How to add $1.6 billion to the region's economy
only one number I need to predict the success of any city," says the
firebrand that is Carol Coletta, president of CEOs for
"Talent explains 58 percent of the success of any city
based on per capita income. So if we start with talent, what are the
minimum gains we can make for a huge impact? It's all in educational
Coletta's message is receiving a great deal of attention around the country thanks to the CEOs for Cities Talent Dividend Tour
which passed through Cincinnati this week. Based on the belief that the
more educated a city’s population, the more robust its economy will be,
the tour is intended to provide cities the tools needed to increase the
political and civic will to produce more college graduates, which
translates directly into demonstrable economic gains.
equation is known as a city's Talent Dividend. On a national level, an
increase in educational attainment, measured by raising the four-year
college degree attainment rate by one percentage point in each of the
51 largest metropolitan areas, would see an increase in per capita
income of $124 billion per year for the country.
"The only way to make a difference in America is if you make a difference in American cities," says Coletta.
it's the Cincinnatis that are going to change this country. The sooner
Cincinnati can realize its destiny in doing that, the stronger America
is and the more globally competitive we are."
The Talent Dividend is one of three key areas included in CEOs for Cities research under the banner of The City Dividends
which seeks to identify the modest improvements that can be made right
now within cities to produce the largest gains. The three key areas are:
- The Talent Dividend - increasing college attainment by one percentage point
- The Green Dividend - reducing vehicle miles traveled by one mile per person per day
- The Opportunity Dividend - reducing poverty by one percentage point
achieving these goals within the top 51 metro areas (regions with a
population of one million and above), the nation would see a $166
billion annual dividend for the nation, with $124 billion coming from
So what does that mean for Cincinnati?
you don't have talent at the top of your economic development agenda,
then you don't have an economic development agenda," Coletta says.
of new talent has been a much talked-about goal for Cincinnati, and
according to recent figures, it is paying off. Out of the top 51 metro
areas in the country, only 16 increased their populations of 25-34
year-olds, with Cincinnati among them. But for America's
competitiveness, we cannot simply re-shuffle talent out of Columbus and move it to Cleveland. To compete globally, we need to create
and develop new talent within our own ranks. By investing in our local
talent base, we create an educated population that produces more income
with more skills that leads to more innovation and more productivity.
study suggests that if we can move up the Cincinnati metro region's
college attainment rate (currently at 27 percent) by one percentage
point, the result could be a talent dividend of $1.6 billion annually
in personal income. "To get your one percentage point increase, you
need 14,500 students moving through a four-year college to get the $1.6
billion payoff," says Coletta. "Even though we are measuring at a
four-year college attainment, the benefit is moving the entire
distribution curve forward."
That means bringing everyone on the
education spectrum up, including: elementary preparation, high school
graduation rates, as well as two-year college degrees and secondary
"You don't get more people graduating from
college unless you get more people graduating high school -- that's the
key," says Coletta.
about that. 14,500 more students graduating and staying in the region
would bring an additional $1.6 billion into the area.
"Once you get that number and realize we're only talking about 14,500 people," says Coletta, "that suddenly seems doable."
seems even more doable when you take into consideration that the region
boasts 16 separate colleges and universities. Were there a concerted
effort to determine what it would take to increase enrollment across
the board to reach the magic number, how soon would it be before we
could consider doing even more?
Other cities are asking what they can do to begin this process, but thanks to local efforts such as Strive
, Cincinnati is in the unique position to instead ask the question, "How can we build on what we are already doing?"
"Cincinnati is doing the best work in the country in thinking about the education continuum," says Coletta.
leadership of Strive has identified a number of key strategic steps to
achieve educational improvement, ranging from pre-elementary prep to
improving the quality of schools and teaching, as well as creating
clear career pathways for graduates.
The Strive team is also
considering another initiative that could provide significant long term
gains: dedicated scholarships for students. A philanthropist in
Kalamazoo, Michigan established a fund called the Kalamazoo Promise,
which guaranteed that every child in the city could receive free
college tuition to a public institution. Strive leadership, as part of a proposal for Agenda 360
determined that, if Cincinnati offered a similar program to only the
urban core of our region -- including Cincinnati Public Schools,
Newport and Covington -- the number of young adults with two- or
four-year degrees would double over the next 13 years.
this is just in the urban core," says Jeff Edmondson, executive
director for Strive. "It would take a significant investment, but it's
a single strategy that could boost the talent dividend that gets us
closer to where we need to be."
Whether it is the prospect of a
Cincinnati Promise or a combination of strategies, the fact remains
that a unified approach to funding is needed to bring about the kind of
change possible. "We need to think regionally – it's not just a city
thing or a county thing," says Coletta. "The Dividend project puts real
numbers behind the effort. It helps us all understand what we can
invest and what we can get back on an annual basis."
Conversations around education always seem to break down to an appeal for financial resources. But how much money is enough?
"If what we're about is per capita income," says Coletta, "then all we need to know is the educational attainment rate."
is why the talent discussion is so important. It provides a no-nonsense
formula. If you can achieve X, the result will be Y. The private,
public and government sectors can all understand that this kind of
investment, in the long term, is directly related to the survival of
the city which we all call home.
A statistic recently released by Newsweek
that the national unemployment rate is hovering around 8.5 percent.
However, the breakdown of that data is revealing: unemployment for
those without a high school diploma is 13.5 percent, but for those with
a four-year degree, it is closer to 4.5 percent. It stands to reason
that the more educated talent a city has, the quicker it is likely to
bounce back when times get tough.
"We are at a particular moment
in time where we can go down one of two paths," says Coletta. "One path
is tremendously exciting, and one is scary as hell. We're not going to
go down the exciting path unless our cities are leading the way. So we
need to get smart real fast about what's going to matter to city's
Photography by Scott BeselerCarol Coletta, CEOs for Cities
Jeff Edmonson, Strive and Ed Owens, Fifth Third Bank
Jeff Edmonson, Strive
Talent Dividend TourJeff Syroney is the Managing Editor of Soapbox.