The news about Babcock & Wilcox Enterprises coming to Akron belongs in the category “what a difference a week makes.” The Monday announcement arrived just days after Myers Industries, long a presence on South Main Street, unveiled plans to take its headquarters to Cleveland, touching old wounds in the collective psyche dating to the exit of tire-making from the city.
Now that wound feels much better. B&W will move roughly 700 employees from Barberton and Copley into the East End development. The company also will relocate its corporate headquarters here — from Charlotte, N.C. It will occupy the old Goodyear headquarters. Goodyear, of course, will be a neighbor, operating in its new corporate home nearby.
Akron did not set out to woo B&W. The company was looking for an updated location, its longtime Barberton facility, in particular, proving too large and expensive to maintain. The designer, maker and servicer of coal-fired power plant boilers, pollution-control technology and other related products has been navigating a changing marketplace.
The company’s site selector narrowed the choice to the East End and Charlotte. If this region had an edge given B&W’s deep roots here, its “heart and soul,” as Leslie Kass, the chief executive, put it, local leaders mobilized to make the move happen. That covers the city, Summit County, the Development Finance Authority, the Greater Akron Chamber and Team NEO, plus the drivers of the East End development, Industrial Realty Group and Industrial Commercial Properties.
By the way, this is essentially the same team that put together what was a strong package for keeping Myers Industries.
The East End now will have an additional anchor, helping to advance the retail and residential properties already taking shape. All of this plays to elevating the Middlebury neighborhood, a key early element in seeking to bolster the city’s population numbers.
No doubt, the B&W decision is a blow to Barberton, where most of the employees currently work. The loss of the city’s largest private employer puts a significant dent in income tax revenue. Mayor Bill Judge deserves credit for putting the departure in perspective, noting the benefit of keeping B&W and its jobs in the region (same with Myers Industries).
The mayor also cited the tax-sharing arrangement when a company moves within the county, a portion of the income tax revenue still flowing to Barberton for five years.
The B&W announcement is a reminder about what more often works in economic development. The task is far less about chasing companies than setting the right foundation to secure and build upon what a city has.
That goes to developing, retaining and attracting talent. It involves big things such as keeping Goodyear and the Bridgestone Technical Center. Yet other smaller factors are indispensable, from making downtown more vibrant to revitalizing city parks to delivering high-quality city services. It matters that Stark State College is here, and that the University of Akron get its act together.
None of this is easy in an aging city like Akron. There will be disappointments, and failed experiments. The objective is to keep heading in the right direction, or what the news from B&W reports.