UA shapes discussions at Obama's 'Winning the Future Forum'


In his State-of-the-Union Address, President Barack Obama spoke of the need to sustain the country's leadership and secure prosperity for all Americans. As part of Obama's visit to Cleveland State University Feb. 22, he held several meetings and roundtables to discuss with local business and community leaders and college students how America can best support small businesses, which play a vital role in job creation, economic recovery, global competitiveness and the long-term strength of the United States.

UA shapes discussions at Obama's 'Winning the Future Forum'

President Barack Obama drops by the Youth Engagement Roundtable at the Winning the Future Forum on Small Business at Cleveland State University on Feb. 12. Seated, facing President Obama is Steve Sedlock, president of Associated Student Government (right, in silver tie). Official White House Photo by Pete Souza.

To that end, Obama heard directly from those constituents, including University of Akron President Luis M. Proenza, about their ideas to grow the economy at the "Winning the Future Forum on Small Business." The forum, hosted in association with CSU and Northeast Ohio economic development organizations JumpStart and NorTech, welcomed more than 100 small business owners and other Northeast Ohio community leaders.

Steve Sedlock, UA's president of Associated Student Government, was invited to be part of "The White House Roundtable with Young Leaders," which was part of the larger forum on economic development.

Senior administration takes part in forum

There were several "breakout sessions," each led by senior cabinet officials, such as Small Business Administration administrator Karen Mills, and Secretaries Timothy Geithner of Treasury, Hilda Solis of Labor, Gary Locke of Commerce and Steven Chu of Energy.

Proenza said President Obama started out in his session on Entrepreneurship together with Mills and Steve Case, a co-founder of AOL. Obama then went to each of the other sessions before coming back to the full group to "report out" on what they had heard.

"I’m very pleased that President Obama and his staff invited me to participate in the forum, not only as a representative of The University of Akron, but for Ohio higher education as well, along with some of my colleagues at other state colleges and universities," Proenza said.

"Like industry, higher education must innovate its way to a better future through innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity," Proenza continued. "The University of Akron’s success as an engine of regional economic development has caught the attention of several national organizations that promote higher education's role in driving regional economies, so it's only fitting that our university and other higher education institutions in Ohio were at the table with our president."

Students' voices heard

According to Sedlock, the young leaders' group, which was joined for a time by Obama, focused on three major topics: funding startups and supporting new technology; the affordability of higher education; and helping graduates stay in the state through strategic job placement.

"The conversation began with how we can improve funding for startup businesses, and how to continue to drive technology and support new technology," said Sedlock, a senior marketing management and e-marketing/advertising major and 2006 graduate of Canton McKinley High School. "For example, we explored how the government and private organizations can make startups possible through seed money."

Roundtable participants also discussed a Carnegie Mellon virtual reality program through which all graduates are guaranteed a job. "We could explore enticing large companies to do this with UA polymer graduates, for example," Sedlock explained. "Job placement after graduation is a salient issue, and ties back to the funding of startups."

Several Northeast Ohio schools participate

The 45-minute discussion was "very laid back and open," according to Sedlock, and included representatives from Cleveland State University, Case Western Reserve University, Kent State, Ashland University, Cuyahoga Community College and the College of Wooster.

"Overall, it was amazing to know that the highest office in the country cares about what students think," said Sedlock. "We very candidly exchanged ideas and offered feedback. Often, the White House staff had answers right on the spot and we already are planning to do follow-up conference calls."

Media contact: Laura Massie, 330-972-6476 or

See also:

Winning the Future with Small Businesses in Cleveland, White House Blog, Feb. 25

McKinley grad rubs elbows with Obama, Canton Repository, March 1

President Barack Obama comes to Cleveland to hear what small businesses need to thrive, Plain Dealer, Feb. 22

College student leaders discuss issues with White House official, and meet President Obama, Plain Dealer, Feb. 22