Friday, July 31, 2009

All Eyes On Clean Tech Prize

Following the money trail. Connecting the dots. Where Youngstown is heading:

The money is part of $16 million secured by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, for what he termed “cutting edge” research in the defense-appropriations spending bill just passed by the House. Ryan is a member of the House Appropriations Committee. ...

... Ryan said the funding will help make the region “a world leader in advanced manufacturing and developing products that keep our soldiers safe in the field.”

The projects funded in the bill have the potential to spin off civilian applications, energy generation and green-collar jobs, he said.

One of the benefits of moving your business to Youngstown, as Revere Data did, is gaining access to the considerable resources beginning to pool in the Mahoning Valley. It's another reason why Youngstown is a top-10 place to start a business. Few regions are in a position to take advantage of the shifting economic landscape. Few places are so welcoming to new ideas.

Now is the time to get in on the ground floor. Join Greater Youngstown 2.0.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Youngstown Skeptics

A member of the Greater Youngstown Diaspora living in Seattle questions the Mahoning Valley's place among the top 10 places to start a business:

I am not sure what methodology Entrepreneur magazine used to compile the list. And frankly, I have some serious doubts about some of the other choices.

Youngstown, Ohio? Really? Maybe things have changed from the days when I played soccer for the "Sons of Italy" in the depressed rust belt town. But that would be one heck of a turnaround.
John Cook, it is one heck of a turnaround. Come to the Youngstown Business Incubator and see for yourself.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Mahoning Valley Global Footprint

Eric Planey is returning to the Mahoning Valley. Why is that big news? His experience is one reason. Another is his vision for the region:

“It’s essential that the Regional Chamber has an experienced professional working in the growing global economy to bring new business and jobs to our area,” said Tom Humphries, CEO of the chamber, in a statement announcing Planey’s employment. ...

... “I am looking forward to complementing the fantastic team at the Regional Chamber by working to reinvigorate the global footprint of Youngstown and Warren,” Planey said.
Congressman Tim Ryan secured the funding for Planey's position, which is charged with attracting new businesses to the area. Planey brings an international dimension to the economic development table. This should help to leverage positive publicity such as in the recent issue of Entrepreneur magazine and appeal to a more global audience.

I'm seeing more gamechangers joining the cause. Critical mass is building. Now is a good time to put the right pieces into place to take advantage of the coming economic upswing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Clean Tech In Northeast Ohio

Whether you call it "clean tech or "green tech", regions around the world are aiming to take advantage of the coming economic boom in that sector. A reason why many places will fail is the lack of talent available:

However, to date there are no leading Israeli solar power companies on the market. There is an innate inertia at work in Israel cautioning the country to adhere to what it knows best ? IT and telecom ? while stifling potential investment and diversion of talent to clean technology. While there is no shortage of smart scientists and clean tech research, there is a surprising lack of clean tech entrepreneurs.
Relative to most, Israel is in a strong position. The hope is that the state will encourage existing entrepreneurs to migrate towards clean technology startups. There are enough ideas coming out of the universities, but few people who can bring them to market.

Northeast Ohio's challenge is different. While more entrepreneurial talent would be welcome, the primary problem will be the pool of available talent to staff these new companies or help established ones to expand operations. As the federal largess streams in, what's the workforce development strategy?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Youngstown Diaspora Ghetto

The following blurb at the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission blog caught my eye:

With two other local Hungarian Catholic churches scheduled to close by next summer, parishioners at St. Elizabeth of Hungary hope that the area's Hungarian American community will show a renewed interest in Cleveland's Buckeye neighborhood.
I conceptualize the effort as an attempt to concentrate a shrinking population into one area and provoke a community revival. In effect, Buckeye is calling its diaspora home. What does this have to do with Youngstown?

