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Q&A: Digital guru Marc Canter says he's in Ohio to create jobs

Marc Canter, CEO of Digital City Mechanics. Photos Bob Perkoski
Marc Canter, CEO of Digital City Mechanics. Photos Bob Perkoski
Marc Canter, the CEO of Digital City Mechanics, has a five-year plan to create 5,000 jobs in northeast Ohio. His idea hinges on what he calls in a white paper "digital cities" --  with "Digital Citizens who will work Digital Jobs in an environment which utilizes Digital infrastructure to inter-connect people, issues and conversations together."
Canter's grand vision includes strengthening the state's polymer industry, training people for high-tech jobs and preparing that workforce to work from home. hiVelocity caught up with the serial entrepreneur and godfather of multimedia to talk about how he is reinventing himself in Cleveland -- and giving the area a much-needed shot in the arm.

This autumn chill isn't quite the West Coast climate you're used to.

I lived there for 21 years. But, I am an Oberlin graduate and I knew what I was getting myself into. Also, I am from the south side of Chicago and my wife is from Madison. There is such a thing as too much utopia. There's something special about the seasons. Right now, I am particularly focused on the technology I am working on.

You've been super-successful in your career. You could go anywhere. Why Cleveland?

I am asked this question all the time, and I am sure I have different answers. I have come to the right place at the right time, because I feel appreciated. It's more about being appreciated and utilized than riches. I came to Cleveland because it needs me the most. I came to a place, where, if I created 5,000 jobs, it would be felt the most. I zigged while others zagged. These new jobs will be online, high-tech jobs of the future. Basic skills -- knowing what YouTube is; how to use a wiki and a Google document -- you've got to know basic skills. Part of that process is to vet and find the most skilled people.

When Ohioans hear about someone setting up shop who wants to create 5,000 jobs, our ears perk up. What's your vision?

Squarely placed at the intersection of our past, present and future is where we live -- our homes and the city we live in. Even if we live in a rural or suburban setting, cities still represent the progress, habitat and state-of-society which we communally transfix our efforts and attention upon. By focusing on our future through the lens of a digital city I hope to communicate a vision, which inhabits the intersection of culture, economic growth and technology infrastructure which will make up our communal future. Digital cities will have digital citizens who will work digital jobs in an environment which utilizes digital infrastructure to inter-connect people, issues and conversations together. Digital cities will leverage public money, foundations and corporate institutional funding to create jobs, empower citizen engagement and provide an open innovation platform to entrepreneurs who will build new companies which will offer services, applications and tools to the city's digital citizens.

I believe that large-scale multimedia projects are at the heart of a sustainable model that can fuel our digital cities. But that's probably because I'm a multimedia guy. Others will find sustainable engines in urban gardening, health services or even community sports programs. Regardless of the fuel that feeds the engine, digital cities are a notion of utilizing and building upon on-line technological infrastructure -- for a happier, better way of life in the future.

What's will the future job market look like?

In the job market of the future, there are not full-time workers. And there will be new tools. The online world is like a hammer or screwdriver. It's the tool of the future. There are new kinds of jobs that require new kinds of training. We also need to create these jobs. What I bring to the table -- my success is -- multimedia. I can bring some credibility to the table.

You mentioned several "large-scale" ideas. Can you share one of them?

Goodyear Tire is a leader in polymers. Polymers are the second leading industry behind agriculture in Ohio. It's an $89-billion industry. How can we get this stuff online so people can learn about polymers? This alliance (between Case Western Reserve University and the University of Akron) would create visualizations, simulations, tutorials, games and all sorts of animations and videos on polymers -- A to Z. Akron needs jobs. I have chosen polymers because of its vested interest in Ohio.

What is the three-for-one-job model for job growth?

We hire professionals, but we require professionals to train three people in their jobs skills. If I am a writer, then it's my job to mentor and train three writers. Whatever my job is, I will mentor three high school or college students. We've created a tiered support system. The money comes in, we hire professionals, then we take all the content and we put it onto an open shared server -- those three elements working together.

As someone not from the area, how do you view the business environment here?

You've got a wide range of industries not wanting to take risks. A lot of corporations are beaten up. Brain-drain has taken some of the best and brightest. There are 2,500 foundations -- there is still a lot of wealth here. Everywhere I go, I preach my mantra, and everywhere I go, I get cautionary approval. If we set up the right scenarios, people would move here. Having a steel mill in the middle of the city and a salt mine along the lake doesn't help. But, Cleveland is a unique place.
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