the Beacon Journal editorial board

Jason Segedy has a practical way of looking at the problem of population loss. The city planning director sees a Northeast Ohio region of 4 million people and imagines attracting 4,000, or just one-tenth of 1 percent, to move into Akron. That is a realistic goal, the city returning to slightly above 200,000 people.

It also would represent a significant departure, arresting the steady population falloff of the past five decades, the city losing almost 100,000 residents. When analysts talk about the city managing well its decline, these are the numbers they have in mind. Akron has fared better than other aging industrial cities. What Segedy argues, correctly and refreshingly, is that the city must not settle for such management.

So, how to attract 4,000 people?

It requires approaches on multiple fronts, for instance, involving housing, neighborhoods, entrepreneurship, downtown, immigration and education. A major piece concerns economic development and job creation, which practically everyone grasps yet often proves difficult to deliver. Amanda Weinstein, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Akron, put it well in talking with Rick Armon, a Beacon Journal staff writer: The challenge requires sustained focus and energy — for many years.

The Fund for Our Economic Future, a collection of foundations from across the region, has been examining the challenge for the past 12 years and has arrived at a keen lesson: Best to concentrate on doing what the city can to help businesses already succeeding here to seize opportunities to expand. Attention should go to the “drivers” of local economies.

That isn’t to dismiss the role of startups, especially in downtown, where the city must find ways to make it easier for retailers and others to open. Business attraction from elsewhere is another component, though studies show that it represents a tiny fraction of growth and job creation — around 1 percent.

Better to align the attraction effort, as the Plusquellic administration did, with foreign investment looking to land in this country. It makes sense to complement such a “bridges” approach with a BioInvestments Funds to support venture capital and other early financing. This has been part of Cincinnati gaining momentum.

Yet the primary path to addressing improved growth and new jobs involves businesses here that are positioned to achieve a larger footprint. The question becomes how best to deploy public resources. It may be a matter of linking to organizations that see the region as a whole and help to match strengths, connecting assets that otherwise would not find each other.

That is hard work, requiring keen knowledge of the city and the regional economy, of how, for instance, to gain export markets or find qualified employees. It takes persistence. Mayor Dan Horrigan has made clear his wish to “reset” the economic development strategy. He would do well to weigh the lessons learned and concentrate on those businesses here that are prospering and in a strong position to do better, even to the point of helping to halt population loss.