A key economic development plan aimed at increasing the city’s vitality is Elevate Greater Akron.
The initiative was announced with great fanfare last fall as a long-term strategy by the city of Akron, Summit County and the Greater Akron Chamber to improve the economy in the city of Akron and surrounding areas.
“Akron is neither distressed nor is it dynamic,” said James Hardy, deputy mayor and chief of staff for Mayor Dan Horrigan.
The work that went into Elevate Greater Akron took an honest look at the city and region, including assessing strengths and weaknesses, Hardy said.
“I think the most challenging aspect of our local economy is, not everyone is participating,” Hardy said.
The Elevate Greater Akron study, funded by the GAR Foundation, found Akron ranked among the 10 worst 100-largest U.S. metro areas from 2005 to 2015 for its decline in the black employment rate and among the five worst metro areas for its decline in black earnings over the same period.
Elevate Greater Akron has a working group that is looking at who is being excluded, what are the barriers, what is the cost to the community of the exclusion, and then propose solutions, Hardy said.
Elevate Greater Akron is serious about addressing economic exclusion, said Edwin Hubbard Jr., the senior director, funder relations at the Akron Urban League who works with local businesses. The Urban League, which has its own economic development programs and agendas, is an active participant in Elevate Greater Akron.
“Hiring patterns need to change. I think there are intentional efforts to do that,” Hubbard said.
For instance, the Akron police and fire departments are reaching out to hire from the city’s minority populations, he said. The city’s largest private-sector companies, including Goodyear, FirstEnergy and hospitals, also have active programs to increase minority hirings, he said.
The league’s goal is to have companies hire minorities for leadership positions or for jobs with paths via promotion to leadership positions, he said.
“I love that Akron has this focus right now,” he said. “Diverse backgrounds and experience can lead to success. We’re not there yet. … I totally believe I am seeing progress. I’m excited to see where Akron is in five to 10 years.”
Akron City Council on Monday took action to ensure that one key piece of the city’s economic development efforts, the Bounce Innovation Hub for tech and business startups at Canal Place, focuses on diversity and inclusion. Citing Elevate Greater Akron, City Council is requiring that Bounce’s executives once a year provide an update “related to racial, ethnic and gender diversity” on its clients and outreach efforts. Akron currently owns the large, eight-story building Bounce occupies in the former B.F. Goodrich complex. The city will give the $6.1 million building to Bounce over a 10-year period through a forgivable loan.
The business, job and population growth that Akron is working to achieve also is intended to spread beyond the city — hence the inclusion of the word “greater” in Elevate Greater Akron.
Other key issues raised by the study that are being addressed through Elevate Greater Akron include:
• Akron lacks the necessary workforce skills that are needed for the digital economy.
• Anemic downtown growth hurts the entire region.
• The restructuring of the broader economy makes it harder for Akron to grow new firms and industries.
• Traditional economic development tools are proving incapable of confronting the new economic headwinds.
• There are overlooked economic opportunities in the city, including young high-tech firms, scale-up and midsize firms and a coordinated effort to develop and grow a polymers/advanced materials cluster.