Automobiles are synonymous with Detroit; steel with Pittsburgh. In Akron, Ohio, the nickname “Rubber City” stuck a century ago as the city became a hub for tire manufacturing. And that designation is just fine with this northeast Ohio city, which clings to its industrial heritage as it forges an exciting future.
Akron, population 197,000, is the largest city in Summit County. About 30 miles from downtown Cleveland, it is part of the Great Lakes region.
“We realize that being adjacent to Cleveland to the north and Canton to the south provides some wonderful opportunities when we promote our assets along that Interstate 77 corridor,” said Jim Mahon, vice president of marketing and brand management for the Greater Akron/Summit Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It is never an instance where we lose our identity.”
The famous Ohio and Erie Canal, a precursor to the nation’s railroad system, passes through Akron. Major producers of rubber and tires were once based here — Goodrich, Firestone and General Tire — but a number of those plants have closed, although Akron remains the world headquarters for tire giant Goodyear.
Today, Akron might also be called the City of Invention, known worldwide as a center for polymer research and development. Polymers are molecular building blocks for the development of everything from plastics to rubber, and have thousands of uses. More than 35,000 people in the area work in polymer industries. The Institute of Polymer Engineering at the University of Akron is an academic leader in the study of polymers.
Akron is home to Inventure Place, an interactive museum of invention, and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Akron has been designated an All-America City three times by the National Civic League, which honors 10 cities each year, and earned a City Livability award, given to 10 mayors and their cities by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Several major events have been held in the region recently, including the Republican National Convention, held in nearby Cleveland this past summer. In order for Cleveland to land the RNC, Akron had to chip in its share of hotel rooms to help accommodate those who attended the convention.
Sporting events are important to the market, and the has launched a sports alliance to help draw more sporting events. The Sports Alliance of Greater Akron has begun talks with a number of sports organizations that might want to book their event in Akron. Among the annual events draw large crowds to the city are the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament and the All-American Soap Box Derby.
Interstates 76 and 77 serve the city, which also falls between two significant airports: Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and the smaller but efficient Akron-Canton Airport. “If any business needs to get done in our area, obviously, affordable airfares are an attractive option,” said Mahon.
“At the end of the day, we’re more affordable and accessible, and those things factor into a meeting planner’s budget and where they will spend their money,” he said. “You get a lot more for your investment in Greater Akron.”
Major Meeting Sites
The John S. Knight Convention Center and other related sites in the area are managed by the CVB.
“It helps us citywide when we need to use multiple properties around our city,” said Mahon. “The whole footprint of the convention center is about 123,000 square feet with 40,000 square feet of exhibit space. If you use the adjacent, contiguous ballrooms, that ramps up the space by another 15,000 square feet.”
An interesting fact about the convention center is that it opened debt-free, which many other cities wish they could say about their convention facilities.
The Knight Center, opened since 1994, is staffed by a team of experienced professionals.
“The combined number of years of service at the convention center is 279 years,” he said. “The whole operating team came here together in 1994. Many of them are still on staff. We want people who enter as guests to leave as friends.”
Greystone Hall, one of the most beautiful structures in downtown Akron, was originally constructed by and for the Freemasons. Near the convention center, the seven-story building is 101 years old.
“I can tell you they spared no expense when they built this place back then,” said Mahon. “Today it is still stunning and majestic.” Some events in the modern Knight Center can also use the nearby hall for banquets, meetings and other events. “It is a win-win situation and lets the group grow its event.”