On the latest episode of Calfee NOW, Michael W. Bowen, Partner with the firm's Government Relations and Legislation practice, and Michael G. VanBuren, Partner with the firm's Health Care Regulation practice, spoke with Steve Millard, President and CEO of the Greater Akron Chamber.
I'm excited to have our good friend from the Greater Akron Chamber, Steve Millard. Steve, how are you doing?
I’m great. How are you, Michael?
Awesome, I’m doing well. So let's jump right into it. So Steve, can you tell us a little bit about the Greater Akron Chamber and the role it plays in Summit County?
Sure. So we are a Chamber of Commerce and economic development organization. We serve about 2,200 members in Summit, Portage, and Medina counties, and some of the fringes of that as well. You know we do a couple of things, but what I like to say is, we're in the business of doing things for businesses that they either wouldn't or couldn't do on their own right. So, everything from providing a large-scale, self-insured insurance program for our smaller businesses to getting involved in the details of advocacy in the capitals, both D.C. and in Columbus. To working on the really sexy stuff like sewers and bridges and roads and things like that, right? But because we're a membership organization, our members are jointly funding our work so that we can represent them, advocate for them, and do things that are good for the overall growth and investment in the community.
Speaking of some of that advocacy work, Akron elected a new mayor, which everyone's very excited about. Can you talk specifically about the nuts and bolts advocacy with the city, with the sewers and water, and some of those services? Can you talk specifically about some of that work you've done in the past and some of the opportunities you see in the work with City Hall with the new administration?
You know one of the things that we've been able to do really well down here in Greater Akron is collaborate with our public partners on many of the things that we do. So, the city is one of those partners. The county is one of those partners, and there are about 15 or 20 others. But I think one of the things most important with the city, and people look to the city as their resource for help and support. And so, if you're a small business, one of the first calls you might make, if you've got an issue going on with your business, whether it's parking in front of your business, or an issue related to improving your storefront, or something related to needing help and support. Oftentimes the city is that first call, and in some cases they provide that direct support. In other cases, they'll make a referral to us or others to help with the businesses.
So the partnership we have with the City of Akron is important, because chambers organizations like ours, we're about a $4 million organization, and so we can help at some level. But cities and counties have a lot bigger budgets to drive broader programs for bigger scale impact for companies. And I often say that sometimes our elected officials never want to do the wrong thing, but sometimes in some areas they're just not sure what the right thing to do is, and so we try to sit at the table with them and help them understand. If you do this, here's how it might affect businesses in our community. If you do this, here's some of the barriers that might happen. Or could you think about doing these things because we think they'll unlock potential for development and growth.
So Steve tied into Mike's last question. At a basic level, why would a business move to Summit County? I mean, what is your elevator pitch for that?
Well, I think for many, Summit County is a lot about quality of life, right? And opportunities. So we've got all the amenities of larger communities. But we have that connectivity, that collaboration, that spirit of working with each other, that sometimes you don't get in the bigger communities. We know that we are smaller than some of these larger metro areas. So we know we have to rely on each other and depend on each other a bit, but we are the center of so much great opportunity, not only business opportunity. We are the center of the polymer and plastics industry in Ohio. So this is a place that if you're in those industries, polymers, chemicals, plastics, you want to be here because you've got some of the world's biggest companies here. You've got some of the world's best researchers here in that space. And this is a place where you can get access to those customers and that kind of infrastructure.
Also, our recreational amenities are second to none. I mean, while our friends and other parts of the State have access to parks, we are smack dab in the middle of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, right? So we've got the locks. We've got all kinds of cool, recreational amenities for family-oriented community, and one that you can comfortably operate in this community, live in this community, work in this community, and move around this community pretty easily.
We were recently just named the most affordable place to retire in the country. Not a lot of folks have Akron on their retirement list, but maybe they should. It's a great, great place to be. We're trying to work on improving the weather a little bit. But, hey people who live in Northeast Ohio., we like seasons. So it's okay from that perspective.
I think the other piece is that our civic infrastructure here is really strong. So people who want support and connectivity to others in their community and work alongside them to get things done will find this to be a really comfortable, really great place to be. You know there are people working together on everything from how we envision our downtown and our Lock 3, which is our Central Park here in Akron, to how we create new ways to leverage the Ohio and Erie Canalways. We've got many people who don't know this, but we've got the towpath running right through our community, connecting all the way up to Cleveland, and all the way down to Zanesville, and lots of opportunities to use that as a key centerpiece of recreation and getting outdoors. So again, a great community for all kinds of different reasons, from doing business to connecting with other people, to just having a great quality life.
I had another question I wanted to ask, but following up on that, are you working on any recreational projects right now? Is there anything you have in the hopper with the parks?
