Without hurricanes, wildfires and water shortages, is climate Cleveland’s new selling point?

CLEVELAND, Ohio – People love to disparage Cleveland for its weather – and winters here can indeed be brutal – but a little lakefront snow is nothing compared to the weather crises other parts of the country have endured. We could be the lucky ones.

Massive wildfires are burning California, sending plumes of smoke across many states.

Drought across much of the west has resulted in water restrictions for some of the 40 million users who depend on the severely depleted Colorado River, with more severe limitations likely along the way.

Hurricane Ida, a major Category 4 storm, destroyed much of southern Louisiana before its remnants flooded parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, shutting down the New York subway and drowning several people in their basements.

Oh, and for those who complain about the 90 degree days in Cleveland every summer, know that Portland hit a record 116 degrees in June, surpassing all-time highs in Dallas and New Orleans.

“Welcome to Ohio, we’re boring from a climate point of view,” said Ned Hill, professor of economic development at Ohio State University.

The risk of severe weather and natural disasters in many parts of the United States stands in stark contrast to Greater Cleveland and the rest of the Great Lakes where hurricanes, drought, earthquakes and the like are of little concern.

“It’s actually something that came to my mind when I was playing golf the other day,” said Matt Barkett, executive at Cleveland Dix & Eaton’s public relations firm.

Barkett, who lived in Denver, said he and the others in his quartet felt blessed to be outside on such a beautiful day, considering the hardships others were going through.

“I mean these drought issues are really scary,” he said.

Indeed, the abundance of fresh water stored in the Great Lakes must resemble a shimmering oasis for areas of the country that lack water.

Hill actually coined the phrase “climatically boring” for the Cleveland area in the 1990s when he was teaching at Cleveland State University. in the Richfield area.

The companies were providing behind-the-scenes IT operations for insurance companies in New York City and wanted to minimize the risk of weather-related disruption.

“We don’t have earthquakes. The tornadoes are in the southern part of the state. … ”said Hill. “And people know how to get to work in the snow. “

The US Drought Monitor is produced jointly by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Making the climate a business asset for Ohio

Today, several organizations are trying to capitalize on Cleveland’s relatively boring climate.

The Cuyahoga County Department of Sustainability, along with the Cleveland Water Alliance and the Cleveland State Energy Policy Center, are developing something tentatively called the “Business Climate Risk Tool” that would highlight the Northeast Ohio weather benefits.

“Companies are certainly focusing more on the value of being in a climate-friendly environment and how that can affect their bottom line,” said Mark Henning, research associate at the State of Energy Policy Center. Cleveland.

The goal is to create a database that will allow businesses to connect anywhere in the country and determine their climate risk and associated costs.

“If you pay for hurricane insurance, how much are you paying compared to zero here?” Said Ebie Holst, director of clusters and innovation at the water alliance.

These types of ratings already exist, but they are scattered and located behind the payment walls of rating companies, Foley said. “We’re going to have to put something in place and then test it with people. “

Holst said a northeast The Ohio-based company has already volunteered to pilot the tool “so they can look at their operating costs in different locations.”

Foley said he hopes to have a program ready for testing by the spring of 2022 and that the Cleveland Foundation should decide soon whether it will contribute $ 100,000 to the effort.

Once developed, the tool could be used to bolster Northeast Ohio’s trade attraction efforts, which have already clustered to some extent around the region’s water resources.

In this case, the county and the Water Alliance have teamed up with the Greater Cleveland Partnership to launch a rigorous study of the industries most likely to be concerned about water safety, identifying some 900 companies they should speak with, a said Bryan Stubbs, chairman and executive director. of the Water Alliance.

“We have fresh water and we’ve upgraded the capacity,” Stubbs said, “That’s the other big deal here.”

This list was initially reduced to just over 100, all related to the chemical industry, who may have reason to locate operations in the Cleveland area.

“This is one of our clearly differentiated strengths that we need to capitalize on in every way,” said Baiju Shah, president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, both as a resource for attracting businesses and jobs as well as as a leisure provider. .

The value of Lake Erie

While water is clearly an asset for Northeastern Ohio, “it’s a lot more nuanced than I think a lot of people realize,” said Bill Koehler, general manager of Team NEO, a JobsOhio’s regional economic development arm.

Lake Erie offers plenty of water, he said, but if it is to be bottled or used in food processing, the additional treatments could be prohibitively expensive. There is also a question of access.

And while climate risk in general can be a factor in which a business makes an investment, it may not be enough to uproot a business from, say, California, where it has a workforce and a chain of. established supply.

“I mean, when companies are looking to make a big investment, the decision is to generate a return on their investment, their return on their investment, as quickly as possible with the most certainty over time,” he said. declared.

Yet the idea of ​​Cleveland as a climate paradise is gaining ground. National publications highlight it, including the all-important Site Selection magazine, which touted the region’s abundant water resources in an article no doubt read by the very people who help point businesses to where another.

And an article in Fast Company, which bills itself as “the world’s first progressive business media brand,” focuses on the prospect of Cleveland other Great Lakes cities becoming the mecca for climate refugees.

He asks whether proposed federal investments in green infrastructure should be directed to the ever-growing Sunbelt or “to more resilient areas where people may one day move.”

low risk

This map from JobsOhio shows how low-risk Ohio is for natural disasters.

“Let us restore the beauty of the Great Lakes”

“If it is indeed the latter, let’s make the Great Lakes great again,” the article said. “Not only is the region expected to avoid the most egregious climate impacts, but it also has an abundance of affordable housing, room to grow, and a commitment to equity and sustainability. “

At the Cleveland Foundation, these are the kinds of questions Stephen Love asks himself every day as a program manager for environmental initiatives. He thinks Cleveland’s weather sets it apart from other cities.

Northeast Ohio is well positioned to take advantage of its climate resilience, he said, but only if it maintains that resilience by reducing its carbon footprint and preserving the quality of its assets, including Lake Erie, which continues to be threatened by harmful algal blooms in the Western Basin.

It also means being prepared over the next decades for what could be an onslaught of climate refugees, including those of small means fleeing areas where climatic vagaries have made life untenable.

One thing is certain, the concern has the attention of those seeking to preserve the wealth they already possess.

Nowadays, the concept “ESG”, which stands for environmental, social and governance, is popular in meeting rooms. Investors are demanding that companies consider the threat of climate risk to the company’s future performance, Shah said.

“It’s like an exponential growth in awareness because of the ESG movement,” he said.

JobsOhio, the state’s quasi-private economic development arm, recognizes businesses’ growing desire to limit their climate risk and discusses state benefits on its website.

“The market differentiates sites based on important factors such as abundance of water and low risk of natural disasters,” JobsOhio spokesperson Matt Englehart said in an email. “Ohio is strongly positioned on both, and we are working with our partners to highlight this advantage with potential job creators. “

Additionally, he said, “Ohio’s low risk of natural disasters is particularly attractive to companies looking to make a high capital investment, such as in data centers, lithium-ion batteries and energy. “

Or as Hill would say, come to Ohio, where it’s climate boring.

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