Akron Expands Its Economic Base

The Greater Akron area – Summit, Medina and Portage counties – continue to attract new companies, investment and innovators.

By
Michaela Jackson
On Monday, July 1, 2013 - 12:46

Greater Akron is on a roll that is about much more than rubber and tires.

New investment spans medical devices, polymer and liquid crystal applications, aluminum fabrication and metals, and robust research in both public and private sectors. Despite difficult economic times, Summit, Medina and Portage counties continue to attract new companies, investment and innovators.

In 2008 alone, Greater Akron generated $291 million in corporate facility investments and 1,261 new jobs. In 2009, Greater Akron closed at least 15 deals for retentions/expansions and new companies, down from the average of 20 to 25 a year, but still a significant achievement, says Daniel Colantone, president and CEO of the Greater Akron Chamber.

"For the size of Akron that is really incredible," he says. "We have continued interest from outside the region from companies looking to relocate. In this economy, we certainly have been challenged but continue to be successful."

The success is getting attention. Site Selection magazine awarded Akron its No. 2 ranking among metros with populations between 200,000 and 1 million for the 39 corporate facility projects in 2008. A Brookings Institution study released in September 2009 ranked Akron at the top of its winners list for the year's second quarter. It gained jobs in the second quarter, one of only five of the nation's 100 largest metro areas that could make that claim.

"We've weathered it because we've had a major focus on bringing in new economy kinds of jobs," says Samuel DeShazior, deputy planning director for Akron's economic development department.

The city's signature industry is part of it, too. Bridgestone Firestone is making a $100 million investment in a 240,000-square-foot research center in Akron. Goodyear has sold its 480-acre headquarters and the buyer plans to build a new $120 million downtown mixed-use complex with retail that the company would lease back for at least two decades.

Sewer, road and utility improvements started in early summer 2009, says Scott Baughman, Goodyear's manager of public affairs.

"Goodyear, the city of Akron, Summit County and the other involved groups continue to work together and are focused on making this work," he says.

Michael Nelson, chair of The University of Akron's Department of Economics, says cooperation at all levels of government, across county lines and with the private sector is a significant factor in the region's success.
"What is primarily going on here is good economic policy, building on the strengths you have," Nelson says. "That requires cooperation."

A push to grow the region's medical device sector as part of the new BioInnovation Institute is a natural progression: Polymers are a main component of many medical devices and biomaterials represent one of "five core areas we hope will generate jobs," DeShazior says.

Twenty years from now, Colantone says, leaders will look back and note how this time marked another chapter in the evolution of Greater Akron's economy.

"If you study the history of the Akron region and community, it has always been known as a region for invention and innovation," he says.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michaela Jackson has worked as a reporter for The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, Tennessee, as well as a freelance writer for a variety of regional and national magazines.