Earlier today, I shared Matt Yglesias’s story on why Silicon Valley should relocate to….Cleveland.
The facebook post I shared came with this message:
Yglesias writes “It’s time for tech hubs to go where they’re welcome.” And he picks…. Cleveland? What? Off his rocker.
The post received a number of comments, including one from a thoughtful a neighbor, whose son I played hockey with. He writes:
So Jimmy, you have been away long enough that you are now a Cleveland basher as well? True, we have three months of bad weather…..but unbelievable property values, great cost of living, great culture (I would put the Cleveland Orchestra up against any from San Francisco or Washington), the largest theater district west of NYC, a great art museum, the Hall of Fame, fantastic restaurants, great music ……and, oh yeah, you can actually get to all of them within 30 minutes – not 2-3 hrs. BTW…how much would your old home on Eaton Rd cost in either SF or Washington?
I frequently, and sometimes more harshly than I should, criticize Cleveland. I’d like to clear the air and share my thoughts on the matter. I don’t hate Cleveland, I criticize because I love where I grew up and want my hometown to thrive — despite its efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Here’s my response to my former neighbor, an all around good guy who frequently inspires great discussions on my facebook wall:
Dr. S. — I don’t disagree with your points on Cleveland the region. I do think, and agree, that the region would be good to host a wide range of industries for the reasons you express. And, for what it’s worth, I love the bad weather.
Indeed, the house I grew up in on Eaton road would easily go for a million or two here in Washington or San Francisco, if not more. (So, three to six times the cost.) Detroit, as Yglesias notes, has even more affordable housing, but he wrote them off as a lost city, noting that if he had picked Detroit, people likely migrate to Ann Arbor. I don’t think Cleveland is lost yet, but it’s not going out of its way to improve things, in my opinion.
Solving Cleveland’s inability to attain the growth it could attain is a puzzle, one with locally imposed constraints and with ones imposed by the state. The Cleveland area has many great attributes and it also has some things it needs to work on. That goes for Ohio, as well.
While I am frequently critical of Cleveland — sometimes more harshly than I should be — it’s because I’d love for my hometown to be the next Silicon Valley, but at present, I don’t think it can be. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t. Some of that is on the city of Cleveland itself, some on the suburbs, and some on the state. Before I forget, some of it is on Cuyahoga County — now with less corruption!
One reason is because I think that municipal income taxes are a poor way to structure things, especially if individuals who live in one city but work in another have to pay taxes to both in some respect. Unlike other comparable jurisdictions in other states, potential employers would have to pay more in salary and benefits to offset the tax differential. Not exactly a welcome beacon to relocate to NE Ohio. Sure, low-income earners get an exemption, but, in the case of the Yglesias example, tech employers probably employ fewer people exempted than those subject to paying taxes in Cleveland and (insert name of other jurisdiction).
Like the electoral map, Ohio has a bunch of residential clusters and a larger swath of area with lower population density. Yes, California has high taxes — but it doesn’t allow city income taxes the way Ohio does. I do think an examination of the state’s tax policies are in order. That could benefit Cleveland and NE Ohio greatly.
Yglesias is correct to note that, unlike Detroit or Buffalo (no offense to my Buffalo friends), Cleveland could be fertile ground for such a resurgence. But, knowing that Cleveland and nearly every other major city does what it can to sell itself to businesses (like Philadelphia is doing to California’s Sriracha maker, under fire from the city in which it does business), businesses aren’t flocking to Cleveland. I wish they would, because I’d love to move back some day and watch the Browns lose in person. Maybe some day, we’ll win big.
My other concern/criticism with his piece is, at least as it pertains to the city, is this: If Yglesias thinks that it’s time for “tech hubs to go where they’re welcome” because SF residents are complaining about private bus stops — wait until he learns about some of Cleveland’s NIMBY problems.
Cleveland’s zoning and regulatory policies, for me, leave much to be desired. In my opinion, the city of Cleveland’s problem isn’t due to one-party rule, it’s more a problem of ideology. It’s more of a “our job is to help business ‘thread the needle‘ of regulations” than it is to make the regulations and laws more conducive for businesses to want to locate there in the first place.
My TL:DR is this — If Yglesias were revealing some secret about why everyone should “flee to the Cleve” and move their business there, people would already be doing it. I wish they were, as Cleveland is a great area with a lot to offer. But they aren’t. It’s not because of a lack of publicity or PR. Other journalists, with a love for Cleveland and Ohio, have already suggested some reasons why Cleveland might want to shun PR and focus on change, but they’ve largely been ignored.
While I’d love it if Ohio and Cleveland adopted the Texas and Houston models, that is unrealistic. It won’t happen. It’s part of the culture, which is fine. Even some modest changes in that direction, though, could help Cleveland.
UPDATE: I recommend this post by Daniel McGraw on the same topic.