Concentrate the boomerang migrants and the newcomers in the Garden District. More analogous to the Buckeye neighborhood project, attract the relatively nearby expatriates. Build up the social capital of the neighborhood, filling it with dynamic entrepreneurial types. The Dreamer part of town. Residential neighborhood as incubator. Promote the networking of boomerang migrants and urban pioneers like seen in Scranton.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shrinking Cities Growing Opportunity

The latest issue of Entrepreneur magazine is now available online. If you are wondering what the fuss is all about, then check out Tyler Clark's post. Reading through the magazine, Youngstown could have easily been replaced by New Orleans for "The Dreamer" category:

New Orleans has always welcomed the unique and the creative; just think of the Mardi Gras revelry, the city’s jazzy soul, the vibrant Creole and Cajun cultures. But it was almost never the place entrepreneurs thought of when they were ready to set up shop. Any prior associations between business and New Orleans were more likely related to big industry confabs at the city’s Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and the staggering conventioneers on nearby Bourbon Street. Even longtime residents were challenged by the notion of New Orleans as a startup city: They knew the back-office machinations of government and old-line business practices would make it difficult to transform entrepreneurial thinking into a thriving young business community.

That all started to change in late August of 2005. Hurricane Katrina brought unspeakable tragedy to New Orleans and the other Gulf Coast regions it hit. More than 50 levees and floodwalls gave way, flooding 80 percent of the city. Endless media coverage locked in images of the city’s devastation and the years of blight that followed. But if the storm did nothing else for New Orleans, it began to wash away an outdated, stifling way of doing business.

“The city had kind of a parochial, non-diversified business community,” says Robbie Vitrano, co-founder and CEO of Trumpet Ventures. Vitrano started Trumpet 10 years ago as a branding firm; in post-Katrina New Orleans the outfit cultivates startups focused on digital media and other disciplines new to the region. “Katrina disrupted people’s comfort zones and forced them to confront some of the issues of the past,” he says.

This rust belt burnout hit the skids in the late ’70s and early ’80s when the steel industry packed it in, cutting 30,000 jobs and leaving the town synonymous with hard times (listen to Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown” for details). But in the last decade, something special has happened in this northeast Ohio city. Jim Cossler and his innovative Youngstown Business Incubator, which offers fledgling B2B software companies mentors, networking and services like office space and bandwidth for free or at a deferred cost, are taking Youngstown’s business future into their own hands. The incubator concept was revolutionary enough to help ignite a renaissance in this small city. “Youngstown fell so far, traditional community leaders threw up their hands and told the younger generation, ‘You guys try,’” Cossler says. “The new generation is envisioning things we wouldn’t have talked about 10 years ago.” Cossler points to the work of the area’s dynamic congressman and energetic young mayor as examples. “They said, ‘Let’s clean the slate and start over again,’” he says. “There’s a radical transformation going on here right now.”
While the economic catastrophes are quite different, the opportunity landscapes are almost exactly the same. The slate has been cleaned, opening the space for innovation. The political legacy costs that long have stifled growth in Youngstown and New Orleans were wiped off the map.

Besides the size of each city, the in-migration of aid and talent to New Orleans is the glaring disparity. Perhaps Detroit will follow the path of New Orleans. But Youngstown has first mover advantage. The urban transformation is more mature and Detroit is still working through its own economic collapse.

There is a sense that it is still business as usual in Youngstown. Youngstown isn't Cleveland, which is a good thing. However, I don't think it is too late for Cleveland to employ the redevelopment model of Pittsburgh, a city which hasn't cleaned house. Fresh approaches to economic problems have a better chance of taking root in Youngstown than they do in just about any other Rust Belt city.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Youngstown Success Story

I get the impression that residents of the Steel Valley don't appreciate what they have in the Youngstown Business Incubator. It's not just a helping hand for startups. The YBI is an engine of economic development and revitalization:

Here’s a place that’s actively trying to become an entreprenurial hotbed, and they’re really pushing into new territory, and I thought “If anybody deserves a place, Youngstown deserves a place”, even if they don’t have some of the numbers that some of these bigger cities have.” ...

... it’s an impressive endeavour and I think it’s something other small cities are going to look to and start copying over the next few years.
Jim Cossler, YBI's "Chief Evangelist", appreciates a fresh perspective and bold initiative. Listen to him explain the transformation of Youngstown. Boomerang migrants are the vanguard of a movement to re-imagine the Rust Belt. Returning home isn't easy, but some expatriates are looking for a challenge and are highly motivated by civic pride. These pioneers are already building a new Youngstown.

