When German-based Röchling Automotive was deciding where to build its new auto parts plant, a problem was discovered at the Akron-owned Massillon Road industrial park.
The site lacked enough power to support the facility. Akron was in jeopardy of losing out on the company.
Enter Bob Bowman.
Akron’s deputy mayor of economic development, Bowman stepped in, calling Mayor Don Plusquellic, who in turn phoned FirstEnergy Corp. CEO Anthony Alexander. Within 24 hours, Röchling had a letter saying the required electricity would be provided.
Röchling chose Akron’s industrial park over sites it was considering in Hudson and Stow.
“Bob was very instrumental in pulling all the right people together and setting us up with the right contacts,” said Justin White, a vice president at Röchling, which has doubled the size of the plant it opened in the Akron industrial park in 2012. “He helped us with what would have been a deal breaker.”
Bowman, who retired last week from Akron, has been doing that kind of wheeling and dealing in Akron for the past 25 years, first for the Greater Akron Chamber, then for the city. He has helped both entities attract international companies like Röchling and MESNAC, a Chinese rubber and tire parts manufacturer that opened an Akron facility, and has stopped major companies from leaving Akron, including Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Bridgestone Americas.
“He was very, very important in the last 25 years here,” Plusquellic said. “I give him a great deal of credit for where we are.”
Bowman’s colleagues marked his retirement last week with a resolution at the Akron City Council on Monday and with a party at the Duck Club at Canal Park on Wednesday, the night before his last official day with the city.
Bowman, 69, who is known for avoiding the limelight, was touched but clearly uncomfortable with the recognition. He nearly broke down after hearing the praise of council members.
“I appreciate the mayor giving me the opportunity to do this,” he said, fighting tears. “I have more to say, but it’s too tough …”
Recruited to Akron
Bowman was recruited in the late 1980s by the Akron Regional Development Board, now the Greater Akron Chamber, which was searching for an economic development expert.
Working at that time in Roanoke, Va., Bowman admits to being skeptical initially about relocating. He later realized he was confusing Akron with Toledo, a city he had driven through with his family as a young boy and remembered as flat and industrial.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” he said of his first impression of Akron. “It wasn’t flat.”
The board chose consultant Dick Young as its president, but Young then persuaded Bowman to join the chamber in 1988 as its economic development director.
“Bob brought a level of leadership to focus in on growing our ability to offer economic development services to existing companies looking to grow and expand, and telling the story of why Greater Akron is a great place to do business,” said Dan Colantone, president and chief executive of the Greater Akron Chamber, whose time at the chamber overlapped with Bowman’s for several years.
Bowman already had an appreciation for the international market, having been part of a team in Roanoke tasked with persuading companies weighing an expansion to the United States to choose Virginia. After moving to Akron, he worked with the Ohio Development Council, a group he chaired at one point, attending trade fairs in Germany and in other countries to recruit business for Greater Akron and Ohio.
“If you are not working on business attraction and retention consistently, the community will either stand still or go backward,” Bowman said.
During the Hannover trade fair in Germany in 2004, Bowman approached Plusquellic about replacing Jim Phelps, the soon-to-retire deputy mayor of economic development. Bowman said the mayor’s decision took about 30 seconds.
“It was a no-brainer for us,” Plusquellic said. “He had worked so closely with us. He knew the city. He just came right in and never missed a beat.”
Bowman and Plusquellic are aware of the skepticism — and criticism — of many in the public about the value of international travel. Both say, however, that they can point to numbers that show a return on the investment.
The international travel of Bowman, Plusquellic and other city leaders has resulted in the retention or creation of nearly 5,400 jobs and the investment of more than $322.6 million in the Akron area since 2002, according to a running tally Akron’s economic development office maintains.
Plusquellic said the state initially paid for Bowman’s travel. In more recent years, funds came from the chamber and more recently by the city using Joint Economic Development District (JEDD) funds, which are tax dollars generated in areas where Akron has cooperative agreements with other communities. Röchling, for example, is located in a JEDD in Springfield.
“The JEDD dollars are dollars generated from the region, and we’re paying back the region.” Plusquellic said. “We don’t demand a company has to go right in the city of Akron.”
Changes to the state’s pension system prompted Bowman, who only had been thinking vaguely about retirement, to take the step.
Bowman, who reached 10 years with the city this year, found that he could get state health care if he retired by November, but if he delayed, would have to put in 20 years before being eligible.
Plusquellic named Sam DeShazior, who has been deputy planning director, as Bowman’s replacement. Adele Roth, the development manager, will take DeShazior’s spot.
DeShazior will make $126,568, while Roth will earn $115,690 annually. Roth’s previous position has not been filled.
DeShazior, 52, and Bowman have a long history, having worked together for 25 years at the chamber and the city and have taken many business-seeking trips together during that time.
“I guess I always felt like we were a great team,” DeShazior said. “It will be weird to not have him around here. I think we can seamlessly transition into this without having too many glitches.”
Bowman thinks his counterpart is up to the task.
“We joke that he can be anywhere in the world and someone walks up to say, ‘Hey, Sam. How are you?’?” Bowman said. “He’s so engaging.”
As for Bowman’s next plans, he and his wife, Carol, are moving to Florida, where two of his children and five of his grandchildren live. He wants to spend more time with his family and do some consulting work, possibly for Akron, though he must comply with the state’s pension guidelines. Regardless, he said, he won’t forget his adopted home.
“I want to still have ties to Akron,” he said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com.