Reversing the LeBron Effect: Cleveland Looks to Attract Young Talent

Mar 11, 2014

When LeBron James seized the national stage to declare his intention to depart for the bright lights and sun of Miami, the 2010 media spectacle known as “The Decision” encapsulated one of the biggest challenges facing the Rust Belt city inside of one (excessively long) 75-minute broadcast.

A small market city on the chilly banks of Lake Erie, Cleveland has suffered an exodus so substantial that the population has withered by more than 17% since 2000.

So what are Cleveland boosters doing to lure back young talent? The answer is a cocktail of affordable housing, heavy-duty renovations, and professional upward mobility.  

“From when I was in high school, (Cleveland) has made leaps and bounds,” said Steven Taylor, a native Clevelander. “People are slowly changing their opinions of the city and seeing it as a more viable option.”

Though Taylor himself departed last year on a 14-city journey that is taking him to major cities across North America, the twenty-something advertising professional has not ruled out a return home.

“Not only are my friends and family there, but with all the new infrastructure and growth opportunities, it's truly becoming a place anyone should add to their list of potential homes,” said Taylor, who is currently stationed at We Are Social in New York.

Seeking to retain or entice more young talent like Taylor, local nonprofits such as Cleveland Neighborhood Progress have sprung into action. The organization works with about two dozen community development groups to raise money toward helping make Cleveland a more attractive and affordable place to live, says Jeff Kipp, director of neighborhood marketing at Cleveland Neighborhood Progress.

One such development partner is Tremont West, a nonprofit working to build “a dynamic community” in the neighborhood south of downtown Cleveland. Groups such as Tremont West “help to divide and develop a neighborhood plan,” according to Kipp, by “revitalizing the housing stock and upgrading home values.”

Tremont West has a number of programs aimed at improving the neighborhood and supporting local businesses, such as a “Storefront Incubator Program” that helps retailers set up shop and a transportation development plan to make the community streets more walkable.

“We have a phenomenal rehabilitation effort,” said Kipp, noting that an expected surge in downtown Cleveland’s population from 12,000 to 15,000 residents has led to the construction of a new Heinen’s grocery store.

The new revitalization efforts helped yield approximately 1,500 new homes in 2012, with all 54 of Cleveland’s official neighborhoods reaping the benefits of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress’s fundraising.

Kipp described efforts to refabricate the city’s neighborhoods as a “refreshing change” that has helped to facilitate a 96% occupancy rate in downtown rental units while sparing newcomers from sticker shock.

Cleveland’s entry-level housing market compares favorably to other major metropolitan areas, with rents averaging a little over $700 a month. The average rent for an apartment within 10 miles of New York City commands in excess of $3,000 a month, while an apartment near Chicago approaches $1,900 a month.  

Kipp refers to the quality and affordability of Cleveland homes as “the hook” for professionals in search of a landing spot, while the opportunities for advancement in the region are also a key selling point.

“If you’re a young professional, you can make more of a splash in a city like Cleveland,” he said. “You can pony up next to the movers, shakers and decision makers in town.”

While there is still much work to be done to turn Cleveland into a magnet for top talent, Taylor remains optimistic that his hometown will only get better.

“They are serious about improving the area and retaining talent,” he said. 

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