(That is, one for every 20.8 square miles)
I had the opportunity to take part in one of the Knight Foundation’s briefings about the recent 62.4 Report last week, commissioned by the Foundation and produced by the Greater Ohio Policy Center. Together with the recent report from Mayor Horrigan’s Blue Ribbon Taskforce, the report provides a valuable snapshot of key trends in Akron with comparison data to other cities. The report and the briefing contained at least three major insights that will animate what leaders do with the information they received:
· Leaders are changing. More importantly, leadership is changing. The report captured the unmistakable observation that we have seen a seismic shift in the leadership of key institutions across sectors. These cascade down through dozens of organizations that are seeing new figures in key positions. As these shifts take hold, it also makes room for a new brand of leadership to come to the forefront. As the report said:
“…some stakeholders believe that this moment of change allows for a necessary transition into a new kind of community leadership. Some interviewees believe that the new generation and group of leaders waiting in the wings—made up of not just millennials but some older leaders as well—is more interested in working collaboratively to solve community problems through a networked leadership structure.
As one person noted at the briefing, Akron has been populated with a strong contingent of collaborative leaders who have co-existed, and worked with or worked around, more directive leaders in key leadership posts. Anyone who has taken part in Leadership Akron in recent years can appreciate this. Leadership Akron teamed with the Cleveland Leadership Center and Fund for Economic Future to develop an original framework of Collaborative Leadership, which we are incorporating across all the audiences we serve, to support and accelerate its growth as our community’s trademark leadership style.
· Let’s Make Healthy Self-Assessments the New Normal. It was noted that this represents one of the only examples across the state of Ohio of a community benchmarking its trends among similarly situated peers. Most communities are in the habit of measuring themselves against themselves – i.e., looking at changes in jobs, population, housing, educational attainment, etc. compared to where they used to be. This doesn’t factor in how they’re doing with respect to their counterparts. Akron’s new Mayor ran on transparency and began by appointing the taskforce to take a good look under the hood. Knight’s newer local leadership reinforced that with a good benchmark with the other vehicles on the road. These assessments should not be reserved for turning point moments of big transitions. Here’s hoping the healthy practice of taking careful measure of our community’s well-being becomes a habitual exercise.
· Attention ≠ Achievement. The study revealed that immigrants and YP’s as a percentage of the population are either not growing, or not growing to the extent that they are in other communities. This came as a shock to many. After all, much has been made of the growth of the immigrant/refugee population in North Hill—its growth was the safety net that stemmed Akron’s population decline from being more severe. Yet other cities are seeing more dramatic gains in the growth of their immigrant populations. Meanwhile, growth in the younger demographic remained flat, despite a heightened focus on this contingent for more than a decade. Indeed, there have been a host of efforts to better engage emerging leaders or YP’s in recent years, with Torchbearers, an independent affiliate of Leadership Akron, at the forefront. That said, if you add up the membership rolls of Torchbearers, Young Professionals of Akron, Young Professionals Network, Jaycees, etc., you probably get a three-digit number after removing duplicates. Assuming this demographic represents even 15-20% of Akron’s population, these collective efforts are reaching just a fraction of the younger adults in Akron (about 30-40k people), let alone Summit County. Together the numbers on immigrants and younger people remind us that attention does not equal results; heightening perceived urgency is necessary but not sufficient to change outcomes.
These are just a handful of many observations to be drawn from the GOPC report. As Akron goes, so goes Summit County and beyond, so all of us have a stake in the city’s future well-being. And, as this report demonstrates, we cannot take for granted that Akron’s ability to outperform other cities in the post-industrial transition will guarantee that we’ll outperform them in the next. The report, together with the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Taskforce, have given us a welcome wake-up call. Reports are valuable, what leaders do with the information is much more crucial. Now, the real work begins.