The YBI is at the center of this migration. We are actively searching for more of the like-minded out there. We want to help you move back. For those of you who already have done so, we want to help you plug into the network rebuilding the region.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Partial Mobility Strategy

For a variety of reasons, many Americans are unable to relocate for employment purposes. This hurts the recent trend of boomerang migration. Home is a good place to weather the recession, but moving back might be impossible. Extreme commuting is one solution:

With joblessness statewide nearing 11 percent, more Tennessee workers are willing to go to just about any lengths and travel just about anywhere that a help-wanted sign goes up. They leave homes and families behind for a while and carve out a makeshift existence in extended-stay hotels or efficiency rentals during the week to earn a paycheck. ...

... For instance, when a Delphi plant in northern Alabama closed this year, about 60 workers transferred to General Motors' plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. While some are making the 90-minute to two-hour drive every day, others are opting to live in apartments during the week, McKeel said. Now, the Spring Hill plant's future is in danger with the loss of products to other assembly facilities the U.S. carmaker operates in Michigan.

For Pittsburgh workers, the DC area is within a similar striking distance. That is a strong proximity advantage with all the jobs available. Given the disparity between the economies of Ohio and Pennsylvania, I'm surprised that more people don't opt for longer commutes. That might be an indicator of how easy short-distance relocation was in the recent past. Or, it might mean that the job market was bad all over.

I've noticed that the job market is hard to crack if you don't live where the opportunity is located. Youngstown might as well be Denver if the employment listing is for Pittsburgh. But a robust social network reaching beyond the region could change that and businesses might discover scarce talent just over the next ridge.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Youngstown Foodie Diaspora

A member of the Greater Youngstown Diaspora celebrates the culinary treasures of home:

You’re pretty much guaranteed a good, hearty meal with friendly service and reasonable prices if you pop into one the area’s many pizza or Italian-American joints, and most of the local bar & grill-type places have substantial menus that incorporate local flair in creative ways. I have in mind an awesome Italian-influenced sandwich I meekly attempted to finish at Jeremiah Bullfrogs in Y-Town that consisted of a monstrous meat-stuffed cubanelle pepper topped with marinated hot peppers, mozzarella cheese, and garlicky greens. Yum. Or the menu at my daddy’s favorite local restaurant, the Blue Wolf Tavern, which manages to incorporate Italian-American, barbecue, beer, and other American specialties in huge, affordable portions.

The most pleasant dining surprise I had when in Ohio most recently was an unassuming Hungarian restaurant in Youngstown. Paprika Café is Youngstown’s only Hungarian place and stays true to its Eastern European roots while conceding juuuuuust the right amount to its American audience. The décor is appropriately kitschy, with red and white checked tablecloths and Hungarian paraphernalia (some of it for sale) adorning the shelves and walls. The menu offers an astounding 27 varieties of pierogi, those moreish dough packages concealing all sorts of savory or sweet goodies. My mom and I ordered the standard potato and cheese pierogi and they came bathed in melted butter and sweet, slow-sautéed onions.

The description of Paprika Café is classic Rust Belt Chic. I'm talking about a restaurant that conveys an authentic sense of place, the essence of Greater Youngstown. For young adults, it is a lot like the ironic adulation of Pabst Blue Ribbon. (I've always suspected that the film "Blue Velvet" was responsible for the trend) I'm confident that cosmopolitan hipsters would love Youngstown. The trick is attracting them.

I propose starting an organization charged with that task. I got the idea reading the latest issue of Entrepreneur magazine. You know, the one celebrating Youngstown as one of the 10 best cities to start a business. A feature article details how entrepreneurs are rebuilding New Orleans. One of the vital actors in the city's renaissance is NOLA YURP:

In March 2007, Molly Reid, staff writer for the Times-Picayune, wrote an article about what she called "Young Urban Rebuilding Professionals." Thousands of young people had moved to New Orleans to help with the relief effort and needed a way to connect with the locals who were doing their own rebuilding. The mission of the NOLA YURP Initiative is to build a support and resource network to connect, retain and attract young professionals from diverse backgrounds for a sustainable New Orleans. For New Orleans to rebuild itself, we must invest in the people that will be here in the future.