Sure a couple of big things, I would note. There's an area of Akron known as Summit Lake, and there's been a lot of work done by Dan Rice and his team in Ohio. How do we reclaim that lake for our community and really create water there that everybody can utilize? So, in addition to having the water now be at a place where you can recreate – canoe, boat, all that kind of stuff – without worrying about your health or anything like that. We're also creating that as a destination for our downtown. Some downtown residents, the people who live in the neighborhood, so that it's a place that reflects what they want to see happen. So we did a very large– and it wasn't the Chamber, it was really Dan and his team – did a really large piece of work over the last few years, really helping the community tell us what it is that they wanted to see happen in their community. And then they went ahead and did that. And you know, big wonder people are happy, right? People are excited. They're using it. We're doing cool things down there. There's gonna be a canoe share. There's a kayak share. There's a community center, and we put a path all the way around the lake, finally, connecting all those neighborhoods around the lake so you could move around it – bike, walk, jog.
And then, of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Lock 3. So if you're not familiar with Akron, Lock 3 is our version of a Central Park. And for a long time it was a venue for outdoor events and concerts and things like that. Our annual winter fest and ice skating would be there. It borders the Civic and it's again right in the center of our downtown. And so we are currently reconstructing that entire park, and it is going to be amazing. It was put together, I think I was told 15-20 years ago, as a temporary place to do those kinds of programming, and it stayed that way for a long time. We are now doing a huge renovation there that, I think, will be late next year, available or finished.
It'll also be adjacent to new stuff that's happening at the Polsky Building as part of the University of Akron campus, where we're connecting the university on the hill, really, all the way down into our downtown, to really allow those students to traverse that and be more connected to what's happening there. So there's a lot going on in downtown Akron right now. Our Main Street looks as good as it's ever looked and we're working to repopulate and support the businesses that we have on that street.
It really does – Main Street looks as good as it's looked in my lifetime. It is tremendous. I know a lot of constituencies come together to do that. And the Civic Theater, it was amazing.
Anything that Howard and his team at the Civic have done in conjunction with the University of Akron. They are now programming for about 6 or 7 different venues around the community. So if you go to a site called LiveAkron.com, that will show you all these different opportunities for arts and entertainment in our community, all being managed by one group. So it becomes a lot more seamless and a lot more thoughtful about how we program for different audiences in a joint way. So just those kinds of collaborations that might not happen in other places are happening here in Akron.
I can attest. I was the fundraiser for the Akron Summit County Library a couple of weeks ago. That's another kind of collaboration you see here.
Great space, great opportunities.
Michael, I know I'm jumping around a little bit talking about the university now, which is just a huge engine of economic growth. We talk a little bit about the polymer industry cluster and some of the work that's gone on there. Not only the collaboration but all the Federal funding. I know a tremendous amount of work went into it. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Sure, absolutely. So, about 5 or so years ago we started doing the work on our Elevate Greater Akron initiative, which is this open economic development plan for Greater Akron. We really looked at where we have legacy assets, and where we have opportunities. And one of our findings from that work was, we have to make some bigger bets on what's next for our community. We're doing okay. But we weren't really invested in any specific areas. And so we looked at the asset base we have. And, obviously, we have a huge legacy right in tires, rubber, and polymers. And you know, people know Goodyear. They know Bridgestone. They know Continental. They know all these large brands and these multinational companies that are headquartered here or have their core R&D functions here. And then we start thinking about what are some of the things that are really on the horizon, right?
And you think about advanced materials. You think about silicon, semiconductors. You think about EV, you think about healthcare. One of the things they all have in common is the next-level iteration of the materials that they're using in those spaces. And these growth industries are polymer-based, right? And so we have this history in developing the science, we really led the world in that space and still do from the University of Akron, we’re the number one university in the world for plastics engineering.
And so as we think about this, we said that maybe there's something there we can work on. We brought the companies together. What was really interesting is they've spent so many years competing for a fraction of a penny of margin on something like a tire. Right? Very competitive industry. They didn't really have the kinds of relationships to work closely together on these things. So we started having these discussions and fast forward 5 years later, we've now got a core group of close to almost 55 companies working together on joint problems. Right? So you think about models and other places? Where do you bring people from competing companies together to think about the things that no one company can solve? Right? That's what I said earlier. Problems that a single business can't do on their own and start to plow some ground there to put Akron in a place where we can redefine how some of these global technologies are created.
So we've been working with the State very closely over the last few years to get excited about the investment that they made in Cleveland and Cincinnati and Columbus for innovation hubs. And that's fantastic. They put $300 million in each one of those cities over the last 5 years or so to drive innovation. And we said, well, what about Akron? What about Toledo? What about Dayton? What about Canton? What about Youngstown? And so we were able to get about $100 – and I think it's $140 million, $150 million in the state budget this last cycle for innovation hubs. And we're positioned to compete for a great investment from the State to build around commercialization, innovation, and commercializing research to get to the next level to solve those problems.
Then we also were looking at, how does this work with the EDA’s Tech Hub program? So the Chips Act put $10 billion out there for helping the U.S. get to the next level of innovation in leading technologies that are critical to defense or critical to what industry needs to be globally successful. And so we competed against 400 other proposals. And we were fortunate enough to be selected as one of 31 designated as a tech hub for the U.S. So we are the sustainable polymer tech hub for the United States. And that brings with it a number of different opportunities and a little bit of money to help with some additional planning.
