Like many cities in Ohio, Akron has weathered a decades-long decline in its traditional economic base that has required it to reimagine its role in the twenty-first century economy. Noted by national experts to have maintained a competitive edge over similar legacy cities through much of this decline, a new report by the Greater Ohio Policy Center examines how the city’s recent trajectory compares to similar mid-sized, post-industrial cities.
The report, titled “62.4 Report” in reference to the city’s square mileage, finds that Akron has not kept pace with peer cities in the Midwest and Northeast. Akron’s performance on indicators of urban health and competitiveness was compared to five similarly situated cities: Erie, Pennsylvania, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Hamilton, Ohio, Syracuse, New York, and Worcester, Massachusetts. Still, although Akron faces serious economic and demographic challenges, the city is well-positioned to confront them.
Key report findings include:
- 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. Regional leaders recognize the importance of combating this trend and have launched a number of programs focused on poverty reduction.
- The city is facing a “skills gap,” where many Akron residents require additional training to be able to take advantage of new job opportunities in health care, education, and advanced manufacturing. Although promising initiatives are underway to address this issue, other challenges, such as regionally dispersed job opportunities, make accessible employment challenging for transit-dependent Akron residents.
- Akron’s neighborhoods are still contending with the double blow of declining population and the mortgage foreclosure crisis. Beyond the challenges of long-term housing vacancy, a portion of the available housing stock is not in good condition or is not well-suited to the size and lifestyles of middle-class families that the city hopes to attract.
- Akron has seen very little growth among young professionals and immigrants, two key demographics for the city’s future trajectory. Still, both of these groups, and young professionals in particular, have had outsized impacts on the city in recent years.
The resignation of Mayor Don Plusquellic in 2015 signaled the end of a long 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.
The report also identified ways that Akron could improve its trajectory, particularly given the recent changes in leadership. Recommendations include:
- Grow and sustain local leadership
- Forge connections across sectors to maximize investments
- Focus on downtown and the city of Akron as the economic heart of the region
- Invest in existing Akron residents
- Promote new housing development through strategic government intervention