The infant mortality rate in Summit County is higher than nationwide.

That disparity is even larger when looking at births involving African-American mothers.

Summit County Executive Russ Pry announced an effort Wednesday aimed at identifying the reasons for the county’s high infant death rate and how it can be lessened.

“We need to work together to make people aware of this critical issue in order to educate and save lives,” Pry said during his 46-minute “State of the County” speech to a sold-out crowd of about 600.

The event, held at the John S. Knight Center in downtown Akron, was sponsored by the Akron Press Club.

Pry, the county’s executive since 2007, said Summit County Public Health will have a summit June 6 at the Knight Center to develop a strategy for tackling infant mortality. The conference will be geared to social workers, nurses, doctors, counselors, home visitors, educators and community members.

The infant mortality rate in the United States is 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births, while it is 7.2 deaths per 1,000 births in Summit County. The rates among African-American mothers: 13.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in the U.S., compared to 14 deaths per 1,000 live births in Summit County, according to Summit County Public Health.

“Unbeknownst to many, Ohio has the 11th worst infant mortality rate in the nation and the numbers are getting worse,” Pry said.

Among Ohio counties, Summit ranks 16th worst, slightly better than Cuyahoga, but worse than Portage, Medina and Stark, according to Ohio Department of Health data.

Pry also will make infant mortality one of the issues highlighted during the first Summit Kids Month in August. The first week will feature kindergarten readiness; the second will focus on immunizations. The third week will include the all-day Summit for Kids Expo and the Summit for Kids educational symposium. The final week will target infant mortality.

During the month, the county plans to distribute more than 10,000 copies of the First Things First Resource Booklet that will include information on all early childhood services available in the county. The county’s departments of Communications and Job and Family Services will design the brochure, and Akron Public Schools will print it.

Other highlights of Pry’s speech included:

•?Sewers for Green: Pry is proposing that the county contribute $500,000 to Green for the construction of sanitary sewers for the third phase of the CAK International Business Park near the Akron-Canton Airport. About $5 million in infrastructure improvements are expected to make the industrial park expansion a reality.

•?Job and Family Services building: The county is seeking proposals from several potential landlords that will put the county’s 340 Department of Job and Family Services employees under one roof while also providing the needed parking for staff and clients. Pry said he wants the new building in Akron, though not necessarily downtown.

•?Building department software upgrades: The Division of Building Standards will begin testing new computer software next month that will allow for online plan submittals, permit applications, scheduling of inspections and the ability to follow the progress of projects.

After his remarks, Pry fielded a few questions from the audience, including one that momentarily stumped him. The person said what the county does is often abstract and wanted to know what he would point to as the “single most important function of county government.”

“I’m not sure there is a ‘single most important function,’?” Pry said initially.

He then changed his mind, though, and said he thinks it’s creating employment opportunities.

“This does save taxpayer dollars and makes a better community,” he said.

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at