funding priorities. And yes, our Democratic leaders can help with the RNC in many ways.

A third is to show off what Ashtabula County does extremely well. We need to think about our educational centers of excellence and community and economic development (including agriculture) projects or programs that could serve as valuable role models for other rural communities and counties.

A fourth is to make connections with influential business, educational, government, philanthropic, agricultural, and media leaders about advancing economic and community development in rural communities and counties. Why not organize and host a meeting of influential rural leaders to have conversations about advancing rural communities, especially in a more collaborative way?

A fifth strategy is to use our large (or significant) local financial supporters of the National and Ohio Republican Parties as entrees to RNC leaders and visitors.

Finally, don’t forget family ties and friendships. If visitors to the RNC have family and friends in Ashtabula County, this can be an impetus for a valuable conversation with RNC visitors.

And remember that we should not just do these things for the RNC event. We should be using the RNC event as an opportunity for us to get our act together in marketing and promoting economic and community development in a coordinated way. In that sense, the RNC is the triggering event.

What have I missed? Please share your ideas. Thank you.

Baby Boomers and Millennials: Different Job Markets

A recent Careerbuilders’ article calls our attention to the different job markets nationally being experienced by baby boomers and Millennials. As I look at Ashtabula County, the two population groups appear to be experiencing similar realities to those described in the Careerbuilders’ article.

When the Great Recession began in 2007, it triggered changes that were felt in the three major economic markets: housing, stock and jobs. Few people doubted these unprecedented events would cause rippled effects throughout the American economy and beyond. Yet, in the years since the recovery began, some workers have found the job market more welcoming than others.

From 2007 to 2013, the number of jobs held by baby boomers (age 55-64) grew by 1.9 million or 9 percent. For millennials (age 22-34), job growth was virtually nonexistent at 0.3 percent or 110,000 jobs. These stark differences shows that these two generations of workers are experiencing drastically different job markets.

While millennials were just beginning their careers at the start of the recession, baby boomers were preparing to begin their retirement. In new analysis from CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists, Intl. (EMSI), the post-recession stories of the workforce’s youngest and eldest workers begins to take shape.

In my view, we need to show some foresight with respect to the short and longer term labor markets and how we provide opportunities for different population groups. This is also true with respect to the “working middle,” or those in the 35-54 age group.

Read more of the Careerbuilders article here:


Aging Workforce and Productivity

A recent Harvard Business Review article reminds us that the world is aging, and that matters for economic growth. In the past, an abundant and growing labor pool was a powerful engine of the world economy; today, the number of workers is starting to decline in many countries (and I would add counties). This leaves no alternative but for companies, individuals, and governments to work in smarter ways. In an era of profound demographic change, another productivity revolution is a necessity. Technology will be a big piece of the productivity growth equation and advanced technologies like 3D and 4D printing will play larger roles. The question is how does this impact jobs and their availability, especially for the less skilled workforce. The answer is these jobs will be eliminated.

The article goes on to say that without an acceleration in productivity growth, the rate of global GDP growth is set to decline by 40% from 3.6% a year between 1964 and 2012 to only 2.1% over the next 50 years. This would be very detrimental to all sectors of the economy, including manufacturing and the services. Healthcare services in particular needs to make greater productivity strides. It would take 80% faster productivity growth to fully compensate for the projected decline. Is it feasible for the global economy to achieve such a large acceleration in productivity growth from an already rapid rate? New research we conducted at the McKinsey Global Institute found that while this is a very tall order, it could be do-able.

Read the HBR article here.

I’m looking for local area (county level) data on industry and worker productivity. I haven’t found anything out there so far, but will keep looking. It would be interesting to see how Ashtabula County stacks up in terms of productivity.