Time to Take Action: Ohio Should Seize Strategic Partnership with Cuba

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by Lev Gonick, CEO

As our American Airlines plane arrived in Havana from Miami, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and officials from Buffalo’s Roswell Park Cancer Institute were returning with an agreement from Cuba’s Center for Molecular Immunology to develop ClimaVax – a drug already on the Cuban market treating people with lung cancer. Cuomo’s delegation included executives from JetBlue, Pfizer, Mastercard, Chobani, and Regeneron,

Coordinated by Cleveland’s OneCommunity, our 30-person delegation from across the country included community broadband specialists, university faculty and officials, policy planners, educational technologists, non-profit leaders, architects, lawyers, and health care professionals. Our group was in discovery mode not deal-signing mode.

After a week of meeting with a broad cross-section of our Cuban peers, we left with a better understanding of what Cuba can contribute to bi-lateral health, economic, cultural and educational exchanges.

Equally apparent are Cuba’s real needs in infrastructure, technology, select agricultural crops and a wide range of durable goods.

Those of us from the Buckeye state also concluded that we need an Ohio-Cuba strategy.

Like Ohio, Cuba has 11.5 million people over a territory of approximately the same size. While Havana is a much larger capital city, Cuba also has much of its urban population in three major geographic zones.

The value of our watershed, historic agricultural economy, significant contribution of the health and knowledge industries and the “can do” attitude defining both of our workforces and our work ethics bring us closer together than might otherwise have been imagined.

Moreover, here are 10 concrete reasons why we should create an Ohio strategy for Cuba:

  1. Cuba has a strong technology-intensive and engineering centric academic research program. New integrated university offerings focused on software development and commercialization could form the basis of a series of important faculty and graduate student exchanges with Ohio’s public and private research universities.
  2. Within the context of Cuba’s broadband policy planning, it is clear that planning and investment in research and education networks is both a policy goal and a rational fiscal planning model. Both Ohio’s OneCommunity and OH-Tech could offer valuable collaboration services with Cuba.
  3. Cuba’s long-term interest in online medical, health and wellness management aligns well with Ohio’s leading work in this area. Common priority areas like early childhood health education and community-based health interventions make for valuable exploration across the health industries in both geographies.
  4. Cuba’s bio-tech industry is a world leader. Ohio’s efforts to create a statewide strategy for bio-tech could be viewed by Cuba as a major advantage. As Ohio looks to continue to establish advantages in the U.S. marketplace, Cuba could be our “X” factor, if we build trust and demonstrate opportunity to Cuba.
  5. Ohio leads the nation in educational maker spaces. Cuba has a huge appetite for leveraging their long tradition (born out of necessity) of maker spaces both in education and in entrepreneurial settings.
  6. Cuba’s cultural, art, and music scene is exceptional. Exchanges with Ohio’s music, performing arts, and visual arts institutions, museums, and ensembles will bring value to both. In particular, Cuba’s ability to integrate the arts into their education system is an impressive model for Ohio to understand and explore. In turn, exhibitions like the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s Paul Simon exhibition are of significant interest to Cuba.
  7. When the United States’ embargo is finally lifted, Cuba is well aware that it will need insights and support for developing IP regimes and frameworks for a more full integration into the world economy. Ohio’s legal community and, in particular, law schools will find interested counterparts in Cuba for engagement and exchanges.
  8. Ohio’s farming community should understand the market opportunity in Cuba. Our corn and soybean capacity are in extremely high demand which translates into jobs here. In turn, Cuba has a well developed aquaculture for farm-raised fish which could be of interest to Ohio farming communities exploring diversification.
  9. As an island economy that is currently heavily dependent on Venezuelan oil for its electrical power generation needs, Cuba has expressed interest exploring distributed energy production, smart grid and next-generation grid management technologies. Ohio is the fifth largest electrical power user in the country and home of the two largest electrical utilities in the country. Ohio has also invested heavily in cooperative research and development in this area and could provide meaningful energy technology partnerships to the Cuban electrical power industry.
  10. The Cuyahoga Cleveland Port Authority could explore the efficacy of being a Midwest aggregation point for cargo bound to and from new markets in Cuba through Lake Erie.

Our delegation met the head of the UNDP in Cuba. One of our Buckeye delegates asked, “If you could wave a magic wand, what would be your top two wishes?”

As we look to craft an Ohio strategy for relations and opportunities with Cuba, her response is instructive. “First, lift the US embargo. Second, help Cuba with infrastructure, starting with broadband infrastructure.”

We do not need a magic wand to attend to Cuba’s highest priorities. As we approach the year 2020, it is nearly impossible to imagine how a country can operate without broadband infrastructure.

The process of accelerating the deployment of next generation digital infrastructure in Cuba, and all of the related social, economic, educational and health opportunities (and related challenges) is only possible once the U.S. Congress lifts the embargo.

Given Cuba’s 56-year experience with the United States, and the importance of creating confidence-building measures over the next five or six years, it is important that Ohio develop a strategy that starts with support from the Governor. Neither regional, city nor individual institutional agreements are likely to be as strategic or impactful as a statewide program. Governor Kasich should plan to lead an Ohio delegation in Fall 2015 and we should invite a reciprocal Cuban delegation later this year.

Time to take action.

NEOhio delegates included: Robert Briggs (NOCHE), Lev Gonick (OneCommunity), Alyssa Lenhoff-Briggs (Youngstown State University), Tim Mueller (Global IT M&A Forum), Suzanne Rivera (Case Western Reserve University), Theodore Theofrastous (Attorney)

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