Ohio: Staring into the face of change

Jeremy Hobson Oct 5, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: As we wrap up our week of broadcasts from Ohio, we’re going to look at the state’s economic past, present and future. And, when it comes to Ohio’s economic past — there is perhaps no better place to start than a steel yard.

Well, in the past it was a steel yard. Now it’s half steel yard and half Steelyard Commons — that’s the name of a shopping center. My guide is historian John Grabowsk, from the Western Reserve Historical Society.

John Grabowski: When the mills were closed down here, I’ll use the words, it was almost like an emasculation of the city and we fought to keep the mills here. If you look at old time Clevelanders, myself included, many of our forebearers came here — whether they are African Americans coming up from Birmingham, Alabama or my own ancestors coming form Slovenia and Poland — they came here for jobs in the mills or in factories that were related to the mills.

Hobson: They wanted to work in the steel industry and make a good living.

Grabowski: Well the steel industry wanted them to work and make a basic living. They fought to make a good living eventually.

Hobson: So what went wrong?

Grabowski: What went wrong was those workers, I would argue, were only cogs in a machine. And, we see again and again in industrial history, in cities like Cleveland, when one group of workers of one ethnicity or background became too expensive, they were replaced by another group who were less expensive.

One neighborhood that captures the past and the present is called Tremont, which grew up around the mill. Walk around the neighborhood today and you’ll still find middle class families with one thing on their minds:

Tina Konopka: Jobs.

Tina Konopka is a retired 69-year-old.

Konopka: We have to get jobs, get people back to working again, that’s the most important thing.

And when it comes to politics, Konopka is ready for a change.

Konopka: Because what has been done hasn’t been working, so they’ve got to come up with something different, something drastic, I think, to get this country turned around.

But the interesting thing about Ohio is that in the same place where you find that view, you also find this view, from 30-year-old public school teacher, Rosanna Lukanc.

Rosanna Lukanc: I feel like while we’re not in the best financial situation, staying the course and being with someone who respects what the real Americans are going through is going to be our best vote as a leader.

So as you can hear, the state’s past has left its residents divided about the future, but one thing is for sure, says John Grabowski, the historian.

Grabowski: It’s never going to be what it used to be. It cannot be what it used to be until there’s a wage rate that’s equivalent of a wage rate in India or China, which is not going to happen. So, we have to get used to a smaller city, we have to get used to a city with empty spaces, we have to get used to a city in which the economy may be driven in a different direction.

So here’s the weird thing about Cleveland. You walk around downtown and see a city whose clothes are little too big, if you know what I mean. There are more storefronts than stores. And, yet it’s a city whose largest private employer is being touted as a model for the country by both candidates for president.

President Obama: Cleveland Clinic — one of the best health care systems in the world — they actually provide great care, cheaper than average.

Former Governor Mitt Romney: Free people and free enterprises trying to find ways to do things better are able to be more effective in bringing down the cost than the government will ever be. Your example of the Cleveland Clinic is my case in point.

So let’s go to the Cleveland Clinic and see what they’re talking about. Door-sized rolling robots warn humans to get out of the way as they cart medical supplies across this sprawling complex that employs some 20,000 people.

Steve Glass is the chief financial officer of the clinic.

Steve Glass: You can see this floor has magnets and the computer robots are actually following the magnets in the floor, that’s how they know where to go, where to drop off.

Hobson: Wow.

Glass: And, of course, they sense when people step in front.

Hobson: So they don’t crash into people.

Glass: We haven’t had any accidents yet.

Hobson: You ever taken a ride on one?

Glass: They don’t let me, they’ve got little signs on there that say you’re not allowed to get on them, but it’s also an example of more efficient ways of delivering this. To have people 24-7 a day pushing carts city block lengths in order to deliver supplies is not going to be efficient.

Now pay attention to that word he just used: efficient. That is what the Cleveland Clinic is all about. For example, when you come in with a heart problem, all the doctors who see you work for the clinic, share information, and are on the premises.

Glass: Having everybody in one integrated system, having everybody access to the same information, the same processes, the same policies and procedures, the same quality of care across every care delivery — really trying to drive efficiency across all of that.

So what does efficiency have to with the other ‘e’ word — the election — and with Ohio. Let’s get back to Dr. Grabowski, the historian from Case Western Reserve.

Hobson: What does the nation get from having this state, with all of its history and all of the baggage — good and bad — that comes along with it, pick the president of the United States in many cases these days?

Grabowski: I think it’s absolutely perfect because, you know, Ohio in many ways represents all the varieties of the United States. We are looking at people in many parts of Ohio who are staring major change in the face, which is something the United States as a whole is staring at right now.


Our Cleveland broadcasts were produced by Justin Ho, edited by Sean Bowditch, and engineered by Charlton Thorp. We also had help from Mary Dooe, Bridget Bodnar, Nancy Farghalli, Ethan Lindsey, Devin Robins and Brendan Willard. Special thanks to our hosts here at WCPN, especially Jeff Carlton.



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