A green industry partnership: an emerging collaboration for Northeast Ohio

Image: Nestlé & Hiram

The success of our partnership is a function of the assets that each of us contributes. These assets range from people (effort, expertise, and ideas) to physical resources, such as our facilities and natural areas. Here, Hiram College’s academic programs (such as environmental studies, biology, and entrepreneurship) and our field stations (James H. Barrow and Northwoods) have a key role to play in catalyzing the vision of establishing Northeast Ohio as a hub for the green industries.

An Idea Begins

In 2021, Hiram College began discussions with several organizations about the need for workforce training and development in Northeast Ohio for careers in the green industry fields. Potential employers have experienced labor shortages with a scarcity of applicants to fill positions. This shortfall has frequently resulted from a lack of skills, lack of specialized knowledge or education, and more broadly, from a lack of awareness about viable career prospects in these industries.

Those discussions involved a broad representation of organizations with ties to the green industries space, including Holden Forests & Gardens (non-profit), Cuyahoga Community College and Hiram College (educational non-profits), and The Davey Tree Expert Company and Arborwear (for-profit businesses).

Making Progress

Through early meetings, the group gained traction and the original founding partners recruited two additional members: the City of Cleveland Office of Sustainability (local government), and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (state government). This increased the partnership’s representation to include government organizations; it also increased the partnership’s reach through the networks associated with each of its individual organizations. With the added perspectives from these governmental institutions, we had a wider and deeper understanding of the green industries landscape and a collective set of insights to inform the next actions towards achieving our overarching goals.

The next actions revolved around three general categories. First, we have held regular meetings to discuss and identify our scope of interest and model for workforce development. From that work, we are focusing on a specific section of the green industry in Northeast Ohio, which includes researching, conserving, and developing our “plant-based” economy and infrastructure. Our initial model is that of a pipeline that integrates education and training with professional opportunities. This pipeline ranges from high school to certificates to higher education; and the professional opportunity pipeline ranges from entry level positions (including internships) to higher level positions for more established/skilled professionals. Here, students or professionals seeking additional training can connect to the pipeline at their existing academic or skill level and then exit more developed with their additional education/training. The professional pipeline connects workers and potential employers, allowing employers to fill their demand for well-prepared workers, while fostering the workers’ professional development and growth. We envision this structure integrated with, and supported by, professional associations and other community-based organizations, as well as the partnership members themselves through scholarships and other forms of support.

Second, our partnership members have actively engaged with other organizations to explore their interest in joining this effort. At the time of this writing (October 2023), our partnership has 19 member organizations among higher education, public school districts, government, non-profit, community, and private employers. We expect this number of collaborators to continue growing as we engage with more organizations that can benefit from and contribute to our goals.

And third, we have been pursuing various ways to bring this group together and formalize it. Our partnership has been an informal association of organizations that connect around a common vision. And our strategies and decision making have been reached through consensus by the initial group. However, with the progress in developing this collaboration, we identified the need to formally structure our group and its work. We have held two in-person workshop meetings graciously hosted by Davey Tree, the last of which was in late August 2023. With expert facilitation by New Growth Group (a workforce development consultancy from Cleveland), that meeting produced substantial outcomes which can be summarized as follows: We assessed our progress to date; had deep discussions about our goals and approaches to addressing the workforce challenges; explored structures to formalize our partnership; identified areas of connection among our various initiatives and areas of growth; and identified next steps, including potential funding opportunities to support our continued work.

Moving Forward

As a result of that meeting, our group submitted an Ohio Industry Sector Partnership grant proposal for workforce development in the green industry sector. This grant was prepared by Holden Forests & Gardens (the lead applicant), Hiram College, and Cuyahoga Community College. If funded, this will support several actions, including some related to structuring the partnership. We anticipate a decision on that grant by early next year.
While we wait for that grant decision, the work continues. We are exploring how our group can connect with other existing partnerships for greater impact, and we are planning combined efforts that can be executed without funding.