Strongly Rooted: '80 graduate and Kent State donor is serious about local workforce development
Thirty years ago, Kent State University alumna Elizabeth Bartz had a big decision to make.
She had an excellent job in Washington, D.C., but was looking to move back home to Northeast Ohio. A 1980 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, Bartz earned her master’s degree in political science in 1982 and took part in Kent State’s Washington Program in National Issues.
Within a year of earning her master’s, Bartz began working for State and Federal Associates, a company that offered government relations services and eventually was put in charge of running the company’s compliance publications division.
After more than 10 years in Washington, Bartz wanted to return to Ohio. She considered moving back to Warren, Ohio, her hometown, but that seemed too small. Cleveland seemed a bit too big. So, she settled on Akron. It was a big enough city to keep her busy, she already had friends and family there, and it was close to Kent State, another big plus for this active alum.
“It was like deciding between papa bear, mama bear and baby bear, and Akron was just right,” Bartz said.
Bartz, however, was not finding any jobs in Akron that were comparable to the caliber of work she was doing or to her Washington salary.
“I was turning down a lot of jobs because I felt that I couldn’t go backward,” Bartz recalled.
Her bosses at State and Federal Associates, it turned out, had hit a snag of their own. They had not been able to find anyone to replace her and they did not want to lose her as an employee, so, they made her an offer: Bartz could move her division to Akron, run it from there, and eventually purchase the division from them.
Bartz, 35 at the time, worried that she would not be able to afford the purchase. But her bosses agreed to allow her to pay for the business over five years.
“I signed the deal on my 35th birthday and if all went well, I would be done paying for the business on my 40th birthday,” she recalled. “I got everything paid off in four years, on my 39th birthday.”
Bartz began her business with just two employees – herself and her sister, Helen Bartz Daley, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Kent State in 1982. “My sister Helen was my only employee. She did so many things, she ran the office. For one year, she was my only person,” Bartz said.
Now, Bartz employs 43 people, five of whom work out of Washington, D.C. She is committed to her adopted hometown of Akron, Ohio, and to keeping her business based in Northeast Ohio, specifically downtown Akron, to be an economic driver for the region.
Just days into 2024, Bartz cut the ribbon on a new suite of offices located inside the former O’Neil’s department store building at 222 S. Main St. in the heart of downtown Akron. The new space will allow her growing team room to expand, as they have continuously for the past 30 years.
State and Federal Communications is a national government relations compliance firm and online guidebook service covering lobbying, campaign finance, and procurement lobbying compliance laws for the federal government, all 50 states and more than 300 local jurisdictions in Canada, Europe, Australia, and Latin America.
The firm provides specialized compliance resources to more than 2,600 clients, including Fortune 500 companies, law firms, government affairs firms, trade associations and nonprofits across the country and internationally.
When Bartz began looking for new office space, she told her real estate brokers that she wanted to stay in downtown Akron, even though more suburban locations offer more affordable rates.
“I really feel we just need to support the city,” she said.
Bartz offers plenty of support to her alma mater as well, both as an involved alumna and a generous donor. Kent State, she said, provided her with a great foundation for life and paved the way for the opportunities she was afforded.
As her company has thrived, Bartz has been a generous donor to Kent State. She supports the Washington Program, the Global Education Endowment, the College of Arts and Sciences Endowment, the Alan Canfora Activism Scholarship, the Michael John Gallagher II Memorial Scholarship, the KSU Museum, the Kent State Emergency Grant Fund, the First Passport Fund, the School of Media and Journalism, the VCD Alumni Scholarship Fund and WKSU, one of her largest areas of support.
She founded the Elizabeth Z. Bartz Scholarship for Howland Tigers, given to a graduate of Howland High School in Trumbull County,who is a freshman studying at Kent State’s Trumbull Campus. Bartz also founded the Bartz Promising Scholar Program, for an incoming freshman in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“When I was at Kent State, I worked for Julia Waida, who was head of university publications,” Bartz recalled. “I worked for her as an intern and later as a student worker and I got to edit things and work with a lot of different departments. She taught me a lot about being confident in what I was doing. She was a single woman, and back in the ‘80s, had to fight for herself, too.”
Now, it is Bartz who serves as a strong role model for interns, many of whom regularly come from Kent State. “When we get interns from Kent State, I joke that they can bypass HR,” Bartz said.