Mar 8, 2023 - News

Cleveland economic development director wants to put people first

Illustration of Cleveland City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Tessa Jackson, who became Cleveland's director of economic development early last summer, has been trying to change the conversation around development in the city.

  • "When you look at historic poverty rates, historic unemployment rates, [Cleveland's public subsidies] really haven't moved the bar," she said during budget hearings last month. "You can't spend half a billion dollars on economic development and not move the bar for anybody."

Catch up quick: Jackson arrived from New Orleans early last summer. She'd previously only been to Cleveland for professional conferences.

  • "All I saw was my hotel and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame," she joked.

Her development philosophy, she told Axios, is "people-centric."

  • "Economic development traditionalists will tell you it's all about creating jobs and attracting jobs and helping to build companies," she said.
  • "But I think you need to put people first. The question I ask is: Does this improve the lives of individuals and neighborhoods in terms of economic opportunity? My next question is: Who are we helping?"

What's next: Jackson applauded City Council's community benefits legislation and said she'd work with the Office of Equal Opportunity to create an "economic development scorecard" to evaluate projects based on community impact.

  • "Are you creating living-wage jobs?" Jackson asked, for example. "Are you providing resources and amenities? Are you working in difficult-to-develop areas?"

The bottom line: The projects that score highest will be the ones that get the city's limited resources.


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