University and community leaders came together at the Fawcett Center on Tuesday to discuss strategies to create economic opportunities for local families. Credit: Zach Varda | Campus Editor

University and community leaders came together at the Fawcett Center on Tuesday to discuss strategies to create economic opportunities for local families.

The meeting was the beginning of the Alliance for the American Dream, a partnership between Ohio State and Schmidt Futures, which is part of a “larger commitment toward promoting shared prosperity.”

“This is not an Ohio State project, this is a community project,” Bruce McPheron, Ohio State executive vice president and provost, said. “This is us.”

Schmidt Futures, which describes itself as a “venture facility for public benefit” and awarded Ohio State a $1.5 million grant to kick-start the alliance, was founded by Eric Schmidt, former Google CEO and former Alphabet executive chairman.

Schmidt visited Columbus in December and noted the “energy and vibrancy of the campus and region” when Ohio State was announced as an inaugural partner of the alliance last month.

Those in attendance included professors and students, as well as important local government and community figures like Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce and Interim Superintendent of Columbus Schools John Stanford.

Before they met in small groups to generate ideas, Elena Irwin, a professor with the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, described the goal to attendees as “seeking highly innovative strategies to raise the income of 10,000 households by 10 percent.”

Irwin shared two pathways identified as starting points for the project. The first is to help families that fall below the middle-class threshold be upwardly mobile, and second is to help middle-class families find greater economic stability.

The middle class in this case is defined as a household whose income falls between two-thirds and 200 percent of the overall median. In Ohio, this means an income of roughly $35,000 to $100,000.

Ohio State was one of four universities chosen by Schmidt Futures to help launch the alliance along with Arizona State University, University of Wisconsin and University of Utah. But, McPheron said Schmidt Futures is not just a donor, rather a partner.

McPheron said Ohio State will contribute up to an additional $500,000 to the project “to make sure we do not have barriers to success.”

Participants broke into brainstorming groups after opening remarks as the beginning of a process that aims to provide ideas to Schmidt Futures. The ultimate goal is for 10 strategies to be generated in the future, of which three will be presented to Schmidt Futures to move forward.

“We are truly on a quest,” Irwin said. “A quest for ideas.”

At the end of the event, City of Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther gave closing remarks to the group, thanking Ohio State for its work in landing the grant from Schmidt Futures. Ginther added that while it was great to start the project, it will be important to make sure it comes through on its promise.

“One-third of those in this community are struggling to make ends meet,” he said. “Everyone deserves the chance to share in our success.”

Ginther said he was “grateful and thankful” for the work of those in attendance Tuesday.

“This group and this work and the partnership with Schmidt Futures really strikes a tone with me,” he said. “My vision for our city is to become an opportunity city.”