Unleashing Our Region’s Potential (and working to eliminate my job)

Graduates throwing caps

Imagine for a moment that every student in Northeast Ohio that graduated high school had a clear learning plan after high school. Based on their skills and inclinations, some pursued college, some went to trades, some perhaps the military, and some directly to work where they could learn hands on skills.

Everyone had a learning plan, and a rationale for why they chose that path.

The planning process would not just be for our young workers, but rather for every one of our approximately 2 million regional residents. Each resident, young and mature would have their own ‘prosperity plan’.

As an immigrant from India, I can’t help but see the tremendous value of continuing education as a core element of what has made the Indian diaspora able to uniquely benefit from the American economic system. And while I know I am biased and limited by my own experiences, I see no pathway that is more linear to achieving individual prosperity than when we enable our citizens to better learn and evolve. And, we ensure that each member of our society has robust development ladders that don’t have missing rungs.

There is one additional critical step that we as a community can do to nudge our citizens to climb their own ladders: we can help create a communal language and culture of learning.

Imagine if our region had another descriptive term that was used to define us, that would far better capture our spirit: Northeast Ohio: A community of learners!

NASA Glenn Research Center at night

We humans are such a unique creature, where unlike other creatures, our evolution is not limited through biological adaptation. Rather, our minds offer our specie a critically unique asset: an ability to learn anything! While our physical form is not overtly remarkable compared to many other animals on this planet, it is the software between our ears that is endlessly malleable.

So how do we tap into this ability and into our spirit?

I believe a good place to start would be to tap into the power of our regional assets. At the Aerozone, I can’t help but look at the magnificent planes that take off from Cleveland Hopkins – the largest airport in Ohio – and feel inspired by the human ingenuity that has enabled the suspension of large hunks of metal in air. And how about NASA? Do we really need something more inspiring than this national treasure in our backyard to inspire us to pursue STEM learning?

But this story reaches far beyond the Aerozone.

Our region is brimming with inspiration that can serve as the foundation of our learning culture. Aspiring musician, botanist, scientist, artist, engineer… we have something for you in the region. Not just to be inspired by, but to then learn from. The obvious list: The City Club of Cleveland, Cleveland Orchestra, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland Metroparks, Cleveland Botanical Gardens, Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Institute of Art, Case Western Reserve University, Baldwin Wallace University, Cleveland State University, Kent State University, and so much more!

Just starting on your learning journey and don’t know what where to begin? How about start the low-risk learning journey at Cuyahoga Community College, Lorain County Community College, or our incredible Cuyahoga County Public Library system?

Imagine for a moment, if every one of our residents had their own ‘prosperity plan,’ and a chose to refine their skills by 1% every day? Learned 1 chord on a guitar, revisited 1 mathematical equation, built a model plane… compounded over the year that is 3,761% return!!

What would be our potential then?

I live in the world of economic development, and unfortunately, for too long, our field has been established as something we have to do for the people, the community, the region. What if we inversed the equation, and now an inspired community was refining their prosperity plan, and rushing up their own development ladders?

We humans are plenty smart to figure out what is best for us, but we also have ‘sheep’ DNA. We sometimes like to follow the path of least resistance. What if our Northeast Ohio culture made it ‘cool’ to be lifelong learners? Where the first question that we asked our co-worker a Monday morning was not, “what did you think about the Browns yesterday?” rather, we asked, “what did you learn this weekend?”

What would be our potential then?

I think that I would be out of a job.