My parents have moved, I've been back to Buffalo a few times and would be happy to get involved in trying to revitalize the city. It's why I wrote the book, really. The article quotes me accurately: I don't think there's any escaping from the fact that the health of city's economy depends on having a vibrant, growing set of companies which not only employ people but that are also providing real value in the market. But the real point I make is about the relationship between economic development and the involvement of the leaders of large companies. Buffalo and other places suffer from a critical lack of leadership. Not because politicians and other community leaders aren't trying; but because politicians' and civic leaders' efforts are hampered by the lack of active participation among the leaders of companies. It used to be that the leader of big companies were practically required to be active in civic affairs. Thats not the case anymore and I think its a problem...... That said, I'm always chomping for an excuse to come back to Buffalo and would be very very happy to discuss my ideas with anyone willing to listen.
Safford isn't damning Youngstown so much as he's trying to figure out the best way forward. Since most Rust Belt cities aren't doing so well, I'd expect that at least some criticism is warranted. I hope that Youngstown, and any other shrinking city, would be open to his advice.
Back to his book. I haven't read it. Yet. But I did listen to an interview with Safford about his work and a recent review of the book zeroes in on what has been missing in Youngstown:
The result of these historical differences was that Youngstown was much less prepared to weather the storm of the steel industry collapse. Allentown had the institutional tools to deal with the crisis, which led to further investing in the community by business leaders. Youngstown business leaders, by comparison, became more isolated from the community. The community in Youngstown became a source of dependence for its business leaders rather than a source of identity and pride.
Safford's communication to the good people of Buffalo makes clear that greater involvement of the heads of local businesses is desirable. Another way to look at it is that political power became concentrated in the hands of a dense, tightly-knit network. As the old guard circled the wagons, Youngstown continued to rapidly deteriorate. My theory is that this dramatic collapse creates opportunities you won't find in Allentown, better opening up the political space for bottom-up economic development.
Thus, a person born in Erie, PA living outside of Denver, CO can receive a grant to build a talent network for Greater Youngstown. I see Youngstown as a place where bold ideas can find expression instead of a civic gatekeeper questioning your native credentials. That's very rare in the Rust Belt where parochial attitudes stifle outsider participation.