Re-evaluating our progress

It’s natural, on occasion, to pause and take stock of where we are, where we’ve been and where we want to go. At GAR Foundation, we invest in Greater Akron to promote quality of life, education and economic opportunities for its people in a culturally vibrant community because the health of our economy is a key part of Akron’s success.
GAR also has invested heavily in regional economic competitiveness over the past decade, supporting research about what matters, nurturing initiatives around entrepreneurship and workforce preparation, and building leadership through the Fund For Our Economic Future.
We are pleased by the progress that we see. The economy has slowly returned to prerecession levels in many respects. Hard-working manufacturers are pivoting from old industries to new ones. Startup activity has put Northeast Ohio on the map as one of the best places to launch a new company between the coasts. In short, there’s plenty to celebrate.
Scrutinizing success
When we look closely at our successes, however, we also see cause for concern. Northeast Ohio has seen a growing chasm between the rich and the poor that threatens its continued growth. We know from the fund’s What Matters to Metros research how this story could unfold. Metros that have fostered job growth without broad access to opportunity have seen their prosperity eclipsed by heightened poverty and crime. In other words, job creation alone is not the answer.
Sadly, in Northeast Ohio, wage and income trends suggest the recovery is leaving many behind. In 2012, roughly 1 in 20 Northeast Ohioans lived in neighborhoods of “economic distress,” where fewer than 65 percent of working-age adults were working and where median household income was in the bottom quartile (below $31,750). That’s a lot of people not participating in economic prosperity.
Writing our story
Northeast Ohioans can create a different ending for our story. It is time for us to be thoughtful about our economic gains so that we can take the right next steps. In one sense, all jobs are good jobs; but we need to recognize that some jobs are better than others.
For those startups that are popping up around every corner: How will you connect your need for talent with the many Northeast Ohioans who need jobs? For economic development organizations that work to retain and expand firms already here: How will you prioritize your efforts to serve companies that are committed to providing opportunity to our citizens, through their training programs and career ladders, their location in core cities, and the like? For our citizens who are working to improve their life trajectory: How will we ensure that your education and training choices are roads to a decent job, not the fabled “roads to nowhere”?

These are tough questions. There are no quick fixes. And yet, with a renewed commitment by leaders of all stripes, we can advance the kind of far-reaching, meaningful economic turnaround that is built to last for all of Northeast Ohio. How will you join the work of growth and opportunity?