Akron’s New Fundamentals takes incremental approach to economic development
Over the past year, economic development leaders from the City of Akron, Summit County and the Greater Akron Chamber have been working closely to reimagine how we can achieve greater economic prosperity in the Akron area. With relatively new leadership at each of the three participating organizations, the stars aligned in favor of revisiting how these groups might better promote meaningful economic development.
My employer, GAR Foundation, has helped to sponsor this work, in part because our foundation was established by a businessman who believed in the power of private sector activity to improve the life of a community.
The group studied national and local economic disruption, reviewed local data, interviewed community stakeholders, and debated the implications of various approaches. From this work, the city, county, and Chamber have embraced what they are calling “The New Fundamentals” — a set of practices that will position the Akron area to prosper in the new economy, an economy that tends to favor coastal cities and IT powerhouses over midsize midwestern cities like Akron. They have collectively shaped the Elevate Akron strategy, building on these new fundamentals.
Where prior economic development strategies focused a lot of effort on swinging for the fences, the Elevate Akron approach is built on the belief that our economic development community should be hitting singles and doubles during every at-bat. We should strive to be consistently excellent, rather than occasionally extraordinary. Instead of pouring resources into the pursuit of so-called grand slam attraction wins, Akron’s partners will invest time and resource in knowing, supporting and strengthening the competitiveness of the quality startups and companies of all sizes that we already have here at home. Rather than believing that all the best talent must be attracted from other places, we will invest in and better connect the talented people who are already here, in our universities, school systems, workplaces and neighborhoods. Rather than cold-calling international companies with a relocation pitch based on Akron’s low cost of living, we can equip local companies to participate more meaningfully in the changing global economy through export activity. The Elevate Akron strategy builds on Akron’s strength as a well-connected, midsize city that is big enough to matter and small enough to get things done.
There are problems we must address if we are to see real progress. Akron’s African-American population has not shared in economic prosperity and opportunity nearly to the extent that its white population has. Significant assets in our local universities have been relatively disconnected from private sector growth opportunities. Yet with direct attention and effort, these issues can become a key part of the solution. Economic development strategies that are genuinely inclusive will drive long-lasting, structurally sound prosperity for our community. Productive university-business partnerships will buoy universities, businesses and the community overall.
By committing to a new kind of economic development — one that is truly collaborative and aligned, intentionally inclusive, relevant in the changing economy, and primarily oriented on business/talent/innovation development rather than attraction — Akron will, in a typically midwestern workmanlike fashion, carve out its place in the new economy.
Christine Amer Mayer is president of GAR Foundation