08.11.05 NEO-X Roundtable NOTES: NEO-X-Pats in NYNY know no place like NEO home

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Fri, 08/12/2005 - 01:24.

The August 11, 2005, NEO-X Roundtable, at the Jones Day building in New York, New York, brought together a fascinating cross section of former Clevelanders now living or working in the New York area, sharing the common bond that we all still care about NEO.

One other characteristic that was common for most attendees was having attended University School (US), in Hunting Valley, Ohio. Because US has an effective on-line alumni directory, it is easy for alumni to find their peers distributed around the world - as a US alumnus, I made a point to contact all the alumni living or working in NYNY and having an e-mail addresses listed in the directory, and a large number of those invited were able and interested to attend. But the event was not at all exclusive, and we had attendees with very diverse backgrounds.

How we all related was most fascinating. We ranged from age 25 to 50+ - we included two writers, an artist, several IT entrepreneurs, a lawyer, an architect, several investment bankers, a school administrator and an art historian - a diverse cross section of the creative class, all committed to economic development and social change. We each have warm regards for NEO - some of us spend much or most of our time in the region, while others barely ever return.

Around a third of those attending the roundtable and who currently live in New York are seriously considering moving back to NEO, which would represent a huge windfall for the region.

We discussed what brought and bound us to NYNY - school, work, lifestyle, networks and opportunties. Of those at the roundtable, the artist clearly was least likely to ever leave NYNY, the world center of contemporary art. The architect, who specializes in warehouse conversions to lofts and related codes, is seriously considering relocating his firm to Cleveland, seeing opportunity in our under-utilized industrial building stock. The lawyer, a writer, and an IT entrepreneur are open to the idea of relocating to NEO. The school administrator thinks Shaker Square could be the perfect place to retire.

While a small sample, it is exciting to see around 30% of X-pats joining us in NYNY for the Roundtable are considering rejoining us for life in NEO because they want the high quality of life we offer. While one attendee complained of our bad weather, the administrator pointed out the airport is just a 30 minute rapid ride down the road, and that leads to all other destinations world-wide.

We all love the architecture, arts and culture of Cleveland, which we recognize as the core of the region. We had a lengthy discussion about high taxes in our region, and the poor legislature in Ohio, and we proposed exploring those issues more deeply at a future roundtable, and leveraging our networks to challange those serious community weaknesses. We voiced concern about the flight of NEO area residents away from the Cleveland core and out into the remote suburbs. Clearly, it is the City of Cleveland that attracts all of us, from afar - a fact that seems to escape most NEOans... none of us spoke of wanting to move from NYNY to Solon.

We spoke at length about concerns about the NEO economy. Having at the table very high level investment bankers and a lawyer dealing with global economic development offered unique insight not found in NEO. One investment banker pointed out that on any given day there are 60 wealthy East Coast investors looking at deals in Ohio, but the right investments are not found there - he is especially concerned about the issues of high taxes, high union-driven labor costs, poor work ethic, and poor state-level political leaderships as being impediments to outside investment and growth in NEO.

An investment banker focused on industrial investments for a global bank echoed those concerns and reflected on the issue of Ohio still depending on a manufacturing core that is in flux nationwide. All finance minds at the table saw greatest hope in NEO focusing on new economy growth, such as biotech. We all recognized the high value for our advanced universities and research and development institutions, but voiced concerns about the general lack of risk-taking among entrepreneurs and the investment community. We thus confirmed from afar what is often exrpessed at home, adding validation that should help us drive for change.

We spoke at length about the concept of developing a Community Development Venture Capital fund for Northeast Ohio - a concept that the NEO Excellence Roundtable and REALNEO champion. Peter Holmes and I met earlier in the day with the President of the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance about the viability of developing such an investment vehicle for NEO (very viable) so we had considerable details to share. In brief, a CDVC fund operates like a traditional VC fund except it seeks a double net - both strong financial returns for investors (typically 80% banks and 20% others) and strong job growth for the communities where investments are made - the strength of the CDVC fund management is in maximizing the potentials of high employment enterprises. CDVC Funds are originated by not-for-profits so they have the ability to tap into funding sources not viable for traditional VC funds, and have some operating advantages, making them unique, and a great economic development compliment to VC funds. We feel such a vehicle is ideally suited to the needs of NEO, and will pursue development.

The uniquely expert relationships built at the NEO-X roundtable help make the CDVC Fund possible, and that is the greatest opportunity NEO stands to gain from such cross-border pollination among NEO residents and X-Pats - we share common interests yet span broader global networks enabling a higher level of opportunity than found within our relatively small world of Ohio. We intend to continue driving such global collaboration and will grow the network by expanding and repeating the NEO-X roundtables in NYNY, planning a follow-up in late September, and by holding NEO-X roundtables in other key locations around the world, like in Washington DC in early September.

More insight and next steps will continue to post to http://neoexcellence.realinks.us.