56th Bowman Breakfast reflects on city, university relationship

Lauren Sasala

Kent State faculty, staff and city officials gathered during the 56th Bowman Breakfast Wednesday morning to reflect on the synergy between the city of Kent and the university.

Panelists at the breakfast praised the progress made over the past 10 years and reiterated how important the relationship between the city of Kent and the university is.

“It is mutually beneficial for the city of Kent to be identified with Kent State University,” said Roger Sidoti, a councilman at large.

Tom Wilke, the economic development director for the city of Kent, praised the success rate of entrepreneurs in downtown Kent. He said in 2008 there were 42 businesses in downtown Kent and 24 of them still exist. This is a 57% survival rate compared to the national average of 30%.

Though businesses are succeeding downtown, there is always room for improvement said Kelvin Berry, the director of economic development and community engagement at Kent State.

“In a downtown business district, if you are not growing, you are declining,” Berry said.

Over the past year, Berry said there has been an increase in business failures which is something to be cautious of looking at the future.

“It’s important because the destiny’s of the city and the university are tied together,” Berry said.

While downtown Kent flourishes on the weekend, gaining business during the week will be critical in the continued success of the city said Lawrence Carter, the asset manager for the Kent State University Hotel and Conference Center and the Kent State University Foundation.

He asked those in attendance to become ambassadors for Kent and to help encourage others to visit downtown and continue the growth of the community.

“The hardest thing is to get people into Kent,” Carter said. “Once they are here, they fall in love with us.”

Michelle Hartman, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Burbick Companies and executive board member of Destination Kent Convention and Visitors Bureau, discussed the importance of trying to show that Kent is more than just a college town.

She said the Kent Stage has a partnership with the Kent State Hotel to encourage visitors from out of town to spend the night in the hotel after seeing a concert.

By increasing the number of people staying in Kent, this would bring more business to downtown and more attention for the university.

President Beverly Warren also stressed the importance of having a strong leadership for the university and the city of Kent.

“We are only as successful as those individuals who will step up and lead our communities,” Warren said.

As the 50th anniversary of May 4, 1970, approaches, Warren said the synergy of the university and the city will be important to have.

“The eyes of the world will be upon us once again,” Warren said.  “What we must do is not only honor and commemorate but share the lessons learned of a city and a university that has come to terms with the tragic events of those days and that we’ve grown and become better because of those lessons learned.”

As President Beverly Warren prepares to leave her role as president, she took the opportunity to express her gratitude to the Kent community.

“It’s been an honor of a lifetime to be apart of this community to call Kent home,” Warren said.

Lauren Sasala covers administration. Contact her at [email protected].