This month at the Bridgestone Invitational, Akron was on the world stage, putting its best foot forward in front of millions of viewers worldwide, and thousands in the gallery from around the globe. As part of the festivities, we hosted our annual Evening at the Invitational with the newly minted Class 32. In addition to getting tickets for the day and enjoying the Friday round, our class members connect with the top leaders of the tournament, including the tournament’s director Don Padgett ’13, to better understand its community impact.
What shines through the conversation is that this is an exceptional event on the PGA Tour. Put aside as self-evident its status as an elite World Golf Championship event; perhaps more compelling is its Top 10 stature among the pros on tour as one of the best places they play. Like the players, our class learned last week that it’s not just anything that makes the tour a world-class event, it’s everything. It’s the immaculate conditioning Firestone Country Club’s crews bring to a classically designed course. It’s the welcoming environment by a gallery that has honed it’s appreciation for great shots over five decades of watching the world’s best compete at Firestone. And it’s the unmatched esprit de corps and, well, professionalism exhibited by the volunteers, together with the small staff that mobilizes the entire effort. When tournament organizers across the PGA Tour ask the higher-ups whom to emulate in running an exceptional PGA Tour event, the answer is quick and brief: “Go to Akron.”
The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational speaks to a larger phenomenon in Akron, that for a city our size, we have a remarkable number of best-in-class resources. U.S. News recently named Akron Children’s Hospital one of the nation’s best in seven specialty areas. It is one of the only institutions from a city our size to earn recognition in that many categories. Scan the list in neurology, for instance, and Akron is adjacent to peers in New York and Los Angeles; in orthopedics, to counterparts in Charlotte and Orlando. Or, consider our Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). Without the advantage of Yellowstone’s or Yosemite’s iconic aura, CVNP consistently ranks as one of the top 10 most visited national parks. Like all national parks, CVNP draws visitors from across the globe, but it cracks the top 10 by a different avenue than its more famous peers. Its major draw is a concentrated local population that enjoys a national treasure in their backyard. To our friends at the Bridgestone Invitational, what would look familiar is the volunteer base of 6,300 CVNP volunteers, empowered with support from the Conservancy for CVNP, who collectively make it such a draw for locals and visitors alike.
The list goes on of Akron assets that are superlative in their field, propelled by strong board and executive leadership and armies of world-class volunteers. Among their number is the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, recently named Foodbank of the Year by its peers; the Akron Marathon, recently named among the nation’s Top 50 by a national publication, at twelve years in the making old among the youngest on that list; or the Akron Zoo, whose CEO Pat Simmons chaired the global Association of Zoos and Aquariums before handing over the keys to the Zoo to her fellow Leadership Akron grad, Doug Piekarz. Our United Way has consistently outpaced its Ohio peers in per capita giving. These are just a handful of examples; sadly, you don’t have time to read about all the examples around town, but you get the idea.
When a community has this concentration of high-performing organizations, it speaks to something more. The leadership culture of this place tends to foster excellence in its community assets. It comes from a leadership base that’s thick with social capital, where the quality of interaction fosters a common language among leaders and a readiness to work together for the greater good. Walk into Akron Family Restaurant any given weekday morning, or The Game Grill & Bar at Canal Park at lunch that day, and you’ll see Akron’s engine humming, drawing its fuel from social capital among leaders. Many of them connect through Leadership Akron, having connected with classmates they never would have met otherwise, or finding common cause with fellow graduates who see the community leadership through a similar lens.
The implications for talent in Akron could be significant if we find ways to reveal these hidden but powerful drivers of our community’s vitality. The Intern Edge experience, a summer introduction to Akron for interns who are spending their break working here, helps them see what we see, and shifts their perspective about starting their career in Akron. Few would make a choice to live somewhere on the basis of a really great marathon, or a world-class zoo, or proximity to a National Park. Few would choose to live somewhere because its leadership culture is remarkably welcoming, pragmatic, and community-minded. It’s not any one of these things that differentiates the Akron area as a place to build a life and career. It’s all of them.