Youngstown, as well as all of Cleveburgh, is attempting to rebuild itself. Talent is needed to succeed and the region is selling opportunity. Jim Cossler, in the same issue of Entrepreneur, explains:

The new generation is envisioning things we wouldn't have talked about 10 years ago. ... There's a radical transformation going on here right now.

My dream is to make Youngstown the headquarters of Rust Belt revitalization. In particular, I envision calling Rust Belt refugees to Youngstown to experiment with the shrinking city paradigm and take part in the vibrant innovation landscape that the Youngstown Business Incubator has helped to spawn. Read about what is going on in New Orleans and then imagine that going on in the Steel Valley.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why Northeast Ohio Needs Pittsburgh

The economic geography of Cleveburgh maps neatly onto the political geography of the corridor. In other words, the boundary between Ohio and Pennsylvania shows up starkly when looking at indicators of how well counties are weathering the Great Recession. But the economic disparity needn't be the case:

In Western Pennsylvania, the move to rebuild an economy through diversification took hold more quickly and more firmly. The Valley and our northeastern corridor of the state have been playing catchup, but it’s clearly not too late to stir up our pot with Pennsylvania’s recipes for success.

To their credit, U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-17th of Niles, and Jason Altmire, D-4th of McCandless, whose districts border each other, have collaborated to promote a “Tech Belt” in western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio that they envision will create jobs in advanced services and industries throughout the Cleveland-Pittsburgh megalopolis. ...

... And locally, efforts toward redefining the Mahoning Valley’s economic base have gained ground. For example, Ryan recently secured $2 million in a bill for construction of the Warren Business Incubator, which will be used to hatch and expand businesses focused on clean technology, alternative energy and green building materials. Its model will be the Youngstown Business Incubator, whose success in hatching internationally recognized software manufacturer Turning Technologies, serves as one of the Mahoning Valley’s best examples of maturing to a more diverse information-based economy.

I gather that my civic boosterism makes me the Pollyanna of Greater Youngstown. But a lot of the problems holding back Northeast Ohio have plagued communities in Western Pennsylvania. Being a native of Erie, PA, I'm aware of Youngstown's reputation. Most of you probably have no idea why my Erie roots given me insight into Youngstown. Likely, you aren't aware of the political corruption that has hobbled my hometown. Nor would you know much about the influence of Youngstown on the Erie economy. And you haven't met many of the political cynics covering the shady dealings in Pittsburgh.

My point is that one shouldn't blame "business-as-usual" for the contrasts in economic fortunes between, say, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. What's going on at the Youngstown Business Incubator is nothing short of astounding. It's time to rally around a nationally recognized success story and forget why the region is supposed to be doomed. Get behind the efforts of Tim Ryan and his Tech Belt initiative. Connect with Defend Youngstown and I WILL SHOUT YOUNGSTOWN. Living in far away in Colorado doesn't do much for my credibility. But there are like-minded Pollyannas who know intimately the struggles Youngstown faces.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Green Innovation Nexus

Today's news item of interest is the announcement of Rebecca Bagley as the new president of NorTech. Bagley could help to solidify Tim Ryan's Tech Belt concept. Her background not only links Northeast Ohio with innovation in Western Pennsylvania, she is also familiar with the Front Range of Colorado:

Bagley most recently served as Deputy Secretary for the Technology Investment Office of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). In that capacity, she oversaw the operations of an office that serves as a catalyst for growth and competitiveness for Pennsylvania companies and universities. She also was responsible for the administration of several major state programs, including the Life Sciences Greenhouse initiative, the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority and the Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the Keystone Innovation Zone program, the Research and Development Tax Credit program, and many other technology-based economic development programs that support research and commercialization activities.

As part of her responsibilities, Bagley managed the $650 million Energy Independence Strategy that was signed into law in 2008, as well as approximately $79 million in appropriations and more than $1.7 billion in investments for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. She previously served as Director of Venture Investment for DCED. Before joining DCED, Bagley worked for several investment banks, where her experience included working closely with early stage companies and venture capital firms.

Bagley currently is a member of the Board of the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds (NASVF), an organization of innovation capital leaders in private, public and non-profit organizations that are committed to building local economies by investing in local entrepreneurs. She has also served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the State Science Technology Institute (SSTI), a national nonprofit organization that leads, supports and strengthens efforts to improve state and regional economies through science, technology and innovation.

