In his state of the city address last year, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan asked “Why not Akron?” This year, he stayed true to a New Year’s resolution and just asked for help.

In a 40-minute speech followed by questions from a lunch crowd of 900 at the John S. Knight Center Wednesday, Horrigan recapped the successes of 2017, his second full year in office. He offered another sober account of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. And he repeatedly asked for partners in a Rubber City revival.

“I rejoice with you in our victories and I cry alongside you in our losses,” he said. “I stay up nights worrying about our city’s future. And I wake up each and every damn day to live and breathe every one of the city’s ups and downs.

“Akron is my home. And I will fight for the city every day of my life.”

Horrigan challenged every philanthropist, developer, government official, pastor, resident and laborer in the crowd and online listeners to ask, perhaps uncomfortably, whether the businesses, organizations and institutions they belong to are ready to move Akron toward an ever globalized and entrepreneurial economy.

If he wanted to explain everything the city has done for entrepreneurs in just the past few months, Horrigan could have just told everyone to talk to Bill Myers after the speech.

Entrepreneurial calling

Myers, a millennial who lives in Merriman Valley, stood in an Airstream trailer owned by eBay and parked on the sidewalk outside.

As the curious crowd left the Knight Center, several stepped out of the rain to see what Myers had in his hand: an arcane cube imbued with software that, when viewed through a smartphone or tablet, turned into a skull or a building or a sculpture or — anything.

Bill and his wife, Grace, started their virtual reality business last year in Cuyahoga Falls. They moved two months ago to Bounce, Akron’s new business incubator. Since then, Myers has started selling his products in a Northside Marketplace that developer Joel Testa opened with the city last year to support homegrown businesses. And every week, Myers now gets to talk with an eBay concierge who helps his business squeeze the global marketplace, another perk of doing business in Akron.

“Akron has been wonderful to work with,” Myers said. On the wall behind him read: “Let’s build a business together.”

Horrigan said in his speech that 120 local companies are now collaborating with eBay through the city’s exclusive partnership with the Silicon Valley company. That’s four times more than he had expected.

2018 plans

Introduced for a second year by Greater Akron Chamber Chairman Don Taylor, chief executive of Welty Building Co., Horrigan explained how he plans to grow the city’s economy, which shot up in 2016 then down in 2017, and population, which flat-lined last year after falling for decades.

“For my part, I am committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that city government becomes more focused, more entrepreneurial, more collaborative and more adaptive,” he said, evoking the “grit, determination and ingenuity” of Akron’s resilient roots and rubber past.

The plan, in a nutshell, includes doubling down on housing and economic efforts — like eBay, Bounce and the Northside Marketplace — that attract and retain young talent in a city with space and equity for all.

In 2018, the plan is to:

• Develop regional economic development strategies with the county and chamber.

• Supplement lower spending on economic development by putting city planners, business developers and engineers under a new Office of Integrated Development, which will be run by Chief of Staff James Hardy.

• Open a financial empowerment center in conjunction with the United Way this spring in Kenmore, where the working class can get financial advice in a bank that recently closed. The city plans to open more sites like it in future years.

• Get out of the way when new community development corporations — like those supported by the Knight Foundation in North Hill, Middlebury and Kenmore — take the lead on development.

• Create Great Streets Akron, a city-led initiative that targets city resources and partnerships in an effort to revitalize neighborhood business districts thereby revitalizing neighborhoods.

• Convene the Department of Neighborhood Assistance and the Recreation Bureau to engage the community in a comprehensive plan for city parks and recreation, an initiative the mayor said is inspired by a report that came after the Akron race riots of 1968.

• And celebrate the city with “Welcome to Akron” sculptures that will greet visitors driving into Akron.

Year two

Horrigan dedicated the opening minutes of his speech to all his staff accomplished in 2017, sometimes noting or leaving out the challenges that loom.

As the operating budget for 2018 takes shape, Horrigan has trimmed his cabinet. Engineers, meanwhile, continue to build on $65 million already saved in a budget-crippling sewer project.

The property tax abatement program passed eight months ago has attracted 21 applicants so far, some for large developments like the 90 homes Alpha Phi Alpha Homes will build where Perkins Middle School now stands in West Akron. City Planner Jason Segedy expects interest in the tax abatements to “take off” as construction ramps up this spring. The city is aggressively marketing the incentives to real estate agents and builders.

Horrigan also noted the one-time $11 million deal signed at the end of 2017, leasing city-owned space for cell towers to a company that will now rent directly to telecommunications companies. The windfall doubled the city’s cash reserves, which Horrigan said are higher than ever, though still $15 million short of where they should be.

Horrigan also thanked the public, once more, for passing a 0.25 percent income tax in November. The city, after a decade with little hiring or promoting safety staff, has hired 33 new cops and 34 new firefighters or medics — as well as found new police and fire chiefs — since Horrigan took office in 2016. The fire department is now staffed at 2008 levels.

The income tax increase will safeguard these new positions but mostly outfit them with new cars, fire stations, body cameras and other equipment.

He also said his public service directors remain committed to tripling the miles of road that get paved this year. “No, orange is not my favorite color,” he said, talking about other road construction planned for Main Street this fall.

Reach Doug Livingston at 330-996-3792 or dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @ABJDoug on Twitter or www.facebook.com/doug.livingston.92 on Facebook.