Soul-searching and hard data are behind a plan to raise the economy in Akron and surrounding communities.

That strategy, called “Elevate Akron — Embracing The New Fundamentals,” will be discussed publicly today at a special Akron Roundtable luncheon at Quaker Station.

The research behind the plan paints a picture of a stagnant but not distressed Akron economy.

But one major finding says Akron’s black population is excluded from economic opportunity and ranks among the nation’s worst in terms of unemployment and decline in earnings.

The process that led to that finding and others began more than a year ago, sparked in part by leadership changes in local government and in the private sector.

Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro recalled the initial economic development discussions that led to Elevate Akron.

“We have impressions of what we might need,” Shapiro said. “All we know is what we were doing then wasn’t working. So how do we take it to the next level? But what data or research do we have? So, we started talking.”

The city, county and Greater Akron Chamber discussed what they wanted to accomplish by working together, Shapiro said.

“Who has the best skill sets, capabilities? What roles should they play?” she said.

The GAR Foundation paid $60,000 for outside consultants to conduct research and help the city, county and Greater Akron Chamber in their explorations. (The total price for the program was about $100,000.)

The data and research apply to all local communities, not just Akron, Shapiro said.

Discussing the findings and proposed strategies at the roundtable will be Jason Dodson, chief of staff to Shapiro; James Hardy, chief of staff to Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan; and Steve Millard, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Akron Chamber.

Moderating the presentation will be Christine Mayer, president of the GAR Foundation.

The noon luncheon is open to the public. Will-call tickets will be made available at 11:30 a.m., with doors opening at 11:45 a.m. Cost is $25 per person and includes the meal. The presentation is scheduled to start at 12:20 p.m. and end at 1 p.m.

The market assessment resulted in eight primary findings:

• The Akron regional economy is neither distressed nor dynamic.

• The regional economy faces strong threats.

• Traditional economic development approaches will be incapable of dealing with those challenges.

• The Akron region’s economic development system is outdated and fragmented.

• There are potential significant economic development opportunities in Akron.

• The Akron region lacks the workforce skills needed to fill demand for good jobs in digitized and mid-tech occupations.

• Akron’s black population is excluded from economic opportunity, which is a threat to the region’s growth and competitiveness.

• Anemic downtown Akron growth hinders economic development throughout the region.

The strategies to address the market conditions are:

• Focus on increasing the competitiveness of targeted startup, small- and mid-sized firms while also ensuring the region’s 20 largest firms get coordinated, high-level outreach from the city, county and chamber.

• Ensure that Akron’s black population is positioned to engage in and benefit from regional growth and prosperity.

• Realize the potential of the Bounce innovation hub in helping companies and startups and support emerging high-tech firms.

• Establish a unified culture of economic development and align organizations around a shared narrative that includes coordinated service delivery, connects firms and invests in research.

“I don’t think any of the market findings are going to be anything that surprise anybody here,” Dodson said.

The Akron economy is doing better than many other parts of the country, Hardy said.

“But we’re not dynamic, either. We’ve been in stasis for a long time,” he said. “We’re not getting better. We’re not getting worse. We just are.”

The structure of the economy is changing, and that will make it harder for Akron to maintain the status quo, Hardy said. Those structure changes are reflected in the loss of manufacturing jobs, largely because of automation; a decline in business relocations; with mergers and acquisitions driving most foreign investment; and with the bulk of job growth coming from small businesses.

All that and more means the Akron area needs a different approach to economic development, Hardy, Dodson and Millard said.

“We don’t want to tell you this is a finished product,” Shapiro said. “But when we got enough together we began talking to the community and to folks. We want them to try and understand what we’re trying to do and why we’re trying to do it.”

 

Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.