United Departure from Cleveland Would Leave $4 Billion Void in Local Economy

It hasn't yet been confirmed, and won't be until Monday, but it looks like United Airlines is going to be shutting down its Cleveland hub. United signed an agreement to keep their hub at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport open through 2015 after merging with Continental, but after that, nothing's guaranteed and it no longer looks like Cleveland is an integral part of the company's future plans. The impact of United pulling out of Cleveland will be devastating to the local economy to the tune of $4 billion.

While the move could come as a shock to some, the Cleveland business community has known that United closing its Cleveland hub was a very real possibility. This is why almost as soon as United said it would stay through 2015 that the local business community came together to launch a Save the Hub campaign.

The Greater Cleveland Partnership was so sure that United wouldn't be leaving any time soon that in 2012 CEO Joe Roman said that the message had changed from "Keeping the Hub" to "Growing the Hub."

While the Greater Cleveland Partnership publicly stuck its head in the sand, it has been well known among United staff that the closure was coming. It wasn't a matter of if, only a matter of when. The Cleveland Leader spoke with a former United flight attendant in the fall, who at that time revealed to us that the company's most senior employees had already begun transferring out of the Cleveland hub to Chicago and Newark in anticipation of the closure.

When United closes its Cleveland hub next year, it will make a huge impact on the local economy. Operating approximately 250 daily departures from Cleveland, the impact is estimated to be at more than $4 billion. The Greater Cleveland Partnership arrived at this figure when United first signed the agreement to stay through 2015, stating that the $4 billion includes the hub's role in attracting business, travel, tourism, conventions and corporate meetings to the Greater Cleveland area.

The majority of United flights out of Cleveland would be eliminated with the hub's closure, although United's Express flights would remain. This would mean severe cutbacks and many layoffs at United.

There will be a trickle down effect of the worst kind, and the fallout from United leaving Cleveland will be felt by many - from executives at Cleveland's new convention center trying to book new conventions to even the minimum wage hotel cleaners, who may find that with less business coming to Cleveland, there's less work and jobs to be had.

The Cleveland Leader will be following this story closely, and will be sharing what information we learn as the situation develops. Stay tuned to The Cleveland Leader for the latest breaking news on the situation at United Airlines and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.