Will Akron get back its edge?
Akron has liked the story it has told itself — about an aging industrial city that has been more successful than others in navigating a rugged economic transition. In 2008, the Brookings Institution described the city as a model.
What has happened since then? The story has been told, with the emphasis, in particular, on how city leaders, public and private, collaborate well for the common good. Unfortunately, the narrative has not included how the city has tended to settle in recent years.
The result has been a much less impressive profile, one captured effectively in the 62.4 report released last week by the Greater Ohio Policy Center, and supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. That isn’t to say the city lacks strengths. They are plain in such initiatives as Bridges Out of Poverty, the Downtown Akron Partnership and Summit Workforce Solutions. The city benefited from the leadership of the Don Plusquellic years. Yet the report identifies how the city has slipped. The decline is most striking in the comparisons to five similar cities.
For instance, the report shows how Akron has lost population at a greater rate. Its median household income has fallen most sharply. It has failed to attract immigrants or young people at an equivalent pace.
The city’s long-term housing vacancy rate has climbed, from one of the lowest rates in 2000 to one of the highest today. The report notes that just 5 percent of the housing stock was built after 2000. Downtown, too, faces a challenge as its office vacancy rate has increased.
How will Akron regain the edge it once had? The report offers a range of recommendations. One involves collaboration among leaders, in the city and Summit County, not lip service, or sticking to the easy items, but developing a plan, setting priorities and driving the agenda. The opportunity is there in the new mayor, Dan Horrigan, who pledges to revitalize the city and invites “new perspectives.”
The report stresses the role of downtown and neighborhoods in spurring economic development. That means mobilizing and targeting limited resources, recognizing that a healthier core is crucial to the city and the region, say, in attracting and keeping talent. The report recommends for neighborhoods, among other things, the use of community development corporations for coalescing efforts. Many cities have benefited from this tool. Akron is without similar capacity.
That is part of the appeal of the report beyond the honest assessment of where the city stands. It includes examples of how Syracuse, N.Y., Worcester, Mass., and others have outpaced Akron the past decade. So the job can be done.
Akron has proved as much. Now it looks to regain the momentum it once had. That won’t be simple or quick, especially with the state and federal governments retreating from cities. First, there is coming to grips with what the challenges are.
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“Will Akron Get Back Its Edge?” Editorial. Beacon Journal Editorial Board, 24 Feb. 2016. Web. <http://www.ohio.com/editorial/editorials/will-akron-get-back-its-edge-1.664389?localLinksEnabled=false>.