Robert L. Smith, Cleveland, February 7, 2012
People new to Cleveland now have a place just for them — a location where they can find directions, make connections and hear one sweet word — “Welcome” — in whatever language works.
The city’s first welcome center in modern times opened Tuesday near Public Square. Leaders of the Global Cleveland initiative steered about 200 civic leaders, politicians and downtown office workers toward their new headquarters, cut a ribbon and kicked off a crusade.
The Welcome Hub represents the most visible expression of Global Cleveland, an effort to repopulate the city and boost the regional economy by attracting talented newcomers from around the world.
The public-private venture — largely funded by the business community — was years in the making and not without controversy. Global Cleveland intends to reach out to immigrants as well as native-born Americans, and that made it a highly-charged idea.
Tuesday, civic leaders applauded the vision they said allowed the hub to happen.
“It just doesn’t make economic sense to close ourselves off from the world,” Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald told the audience.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson agreed.
“It’s really taken some time to happen, but it’s so important to Cleveland and to the region,” Jackson said. “This Welcome Hub will do the main thing we need to do. It will say “Welcome. Welcome to this city.”
It will also offer a diverse staff that can dispense advice, steer immigrants to their cultural communities, guide aspiring entrepreneurs to resources, and help skilled workers connect with employers who need them.