Like many cities in the Midwest, Akron, Ohio has weathered a long-term decline in its traditional economic base and has had to reimagine its role in the twenty-first century economy. The city was long believed to have navigated this transition more successfully than many of its peers, but recent data analysis shows many troubling economic and demographic trends that could negatively affect the city’s long-term trajectory.
Based on analysis of city-level data and interviews with local stakeholders, the “62.4 Report”, titled to refer to the city’s square mileage, details the city of Akron’s current condition in terms of economic strength, individual and family economic health, neighborhood stability, and demographic trends. The Report focuses on Akron’s assets and challenges to make recommendations for how the city can regain a competitive edge. The findings of the Report are summarized below.
The City’s Shifting Economy. Although the decline in rubber manufacturing began decades ago, Akron is continuing to experience changes in the core industries that make up its workforce and economic base. A shift toward a health care- and education-based economy has meant that many workers who have little post-secondary education or workforce training are ill-equipped to participate in the local economy without additional training. Although promising initiatives are underway to address this skills gap, other challenges, such as regionally dispersed business locations and job opportunities, continue to make sustainable employment challenging for transit-dependent Akron residents.
The Economic Health of Residents. Data analysis looking at trends from 2000 to 2013 showed a troubling decline in the economic health of Akron residents across a number of indicators, including income, employment, poverty, and education attainment. The reasons for this decline are not within the scope of this Report, but continued flight of higher-income residents to the suburbs, national economic trends, and a limited community development infrastructure contribute to the challenges. Fortunately, these issues are well-known to regional leaders, and a number of promising programs are being put in place to address these challenges over the long term.
Housing and Neighborhood Stability. Like many cities in Ohio, Akron is still contending with the fallout from the double blow of declining population and the mortgage foreclosure crisis. Long-term housing vacancy has increased dramatically over the last decade, and a portion of the available housing stock is not in good condition or well-suited to the size and lifestyles of middle-class families. While there have been bright spots like downtown housing development and the resurgence of the Highland Square neighborhood, much work is still needed to ensure that the city’s housing stock is aligned with demand.
Demographic Challenges. Compared to some cities of similar size and economic history, Akron has seen very little growth among young professionals and immigrants – two key demographics for the city’s future trajectory. However, stakeholders are taking important steps to engage with members of those populations who are already living in the city. In particular, leadership among young professionals is one of the city’s clearest assets in addressing this and other challenges.
Leadership Changes and Fiscal Challenges. After leading the city for nearly 30 years, Mayor Don Plusquellic resigned abruptly in early 2015. His resignation, along with the retirements of other major city leaders, signaled the end of a long-term tenure of political and civic leadership. This leadership transition gives the city an important opportunity to consider what kind of civic leadership style is best for leading the city forward in the future. This decision will be very important in determining how well the city navigates it current challenges, including the city’s difficult fiscal position.
Read the full report here.
Greater Ohio Policy Center. “62.4 Report: Profile on Urban Health and Competitiveness in Akron, Ohio.” January 2016. Retrieved from http://greaterohio.org/files/pdf/gopc-akronfinal2-10-16.pdf.