But the bigger prize really comes next year, as we compete to be one of 10 of those 31 to be identified for somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 to $75 million of investment in sustainable polymers. So there's an autonomy tech hub. There's an unmanned aerial devices tech hub, we are the sustainable polytech hub. And I've got to tell you, in the last couple of weeks we've gotten calls literally from all over the world from people looking to think about, how they can leverage that opportunity for their company to be here to do some of that work.
So we're really excited about what that could bring. You can tell I'm talking a lot about it, but it is really for us. It is the culmination of years of work thinking about how this could happen, and we're not there yet. We haven't gotten the big awards yet, but I'm hoping over the next year we'll see close to $100 million of state and Federal investment anchored by private investment as well to help us go forward. The University of Akron has been great at the core of that work every step of the way.
So, Steve, I mean, it's my favorite question of all, because it's the last one that wraps it up. So you know our audience is businesses. It's Calfee partners, it's Calfee lawyers, it's Calfee staff members. It's civic leaders in Cleveland. It's civic leaders in Northeast Ohio, civic leaders in Ohio. What would be your final pitch or thing you would like to say as we wrap this up and close this Calfee NOW?
I think one of the things as Midwesterners that your audience probably has in common is we're generally a pretty humble lot. Right? I mean, we don't tout our successes as much as we should, and we always look at other places and say, gosh, you know, aren't they doing great? Why can't we do that? Well, Ohio is seeing unprecedented investment right? The COVID pandemic has led to this wave of onshoring that's creating real opportunities. And we're at the right time and the right place with key agencies, like JobsOhio, that really led nationally on how to support economic development in our state. But we're also in a place where we can do these world-class things. We have to believe in ourselves. We have to bet on ourselves. And we have to invest in innovation in our state, just like they do on the coast.
And so my message to stakeholders and business leaders in this community is, that we need to believe that we can do it. We need to lay the foundation for it. We know we have that Ohio work ethic to do the work to get it done. But we need to work together and support this to look at an Ohio 20 years from now. That will be unlike anything we've ever seen.
Well, Steve, I hope we'll have you back in a couple of years, and we're not having the same conversation we're having today. But we very much thank you on behalf of Calfee for joining us, Calfee NOW. And once again we have Steve Millard, the President and CEO of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce. Thank you for joining us for another Calfee NOW.
I appreciate it, and thanks for the investment Calfee is making in our communities as well. You guys are stepping up to help us do the things we have to do to be successful. So I really appreciate what you guys do.
Love it. Thank you, Steve.
Calfee Connections blogs, vlogs, and other educational content are intended to inform and educate readers about legal developments and are not intended as legal advice for any specific individual or specific situation. Please consult with your attorney regarding any legal questions you may have. With regard to all content including case studies or descriptions, past outcomes do not predict future results. The opinions expressed may not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of all attorneys and professionals of Calfee, Halter & Griswold LLP or its subsidiary, Calfee Strategic Solutions, LLC.
Non-legal business services are provided by Calfee Strategic Solutions, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Calfee, Halter & Griswold. Calfee Strategic Solutions is not a law firm and does not provide legal services to clients. Although many of the professionals in Calfee’s Government Relations and Legislation group and Investment Management group are attorneys, the non-licensed professionals in this group are not authorized to engage in the practice of law. Accordingly, our non-licensed professionals’ advice should not be regarded as legal advice, and their services should not be considered the practice of law.
Updates related to all government assistance/incentive programs are provided with the most current information made available to Calfee at the time of publication. Clarifications and further guidance may be disseminated by government authorities on an ongoing basis. All information should be reaffirmed prior to the submission of any application and/or program participation.
- Calfee NOW: Steve Millard, President & CEO, Greater Akron Chamber
- Planning Before the Fall: Estate Planning Strategies to Consider Before December 31, 2025 (Or Sooner?)
- Keeping Things Confidential: How to Protect Sensitive Information in an M&A Deal – The Middle Market Deal Corner
- Proposed Regulations Provide Guidelines for CHIPS ITC
- Calfee NOW: Ohio State Representative Sean Brennan
- Tax Credits Under the CHIPS and Science Act: Proposed Rules Rollout
- The Time Is Now: U.S. Dept. of Commerce Accepting Applications for CHIPS Act Incentives
- A Primer on Purchase Price Adjustments – The Middle Market Deal Corner
- Calfee NOW: Congressman Mike Carey
- The Race to Secure CHIPS and Science Act Incentives: Are You Ready?
- December 2023
- November 2023
- October 2023
- July 2023
- June 2023
- April 2023
- March 2023
- February 2023
- January 2023
- November 2022
- September 2022
- August 2022
- May 2022
- April 2022
- February 2022
- January 2022
- November 2021
- October 2021
- July 2021
- May 2021
- April 2021
- March 2021
- February 2021
- January 2021
- December 2020
- November 2020
- October 2020