Monday, August 17, 2009

Bringing Home The Brains

I'm back from my trip to Youngstown, where I discussed our efforts to fill the talent pipeline to the region. I think the city has a good chance to be one of the Cleveburgh corridor innovation hubs. Not only is the downtown compact and in close proximity to a state university, but it is also surprisingly vibrant. All the action is along one street, stretching a few blocks. That's about the sum of activity for the entire area, but compare it to nearby Warren.

Warren's downtown is attractive. But the CBD is lifeless on weekends and after 5pm during weekdays. Much of the action is strung out along the strip development leading into the city. In that regard, Warren is quite similar in urban pattern to most of America. As for Youngstown, it is rebuilding from the core outward. The strip development has been left for dead.

The challenge is packing the center with more brains, who would benefit from all the serendipity I encountered while visiting. The place is already loaded with the kind of quirky activity that Eve Picker celebrates in a recent blog post:

Hot in New York City, some enterprising developers came up with this “lo-fi” version of the country club on a rented lot. The ultimate low cost swimming pool, dumpster dipping is accessible to everyone with a plastic bag. This is the mark of a great and creative city. Ideas that would be laughed at in small towns are revered here in New York.

Youngstown is an incredibly creative city. James Pernotto (who has an amazing studio downtown) and the crazy scene at the Oakland Center for the Arts are just two examples of the energy present along Federal Street. I went to a show at the Oakland (technically one block over from Federal) late Saturday night and had a blast. The downtown has a long way to go, but there is a very promising spark lit there.

To take full advantage, Youngstown needs a novel approach to talent attraction. That's where I come in. Communities spend a lot of money and other resources on brain retention. Israel is committing 1.6 billion in national currency to bring talent back home. But even that somewhat novel approach is too caught up in the blood lines of the brains:

While Israel is trying to fight brain drain and encourage scientists to make aliyah, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry has recently decided to cut its budget for absorbing immigrant scientists.

As a result some 200 olim scientists were fired this weekend by the universities that employ them.

The Absorption Ministry runs a project under which some 500 immigrant scientists are employed in Israeli universities, with the ministry sponsoring a part of their salaries.

However, budget cuts for 2009-2010 have forced the ministry to also cut back on its support of the program.

Well, the government wasn't too strapped for cash when it comes to luring scientists back home. That's the wrong approach for a country trying to spur job creation and win the war for talent. The same goes for Youngstown. Some of the diaspora will return, but the future of the city rests on the backs fresh blood. Greater Youngstown must, and can, attract more newcomers. What will bring people here? Look no further than Detroit for the answer.

1 comment:

  1. I had Jimmy Pernotto as a drawing instructor at YSU. Other than the complete loss of hair, he looks largely the same. Looks like he's still going at it, making his own paper (and casting it) and drawing large scale pieces with ball point pen...

    Some things never change...

    George (geozinger)