This year, one of the most recognizable brands in America turned 125. Goodyear, the manufacturer of tires for everything from cars to planes to lunar rovers, celebrated its anniversary in style, including by flying the famous blimps over its hometown of Akron, Ohio.
The company’s deep ties to Akron have been apparent throughout its more than a century in business. We spoke to Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Laura Duda recently about that history and what other manufacturers can learn from it.
The beginning: Goodyear was founded in 1898, when F.A. “Frank” Seiberling purchased two empty factories in Akron’s then-small downtown, Duda told us.
- The company brought thousands of jobs to the neighborhood known as Middlebury and is still operating there more than a century later, having built its new headquarters on Innovation Way in 2014, just blocks away from its previous headquarters.
- The company also built its largest innovation center in Akron around the same time, as well as one of its three airship bases. Its Akron facilities also include a plant that produces racing tires, a test track that helps the company develop and bring innovative products to market and much more—all in the place it first called home.
Growing together: In addition to creating and keeping jobs in Akron, Goodyear prides itself on its contributions to the expansion of the city throughout the company’s history, Duda said.
- Seiberling himself developed a neighborhood called Goodyear Heights, which offered affordable housing to the company’s workers and remains a beloved historic district today.
- Meanwhile, the city’s first municipal bus system was constructed to bring the company’s workers downtown to the factory, and Goodyear’s early leaders created the surrounding county’s public parks.
- “It’s not possible to separate the history of Akron from the history of Goodyear,” Duda concluded.
Recruiting locally: Ever since its founding, Goodyear has always prioritized local recruitment, said Duda, and worked to set employees up for long, productive tenures at the company.
- In 1913, Goodyear’s first CEO, Paul Litchfield, set up an early in-house training program called the “flying squadron,” which helped associates learn new skills and advance in their careers. Today, the descendant of that program is known as “Sales Squad,” Duda said, and serves to “attract talent to and kickstart the company.”
- This program recruits recent college graduates for full-time positions across the country, using a 10-week training program designed to prepare candidates for a career at Goodyear by providing experiences within the company’s retail, sales, manufacturing and product development departments.
- Goodyear also offers developmental programs throughout the company, via a learning center that provides both in-person and take-home training resources.
- Lastly, the company collaborates with STEM programs in schools both in the Akron area and around the country, sending its engineers out to tell students about Goodyear’s many rewarding career paths.
Still giving back: Today, Akron is a well-established city with significant infrastructure, and Goodyear is still contributing to the city’s future.
- “It’s unusual to find an area of community support where Goodyear is not engaged,” said Duda. “We focus on building ‘safe, smart and sustainable communities.” The company’s “safe” pillar includes a partnership with Akron’s Children’s Hospital to provide car seats to parents who can’t afford them and bike helmets to older children. “Smart” projects include efforts to promote STEM careers among underrepresented students at Akron Public Schools.
- Meanwhile, Goodyear’s focus on sustainability has led it to support the development of the region’s Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath Trail, along with green space throughout the region.
Blimps: We couldn’t have an interview with Goodyear without asking about the blimps, of course.
- Yes, Duda has ridden in them, she told us, and the experience is “as great as you would expect.”
- Akron also takes great pride in the blimps, which can be a major draw at charity auctions, to which the company often donates rides. A ride for two on a blimp “goes for more money than you might anticipate,” said Duda.
The last word: While it is hard to replicate the sort of community ties and goodwill built up over more than a century, Duda has some advice for manufacturing companies looking ahead to the next 125 years. Not only will they find local leaders very receptive to outreach, she advised, but an enormous amount gets accomplished at local associations and chambers of commerce.
- Just as importantly, manufacturers should know that “your employees want this [level of community engagement],” Duda said. “We hear from top talent that we are recruiting that it is important to them, as well as from our current employees. From a talent perspective, this is something everyone should consider.”
For more on Goodyear’s history, innovations and future plans, check out the company’s engrossing documentary made for the anniversary: 125 Years in Motion.