The work to reimagine and rebuild the Akron region’s economy is just beginning.
The new “Elevate Akron” economic redevelopment plan, which grew out of discussions started about 18 months ago, got its public unveiling before more than 400 people at a special Akron Roundtable luncheon Monday at Quaker Station.
Work started as Akron and Summit County governments and the Greater Akron Chamber were transitioning to new leaders more than a year ago, noted Christine Amer Mayer, president of the GAR Foundation and the Roundtable moderator.
The foundation observed then it would be a good time to get together and talk about how best to coordinate activities and better collaborate, she said.
“We started with a ... data-based examination of our economy and a look at the larger national economy,” Mayer said. “We discovered that not only were there opportunities for us to work together in different ways, to coordinate better, but there also are new kinds of work that we should be advancing in economic development given the structure changes in the economy.
“We call it the New Fundamentals. It’s really a new kind of work to advance economic development in our community,” she said.
The work to address eight primary findings will range from basic “blocking and tackling” to nontraditional approaches, said luncheon speakers Jason Dodson, chief of staff to County Executive Ilene Shapiro; James Hardy, chief of staff to Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan; and Steve Millard, the Greater Akron Chamber's new president.
“We can’t do business the same way we did in the past,” Dodson said.
All of the approaches to economic redevelopment will include Akron’s minority population that historically has been excluded from economic growth opportunities, Hardy said.
Millard said putting Elevate Akron into practice isn’t about getting one big win but putting in place a series of things in what he and others called the local economic ecosystem.
“We really are at the end of the very beginning [of the process],” Millard said.
Now that the strategy has been unveiled, the work to implement the plan will begin, the speakers said.
Among the hundreds of people at the program was Akron native Curtis Minter Jr., 32, service director of operations at Well Community Development Corp.
“I think what resonates most with me is the quote, 'this is the end of the very beginning,'” Minter said. “So that means we have a lot of work to do. I am encouraged but also sober-minded in that we have to get to work. What starts here today cannot stop here.”
Minter said he was perturbed over Elevate Akron’s data showing that Akron’s black population has been excluded from opportunity.
“Me, as an African American person and a young professional, I’m a bit concerned,” Minter said.
The Elevate Akron primary findings:
• The Akron regional economy is in a kind of stasis, neither distressed nor dynamic.
• The region faces strong national and global economic challenges.
• Traditional economic development approaches will be incapable of dealing with the challenges.
• The Akron region’s economic development system is outdated and fragmented.
• There are potential economic development opportunities in Akron.
• The Akron-area workforce largely lacks the skills needed to fill good jobs in digital and midtech occupations that don’t require a four-year college degree.
• 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.
Strategies to address market conditions include:
• Focus on increasing the competitiveness of targeted small- and middle-market firms while also ensuring the region’s 20 to 25 largest businesses are in regular contact with the top leadership in 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.
Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.