Advancing Akron’s future

As a native Clevelander, it’s hard to admit that when it comes to economic development, Akron is running circles around my hometown.

While Cleveland’s business and civic leaders bicker among themselves about what’s best for the region, failing to come to any consensus, Akron’s governmental brass and business executives have banded together to formulate a plan everyone can get behind.

In March, Greater Akron Chamber President and CEO Dan Colantone announced a $2 million, five-year campaign to expand the chamber’s role in economic development. The goal of the campaign, named Advance Greater Akron, is to raise funds to help create 7,550 primary jobs and up to 12,000 secondary jobs in the Greater Akron region over the next five years.

A lofty goal, to be sure, but the designers, led by campaign chairman Alan Bleyer (president and CEO of Akron General Health System) and Chamber Chairman Don Misheff (managing partner of Ernst & Young LLP) say it can — and will — get done.

To accomplish it, the group says it will be nimble and ready to act on new project opportunities brought by Team NEO, the collaboration among Northeast Ohio communities to further the entire region’s economic development. And, they’ll roll up their sleeves to work with Akron’s manufacturers in their quest to become more innovative and competitive in the global economy.

Among other initiatives, the campaign calls for volunteers to conduct more than 2,000 “business relationship” phone calls to retain companies in the area and for the chamber to initiate new collaborate efforts with government entities, universities, the Akron/Summit Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Downtown Akron Partnership to develop branding strategies to promote the Greater Akron community.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that us folks from “up north” snickered when Akron was mentioned in the same sentence with the word “innovative.” But those days are long gone. Today, those snickers have become whispers of “Wish Cleveland could pull that off.”

What’s being done is pretty simple stuff. City leaders have put politics to the side and focused on what it will take to transform Akron’s business image into one in which companies look to the city to relocate operations and existing companies don’t even consider pulling up stakes.

It’s just a shame that us folks up north aren’t following Akron’s lead.