How Cleveland could leverage blockchain technology for success

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Many stakeholders in the Greater Cleveland area see blockchain, an emerging technology that serves as a secure distributed ledger of online transactions, as a means to create a unique identity for the area that will attract and retain businesses. It also could be a means to economic development that improves lives in all of the city’s communities.
“Emphasizing blockchain doesn’t mean moving away from other important sectors, such as manufacturing and health care,” says Alex Johnson, Ph.D., president of Cuyahoga Community College. “But by putting resources behind blockchain now, Cleveland could establish itself as a hub for businesses and organizations developing this new technology for a worldwide audience.” 
Smart Business spoke with Johnson about Cleveland’s blockchain movement, where it’s headed and how it could become an economic engine for the city. 
What is blockchain? How is the technology being applied today? 
Blockchain is a series of digital records linked using cryptography. It enables transactions to be carried out between individuals or organizations without an intermediary. The design of blockchain is such that records can be accurately identified and verified, but are nearly impossible to alter by unauthorized parties — each transaction becomes a permanent part of the blockchain. This permits blockchain to provide accurate identification of a person while offering nearly impenetrable data security. These factors make it ideal for application in education; manufacturing, especially when it comes to supply chain management; government; the medical field; and any area in which secure records are kept.
How are area institutions of higher education involved?
The success of Cleveland’s blockchain movement depends on collaborative engagement. Area institutions of higher education can contribute through the development of the talent needed to work in this field. Cuyahoga Community College has joined forces with Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University to research and develop the new technology while training a workforce to bring it to life. This floor-to-ceiling approach ensures that new applications for blockchain are developed as people are trained to work with the technology and, at a higher level, understand its potential impact for improving existing business operations. 
Tri-C will focus primarily on workforce development. Investments in technology-related education, including labs and equipment, have aligned Tri-C as a key training provider for blockchain. Creating a pipeline of talent that ranges from technologists to technicians ensures that businesses that are considering locating in Cleveland will have the diverse and capable workforce they need.  
What does success look like for Cleveland’s blockchain movement?
Many local leaders see a potential path to Northeast Ohio’s economic renewal in blockchain, but only if the region gets out in front of the large-scale adoption of the technology. According to current projections, blockchain could be utilized in up to 60 percent of American companies by 2020. However, it will require a strong collective focus to be seen as a city that is synonymous with blockchain. 
What help is needed to achieve the movement’s goal?
It’s going to take a more formal approach that involves individuals throughout the community. It requires a redirection of resources and possibly a little help from outside agencies, such as the state government and philanthropic organizations throughout the nation. By working together to attract and retain the businesses and talent needed to grow this industry, blockchain could become the catalyst to continued economic recovery and advancement for the city and the region, and a catalyst for Cleveland’s growing, positive reputation. 

Further, a focus on talent development could be a driver of economic equality. The workforce for blockchain, and IT and other industry sectors, has to come from all of Cleveland’s communities. That means making an effort to get more individuals from throughout Cleveland prepared to take on the jobs that can elevate Cleveland to everyone’s benefit.

Insights Education is brought to you by Cuyahoga Community College.