What do you love about the community where you live? What would you change or improve if you could? If we each stopped to make a list, I imagine they’d be as varied as could be, even among individuals from the same community. Northeast Ohio has many communities, each with distinct assets and challenges. We don’t often stop to think about how intertwined the assets and challenges are, let alone how the health and well-being of one community affects the success of the entire region, and vice versa. So, when we talk about transforming the regional economy, as we do at the Fund for Our Economic Future, we must first understand the specific issues affecting our region’s individual communities, as well as their interconnectedness.
That’s exactly why Akron Community Foundation commissioned our recent report, “Creating Measurable Community Impact.” With help from the Center for Community Solutions, we examined and evaluated both immediate and emerging issues facing Summit County.
What did we find?
- There are 5,000 fewer jobs in Summit County than there were a decade ago, and more than 12,500 fewer jobs than during its peak in 2007. Four of the county’s top five sectors have average wages below the area’s median income of $48,836.
- Twenty-nine percent of children in Summit County under the age of five (more than 8,400 kids) live in poverty. What’s more, there are 2.5 children for every one early learning and development program space in Summit County, and 5.6 children for every accredited, quality-rated early childhood education space.
- Summit County was home to 85,570 food-insecure people in 2012. That means 15.8 percent of the overall population and 22.4 percent of children at times lack access to enough food for an active, healthy life, or have limited or uncertain availability of nutritional foods. Thirty-seven percent of those struggling with food insecurity have household incomes that make them ineligible for income-based government nutritional assistance.
- Fifteen percent of households in Akron do not have access to a personal vehicle, which includes some of the area’s most vulnerable populations. Though roughly 71 percent of jobs in the Akron metro area are located near public transit, only about 21 percent of the population can reach a typical job in 90 minutes via public transit.
- Seniors will outnumber children in Summit County by 2020 and grow to 30.7 percent of the population by 2030. Additionally, the number of very old individuals (those 85 and older) and individuals with independent living difficulties or self-care difficulties – those who are most likely to need long-term care services and living supports – is projected to grow by approximately 60 percent by 2030.
So what now?
While it is easy to become discouraged by these figures, Akron Community Foundation and other funders, nonprofit organizations, and concerned individuals in our community are heartened by the collaborative environment that exists to tackle them. Just like the individual communities that make up our region, these issues are complex and deeply connected; therefore, they require solutions that are mindful of, and work to improve, such connections.
We at Akron Community Foundation take a collaborative, systemic approach to problem solving. We know firsthand that well-designed collaborations can achieve sustained positive change, and that efforts to address one issue in one corner of the community positively impact other parts of the community. The same holds true for the region. For example, efforts to increase and improve alternative modes of transportation can potentially (1) reduce commute times and give workers without cars access to jobs; (2) provide improved access to grocery stores and food pantries; and (3) enable senior mobility and improve their access to resources, health care and food. To achieve these synergies, partners across multiple sectors must work together toward aligned goals.
Summit County’s success is just one component of the region’s overall well-being, all of which depends on us nurturing, supporting and collaborating with one another. There are sure to be ripples, and all of Northeast Ohio will benefit.
 According to the Early Childhood Advisory Council
 Definition of food insecurity from the United States Department of Agriculture
 According to Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap
 According to projections by the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University