Beacon Journal staff writer
A new development corporation will be created to attract companies to Akron's biomedical corridor, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic announced Tuesday in his annual State of the City speech.
Medical Mutual of Ohio has contributed $1 million and FirstEnergy Corp. has agreed to be a sponsor, he said.
''This seed fund will be directed at attracting early stage, home-grown and other biomedical companies to set up operations in our accelerator and in the Akron Biomedical Corridor, then help them grow into their own space,'' Plusquellic said in his hour-long luncheon address, delivered to a crowd of about 570 people at Tangier restaurant.
Plusquellic's speech was toned down from past years. He didn't announce a major campaign, such as his idea for leasing the sewers to pay for scholarships, and he didn't use his remarks to go on a tirade against his political opponents.
The tone may have been tempered by how he will face competition in the Democratic primary this year the most serious challenge during his unprecedented six terms as mayor from longtime Akron Councilman Mike Williams.
The mayor did, however, take aim at proposed funding cuts at the state and federal level that could hurt Akron and other cities.
Plusquellic accused Gov. John Kasich of balancing the budget ''on the backs of local government'' because of his proposal to cut local government funds nearly in half over the two-year budget.
The mayor reiterated a statement he made after the state budget was released last week that Akron uses its local government funds for police and fire salaries and any cuts to these funds will result in cuts to police and fire.
Absent in protest
Paul Hlynsky, the police union president, who didn't attend the speech out of protest but listened to it later, thinks the mayor should consider alternative ideas to laying off police officers and firefighters, such as changing the charter to put a larger percentage of income taxes into operating expenses than capital projects.
Hlynsky said he skipped the speech at the request of his captains and lieutenants, who are upset about not being considered for police chief.
Plusquellic will pick the chief from three outside candidates a step the city has never before taken. He said in his speech that it sometimes makes sense to look for an outside candidate ''who is ready and willing'' to take on the difficult issues.
Hlynsky said this is insulting to the department's captains some who are serving as interim deputy chiefs and lieutenants who ''make tough decisions every day.''
Only one of Akron's four unions the Civil Service Personnel Association had a table at the mayor's speech and an officer present. The other union heads had scheduling conflicts and weren't absent to make a statement. The lack of a union-leader presence, however, was unusual because some or all of them normally attend the address.
Dan Sladek, CSPA's first vice president, said he thought the mayor had some good ideas for the city and ''would love for them to all come true.'' He was disappointed, however, that Plusquellic didn't come out stronger against Senate Bill 5, the legislation pending in the Ohio House that would severely limit collective bargaining by public employees.
Plusquellic said he favors changing the process that has state fact-finders and conciliators decide contracts between cities and police and fire unions, which aren't permitted to strike. He again pointed to the decision on Akron's latest police contract, which gave the union raises, as evidence that this is a ''broken system.''
The mayor did say, however, that he thinks the legislation goes too far, comparing it to ''throwing out the baby with the bath water.''
Plusquellic pointed with pride to the city's recent economic development successes, including the imminent groundbreaking for the new Goodyear headquarters a project that was uncertain during his speech last year and to several proposals the city is considering for a new grocery store in Highland Square.
''I know you say, 'Wait till we see it,' '' he said of this long-awaited project.
Plusquellic said he wants Akron to become known as the ''Start-up City'' in the United States. He said a new incubator is planned that will solely house biomedical businesses.
Of the new development corporation, Plusquellic said after his speech that this money will be used to provide funding for biomedical companies when they are ready to expand on their own to buy equipment, land, buildings or other expenses.
Jared Chaney, a spokesman for Cleveland-based Medical Mutual, said the company has significant business in Akron and is currently looking to move about 100 employees from its Copley Township office to a location in downtown Akron.
Chaney said the company's mission is to invest back ''into the state and into the communities we serve.''
''Growing employment gives us the opportunity to compete,'' he said.
Plusquellic talked in his speech about why he is running for a seventh term, but didn't go into his campaign plans.
''I want to stand up for people and continue to fight for what's right and not let some fringe elements win,'' he said.
Plusquellic said afterward that he soon will launch an aggressive campaign. He will have his kick-off fundraiser Friday, has picked a consultant to create his campaign website and has chosen a chairperson, though he declined to name him or her.
''I'm telling people, 'Let's not be complacent. Let's do the things we need to do for people to be reminded: Here's what we've done,' '' he said.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, whom Plusquellic jokingly said during his speech isn't as good-looking in person, had nothing but praise for Plusquellic.
''He's I think one of the best mayors in the entire country,'' he said. ''When you go around the state, they talk about what's going on in Akron.''
Not everyone had accolades for Plusquellic after his speech.
Williams, who listened to his address after it was delivered, took exception to being referred to as one of the ''fringe elements.'' He said Plusquellic thinks anyone who disagrees with him has a personal or political agenda. Akron, he said, needs someone who is willing to listen to people with different viewpoints.
''Every citizen has the right to petition government without being harassed or harangued or dismissed,'' he said. ''That kind of leadership cannot move Akron forward.''
Miss the mayor's speech? Here's how you can catch up:
• The full text of his prepared speech is available on the city's website, http://www.ci.akron.oh.us/. • WAKR, which broadcast the speech live, has audio of the speech on its website, http://akronnewsnow.com/.