Akron organizations to help city attract and retain talent, expand opportunity with $1.8 million boost from Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation appoints Kyle Kutuchief as interim program director for Akron

AKRON, Ohio — Jan. 5, 2015 —The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced more than $1.8 million in new funding to 13 projects aimed at attracting and keeping talented people in the city and expanding economic opportunity.

The foundation also announced that Kyle Kutuchief, an Akron native and talent and community engagement specialist, will join Knight as interim program director in Akron effective immediately. Current Akron program director Josh McManus will be leaving to join Rock Ventures, the Detroit-based family of companies headed by Quicken Loans founder and chairman, and Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.

“The projects receiving funding will help strengthen Akron’s future; each carries with it a vital ingredient for city success,” said Carol Coletta, Knight Foundation vice president for community and national initiatives. “They will strengthen Akron’s community of civic innovators, who are creating incentives for young talent to stay and build roots in Akron and providing people of diverse backgrounds the opportunity to pursue their ideas and contribute.”

Led by a range of community development organizations, many of the projects focus on supporting emerging leaders and entrepreneurs, while creating more options for residents to connect. They address a growing need to reverse the city’s steady population decline by focusing on quality of life improvements intended to attract and retain talent, and providing opportunities for entrepreneurs and individuals to pursue fresh ideas.

“I’ve known and lived in this community most of my life and know that Akron is poised to regain population and improve its quality of life,” said Kutuchief. “These grants support strong Akron leadership. The projects we’re supporting lay the path for a strategic focus on problem-solving, engaging many leaders in our community and presenting opportunities for meaningful partnerships. I’m thrilled for the opportunity to serve my hometown in this capacity.”

The organizations receiving support include:

●      Akron Development Corp. ($25,000): To support planning and research at the new Bits and Atoms Innovation Center, a maker and product commercialization space in the heart of downtown.

●      Akron-Summit County Public Library ($190,000): To create a multiuse space at the library to support emerging entrepreneurs, maker activities, digital media creation and community meetings. 

●      Asian Services in Action ($100,000): To facilitate innovative lending programs, including peer lending circles and micro-loans for entrepreneurs in the city's Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.

●      Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway ($150,000): To restore a baggage car to expand the Bike Aboard program at Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railway.

●      Downtown Akron Partnership ($249,000): To improve the capacity and impact of Downtown Akron Partnership, an organization that promotes the building of a vibrant downtown Akron.

●      Economic and Community Development Institute ($250,000): To accelerate the institute’s small loan lending and technical assistance programs within the city to support entrepreneurs and neighborhood businesses.

●      Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park ($249,000): For construction of trails, including the park’s first mountain biking trail.

●      Greater Akron Amenities ($75,000): To study and assess Akron’s potential and challenges for growth and develop strategies to attract and retain young talent.

●      Hunter Franks ($96,200): To continue work by Hunter Franks that began last year, supporting public art and creative placemaking projects that contribute to city vibrancy.

●      Ohio & Erie Canalway ($249,900): To support a planning process to increase public use of the Ohio & Erie Canalway (towpath trail) in downtown Akron; the process will be led by the design firm Alta and engage the public in building ideas.

●      Team Better Block ($52,083): To continue work by Team Better Block in Akron, engaging leaders, residents and recent immigrants to improve their neighborhoods through immediate redevelopment and placemaking projects.

●      Torchbearers ($65,000): To take members of Torchbearers, which supports young emerging leaders, on field trips to two cities that are taking action to transform their communities; based on lessons learned, members will then have the opportunity to apply for mini grants to build out ideas to improve Akron.

●      Urban League ($50,000): To introduce teenagers and young adults to entrepreneurial skills and thinking by expanding existing programs.

Kutuchief’s appointment as Knight’s interim program director is effective immediately.  He will oversee current and new grants, and will work with local leaders and other community members to find and invest in ideas that contribute to Akron’s success. Kutuchief has worked with Knight Foundation as a consultant on talent strategy and community engagement since September. 

Civic engagement in Akron has been a primary focus of Kutuchief’s career. In 2014, he served as president of Torchbearers, a young professionals organization aimed at leadership development, community service and talent attraction and retention. Under his leadership, the organization created and implemented new talent development initiatives including Intern Edge, Connect2Akron and Akron2Detroit.  

Previously Kutuchief worked as director of development for the Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron. He also worked at Collaborent Group’s Sourcing Office, a government organization that supports group purchasing programs in the public sector, and the University of Akron.

Kutuchief earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Ohio State University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Akron.

McManus will take on his new role in Detroit, where he previously founded the D:hive, a place-based talent retention and attraction storefront in Detroit; and helped reshape the strategy for the city’s New Economy Initiative, a $100 million entrepreneurship and innovation effort.

“The unexpected opportunity to return to work in Detroit at this particular moment in the city’s history was too meaningful to me, personally, to turn down, though the decision was made difficult by my growing appreciation for Akron’s potential and future,” McManus said.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.  KnightFoundation.org

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CONTACT: Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677, media@knightfoundation.org

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.