She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Colorado at Boulder College of Business and Administration.

You can read more about PA's Energy Independence Strategy here. I see Bagley as another key piece to the Green Energy Diaspora Project and a boost to capital exchanges between the two economic corridors in Colorado and NEO/Western PA.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Projecting Job Opportunities

What will the Greater Youngstown labor force look like in 2016? The Economix, a New York Times blog, provides a handy review of a White House report anticipating the fields most likely to experience dramatic job growth. Manufacturing opportunities will continue to shrink while occupations requiring post-secondary education are expected to predominate. Besides the boom in health care, environmental-related occupations are expected to rapidly increase the number of openings:

Congressman Tim Ryan's efforts are steering the Steel Valley in this direction. But his plan for economic development will fall flat without an ample talent pool. Indiana, another state heavily dependent on manufacturing, ran aground with its biotech initiative:

A big reason so much of the Indiana economy is dependent on manufacturing is that Indiana's workforce is largely unskilled and uneducated. Only one-third of its workers has high school diplomas or GEDs, and only 28 percent have college degrees, compared to 39 percent nationally. According to Philip Powell, an Associate Professor of Business at Indiana University-Bloomington quoted in the Indianapolis Star: "We're stuck. We're stuck because we don't have the knowledge base we need in the labor force. A lot of that is because of our really mediocre primary and secondary educational system."

That's one reason why Indiana's highly touted drive to attract high-paying biotech jobs is falling flat -- its workers lack the skills and education for such jobs. The Star recently boasted about biotech employers Eli Lilly in Indianapolis and Cook Instruments in Bloomington providing 7,200 Indiana jobs. This when the Indiana economy is currently losing over 15,000 jobs a month! Biotech in Indiana has shown itself to be just another economic growth pipe dream, akin to other quick-fix schemes developed in the past.

Workforce development has to match the plan for job creation. But I would caution against pointing the finger at local schools. More investment in human capital is the only way to go, but the better educated have a tendency to leave home. Greater Youngstown and the entire Tech Belt need a coherent talent attraction strategy to fuel the kind of innovation Ryan hopes to see thriving in his district.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why Uniquely Bad Is Great News

Thanks to John Slanina for the article reference that serves as the centerpiece of today's blog post. The Detroit economy is so bad, it's good. There's a rush on urban frontier opportunities:

Local experts say Detroit has achieved something unique. It has become the test case for all sorts of theories on urban decay and all sorts of promising ideas about reviving shrinking cities.

"It's unbelievable," said Sue Mosey, president of the University Cultural Center Association, who has been interviewed recently by two separate PBS crews and an Austrian journalist writing about Detroit.

"All of us have been inundated with all of these people who somehow think that because we're so bottomed out and so weak-market, that this is this incredible opportunity," Mosey said.

I hope I don't offend any readers, but that's how I understand Youngstown. I see it as a place uniquely positioned to serve as an urban laboratory for economic redevelopment ideas. I doubt someone would fund me to do a Greater Detroit 2.0 project. There's too much brain drain hysteria in Michigan.

I also think that Youngstown benefits from its proximity to Cleveland and Pittsburgh. Detroit might point to Ann Arbor and perhaps Toledo is a good prospect for an urban pairing, but I doubt those two cities can carry the colossal dead weight. Our thinking is that if there is to be a shrinking city research center in the Rust Belt, it should be in Youngstown.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Cleveburgh Express

All aboard the Tech Belt Train! Economic development of the Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh corridor (a.k.a. Cleveburgh) continues to gather momentum. The latest proposed project could help spur regional innovation:

One of those proposed corridors is the Cleveland-to-Pittsburgh connection, with stops in Warren and Youngstown.

It's being championed by Ohio leaders as well as local representatives in Washington, D.C., who say it will help develop northeast Ohio and western Pennsylvania into a technology stronghold and be a boon for economic development.

U.S. Reps. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Niles, and Jason Altmire, D-McCandless, in western Pennsylvania, have been working to get the link noticed by those developing the plan.

