What do people want for Akron?

Posted September 21, 2017 at 5:00 am

By Julie Ann Madden

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series on the visit of SaveYour.Town co-founder Deb Brown who came to Akron Sept. 5 – 7.

What do you want to see come to this town that is not already here? That is the first question SaveYour.Town cofounder Deb Brown asked Akron councilors and their 11 guests at a special council meeting Sept. 5.

The answers were:

Councilors/City Officials

• Beautification of the downtown area — restore the downtown, using the early Akron photos.

• More business in town — retail, food, anything, it doesn’t matter what.

• Business and industry to provide more local jobs.

• More residential rental properties: apartments, duplexes, townhouses for single parent families, young families, the retired.

• Night-time activities for adults and youth.

• A dentist.

• Fill empty buildings, have two bars and bowling alley come back. Build more spec buildings, too.

Akron Residents’


• Some business or industry to bring people to town — to build a workforce.

• A coffee shop/bakery.

• More businesses.

• A central resource for information on children’s programs and activities such as organized Parks & Recreation. Increase activities for youth.

• More housing.

• More local activities such as participate in flea market trails, winery trails, and be a bus tours’ stop.

• Have more young people step up — be on more boards, plan more activities.

Other Towns’ Responses

• Westfield: Increase recreational opportunities and make town more attractive by removing vacant and/or dilapidated buildings.

• Hawarden: More collaboration between towns. For example: Hawarden has a dentist so why not create a program to provide rides to theirs. Doesn’t believe every town needs one of everything. Like to see Northwest Iowa be a destination center. Like an upscale steakhouse.

• Merrill: Affordable apartment housing and businesses that pay decent living wages.

• Remsen: Housing development and a dentist. Just completed a survey on what people want.

Brown’s Comments

• If it’s a nice place to visit, it’s a nice place to live.

What makes the community a nice place to visit leads into making the town a tourist destination.

• Manufacturing is not coming back — don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

• Bravo to young councilors — remember you are here because you were elected. Praise the high percentage of voter turnout.

• A lot of communities are doing second-story housing: retail on the bottom and housing in upper stories.

• Large business/industry workers need some place to spend their money, and small towns are becoming the place to live and work in so why not do something to encourage them to spend their money here.

• Communities: be neighbors, not competitors. Build connections, talk to each other.

• Look outside the box. Example: Hamilton Hometowns group in Jewell, Iowa, sharing a dentist with other communities.

• Huge fan of Hispanic people who have come to area communities, willing to work hard at jobs we no longer want to do. Need to look to outside sources to bring people in to fill local jobs.

What makes your town special? Different from other towns?

The only thing she could come up with is there are so many people in Akron with blue and green eyes so emphasize Akron’s heritage.

Brown’s Suggestions

Take one of the things you want and use SaveYour.Town’s Idea-Friendly Concept: 1) Plant Your “Idea” Flag & Gather Your Crowd. 2) Build Connections. 3) Take Small Steps.

Example: Create more activities in Akron.

Plant that “idea” flag in the ground…To create more activities in Akron.

Gather your crowd…around people who think that way. You don’t appoint committees or put anybody in charge. You don’t have back-room meetings, you don’t have secret stuff. All should be out in the open — everybody needs to be involved.

There are no bad ideas. You don’t make decisions about which idea is good and which isn’t.

Put people in a room the size of Akron City Hall.

Ideas suggested were art classes and learning how to play bagpipes.

Someone noted there was somebody in Akron who plays bagpipes.

“That’s building your connections,” said Brown, suggested people read “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky. There will be people in the room who have connections for the ideas.

Brown reminded the group there will always be a Committee of Negativity — take the naysayers and have them be the Venture Capitalists of Ideas — they don’t get to make judgment calls.

When people bring ideas forward, listen to all the different ideas. Meet once a month or once a quarter to hear ideas.

Connections don’t have to be limited in the town — it can be a 50-mile radius or northwest Iowa, whatever the group decides.

Connect people — work together to see what is possible to bring the idea forward, including finding financial resources.

Finally, take small steps. Go talk with the connections. Don’t wait on city council to do it. Don’t wait on the Chamber of Commerce to do it. Do it yourself. Make things happen. That’s the only way ideas happen is when you do it.

“You who are here are the guys who are going to do it,” said Brown.

Some ideas she gave: making craft beer on Fridays and Saturdays in an empty building; hosting Welcome Newcomers Night; and creating tour of area empty buildings.

Other Tips

• Give out Empty Building Awards. Change building ordinance to prevent buildings left vacant.

• Tell your story. Write something once, use it six times. The more people who see the story, the more people who reach out to you.

• Use lots of signage so people can find your business — know it’s there.

• Three similar stores become a destination. Competition is not a bad word, it gets customer service.

• Check for grants at foundationcenter.org.

• Use Instragram.

• Survey what customers want.

• Have teachers connect businesses with students.

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