Last month, eBay CEO Devin Wenig shared a secret his $9 billion company had been keeping. They have a crush on Akron. No one here knew it until eBay whispered in the mayor’s ear that our city had been selected as one of four finalists. That’s when the official courtship began. The day after Amazon announced which 20 metros were competing in the H2 Hunger Games, eBay crowned Akron as the first US city to host its Retail Revival project.
However, since we — journalists and the elected officials we cover — measure economic development with job numbers like Browns fans rank QB prospects by height, plenty of folks will miss the real eBay story because there’s no tidy answer to the question, “How many jobs?” It’ll create some and lead to others but by supporting the local entrepreneur ecosystem instead of injecting ready-to-assemble positions.
But what does that mean?
What eBay does best is help people sell things to people who want to buy things, removing the traditional roadblocks between intercontinental commerce. In fact, when we first posted the news, a few folks chimed in that being an eBay seller put food on the table and kids through college. The company says there are 19,000 eBay sellers based in Akron already. Retail Revival kicks this up a notch by involving local makers. (Note: Warren is part of the program, too.)
Imagine you have a storefront. Your sales depend on how many folks walk through the door. Of course, you have an online shop, but success largely requires that people are Googling for what you sell. Through the Retail Revival program, eBay will train you to hone your online strategy while also connecting you with their global marketplace. It’s especially helpful for makers who don’t have a storefront yet. This is how, for example, hot sauce lovers in Sofia, Bulgaria could get their hands on a bottle of Not Yo’ Daddy’s.
The company tried this in Germany first, picking a place called Mönchengladbach, which is probably why so few heard about it. Hard to spread the word about a place you can’t pronounce. As roadmaps go, it’s a pretty nice one. There’s a whole “buy stuff from Mönchengladbach” page — ebay-city.de/moenchengladbach — or so I assume that says, and it features a photo index of the local shops in the program. Akron will get something similar.
Local businesses apply — bit.ly/eBayAkron — for an opportunity to participate in the 12-month pilot program. If you’re accepted, they waive the $75 monthly fee for the first year. (The details are available at the City of Akron’s website: bit.ly/eBay_deets )
But even as good as this should be for the city’s entrepreneurs, this isn’t the “real” eBay story either. It’s that what we’re doing in Akron has been validated by a global company without putting on a dog and pony show — and without caving to demands for tax incentives and giveaways. Akron competed on merit and won. We’re on the right track and that’s the story.