Lee Fisher, President & CEO of CEOs for Cities

Lee Fisher, President & CEO of CEOs for Cities

A partnership of CEOs drives regional growth and stability

Lee Fisher’s message to CEOs is pretty simple: The best way to ensure the long-term success of your organization is to invest in the success of your city and region.

“The economy of the city and region directly impacts the CEO—it provides the pipeline of diverse talent his or her organization needs to be successful. So every CDO has a strong stake in discovering what it takes to make the regional economy more competitive.”

—Lee Fisher

President and CEO of CEOs for Cities, Fisher’s passion for his message—and his organization’s local-leadership driven, collaborative approach to economic development—is palpable. It’s not surprising; he’s spent much of his career championing Ohio’s economic development—as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and in several roles in his home state, including Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Director of the Ohio Department of Development, and Chair of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission.

CEOs for Cities is a national partnership network that connects leaders from all sectors—public, private, and philanthropic—to share the smartest ideas for making cities more economically successful. The organization takes a three-pronged approach to its work:

  • Researching, framing, and organizing ideas and information through a benchmarking framework called City Vitals that measures the performance of 51 metropolitan areas in four areas that matter most to urban success in the 21st century—the city’s connectivity, innovation, talent, and distinctness or unique personality
  • Mobilizing action on focused and memorable short-term goals that demonstrate measurable progress and improvement in those areas
  • Connecting and engaging leaders through national conferences and workshops that bring teams (called City Clusters) of cross-sector leaders together

“Our action agenda is called City Dividends,” says Fisher. “City Dividends is based on the belief that the single greatest motivator of human behavior is the ability to ‘move the needle’ and see meaningful progress in your work.”

City Dividends measures the economic impact of efforts made to improve the city in the four benchmarked areas. Moving the needle by as little as one percent in any of the areas makes a tremendous difference, according to Fisher. “For example, if you can increase the educational attainment of the people of your city and your region by just one percent,” he says, “research shows you will have a huge increase in per-capita income overall. It’s the rising tide that lifts all boats.” In fact, City Dividends research suggests that raising the median adult four-year college attainment rate in the top 51 metro areas studied by just one percent—from 30.7 percent to 31.7 percent—would be associated with an increase in income of $143 billion per year for the nation.

Fisher says that CEOs can—and should—play an important part in creating better opportunities for their workforce, both inside and outside the organization’s walls. “Start by creating a vision of what your company and your city should look like in the future. Make it realistic enough to achieve and inspiring enough to motivate. I think the greatest gift you can give your employees, and the citizens of your city, is a vision that allows them to see a bright and hopeful future, despite the challenges they see day to day.”

Learn more about CEOs for Cities at ceosforcities.org.