Imagine you stroll sleepily into the kitchen. The glow of morning sun splatters your freshly painted, Naples Yellow (Sherwin-Williams) walls. You toss some strawberries, banana and protein powder into your turbo-charged blender (VitaMix), alchemizing your breakfast with its determined purr. Darting off, you grab a cranberry-orange scone drizzled in a translucent coat of lemon icing from the oil-weathered baking sheet (G&S Metal).
You back out of the drive, into the right lane, framed unassumingly by unending, ubiquitous yellow and white stripes (Potters Industries). On your way to the 9-to-5, with a little chill time before the daily grind, some classic vinyl tunes on SiriusXM radio (Gotta Groove Records) are in order.
Millions of Americans’ morning routines and work commutes should come with a little note: “Brought to you by Cleveland.” Throughout your day, at home and at work, Cleveland manufacturing is everywhere, in places you don’t think about, like the critically important thermal shielding in the underbody of your car (Soundwich) or even products that may surprise you, like hospital CT scanners (Philips).
As the second largest sector of employment in Cleveland, advanced manufacturing has been and continues to be the lifeblood of Cleveland’s economic engine. It boasts a robust portfolio of hundreds of small and mid-size businesses, as well as Fortune 500 companies like Arcelor Mittal, among others.
If you were to magically uproot all of those companies, plop them somewhere else in the world and think they’d just keep on groovin’, frankly they wouldn’t. They would be missing the grease (yes, we manufacture that, too) that keeps it all running smoothly.
The Start of it All
The roots of the sector go back decades, to the 1800s in fact, when companies such as Sherwin-Williams, Republic Steel – once the United States’ third-largest steel producer – and John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil capitalized on the economic benefit of Cleveland’s waterways--the indefatigable Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie.
Cleveland rose to national prominence on the back of its geography and the companies that invested here. Investment bred innovation, while diecasting a culture of hard work, collaboration and a devoted sense of community. It’s one of the reasons why families worked for the same company from one generation to the next. Just ask The Timken Company, a Fortune 500 fixture, or Cleveland-Cliffs, an iron and steel production workhorse formed four decades after Ohio achieved statehood.
Three Heads are Better Than One
Cleveland boasts an enviable troika of industry-advancing organizations – MAGNET, Team NEO and Manufacturing Works – which educate, cultivate and incubate manufacturing companies and the talent who work there. Their investment in Cleveland manufacturing has played an integral role in growth of the sector, leading to greater economic prosperity for the companies and city at large.
Sears think[box], Image © Russell Lee
Thinking Outside the Box
Nowhere else in the country do you have industry and academia tag teaming in the same way as in Cleveland. Sears think[box] is a seven-story, 50,000-square-foot facility at Case Western Reserve University that features a world-renowned makerspace for prototyping ideas. While university makerspaces are nothing new, open collaboration with the business community is. When PPE was in short supply during the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days, for instance, Sears think[box], Penn State University and Cleveland-based Nottingham Spirk set up an emergency manufacturing line that provided 150,000 face shields to hospitals in need.
Hard Hats and Lunchpails
It won’t show up in the box score, but countless companies talk about the benefit of employing workers with the classic Midwestern work ethic; that roll-up-your-sleeves, get-the-job-done mentality that Clevelanders seem to just take for granted. Since becoming a player in advanced manufacturing nearly two centuries ago, Cleveland has retained its hard-working grit, which continues to serve as a recruiting beacon for companies looking to set up shop in town and find motivated talent.
So, the next time you mow your lawn (MTD), hop on a plane for your next business trip (Industrial Manufacturing Company) or go out fishing on Lake Erie (American Angler), remember one thing: they were all brought to you by Cleveland.