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Paul A. and Sonia F. Unger International Forum on Cleveland in the World

On Tuesday evening, March 28th, we attended the "Paul A. and Sonia F. Unger International Forum on Cleveland in the World" at the City Club.

The subject matter was the 2017 State of Downtown and it featured a panel consisting of Dr. Humberto Choi, M.D., Pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic and a resident of downtown; Mr. Joe Cimperman, the President of Global Cleveland; Mr. John Kiru, Executive Director of the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas; and Mr. Joseph Marinucci, the President of the Downtown Cleveland Alliance. The discussion was moderated by Ms. Danielle Snipes, reporter/producer from Ideastream.

As the program notes read:

"In the 1920's Cleveland prospered, in part, because of its significant foreign-born population who provided the labor and entrepreneurial skills needed for the city's changing economy. Today, Ohio's foreign-born immigrants number 480,868-just 4 percent of the population. The national average is 13 percent. The city's continued economic success is dependent on its ability to embrace technology and innovation, and compete in a highly skilled global economy. Join us for a conversation on how immigration and international residents can create jobs and influence a vibrant 24/7 downtown community."

Here are some of the things that each panelist said:

***Mr. Marinucci (who was born in a small Italian city and immigrated to the U.S. with his family when he was two years old) talked about what a great year that 2016 had been for Cleveland. As far as the housing market, the occupancy rate has been in the 90's for the past several years and more units were expected to go on the market in 2017.

Many of the new occupiers were millenials and their children (a surprising number of youngsters) but there were also quite a few baby boomers. As far as job creation, between 2011-2014 about 3,000 new jobs were created in downtown Cleveland. In terms of attracting new talent, he believed that immigrants must be a vital part of the strategy to produce a "vibrant and diverse" downtown. He contended the possibility for home ownership is a key to our future success. He said that we could learn a great deal from what is happening in Toronto.

Other challenges were our infrastructure; many places are not as connected as we would like them to be. We also need more schools and are exploring the possibility of creating more playgrounds for children.

***Mr. Kiru (whose family immigrated to Canada from Czechoslovakia) talked about the exciting things that are happening in Toronto which is composed of almost 2.9 million people and is perhaps the most diverse city in the world with 162 languages spoken there. The largest ethnic group are those from China which total 500,000 people who have either immigrated from there or are of Chinese descent. He went on to say that a visit to Toronto was like experiencing the whole world in just 7 days and, indeed, ethnic people were the drivers of the economy.

The inner city is being rebuilt/restricted and, at this time, there are 172 construction cranes in the air. Some of the planned, if not already constructed housing units are sizable, but then, some are quite small which is all right because people spend most of their time outside. Accordingly, the downtown area is vibrant at all hours. For immigrants who have often left everything behind to seek a new life, home ownership is an important element of "planting roots" and thus condos are quite popular and an important part of the economy.

Another point to take into consideration about the value of immigration is that when a foreign-born professional arrives, it will usually take a while for her/him to become re-certified so that she/he can practice their profession in Canada. In the interim, they often will invest in starting their own businesses in their ethnic neighborhoods.

As far as his impressions of Cleveland, Mr. Kiru said that he had toured our city and it reminded him of Toronto in the late 80's-early 90's-a place with a lot of potential for more opportunity and prosperity. For example, the development of our waterfront area could yield the great results that waterfront development created for Toronto. He urged us to continue our path in terms of residential development and talked about the need for local government to be cooperative in terms of streamlining the permit process and to build a cooperative relationship with the business community. 

He also suggested we not be afraid of giving a location a name like "Little Italy" and celebrating our diversity. After all, in Toronto there are just under 200 street festivals/community gatherings each year and residents sometimes choose to stay home and attend them instead of taking a vacation elsewhere and thus a lot of money is retained locally.

We asked Mr. Kiru if he believed that with so much diversity a national language was needed to unite/hold us together both here and in Canada. He replied thoughtfully that he didn't think that he would advocate for a national language because the most important thing is that people feel comfortable and this can partially be achieved by creating an environment wherein they are free to speak in their native tongue. Plus it has been his experience that at the end of the day, people put Canada first and foremost.

***Dr. Choi spoke of how he was born in Brazil to parents who had immigrated there from Korea. He, himself, came to the U.S. in 2006 because it offered the most opportunities for where he specifically wanted to go with his own career. He first went to Chicago and trained in Cook County Hospital (which was multiethnic) before coming to Cleveland to work at the Cleveland Clinic around 2013.

Initially, he lived in Lakewood but moved to our downtown area when he had the opportunity because, like any immigrant, his priorities were to reside in a safe place close to his work. He is very glad that he did because there are plenty of options here for him to pursue his hobbies and engage in sports (he is an avid runner and enjoys running seeing other runners out there when he is running) with the like-minded.

To be sure, he upholds the Cleveland Clinic because it is a very diverse organization and he and his colleagues get along great and learn from each other.

***Our good and dear friend, Mr. Cimperman once said in an interview in that "I was raised by a mother who was born in Slovenia, and a father who took me to bilingual services every Sunday. I marinated in this place; a city that has given me everything that I understand in the world" which captures the positive attitude that he displayed on the panel on this day at the City Club.

He contended that downtown was meant for immigrants such as his mother who felt most at home there and spoke about Cleveland's history as a welcoming city for immigrants and refugees and how we have the potential to be even more so.

When asked to comment about the recently imposed travel bans, he said that we must continue to be the city that we are in spite of what is happening in Washington, D.C.

He went on to talk about how proud that we should be (and we agree with him 100%) that we are home to a place like Thomas Jefferson Newcomers Academy and the great potential immigrants to fill the "talent gap" which is what many entrepreneurs are saying is the number one area that Cleveland is behind in. He reminded us of the accomplishments of immigrant entrepreneurs like Ms. Radhika Reddy, the founder of Ariel Ventures.

He agreed, however, with Mr. Kiru that Cleveland must continue to enhance its relationship with the business community and briefly discussed the things that Mayor Jackson and he did along these lines when he served in the Cleveland City Council.

On this day, we arrived early and had a good conversation with Mr. Alan Unger, the child of Paul A. and Sonia F. Unger, about the recent Executive Orders pertaining to immigration. We also enjoyed sharing a table and visiting with Mr. Matt Dierker from "Centric" who we have talked to several times before and Mr. Tony Manocchio from "Northcoast Research" who we met for the first time.

Another person we had not met before who we talked to at time was Mr. Ryan Komikoff who is the Chief Operating Officer for "Rock the House Entertainment Group". Mr. Komikoff told us that he chose to attend this program because he was a City Club member and most of his business was in the downtown area so "what happens here is important" to me.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC