The value of people, the power of place

Jul 25, 2022

This op-ed originally appeared in the Crain’s Cleveland Business Forum on Transportation on July 25, 2022. Click here to read the original and explore the forum, the first in a series focusing on public policy issues that matter to Cleveland Business, funded by the Joyce Foundation.

By Bethia Burke, President
Fund for Our Economic Future

Bad news: Approximately 20% of your workers are considering quitting their job. Better news: About half say something could be done to get them to stay. And, while a majority of workers unsurprisingly rank competitive wages highest among factors affecting work decisions, newly released insights from a survey of 5,000 adults across Northeast Ohio show better wages are just the table stakes for today’s talent game.

“Where Are the Workers?” is the latest public initiative of the Fund for Our Economic Future, the organization I lead. For nearly two decades, we have been working to understand what matters, drive what works and prepare for what’s next in pursuit of a more equitable, prosperous Northeast Ohio economy. “Where Are the Workers?” brings together insights from the referenced survey and input from more than 600 employers and offers actionable ideas for anyone in the business of attracting or retaining talent.

Paying attention to what workers say matters. Even with concerns about a coming recession, talent shortages persist. There are nearly two open jobs for every worker in the U.S., yet finding or keeping a job has been difficult for nearly one in five Northeast Ohioans over the past year. While the region’s employers say their top talent strategy has been increasing wages, barely half of workers say they earn enough to meet their needs. And, as we’ve discovered, the way workers are reacting to today’s economic uncertainty is different than in past economic crises. While the instability of the Great Recession had the effect of scaring many workers into taking jobs they might otherwise not have settled for, today increased stress from the pandemic seems to have prompted many to ask, what makes the trade between work and life “worth it”?

The COVID-19 pandemic acted as an accelerant, exposing and amplifying long-term, systemic issues. Systemic issues, like no-growth sprawl, that have long driven family-sustaining work both literally and figuratively out of reach for many Northeast Ohioans. But “systemic” doesn’t mean “impossible to solve,” and our analysis presents several potential strategies for employers:

  1. Ask current workers what would make a difference to them.
  2. Incorporate flexibility, thinking expansively about what “flexibility” might mean. For some, it’s a fully or partially remote work environment. Other options? Build in more part-time positions or consider the alignment of shift times with school schedules.
  3. Decrease the cost for workers to get to work. This may be the fastest way to give someone a raise, and one of the most effective ways to increase access to talent. Even before gas prices soared, Northeast Ohioans were spending a disproportionate amount of income on transportation. Substantial work over the past three years through The Paradox Prize has produced replicable strategies for both individual employers and systems actors to change this reality. In Lake County, for example, workers using Laketran’s TransitGO option are saving anywhere from $70 to $400 a month in commuting costs. These savings are real, and increasingly important at a time when inflation is putting pressure on employers and workers alike. The solutions emerging from The Paradox Prize (available at can help employers of all sizes improve connections with workers and job seekers.

Additional implications and deeper analysis continue to emerge at as the Fund and our partners — including ConxusNEO, PolicyBridge, the Summit/Medina Workforce Area Council of Government and Team NEO — explore the data produced through this collaborative effort. All along the way, I’ve been heartened by the many employers who are eager to understand their workers’ and would-be workers’ perspectives and consider how to make workplaces work better for people.

Meanwhile, we and others have also been hard at work on an effort to enable more informed near-term decision making that can more effectively support more economically competitive long-term outcomes. Earlier this year, the Fund and Team NEO launched ESG to the Power of Place (, a first-of-its kind mapping tool to help businesses reach more workers, increase the racial diversity of their workforce and reduce commute emissions through the site selection process. That is, to use the power of place to reach environment, social and governance goals.

Understanding, reaching and keeping talent has never felt more important. A better tomorrow for the people and businesses of Northeast Ohio is possible. To reach it, we must recognize the value of the people in our workforce and harness the power of place.