Cleveland, Ohio, was at the heart of the American industrial revolution more than 100 years ago.
It was a crucial centre of heavy industry, and the home of one of the original US billionaires, John D Rockefeller.
Benefiting from the city’s location on Lake Erie and a series of rail lines nearby, Rockefeller’s Standard Oil made Cleveland the centre of American petroleum production.
However, Cleveland, like other parts of the US industrial heartlands, saw a decline in more recent years as industries and the refineries moved away, leaving factory closures and unemployment in their wake.
The city is now is seeking to reinvent itself as the leader of the new American green energy revolution.
Earlier this week Justin Bibb, mayor of Cleveland, told me about the city’s history and its plans as he prepared to lead a delegation to Ireland.
As part of the visit over the next few days, the group is hoping to generate Irish business investment in the northeast Ohio region.
Globalisation had a negative impact on our city, in terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) and other free trade agreements, which really decimated our urban core. I’m trying to make up for lost time
— Cleveland mayor Justin Bibb
“Cleveland has a long and really, quite frankly, an amazing storied history. We were once the sixth-largest city in the country. At the height of the industrial revolution, we were home to the world’s first billionaire, John D Rockefeller, who started Standard Oil. We elected the first black mayor of any big city in the country, at the height of the civil rights movement. We are also the birthplace of the environmental justice movement because our river caught on fire in the 1960s.”
He says that following the fire, the then mayor toured the country talking about pollution and the impact industries were having on climate and waterways.
Bibb says this led to the introduction of clean water legislation and ultimately to the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency in the US.
He says that just as Rockefeller and Standard Oil, with its refineries, kick-started an industrial revolution, Cleveland wants to move towards an economy built around green energy, high technology and healthcare.
“We are moving away from the ‘rust belt’ to what others have called the ‘silicon heartland’.
“Globalisation had a negative impact on our city, in terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) and other free trade agreements, which really decimated our urban core. And unlike other cities, we were late to the game in terms of moving quickly in the technology and service sector economy in the digital economy. And as mayor, since I took office last year, I’m trying to make up for lost time, and make sure we can be a leader in not just advanced manufacturing but [also] in healthcare.
“We just did a ribbon cutting to launch the second-only private sector, quantum computer in Cleveland with IBM and Cleveland Clinic. And so we’re going to be leading the nation, really leading the world, in quantum healthcare, computing and analytics and analytics and advanced manufacturing.”
After years of Irish politicians travelling to the US to seek investment, the Cleveland delegation is looking at possible greater Irish involvement in its economy
The Cleveland Clinic is the city’s biggest employer with about 56,000 workers. He says the Cleveland Clinic operates a number of hospitals throughout the region and also has a presence in Abu Dhabi and in London.
As part of the move towards green tech and high tech, the mayor points to the manufacture of electric batteries in the region and the decision by Intel to invest $20 billion in a new manufacturing facility near Columbus, Ohio, about two hours from Cleveland.
Bibb says his city hopes to attract supply chain companies that will be doing business with the new large Intel plant.
The Cleveland delegation’s visit to Ireland comes as the first direct air link between the city and Ireland is being launched. There is a long connection between Cleveland and Co Mayo, with large numbers of people emigrating, particularly from Achill, to the city. The mayor will be visiting Achill, which is twinned with Cleveland, this weekend.
He will also meet the US ambassador to Ireland, Claire Cronin, and with business and political interests in Dublin.
After years of Irish politicians travelling to the US to seek investment, the Cleveland delegation is looking at possible greater Irish involvement in its economy.
“We want to tell the Cleveland comeback story to all the key stakeholders that we meet and interact with in Ireland throughout the course of our time there. And number two, we want to let people know that Cleveland is open and ready for business. And how can we create more commercial partnerships to export our goods to Ireland or have Irish companies invest in Cleveland and export their goods to us as well to create a mutually beneficial partnership.”