"They really see a vision for how Pittsburgh and Cleveland and points in between can come together and forge partnerships to enhance economic development," said Tess Mullen, spokeswoman for Altmire. "The two have talked a lot of the idea of a technology belt, a region for innovation. Creating that rail corridor is part of that region."

Watch Ryan and Altimire pitch the Tech Belt to the City Club of Cleveland. I'd like to know how the idea is playing there. Greater Youngstown is the driving force behind this initiative, though part of Altmire's district includes Pittsburgh. But I don't see much news about the Tech Belt at either end of Cleveburgh. Given the expanded geography of the Greater Pittsburgh regional initiative, the extent of collaboration may end up between Pittsburgh and Youngstown on the strength of the Steel Valley interstate identity.

You in, Cleveland?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Green Energy Diaspora Project

(Blog reference Chris Briem at Null Space) Political boundaries, such as the one between Ohio and Pennsylvania, often starkly delineate economic fortunes. Geography matters. But strength on one side of the boarder can improve prospects on the other side:

More regional collaboration is seen as one solution to help economies on both sides of the state line. It's relatively common for residents who live near the border to commute to the other state for work if needed.

Altmire and Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, whose districts abut each other, have collaborated to promote a "Tech Belt'' in western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio that they hope creates jobs in advanced services and industries.

"We want to use all the resources that we have. Let's all work together,'' Altmire said in a phone interview. "When I say, 'Silicon Valley,' you know what that is. We want to develop that 'Tech Belt' in the same way."

The Sustainable Energy Forum represents the greatest opportunity for the Tech Belt to thrive. Yesterday's news demonstrates Ryan's ability to push this agenda forward:

A pair of federal spending bills contain nearly $6 million for Trumbull and Mahoning county projects, including more than $2 million to continue development of a business incubator in downtown Warren.

The funding now allows Warren Redevelopment and Planning the freedom to begin determining a location for the incubator, which will be used to hatch and expand businesses focused on clean technology, alternative energy and green building materials, its director says.

The project already received nearly $500,000 in money from Ohio.

''Technology of some type was really the direction of most of the successful incubators, specializing, that's why the YBI (Youngstown Business Incubator) has been so successful,'' WRAP director Anthony Iannucci said. ''This is a real step that would move us forward.''

The incubator project has shifted focus from one that would develop retail enterprise to energy sustainability, which help secure the federal dollars for the project.

I propose that what we are doing for the YBI we can do for the Warren green technology incubator. We can connect Tech Belt industry with Cleveburgh Diaspora talent, particularly in the Front Range of Colorado. I've been mapping out a strategy that I think would be an excellent compliment to the green sector of the Tech Belt.

The YBI is part of a larger economic development success story and connects Youngstown to my neck of the woods:

Interest in business incubators has exploded in the United States as recession-hit communities from New York City to Youngstown, Ohio, search for ways to revive their moribund economies. Already, well over 1,000 of these typically nonprofit organizations (more than 7,000 globally) shepherd local entrepreneurs through the beginning stages of business development with resources and services in the hope they’ll one day create local jobs.

They may be onto something. A 2008 study by the Economic Development Administration (EDA) found that, per dollar invested, incubators created more jobs than any other economic-development efforts – more than industrial parks and 10 times more than highway and other transportation projects (see chart). But not all incubators are created equal. As cities rush to embrace this hot economic-development strategy, they run the risk, economic-development experts say, of wasting lots of money.

“An incubator is only as successful as the labor market around it,” says Amy Glasmeier of the urban studies and planning department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “If it doesn’t have a connection to the local economy, it’s just cheap real estate.” ...

... Just as entrepreneurs have varied needs, incubators go about supporting them in different ways. They have flourished in unlikely places like Youngstown and Toledo, Ohio, by focusing very narrowly. (Youngstown, for example, only incubates business-to-business technology firms.) Other cities, like Boulder, Colo., have nurtured successful companies, only to see them leave town because of a lack of long-term strategy, says Dinah Adkins, president of the National Business Incubation Association (NBIA).

