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Downtown Cleveland seeing increase in office workers, signaling potential boost in local economy

Foot traffic on rise across city
View of downtown Cleveland from AirTracker 5
Posted at 6:19 PM, Jul 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-26 19:19:47-04

CLEVELAND  — The COVID-19 pandemic hit local businesses hard across the downtown Cleveland area as many office workers shifted to remote work, reducing the amount of foot traffic to small businesses in the city. With recovery efforts still underway, Downtown Cleveland Alliance is seeing positive trends for the city as many office workers return downtown and new businesses continue to open in the vacant offices.

“Well we’ve been working really hard over the past few months to return office workers downtown," said Downtown Cleveland Alliance President & CEO Michael Deemer. “We’ve seen the numbers move. On any given day there were about 48% of the office workers in downtown compared to before the pandemic. We just released our July recovery report—we have about 60% of office workers back downtown on any given day."

That increase is, in part, due to some offices adjusting to the wants of employees who, for the past two years, have been working remotely. At AMS, a business management consultant, opening a new office space is helping them boost the number of employees working downtown as well.

“We've made a commitment to 150 news jobs over the next three years and recognize that coming out of the pandemic, is that people want to work differently," said Nicky Hancock. AMS president of the Americas region. "And so we’ve really listened to our employees in terms of when do they want to come into the office, how often do they want to come into the office, what do they want to do when they get into the office and really taking that feedback to think about how we designed the space."

The new space inside the AECOM Building on East 9th Street features Cleveland-centric office spaces for meetings and conferences, a dining area with a view of downtown and the lakefront, and different options for desk space that allows for collaboration and more freedom.

"Part of the reason we chose this building is there's a nice gym downstairs, the facilities—there's restaurants, there's shops—and so I think it's really important that our staff can go and have coffee, can have a drink, and lots of open spaces, lots of network spaces, and very much a collaboration center," said Mark Jones, Executive Vice President of AMS. "For our staff to come and enjoy the environment and network with their colleagues, and you really do need to continue to have that face-to-face contact, and that's really important too."

AMS has been downtown for the past 10 years and moving to the new space across the street also reflects a new approach to keeping employees interested in being downtown.

“Over the course of the last 10 years, we've seen more people actually live and move downtown, and people embrace or facilities that are out downtown," Jones said. "I think people have obviously spent the last two and a half years working remotely, and we have definitely seen some really great feedback about people wanting to be back in the office and really embracing being back in an environment whereby they can network with colleagues and they can spend time discussing things and just and just having a place to be."

Seeing the way AMS has adjusted its approach to bringing in more workers to the downtown area is something that Downtown Cleveland Alliance hopes can be continued by other businesses with offices either already downtown or with the ability to move into the area.

"We've seen a continued in-migration of businesses coming into downtown. Places like iHeartMedia coming into downtown, CrossCountry Mortgage relocating their corporate headquarters here," Deemer said. "Believe it or not, over the course of the pandemic, we've had over 76 storefront businesses open or move into downtown."

And as the city sees more office workers return downtown, it continues to see a rise in foot traffic and a boost in the economic impact those workers bring with them.

“Our goal is really to get at least 80% of the workforce into downtown on any given day. I think if we can get back to 80% that indicates that you know workers have some flexibility in their lives that they've come to appreciate and expect over the last couple of years," Deemer said. "But it also means there's enough foot traffic to support small businesses during the course of the day and allow them to really operate their businesses effectively, seven days a week, during the day, into the evening, on weekends."

To read Downtown Cleveland Alliance's July Recovery Report, click here.

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