Greater Akron's Business Climates Gets Bounce From Polymer Research
If anything you own contains polyester, if you enjoy affordable faux leather furniture or sport carpet anywhere in your home, it’s likely you’re holding a little piece of Akron in your day-to-day life.
All of these items contain polymers, sophisticated plastics that Akron has a strong legacy in researching, developing and manufacturing.
The region has long been a manufacturing force, specifically when it comes to rubber production.
The University of Akron offered the world’s first course in rubber chemistry in the early 20th century, and the U.S. government partnered with the university during World War II to develop a rubber substitute.
Today, Akron has broadened its focus from rubber, which is one type of polymer, to the broader category of polymers, which includes everything from plastics to certain natural substances found in the human body.
More than 400 polymer-related enterprises now call the region home, employing more than 35,000 people and spawning a new handle as “Polymer Center of the Americas.”
Indeed, polymers manufacturing and research is a major industry sector and economic development initiative in the Greater Akron area.
“The polymer industry is extremely important to the Akron economy,” says Mark Foster, who is the director of the Akron Global Polymer Academy at The University of Akron.
“The University of Akron has very long been recognized as a center of polymer research and polymer expertise in the world,” he says. “That goes back to the time of Charles Goodyear.”
The region is making great strides in what Foster calls “high value-added polymers,” or specialty polymers.
One of the emerging sectors of the industry involves the biomedical application of polymers.
The University of Akron recently licensed a patent to Boston Scientific, for example, for a specially designed material used in a stent that allows for the evolution of medicine over time.
“I think there’s going to be a definite increase in the interest and activity in the area of polymers, specifically those that have applications in biomedicine,” Foster says.
Network Polymers, with its subsidiary Diamond Polymers, is a two-decade veteran of Greater Akron’s polymer industry.
CEO Alan Woll says that because of products now in development, the business should grow by 10 to 20 percent over the next two to three years, with the potential of doubling in terms of revenue.
“It is only going to evolve into more and more,” Woll says. “It’s like a rabbit. The only way I can describe it is that it’s going to continue to multiply. To what level, I don’t know. But it can’t remain the same because there are just too many opportunities.”