It would be erroneous to declare Stark County officials and business leaders were blindsided by a 2017 report that suggested much work needed to be done to reverse the county’s troubling socioeconomic course. But it is fair to say the Strengthening Stark study, commissioned by the Stark Community Foundation, was a wakeup call.

“It’s like your house, if you have a small leak over 40 years, and you don’t realize the extent of the leak,” said Ray Hexamer, CEO of the Stark Economic Development Board. “It definitely drove awareness in the community that we have to change the way we are operating.”

Ray Leach, CEO of Cleveland-based JumpStart Inc., an economic development nonprofit, goes one step further. If it wasn’t for the report — which found that Stark’s population (i.e. workforce) is getting significantly smaller, older and poorer — Leach said the county would not be on the cusp of launching “one of Northeast Ohio’s most compelling economic development projects.”

Earlier this month, JumpStart announced it would provide $151,000, including $99,000 from Ohio’s Third Frontier network, to supplement local funding of $115,000 to get the planned Canton Innovation District officially off the ground. In addition to funding, JumpStart will open an office in the 12-block district, which will include at least one startup incubator, and hire a community manager to organize programming and assistance for business owners.

“Without that context that Strengthening Stark provided, what are the odds the mayor (Thomas Bernabei), (Stark Community Foundation president and CEO) Mark Samolczyk and Ray Hexamer would have approached JumpStart about this kind of collaboration? I would say zero,” Leach explained. “This is a perfect development for us, because we can’t force anybody to do anything at the local level. We can just motivate, partner and collaborate.”

Read the full story at Crain’s Cleveland Business.