'Population is power,' and identifying Akron-Canton area as single entity will make it more competitive nationally, local group says.
When it comes to attracting the businesses, investment dollars and opportunities leading to the economic development that can reshape a city or entire county, the path to success often boils down to one key number.
As state Sen. Kirk Schuring succinctly put it Friday, "Population is power."
With that in mind, Schuring and a group of prominent government and business leaders from Stark and Summit counties have been meeting for several months to craft ways to market our region more effectively and with more frequent positive results.
Looking to capitalize on the assets this area can offer to prospective partners, the group agreed formally Friday to adopt and use a new moniker: Akron-Canton Metroplex.
More than mere label, members of the group said, the designation will help identify our region and position Summit and Stark counties to be more competitive nationally by taking advantage of the power of their populations. According to census figures, a combined 1.1 million people live in what are known as the Akron Metropolitan Statistical Area (Summit and Portage counties, 700,000) and the Canton-Massillon MSA (Stark and Carroll counties, 400,000).
Separately, neither MSA — defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget — ranks in the top 80 in the U.S. Together, however, they would jump into the top 50. An Akron-Canton MSA would be the fourth largest in Ohio, trailing only the Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland MSAs.
Long-term, the group hopes to get the federal government to formalize the redesignation of the four counties into a new, combined MSA. Until then, using the identifier "Akron-Canton Metroplex" will aid in marketing the region to outsiders, making it more widely recognizable.
"What we want to inject into the lexicon is how we talk about ourselves," Schuring said. "We'll act a certain way when we talk a certain way."
Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan sees the new name as another way to break down remaining barriers between communities in the region.
"We've been insular for too long," he said. "It's up to all of us to sell the area better."
Roughly 40% of working adults in Stark and Summit commute across county lines for jobs at such places as Goodyear, Timken, Diebold, TimkenSteel and the area's extensive health care facilities.
Examples of businesses collaborating and expanding across the counties abound already and can be built upon, members of the group noted. Stark State's presence in Akron; Akron Children's Hospital-affiliated locations in Canton, Massillon and North Canton; and Akron-Canton Airport were mentioned as models.
"We (CAK) are fully behind the 'Metroplex,'" said Renato "Ren" Camacho, president and CEO of the airport. He said the airport routinely cites the region's overall population when making pitches to airlines for service expansion because carriers use that statistic in making their decisions.
Population attracts the interest of companies, said Bob DeHoff, a developer with projects in both Stark and Summit counties.
"People (and businesses) want to be in dynamic markets," he said, and to be dynamic requires size.
Dennis Saunier, president and CEO of the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce, said "Metroplex" isn't a new concept, per se, but a way of insiders seeing the area the way many outsiders already see it.
"If you talk to anyone coming into the community, they think it's one MSA anyway," he said.
The challenge, Saunier said, is figuring out "how do we take the assets"' of each county and maximize them for the entire region's betterment — without concerns for credit and who are the "winners."
If anyone in the region "wins," then everyone in the region wins, the group said.
Steve Millard, president and CEO of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce, emphasized that adopting the term and concept of an Akron-Canton Metroplex "does not mean we merge everything."
Rather, it's "how do we position ourselves to others. We can offer more connectivity, more viability (together) than separately," he said. "We can't force this concept on people, but we can show them the benefits" of the Metroplex and its associated collaboration.
Possibilities exist in several industries, group members said, mentioning shale gas and oil development, polymers and tourism as present-day opportunities.
"We can make this work," said Ted Swaldo, who hosted Friday's meeting at The Twisted Olive, one of his successful dining destinations in Summit and Stark counties. He also delivered a call to action, urging the group to identify a few quick "wins" civic leaders can accomplish to demonstrate the power of collaboration.
Canton Mayor Tom Bernabei said he and Horrigan are working together to share ideas and strategies for downtown development. The counties' chambers are collaborating on a regional relocation guide, and the region's newspapers are working together daily to share news and ideas from across Northeast Ohio. None of those partnerships existed as recently as a few years ago, group members said.
DeHoff predicted success for the region as the Metroplex term and concept become more commonplace.
"Our counties will be better off in five years," he said. "Maybe sooner."
Rich Desrosiers can be reached at 330-580-8310 or firstname.lastname@example.org.