Just (Another) Kid from Akron: Finding My Place Right Here

By Jeanine Black, chief marketing officer for Bounce

When I graduated from Tallmadge High School in 1990 (yes, I know I’m dating myself, here), I wanted out – out of Tallmadge, out of Akron, out of northeast Ohio – and I didn’t plan on coming back. I decided (with all of my 18 years of wisdom) that I had bigger plans that couldn’t possibly be fulfilled here.

Keep in mind, late 80s/early 90s Akron, for those who don’t know, was a very different city than it is today.  Downtown was a place you simply didn’t go. Cleveland was pretty much the same. Jobs and opportunities were few and far between.  

So, when my dad got a job coaching football at the University of Wisconsin-Madison during the spring of my senior year, and after I visited and fell in love with the place, I said goodbye to Ohio and left it far behind. Or so I thought.

My years at Wisconsin were incredible. I love the school and I love Madison. Instead of following most of my friends to Chicago after graduation, I actually stayed in Madison and tried to make it as a TV sports reporter (another story for another time). But being out of school and on my own, far away from family and friends, made me realize I was missing something. And it was home. I could’ve easily moved to Chicago (and sometimes regret not giving myself that experience), but I didn’t want to.

My heart really wasn’t into reporting, so I decided to go back to school for public relations. I moved home in 1996 and enrolled, post-grad, at Kent State University. KSU took me in, my professors helped me find work and got me started on my career in PR and marketing communications.

During that time, Akron started changing and so did I. I started rooting for our community and realizing that right here may be the city center environment I had always longed for. My career took me into Akron, first in Fairlawn and then downtown. In 2013, I moved to West Akron and in 2015, I enrolled my daughter at Akron Public School’s Firestone CLC. We were all in.

The summer between her freshman and sophomore years, she took part in an arts project sponsored by the City of Akron at Lock 3. The newly appointed mayor, Dan Horrigan, greeted the kids on the first day. As I sat there, I marveled at how far we had all come. During the day, the kids would walk around downtown on break – they would visit the Peanut Shoppe, explore the canal and walk to Subway. On occasion, I would meet her at Lockview for lunch. My daughter was experiencing an Akron I had never known as a teenager and I loved it. I grew up hanging out at the mall. She hangs out in Highland Square.

She is growing up in a diverse, culturally rich environment, getting to know all types of people and places. She doesn’t need to move away – it is all right here, if she wants it.

Akron is growing and changing in ways we could never imagine 30 years ago. There is a vibrant and exciting arts and culture scene, and the park systems (Summit Metro and Cuyahoga National) are second to none. We have restaurants and breweries, a double-A professional baseball team and I can’t wait to see what the Main Street updates bring us.

Then, in August 2017, Mayor Horrigan announced a new economic development initiative in Akron, and the rebirth of the Akron Global Business Accelerator as Bounce Innovation Hub. This, in my mind, was the final piece of the puzzle. It was an exciting, forward-thinking plan to help create jobs in Akron; to make Akron a destination where people with ideas come or stay to live, work and play.

When I was presented with the opportunity to become Bounce’s first chief marketing officer in November 2018, I knew I had found my place. This was my chance to make a difference on a city and a community that had given me so much more than I would ever have imagined when I was in high school. I had once been asked what my ideal job was and, until recently, I couldn’t really answer. But then, as I saw what was happening around me, I knew that my ideal job was to build something – to be a part of something from the very beginning and, I know it’s cliché, but I wanted to leave my mark.

Here at Bounce, we house more than 50 organizations and provide entrepreneurial support services to around 50 tech companies in Akron. And we have capacity for more. The days are crazy and I’m busier than I have ever been, but I believe in what we’re doing and where we’re going. In May, we are opening our newly renovated first-floor Generator space. This will allow us to serve tech and non-tech entrepreneurs alike, bringing more people through our doors. The outside of Bounce, located at the lower end of Main St., will become a literal beacon in Akron’s skyline for folks who want to immerse themselves in a creative, innovative community.

I acknowledge that this is a very optimistic outlook and that Akron still has some issues; things are by no means perfect. But it’s the way I see things; it’s how I feel. And I also acknowledge that I had to move away for a bit to appreciate it that much more (just like another, much more famous, Kid from Akron). But I know I’m not the only one out there who sees how awesome it is now and how much better it can be. And know that we’re on our way.

My 18-year-old self would be amazed at the Akron of today. In a way, we’ve grown up and matured together and I’m so happy to call it home. I love this city and I love being a part of helping it develop further by creating opportunities – opportunities that just may convince another 18-year-old high school graduate that everything they need is right here.