Do Suburban Residents Pay Attention To Akron? Depends Who You Ask
Nancy Fay is Bath through and through. She lives on a family farm. She runs The Bake Shop in Ghent bakery. And she sits on the township zoning board.
She's lived in the community long enough that she can recall the resentment when Akron used to gobble up township land through annexation before a joint economic development agreement put an end to the bad blood.
Asked whether she cares about what happens in Akron, she replied, "Always." She understands that the health of Summit County's major city influences the health of the suburbs — and vice versa, she added.
"When the city makes bad decisions, there's an impact,” she said. “When the city makes good decisions, that's a good thing for the township."
But she also knows, thanks to daily conversations with customers, that maybe only 50 percent or so of people in the community pay attention to what's going on in Akron.
With all of Akron City Council and the mayor facing re-election this year, the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com is asking the people who live, work and play in the city to measure progress so far. Beacon Journal/Ohio.com reporters visited four Summit County communities — Barberton, Bath, Cuyahoga Falls and Northfield — to talk with people in the suburbs about how they view Akron and the city’s role in the region.
Recognizing Akron's importance
What we found is that, in most cases, suburban residents care about what happens in Akron, especially if they live in inner-ring suburbs, or if they once lived in the city and moved out. But if they live in farther-flung suburbs or moved to the suburbs from outside the region, they don't feel as connected to Akron.
Even those who have an affinity for Akron don't always pay close attention to city issues. They have their own suburban lives to worry about.
If they do keep an eye on Akron, many feel the city is less safe than where they live. They also believe the road conditions are atrocious, and they can't figure out why every single street and highway in the city seems to be under construction at the same time. But they know Akron is where the arts and entertainment scenes are centered within Summit County. It's also where some of their favorite restaurants are located.
Just don’t get them started on city politics.
"Who could possibly understand that?" Fay asked.
While suburban residents don’t get to vote in Akron elections, many still have a stake — sometimes a significant stake — in the city, especially when it comes to their pocketbooks.
At least 68 percent of the $5.3 billion in wages that Akron collected income tax revenue on in 2017 came from outside the city, according to a Beacon Journal/Ohio.com analysis of data provided by the city. Akron charges a 2.5 percent income tax.
Akron has income tax data sorted by ZIP code, and some ZIP codes straddle communities, making it difficult to determine exactly how much comes from individual municipalities.
But the largest amount of wages taxed from outside the city is the 44333 ZIP code that covers Fairlawn and Bath, with $262 million in 2017. The 44312 ZIP code that covers Akron's Ellet neighborhood as well as Springfield Township and Lakemore accounted for $218 million.
The 44224 ZIP code that covers Stow and Silver Lake had $190.7 million. The 44685 ZIP code, which covers portions of Green, New Franklin and Lake Township, accounted for $188 million. The 44321 ZIP code, which covers Copley and portions of Bath and Sharon, had $178 million.
Meanwhile, many suburban residents — including those in Bath, Copley, Coventry Township, Cuyahoga Falls, Fairlawn, Hudson, Springfield Township, Tallmadge and others — receive their water or sewer services through Akron. The city charges a premium for customers outside its borders.
Akron also has economic development agreements with Bath, Copley, Coventry, Cuyahoga Falls, Fairlawn, Springfield, Stow and Tallmadge that have helped lure and keep companies and jobs in the area.
Akron has been aggressive in its use of water and joint economic development districts, or JEDDs, to control some growth outside the city, said Hunter Morrison III, a senior fellow in urban studies at Cleveland State University’s Levin College of Urban Affairs, former executive director at the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Communities Consortium and former planner for the city of Cleveland.
Major cities used to be the home for all jobs, retail and entertainment in a region, but that is no longer the case. Suburbs have siphoned major retail and now compete with cities for employers.
Akron and Summit County have done well collaborating and must continue to do so, Morrison said.
"We have to look at these places as big extended families where not everybody agrees with everybody all the time,” Morrison said. “If they did, it wouldn't be right. But when Thanksgiving dinner comes along, we’ve all got to get together at the same table.”
Northern Summit County may identify more with Cleveland, but “Akron is the brand,” he added. “It's your brand... The brand is the center city, and if the brand is tarnished, people feel badly about it.”
In many suburban residents' opinions, the brand is tarnished by crime.
Cuyahoga Falls native Kathy Redle, 57, lived in South Akron for five years when her six now-adult children were growing up, but she and her husband, Steve, moved the family back to Cuyahoga Falls for safety reasons.
"There's probably a lot of flight from Akron to other smaller-type cities because of that, I think,” said Redle, a homemaker and former art instructor at the University of Akron, her alma mater.
Falls resident Ashlee GlassOgle, 28, lived in Akron for several years — five in North Hill, eight in Goodyear Heights — and she too moved out because of violence there.
"I just started not to feel super safe by myself,” said GlassOgle, a UA graduate who said she wishes the university would talk to students more about staying safe, both on- and off-campus.
GlassOgle said she pays attention to events, construction and crime in Akron, while Redle listed poverty and gun violence as concerns. Both Redle and GlassOgle said they think hiring more police officers could help Akron’s crime problems. The city is currently working to hire more cops.
As Cuyahoga Falls continues to transform its downtown after Front Street reopened to vehicle traffic less than a year ago, GlassOgle said she hopes Akron follows suit by continuing to improve its downtown. She noted the I Promise School — a partnership between Akron Public Schools and the LeBron James Family Foundation — as a bright spot in Akron.
“There's just lots of support between both cities,” said GlassOgle, the events coordinator and a bartender at HiHO Brewing Co. “I mean, being so close together, I think anything that affects that city is definitely going to affect us, and there's so many people like myself who are like involved in both cities as well.”
Redle said she too remains “pretty positive” about Akron and its future, optimistic about the potential for Amazon moving in and the opportunities for development and growth at the University of Akron, which Redle said “has a really big impact on Akron.”
“I think Akron is going to do well in the next 20 years,” she said. “I think there's good things coming to Akron.”
Ray Leach, 67, owner of Leach's Meats and Sweets in Barberton, is blunt when asked if he cares about what happens in Akron.
“Why wouldn’t you?” he replied.
Leach said Akron has done an admirable job rebuilding its downtown and West Akron is doing better, but the city needs to focus on improving conditions in East Akron, South Akron and North Hill.
“[Akron] does create jobs for people who live out here,” he said. “When they’ve got money, they shop. When Akron is doing well, it’s like a trickle down.”
Not paying attention
Richfield resident Angela Clark, 46, who runs Angela Clark Strategic Design in Bath, is one of those suburban residents who doesn't give much thought to Akron.
She grew up in Lakewood and identifies more with Cleveland.
"I want Akron and Cleveland to do well," Clark said. "I really think the mid-tier cities need economic support and growth."
Northfield painter and musician Rodney Newton, 57, used to live in Akron and has “a love for Akron, always have.” He still pays attention to what happens there, but he thinks unless his fellow Northfield residents have some kind of connection to Akron, they don't pay much attention to it.
“It's a live, vibrant city, and it's something you don't get out here,” he said. “This is sort of like Mayberry.”
Although there are “some areas that have gone to seed,” Newton said he thinks things are getting better in Akron.
"It's not as bad as it used to be, to me,” said Newton, who said Akron used to be “a little violent” in some places, including on the west side. “It seems like, you know, hopefully the worst is behind us.”
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ. Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EmilyMills818.
Editor's note: The information about income tax collection has been corrected in this story.