Dr. Erik Steele moved to Akron only nine weeks ago.
But the new chief medical officer for Summa Health System knows a lot more about his new town after Tuesday.
Steele and 26 other executives from Akron-area businesses and organizations participated in “Insight:Akron,” a one-day introduction to what makes up the city. The program put on by the group Leadership Akron was the fifth such class in six years.
“It’s a speed download of the Akron area,” Leadership Akron President Mark Scheffler said. “What we emphasize are the things that make Akron distinct as a community.”
• They heard about “Leadership in Akron’s History” from former deputy mayor and historian David Lieberth.
• They were shown the Akron Public Schools’ National Inventors’ Hall of Fame STEM School by students at the science, technology, engineering and math facility.
• They listened to a panel of leaders from the city’s three hospitals discuss new strategies to control health-care costs.
• They lunched at the University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium and heard about public/private partnerships for economic development and about UA athletics and its role as an economic driver.
• They toured the Akron Civic Theatre and stood on the stage and heard ghost stories.
• They heard from a panel discussing Akron’s civic assets and cultural vibrancy in the Howe House and were told how the building had been literally moved down the street and restored.
• They listened to a lively panel as Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, Summit County Executive Russ Pry and Greater Akron Chamber President Dan Colantone talked about the future.
• And they ended the day at a Canal Place stadium event hosted by Akron Aeros team owner Ken Babby.
Along the way, SummaCare Chief Executive Officer and immediate past board chair of Leadership Akron Marty Hauser served as the tour guide, pointing out notable areas from a chartered bus.
Scheffler acknowledges that in one day, “You can’t cover everything. We focus in on things like the Ohio & Erie Canalway and the health-care systems. ... Things that make our Akron community distinct.”
The program started as a way for new executives or leaders who have moved into the area to understand the community. Unlike the Leadership Akron Signature Program, which selects 34 members for a yearlong class, the Insight:Akron program is self-nominating. The hope is that some Insight graduates apply for the larger program, Scheffler said. Many of the Insight speakers are Leadership Akron graduates. There are about 110 Insight graduates and 940 Leadership Akron graduates of the 30-year-old program.
Insight was originally intended to be held every other year, but after it was offered the second time, demand grew enough to host it annually. This year’s class was the largest, Scheffler said.
Hauser, who has served as the tour guide and co-trip leader for the last three years and who grew up in inner-city Akron near downtown, plans the bus route throughout the day to pass landmarks and notable buildings.
“People come in to downtown Akron and just drive through,” said Hauser, who is also chief government relations officer for Summa Health System. “They don’t appreciate what’s here. This gives new community leaders an immersion and a chance to build a support group.” Hauser estimated that about two-thirds of the participants were new to the area and about one-third are in new leadership roles.
Linda Diefendorff calls herself a “boomerang” who has lived in the Akron area twice for 13 years. She first came for graduate school from the St. Louis area and stayed for six years. Then she left for seven years in Baton Rouge, La., and Denver. She and her husband returned to Akron seven years ago for work and to be near his family.
Yet, Diefendorff said most of her work for her management consultant firm has been outside Akron.
“I wanted to learn more about the city I live in and it’s a great way to learn it quickly,” said Diefendorff, founder and managing partner of Brio Performance Solutions LLC. “You can live in a city and not know what’s right down the street.
“I want to live and work in the same place,” she said.
The Insight tour not only gave the participants a chance to see the community, but also got some of them thinking about future relationships.
Luke Durudogan, president of Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems, moved to the Akron area in early 2012.
When he walked into the Akron STEM school, he remembered having heard about it. The Insight participants were told that the 400 total students are selected from a lottery to attend and that many more students apply, but are not accepted.
Durudogan thought to himself, “How come only 400 students get to do this? Why can’t more? What can I do?”
Meggitt has a successful co-op program, which places University of Akron engineering students with his company, which makes aircraft parts for military, commercial and other aircraft. Many of those co-op students are hired at Meggitt, Durudogan said.
The students at STEM could become future co-op students and employees, he said.
“If I can catch kids early, I can do huge things,” Durudogan said.
Julia Sabin, another Insight participant who is vice president of industry and government affairs for J.M. Smucker Co. in Orrville, said the program was a way to make connections on people and things she’s seen and some she didn’t know about.
“It’s a great way to connect with leaders and see the gems of Akron,” said Sabin, who has worked for Smucker for 29 years and has been in the Akron area for 2½ years.
Steele, Summa’s chief medical officer who moved to Akron from Maine nine weeks ago, said the Insight program was “a great way to delve into the deep end of the community pool.”
Steele said the day had “been a confirmation of something I started to feel early on. This is an amazing city.”
Steele said he was impressed with the sense of collaboration throughout the city.
“There’s like a secret sauce to Akron,” he said.