Reinventing Cleveland

Positively Cleveland is recruiting the help of young professionals to initiate more positive feedback about where Cleveland is today and where it is going in the future. In an article written by Susan Glaser of the Plain Dealer, she describes how the initiative came about and what actions are going to be taken to improve Cleveland’s tourism and local feedback.

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The Goodtime III cruises along the Cuyahoga River, offering great views of the Cleveland skyline. (Lonnie Timmons III ) via cleveland.com

The two will get their chance, starting Thursday, at what Positively Cleveland is calling its YP CLE Ambassador Summit (YP, as in young professionals).

The goal is to pump these 20- and 30-somethings, members of the so-called Millennial Generation, for ideas on how best to shape the conversation about Cleveland, both here and elsewhere.

The motivation, said David Gilbert, president and CEO of Positively Cleveland, is a 2012 survey commissioned by the agency that found only 34 percent of Greater Clevelanders would recommend their hometown as a tourist destination.

“That’s an exceedingly low percentage,” said Gilbert, noting that comparable cities – including Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cincinnati and Milwaukee – all have a much larger percentage of residents who say they would recommend their communities to would-be visitors.

That same 2012 survey also found that recommendations from locals are an important factor when travelers are making destination decisions. So it’s crucial that more Clevelanders improve their attitudes about their hometown, said Gilbert.

Anecdotally, Gilbert believes that younger Clevelanders are more likely to have a positive attitude about Cleveland – which is why that group is the first to be enlisted to help the cause.

“Having been the butt of jokes for so many decades has given many Clevelanders this woe-is-us attitude,” said Gilbert. “In many ways, it’s a generational thing. From the late ’60s through the early ’80s, there was a real stigma to Cleveland.”

Clevelanders who weren’t alive then – people like Mack and Bibb – don’t have those same hang-ups, said Gilbert.

Combine those generational shifts with recent positive news events – including LeBron James’ decision to return to Northeast Ohio and the selection of Cleveland as host of the 2016 Republican National Convention – and Gilbert believes old-line impressions are already giving way to new perceptions.

“There’s no doubt it’s changing,” he added. “And if we can encourage a greater and faster change, then I think we’ll have really done a good thing.”

In addition, the younger generation’s use of social media has tremendous potential to promote change quickly.

Last spring, Positively Cleveland launched a #ThisisCLE campaign, encouraging Clevelanders to post photos – to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other sites – showcasing what they love about their city. In six months, more than 40,000 pictures were uploaded (you can find many of them here: thisiscle.com).

Among those who have posted photos (of Mitchell’s Ice Cream, Whiskey Island and other sights, in recent weeks): Carol Ferkovic, a physical therapist for the Cleveland Clinic.

“There’s a big group of young professionals in this city who have a lot of enthusiasm for Cleveland,” said Ferkovic, who grew up in Highland Heights, went to college in Pittsburgh, and now lives in University Heights. “It’s cool that people are so proud of the city.”

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