By Doug Livingston and Jim Mackinnon, Akron Beacon Journal
Marlene Denholm and Brooke Kennamore get a firsthand look at ongoing Akron economic development.
That’s because they have a true front-row seat to the changes taking place in their part of the city’s Firestone Park neighborhood.
Denholm owns the Main Street Saloon on South Main Street, where she and Brooke, her 22-year-old daughter, assist in the kitchen, serve customers, tend bar and do other jobs alongside each other.
The long-established bar and grill, known for its expansive menu that includes the “Jumbo Burger” as well as customer motorcycles parked out front, sits between the new Bridgestone Technical Center to the south and the under-development Firestone Business Park — the former Firestone corporate headquarters — to the north.
When factories in the area were running at capacity decades ago, the Main Street Saloon got a lot of workers as customers, Denholm recalled. “It was a good thing for us.”
That era has largely ended, Kennamore noted. Still, she’s optimistic about the changes she’s seeing.
“I think we’re on the right track, but I think the economic development has been very slow,” Kennamore said. “We’re coming up. We’re not on a fast, high rise. It’s a very slow and steady Akron winning the race here. We’re the turtles.”
There definitely is movement in Akron.
The visual evidence is in the large amount of construction — roadwork, infrastructure and buildings — in and around the city. Supporting that, economic data point to progress, albeit uneven in spots.
There remain significant challenges. Among them: reducing the city’s high poverty rate, including all of the city population in economic opportunity and increasing largely stagnant wages.
Those economic development issues and more promise to be key parts of discussions in upcoming city elections.
Akron’s ups and downs
Akron has posted stronger-than-average growth compared to other large Ohio cities, especially in startups less than 5 years old, according to The Fund for Our Economic Future. But as unemployment falls, wages have not gone up. Only 58 percent of Akron households can afford the bare necessities of life, said Janine Spadafore Kaiser, director of job preparation at the Fund, referencing a financial indicator tracked by United Way of Summit County.
“This is not just an Akron problem, this is a problem across Ohio and something we need to drive,” Kaiser said.