CLEVELAND (WJW) – The FOX 8 I-Team has investigated what Cleveland residents got for their tax dollars after local leaders flew to Ireland on their dime.

They said they went overseas to get companies to do business in Northeast Ohio. So, we checked on what they have to show for it.

So far, nearly six months after their trip, they’ve brought in no new business or jobs.

A right-hand man for Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb admitted it hasn’t happened yet.

Wednesday, we spoke to Deputy Chief of Staff Ryan Puente.

“You’re the deputy chief of staff,” we said. “You went on the trip.”

“Correct,” he responded.

“You can’t tell me how many of the companies that you met with have actually committed to come here to Cleveland?” we asked.

“We’re still working on it,” Puente answered. “We’re having conversations with these companies.”

“So, the answer is zero?” we interjected.

“To my knowledge, yes,” Puente said.

In May, local leaders took a trip to highlight new air service from Cleveland to Ireland.

Records show, taxpayers paid to send the mayor and a top aide, the Cuyahoga County executive and a top aide, and the city and county council presidents.

We’d been told it cost about $3,000 per person.

Yet, while that city official couldn’t tell us of any new companies from Ireland committing to Cleveland, he also could not tell us of jobs moving here.

“At the top levels of city hall, you wouldn’t be aware of that?” the I-Team asked.

“Again, I don’t have that number, Ed,” Puente said.

Local businesspeople went to Ireland with the elected officials.

For this story, we requested to talk to the mayor and the county executive. Neither met with us.
Debbie Berry spoke for Cuyahoga County. She serves as the chief of integrated development.

“It takes weeks, months, years sometimes,” she said. “I believe we will have new jobs in Cuyahoga County. Again, I can’t give you an exact timeline.”

Meanwhile, a VP with Team NEO told us he’s optimistic you’ll eventually see a payoff.

He told us three companies from Ireland have visited our area as a result of the trip local leaders took in May.

Now, Team NEO, a private economic development group, hopes to convince those firms from Ireland to build on their visits here and start doing business here.

“We’re hopeful that these will come to fruition,” Mark Owens said. “A lot of times, these companies have to go back to their investors, back to their board, their stakeholders, to make sure that this makes sense for them.”

As for the companies that visited, we’re told two are healthcare companies and one is an IT firm.

You decide if you agree with the mayor’s deputy chief of staff.

“Can you look at the camera and tell taxpayers that they got their money’s worth?” we asked.

“The taxpayers very much so got their money’s worth,” Puente said.