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From Believeland to Blockland – Cleveland intends to be a technological hub: NPR

Bernie Moreno at his Mercedes-Benz dealership in a suburb of Cleveland. Moreno is an evangelist for blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin cryptocurrency. He wants to transform Cleveland into a technological hub with a blockchain in the middle.

Jeff St. Clair / WKSU


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Bernie Moreno at his Mercedes-Benz dealership in a suburb of Cleveland. Moreno is an evangelist for blockchain, the technology behind Bitcoin cryptocurrency. He wants to transform Cleveland into a technological hub with a blockchain in the middle.

Jeff St. Clair / WKSU

In Cleveland, an effort is being made to renew the city as a national technology hub.

The Blockland initiative hopes to develop a local economy based on blockchain technology, the software behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. But it is a challenge for a city that has more of a manufacturing heritage than a technology.

Believeland was Cleveland's phrase when, in 2016, LeBron James and the Cavaliers delivered the city's first sports championship in half a century.

Now LeBron is gone and some Clevelanders are looking for something new to believe in.

Bernie Moreno thinks he should embrace Cleveland as a technology city. Moreno is a blockchain evangelist and a luxury car dealer, who is ready to resist a sporting confrontation.

"I know LeBron James, and I'm not LeBron James. Let's get out of the way."

Moreno is trying to field his seller skills to promote Cleveland as a center for blockchain innovation.

"If you're going to have a blockchain startup, this is where you do it," he says. "If you invest in startup blockchain, this is the place to invest in. If you are a developer [or] you're a student who wants to do blockchain development, Cleveland is where you do it. "

Blockchain is basically a digital lockbox that stores any type of transaction in a secure "block" shared by independent computers. It is the technology behind Bitcoin cryptocurrency, but is rapidly moving to other uses, such as digital home records, municipal bonds.

"Digital car titles, digital driving licenses, birth certificates, university degrees, medical records," adds Moreno.

A Cleveland startup is even testing a blockchain-based voting app.

Hilary Carter is managing director of the Blockchain Research Institute in Toronto, a study center that draws road maps for commercial uses of technology.

"Cleveland has become the first city outside Canada to want access to the thought leadership we are creating at the BIS."

Here's what Moreno says it would take to build Blockland: the city would need to attract around 1,000 software developers in the region, which will help launch a dozen blockchain-based startups.

Moreno plans to open a 100,000-square-foot downtown campus to incubate those companies, complete with a K-12 school.

"We call the Genesis school because in the blockchain world, Genesis is the first block in the blockchain," says Moreno.

He also put together a dream team of Cleveland city leaders to organize a conference in Blockland Cleveland in December.

Suzanne Rivera is vice president of research at Case Western Reserve University and loves the ambitious idea. "I really consider it a movement," he says. "This will be the way of the future, or we can let ourselves pass, or we can seize this opportunity."

Waverly Willis is the first Cleveland barber to accept Bitcoin as a payment and one of the first supporters of the Blockland project.

Jeff St. Clair / WKSU


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Jeff St. Clair / WKSU

Waverly Willis is the first Cleveland barber to accept Bitcoin as a payment and one of the first supporters of the Blockland project.

Jeff St. Clair / WKSU

But many here fight with the understanding of the blockchain itself and its potential benefits. Waverly Willis is the first Cleveland barber to accept Bitcoin as a payment and one of the first supporters of the Blockland project. "They're the normal blue-collar workers who say," Why do I need to know about this stuff? "And so you need a guy like me to explain it," he says.

Willis says Cleveland needs a plan that goes beyond the city's CEOs and academic leaders to raise people in his neighborhood.

Bernie Moreno is on agreement. "All this works when the average citizen of Cleveland is dramatically smarter than the average citizen anywhere else than blockchain technology," he says.

From Believeland to Blockland – it's a sort of technological "hail Mary" coming from a city that hopes to claim its credit as a blockchain capital.

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