Greater Cleveland Partnership

On Thursday, August 21st, our first stop was early in the morning at the Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) where we went to attend the “Chairman’s Forum” with GCP Board Chair Ms. Beth Mooney, also the CEO of Keycorp, who updated the attendees on the GCP’s work to “advance the priorities of of the organization and the business community” and talked about “important issues impacting the region’s economy”. About 150 people were present and the room was packed.
Ms. Mooney started off by saying that Cleveland is part of something big in Northeast Ohio and that we are in the process of shedding our “collective inferiority about what we used to be” and “now people are talking about what we are becoming!”.

Ms. Mooney said that the priorities of the GCP are government advocacy, creating a state policy for constructive tax reform, maintaining and improving Cleveland’s school system and maximizing efficient usage of Northeast Ohio’s energy resources. She also talked about major projects in the works like the renovation of Cleveland’s Public Square, the Opportunity Corridor, and the possibilities for the Cleveland Airport and air travel in and out of Cleveland now that the hub is being discontinued.

A major part of Ms. Mooney’s address involved the upcoming 2016 Republican (GOP) Convention and GCP Chief Executive Officer Joe Roman also contributed to this section of the presentation. Very simply the GOP convention offers a tremendous opportunity to Cleveland to show that its “burning river days” are over because 50,000 people will be coming here amidst spectacular media coverage for 7 days; in fact the only other event that gets more coverage besides the Democratic & Republican conventions is the Summer Olympics. Mr. Roman said that the same Republican Party officials who visited Cleveland recently also came in 2006 when we were being considered for the 2008 GOP convention and couldn’t believe how much Cleveland had changed for the better.

Mr. Roman continued and said that in the first part of January, 2015 60-70 full-time GOP staffers will re-locate to Cleveland and start working on what has to happen before, during and after the convention. Cleveland will thus have to review suggested improvement projects and decide which ones are the most important and can reasonably be expected to be completed before the convention and then get to work on them. Mr. Roman said that the Public Square Renovation can be completed in time but the Opportunity Corridor and, obviously, the innerbelt bridge will not be.

What we really liked about the program, though, was when Mr. Roman said, in response to a question, that due to the importance of education the person here on this day that one most needs to know is Ms. Megan O’Bryan who is the Executive Director of the Cleveland Transformation Alliance because, according to its website, it “works to ensure every student in the city attends an excellent school and every neighborhood has a multitude of great schools from which families can choose.”

Both before and after the program, we met some good people who know of Ms. Wong and wished her their best including Mr. Daniel P. Walsh of Huntington National Bank and Mr. Charles Klass of Executive Caterers. Ms. Karen Poelking, Vice President for Board and Community Relations at Notre Dame College says she saw Ms. Wong at Notre Dame earlier this week where she had gone for a meeting. Ms. Poelking says Ms. Wong was taking some photos of Notre Dame when they greeted each other.

But the nicest compliment came from Ms. Christine Krause, Director of Marketing and Development at Executive Caterers, who said that Ms. Wong provides “answers to a lot of questions for people who don’t have the answers.”

Our next event was a chamber of commerce luncheon put together by the Aurora, Solon and Twinsburg chambers at the Hilton Garden Inn in Twinsburg and it was also very well-attended with 165 people present. The reason for this was that U.S. Congressman David Joyce of Ohio District 14, consisting of 7 counties and 700,000 constituents, was speaking today. We got to say hello to Congressman Joyce before the luncheon and he told us that Ms. Wong was an old friend of his and “the greatest immigration attorney in the world!”

Congressman Joyce spoke for about half an hour and said that he believed that it was the federal government’s place to create a climate of “certainty” for business owners by constructively reforming the tax code, rules and regulations, and health care requirements that are hampering them so that hard work and innovation can prevail. Congressman Joyce reminded the attendees that his father immigrated here from Ireland and started off as a laborer around the docks but eventually became president of a company.

We asked him what his viewpoint was regarding immigration reform and Congressman Joyce acknowledged that this was a much-discussed topic; even people at seniors’ centers ask him about it. He went on to stress that first and foremost our borders must be “secured” to prevent dangerous people from coming here. He said that there are 16 million undocumented people here and we need to know who these people are so we can successfully deal with the problem. He indicated that our system of granting visas must be overhauled to make it more “market based and fair”. Congressman Joyce concluded by saying that there would be no “quick fix” for this situation and it would require a systematic piece-by-piece approach.

We were pleasantly surprised by the number of people at this luncheon who either knew Ms. Wong or had heard of her and respected both as an immigration attorney and as a community leader. Mr. Terry Carson of Diversified Insurance said that he had met Ms. Wong several times over the years and admired her for “defending people who otherwise wouldn’t be defended.” Ms. Layla Rzaeva immigrated to the United States from Russia with her family in 1993 when she was in high school and Ms. Wong was their attorney. At that time Ms. Rzaeva was a professional dancer but is now a designer and doing well. Ms. Tonnie Alliance, Corporate Relations and Major Gifts Officer with Hattie Larlham is an old friend of Ms. Wong’s and told us to be sure to say hello as did Mr. Alex Gertsburg whose wife we helped with her visa.

As we were leaving, we stopped in the parking lot to say hello to Mr. Robert Spaans who was leaving at the same time. As it turned out, Mr. Spaans immigrated to the United States from Canada with his family in 1997, received his green card in 2002, and his citizenship in 2007. When he first came to the United States, Mr. Spaans was an Engineer and now he is an Engineering Manager with Custom Pultrusions, Inc. We asked him how he likes living here in the U.S. and he said that he likes it a lot.

Our last stop for the day was a FUEL networking event at Bistro 70 on North St. Clair in Painesville. As we have said in earlier blogposts, FUEL stands for “Future Emergining Leaders of Lake County” and, according to its website, its purpose is to seek “to develop, connect, empower and retain young professional in Lake County by creating opportunities and pooling resources through member socialization and education.”

The age range is supposed to be 21-40 years old but older people like us are welcomed also. In fact, Linda Reed, Executive Director of the Painesville Chamber of Commerce was one of the coordinators of the event which was largely for fun with about 20 people attending so we just sat back and had a good time and made about 10 new contacts including Ms. Jessica Stinziano, Recruiter for TriNet Pharma who sometimes has foreign born clients.

We played a trivia game in which we had to know certain facts about Ohio largely in the Lake County area in order to win. We blew a tough question, as did everyone, regarding which two time academy award winning actor performed at the Rabbit Run Theatre in Madison, Ohio back in the 1950’s? We thought for sure that it was Fredric March, the esteemed actor of stage and screen who won awards for “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” back in 1931 and “The Best Years of Our Lives” back in 1946. It turned out it was a young guy named Dustin Hoffman who graduated from high school in 1955 so he must have been in his late teens-early twenties at the time. Oh, well…