Read again the part I put in boldface. Over the last six-months, I've come to appreciate how green innovation is connected to the local economy. However, the local labor market is lacking. We at Greater Youngstown 2.0 can address that shortcoming.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Greater Youngstown Diaspora Tales

Every so often, I like to highlight a successful expatriate. The idea is that talent often moves out before it moves up. Remember what this Youngstown native said, "If you're not willing to move, then your number of possible employers is very small." Consider the Jim Madigan story:

"I'm a person who doesn't have a lot of money," he said, "I'm a person who grew up pretty low class."

Madigan, who grew up in the rust-belt town of Niles, Ohio, moved to Chicago after college to attend University of Chicago Law School, where he graduated in 2000. He currently teaches there as an adjunct lecturer.

Madigan is seeking a state senate seat in Illinois. What is it about Niles that lends itself to producing politicians? Obviously, Madigan hasn't forgotten his roots and he represents a networking opportunity for the Steel Valley. His success in Illinois should be a source of hometown pride.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Connecting The Dots

In the Rust Belt, the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 isn't popular:

“We believe this bill has moved at a rushed pace that has not allowed for full debate of provisions that are critical to the steel industry, which was clearly underscored by the fact that the bill passed in the House by only seven votes,” said Thomas J. Gibson, AISI president and chief executive officer. “The bill, as passed, will need important modifications as it moves through the Senate. We can say with certainty that if this bill is enacted as it presently stands, U.S. steelmakers and our workers will be at a significant competitive disadvantage in the global marketplace. Several modifications must be made to achieve the bill’s stated purpose of avoiding job loss and emission migration to overseas markets.”

The steel industry is unhappy, which makes a review of the congressional roll call an illuminating exercise. Jason Altmire, whose district includes part of the Steel Valley, voted no. So did Dennis Kucinich (Cleveland). However, one of the districts in Cleveburgh did support the bill. Listen to Tim Ryan explain his decision.

Now read what Ryan said, at the Sustainable Energy Forum, a few days before his vote:

“The purpose is to plug Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley into the green revolution that is coming,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-17 Ohio. “We want to make sure that we’re not only doing the best research in the world but also converting that research into advanced manufacturing and opportunities for average people to participate with. … That’s what this is all about -- converting this research into jobs for the middle class in this country.” ...

... “I actually think we‘re ahead of the curve. We have the research institutions and we have the manufacturing legacy to convert whatever the latest technology is to a product,” the congressman said. “That’s why there are so many researchers here today, because we have something that a lot of areas in this country don’t have, the ability to make these products, and that’s how we’re going to benefit from the green revolution.”

I'll allow you to draw your own conclusions.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Where The Jobs Are

I can't stress enough the energy boom going on in Western Pennsylvania. Both conventional and alternative companies are thriving. News about new Marcellus Shale investments are streaming in on a daily basis:

“Given the increased competition in the Appalachian basin’s Marcellus shale region from a number of well capitalized publicly traded oil and gas companies, we chose a capital provider that has both relationships and skills that could add value to East Resources,” said Terrence M. Pegula, founder, president, and chief executive officer.

East Resources has one of the top acreage positions—more than 650,000 net acres—in the southwestern and northeastern regions of the Marcellus shale trend, particularly in northeastern Pennsylvania where it is focused on ramping up development.

Company officials said Marcellus shale represents the most promising gas opportunity in North America, extending from the southern tier of New York through western Pennsylvania into the eastern half of Ohio and south through West Virginia. These deposits are close to existing interstate pipelines supplying US population centers in the Northeast.

A big problem for energy companies is finding enough skilled labor to do the job. Creative uses of available talent is informing a boomerang migration:

One thing most older workers have that younger rivals lack, however, is a network of contacts, said Bill Byham, CEO of the Kirwan Heights office of global human resources firm Developmental Dimensions International.

"That's their big advantage," said Byham, author of the book "70: The New 50."

"They have a solid network of people that can help get them get jobs. You just don't want them to be too proud to use it."

Such connections are what brought Dan Soroka, 60, back to the Pittsburgh area. A Youngstown native who worked for Westinghouse in the 1970s, he moved onto a machine tool company in Elmira, N.Y. But the erosion of U.S. manufacturing and the company's downsizing made it an increasingly difficult place to work.

