When the Greater Ohio Policy Center released its 62.4 report in February, it recommended that the city of Akron adopt a “downtown first” strategy for economic development. It did so knowing that successful cities and regions have strong downtowns. Akron has made much progress at its core, yet downtown faces big challenges and needs to write a new chapter.
All of that serves as backdrop for the decision announced last week by Stark State College to locate its new Akron campus along Perkins Street near state Route 8. That isn’t downtown exactly. It is close enough, just to the northeast and likely to produce a helpful ripple effect. More, the construction, fueled by $5 million set aside by the college and $6.5 million from the state, complements other building activity in or near downtown, including the $350 million project of Summa Health nearby.
Stark State might have landed farther from the city center. The good thing is that it found the necessary parking and transportation access to match what Para Jones, the Stark State president, describes as its commitment to the city. It matters greatly that the site includes a bus line. Through its Akron campus, the college has plans to add 5,000 students. One of the largest barriers to students enrolling and finishing degrees is a lack of ready access to public transit.
Most important, or “absolutely huge,” in the words of Mayor Dan Horrigan, the city will gain a community college. Again, successful cities tend to have such institutions. When economists and other analysts stress the value of higher education, they aren’t talking solely about obtaining four-year degrees. They also have in mind upgrading skills through the two-year associate degrees and certification programs offered by schools such as Stark State.
One temptation may be to see the Stark State presence as colliding with the mission of the neighboring University of Akron. Actually, the two are complementary as well, as Scott Scarborough, the UA president, rightly noted. Stark State students ready to seek a four-year degree may be more inclined to choose the university. Cities enhance their odds of sustained success if they have a local research university and a community college.
In addition, the Stark campus presents an opportunity to deepen the current relationship with the Akron Public Schools and to strengthen ties with ConxusNEO, the promising Summit County initiative to link more effectively employers looking for workers with workers looking for jobs.
As expected in a knowledge-driven economy, a key in moving forward is talent, developing, attracting and keeping it, enhancing our collective creativity and productivity. That is the essence of Stark State coming to the city. It is part of Akron and its surroundings becoming more competitive in an era when the competition is global and increasingly tougher.
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“Stark State lands in the city.” Editorial. Beacon Journal Editorial Board, 18 May 2016. Web. http://www.ohio.com/editorial/editorials/stark-state-lands-in-the-city-1.683832?localLinksEnabled=false