This guest blog is written by Eric Anthony Johnson, the Executive Director of University Park Alliance.

People still ask why I came to Akron.  I tell them that the longer I’m here, the more evidence I see that Akron has the components to attract talent, as well as national attention, on the merit of economic redevelopment potential that stands to become a model for traditional American cities seeking a new and prosperous future.  

Because I wasn’t born here, I weighed the possibility of living and working here with detachment.  Having spent my career in cities around the country, I understood the pitfalls of urban redevelopment plans -- and there are plenty of them.

Yet in Akron, I saw something rare.  To borrow from a buzzword, I saw “intelligent optimism” on the part of city leaders planning an economic revitalization.  Akron enjoys solid planning, backed by years of effort to draw on an existing knowledge base, to develop a new economic base that is global in reach.  Importantly, a talented development team and collaborative leadership backs the local effort.

Recently, the scope of Akron’s potential came into clearer view with a new analysis that builds on a 2011 Tripp Umbach, of Pittsburgh, assessment of existing economic activity among anchor institutions.  The latest data, coming in a pair of studies by Tripp Umbach and Tetra Tech of Arlington, Va., indicates that $2.5 billion in current spending in the core of Akron -- just as a result of anchor institutions -- has the potential to increase to $4.3 billion a year by 2030 with implementation UPA’s strategic plans.

The Akron Beacon Journal, a voice of critical commentary, referred to the studies as lending “a measure of concreteness to the opportunity and the promise.”

The promise is further bolstered by the presence of the global real estate firm KUD International, which signed a master services agreement in 2011 to develop projects outlined in UPA’s master plan to revitalize four districts in downtown Akron. As an investor, KUD’s CEO Marvin Suomi also came here as an outsider.  Suomi’s optimism over Akron’s economic future developed out of the due diligence that his company applied in assessing Akron’s potential to grow economically.

My prediction:  Expect more outsiders to come to Akron.  There is opportunity here.

We now enjoy a clear and accelerated strategy to execute a vision that will forever change our city. Intelligent optimism, in Akron’s case, emerges out of planning followed by action and investment with an eye toward transformational change. 

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Copyright © 2012 Taryn Gress; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

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