Health Care Is Big Part of Development Puzzle

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — When it comes to economic development, there’s more to it than offering companies a plot of land to build their new factory or an office building. Part of the process is getting them to know a community.

And in that regard, northeastern Ohio has a head start over many communities, thanks to two big names. 

“When you talk about how people perceive a place, for a long time, northeast Ohio has had two people be those global icons: LeBron James and the Cleveland Clinic,” says Jacob Duritsky, vice president of strategy and research for Team NEO. “It’s hard to quantify the direct impact of that, but having a familiarity as we go around the world to try to sell it, it connects that dot and makes the conversations easier to have.”

Globally, the Cleveland Clinic has sites in 10 of the 18 northeastern Ohio counties Team NEO works in, as well as Las Vegas, London and Dubai. Last year, Ohio Development Services Agency said the organization was the state’s largest employer at 50,825 workers. And, according to the Clinic itself, it generated $17.8 billion in total economic output in 2018. 

The Cleveland Clinic is just one of the employers in the health-care sector, which collectively employs more than 270,000 workers and generates $22 billion in gross regional product, according to Team NEO.

Akron Children’s Hospital, ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the country’s top hospitals in several specialties, generated a state economic impact of $1.5 billion in 2017, according to its most recent impact study. The system, which includes sites in the Mahoning Valley, employs 4,970.

“Most of those folks will tell you one of their top three businesses is health care,” says Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber President and CEO Tom Humphries of economic development agencies across the country. “We’re no different. Because of [places like] the Cleveland Clinic, which attracts people from around the world, it’s a significant business here.”

Many of the same principles apply to economic development: a recognizable name and high quality often gets a foot in the door. When companies look at expanding or relocating into a new market, one of the first questions they ask is often about the quality of care, he says.

“It comes up in discussions with companies we’re trying to attract who don’t know our market.They want to know if they can take care of their people,” Humphries says. 

When General Motors and LG Chem first announced their joint venture to build a battery plant in Lordstown, Humphries says, the chamber put together information on how potential workers from South Korea, where LG Chem is based, could be accommodated.

“We let them know not only where Korean stores or Korean churches are, but where health-care facilities will be that can work with them,” he says. “It’s always part of the sales pitch.”

Companies are also looking at quality of life issues. While health-care organizations are usually viewed in their own silo, local organizations such as Mercy Health-Youngstown, Akron Children’s and others have a role in improving the communities around them. Mercy, for example, launched the Fruit & Vegetable Rx program to help patients get access to more healthful foods via local farmers markets.

“We see engagement of the community from our institutions. They’re trying to serve all aspects of a healthy community, not only medical but also the social issues that go with it,” Humphries says. “They’re involved beyond health care.”