"No matter how much you want to get involved in your work, when you have people walking out the door, it's hard to carry on," he said. His work as a global sourcing manager for Westinghouse "is invigorating. It's dynamic. ... They've hired more people here than my old company did in 10 years."

He realizes his situation is unique. He has friends and former colleagues who have been job hunting for months and even years. Their unwillingness to relocate is curtailing their chances.

"If you're not willing to move, then your number of possible employers is very small," he said.

While manufacturing in the Southern Tier of New York is struggling, Westinghouse in Southwestern PA is hiring. But the "unwillingness to relocate" is exacerbating the worker shortage. For Greater Youngstown, all of this is going on in its own backyard. Now is a good time to move back.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

West Virginia Boomerang

West Virginia is courting its expatriates:

“Come Home for the Reunion and Stay for a Lifetime” is in its second year, a campaign Gov. Joe Manchin suggested last year in his State of the State message to lure West Virginians to return to their native soil and start life anew.

In its first effort, the Department of Commerce targeted ex-West Virginians through a series of magazine ads in areas such as Cincinnati and Cleveland, letting them know about the advantages of life in the hills. ...

... “So we’re using a network of friends and families, knowing how strong family reunions and school reunions are in the state, particularly in the summer. We felt it was a natural fit to use reunions to help us promote the whole ‘Come Home to West Virginia’ campaign.”

Take note of the diaspora market of Cincinnati and Cleveland. Even when considering brain drain, the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree. Talent is leaving West Virginia and heading to Rust Belt cities. But I'd bet the out-migration pattern isn't the only consideration. The article paints the initiative as well thought out and popular. It's worth tracking. I'll do some research and see if I can unearth a policy document.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Regional Job Boom

Tracking the energy economy storyline is important. Today's news presages tomorrow's job opportunities. There's a boom going on in your backyard, but most Steel Valley residents are unaware:

Companies that make equipment to generate solar and wind power are boosting local production as worldwide demand grows. Westinghouse Electric Co. has hired 2,600 people in the region over the past four years and is moving to a new headquarters in Cranberry this month as it builds nuclear plants worldwide. ...

... Solar Power Industries Inc. of Rostraver anticipates domestic sales for its energy-producing panels will jump because of renewable energy use incentives that are part of the $787 billion federal economic stimulus package. ...

... About 500 Marcellus wells have been drilled so far in Pennsylvania. Drillers from Texas, Louisiana and other states have been working here temporarily, but the companies are hiring and training local workers and could create about 8,000 jobs this year. ...

... On an average night, 40 of the 256 rooms at the Holiday Inn Pittsburgh Airport in Moon are occupied by gas company workers or related contractors, said Craig Poole, the general manager. He runs a "Marcellus special" discount to build repeat business.

Those last two passages highlight a problem. Cleveburgh doesn't produce enough talent to keep up with the demand for labor. I recall flying back to Denver from Akron-Canton airport. I sat next to a young man (early 20s) returning home to see his family. He was living in Colorado but working in Western Pennsylvania. The energy industry is well established in the Front Range. But there is a geographic mismatch between qualified graduates and job opportunities.

I have no doubt that the I-25 corridor will be the center of green industry. The relationship between the Tech Belt and urban Colorado should deepen. Get the training you need out west and then return home, ready to snatch up gainful employment in the energy sector. I've been thinking a lot about the best target for diaspora networking. Regarding the above news, Greater Denver makes the most sense.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Diaspora Economics

Ironically, increasing internet and e-mail usage are re-enforcing the importance of geography:

The two researchers’ study of the spread of new names was prompted by their discovery that the relationship between the number of private e-mails sent in America and the distance between sender and recipient falls off far more steeply than they expected. People are overwhelmingly e-mailing others in the same city, rather than those far away.

E-mail, it seems, is helping to localize our social networks. Proximity is king. However, I'm more interested in the exception rather than the rule.

Techniques for overcoming geographic barriers such as parochialism represent a significant economic advantage, a blue ocean strategy. The ability to build trust over great distances is valuable because it is difficult to do. Diaspora networking offers this kind of opportunity, the theory behind the Greater Youngstown 2.0 practice. The Steel Valley could service markets inaccessible to most because of the proximity rule. In this respect, brain drain is a good thing.