Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Made In Youngstown

Manufacturing is making a comeback. At least, that's the vision emerging from the Pittsburgh Summit. The global concern is that the United States consumes too much and produces too little. Germany is one model that America might follow, the Rhine-Ruhr Valley in particular:

For Managing Director Ines Freesen, the similarities between Pittsburgh and Germany’s Rhine-Ruhr Valley, where her company is based, are evident and made for a good fit with the trade show’s focus. Both are formerly steel and coal industry heavy regions whose economies took a serious hit in the 1980s.

“Now, Pittsburgh and the Rhine-Ruhr Valley have become leaders in greening the landscape and in creating a renewable energy industry,” Freesen said. “This development plays nicely with the theme of our event as it reflects how the global economy is changing towards a cleaner, greener way of doing business.”

There is an ongoing cooperation between Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh in particular, and the state of North-Rhine Westphalia to foster technology exchange and create business opportunities for companies in both countries, according to Freesen. “The focus of this agreement is on renewables and a number of projects with American-German participation are already underway,” she said.

As you may have heard, Pittsburgh is positioning itself as the energy hub in the United States. The offshoot of the this cluster is green manufacturing of all kinds. The Tech Belt looks to be the cradle of most of this activity.

Ironically, geography is blessing the Rust Belt. Proximity to East Coast markets is a big plus. Ample resources such as natural gas is another. But the biggest one may end up being water:

Here is an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can sometimes demand a huge amount of water. Many of the proposed solutions to the nation’s energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of water every year.

“When push comes to shove, water could become the real throttle on renewable energy,” said Michael E. Webber, an assistant professor at the University of Texas in Austin who studies the relationship between energy and water.

Conflicts over water could shape the future of many energy technologies. The most water-efficient renewable technologies are not necessarily the most economical, but water shortages could give them a competitive edge.

The parched West doesn't look so green. If we define carrying capacity in terms of renewable energy, then the Rust Belt has a lot of room to grow. The old manufacturing states should be ardent supporters of legislation that seeks to reduce greenhouse gases. For a variety of reasons, that isn't the case.

The global reset in Pittsburgh suggests another golden era for America's traditional manufacturing centers. If we are to make things again, then there is only one region in which to do it. Go see this future at Energy & Environment Week in Pittsburgh (April 12-16, 2010 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center).

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Mahoning Valley Provincialism

While Youngstown tries to move boldly forward, Girard remains stubbornly stuck in the past. I've been following the dispute between the two cities concerning the $1 billion V&M Star expansion. The old municipal rivalry shouldn't be taken lightly:

Some Girard residents spoke out against Youngstown giving any land toward the project. “I wouldn’t give Youngstown one foot of this land,” growled Mike Panno. “I don’t care if V&M moves to Texas, I wouldn’t give them one foot of Girard,” he said, vowing to campaign against those who voted for the resolution without knowing it details.

That angry voice will find political expression and even if this gets done, all the brinkmanship going on will leave a bad taste in mouths of both cities. Workers like to blame globalization or free trade agreements for their troubles. But no one pays any attention to all the self-destructive behavior going on all around them.

If Mahoning Valley residents are going to help themselves, then parochial attitudes have to go. Getting what you can now says that you don't expect much in the future. Mayor James Melfi represents the constituency that has no hope.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Youngstown Paradigm

Grow or die. That's conventional economic development thinking. But the current global malaise is lending itself to the challenges to this approach. The status quo fires back:

A recent study reiterated the conclusion that population growth ought to be controlled in order to combat global warming, and other world problems. I beg to differ. The authors of studies like these have exaggerated the benefits of population control, because they ignore some of the significant economic benefits of large populations.

I happen to disagree. Show me the greater innovations of large populations and I will hold up the power of density, how the concentration of talent yields regional economic dividends. If I'm wrong, then shrinking cities have a bleak future:

Go to Europe, and you'll trip over the remnants of all kinds of empires. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the German government moved residents to concentrated areas in cities like Leipzig and turned off the lights elsewhere.

But in North America, where people spend more time every year commuting to work than vacationing, the idea of planning decline is foreign.

"In the U.S., everything is about reaching the next frontier. Growth is progress," says Karina Pallagst, director of the Shrinking Cities in a Global Perspective program at the University of California at Berkeley. "So talking about shrinking is taboo. It's a very painful insight to say we have to cut back."

Still, there are some local models. Facing a population a third the size of its glory days, former steel hub Youngstown, Ohio, has offered to move residents out of dying neighbourhoods into denser ones, where city resources are concentrated. It plans to demolish leftover homes, yank up street lamps and let nature take over.

"It's like taking a segment of an orange out," says Joe Berridge, a partner with Toronto's Urban Strategies, which helped draft Youngstown's "right-sizing" plan.

Flint's former acting mayor, Michael K. Brown, recently spoke about following suit and "shutting down quadrants of the city."

While running for mayor last spring, Bing raised the prospect for Detroit.

I wouldn't say it is planning decline as it is unleashing the power of density, one of the dominant urban patterns for globalization. I don't see the human capital angle often expressed in the right-sizing narrative. Intentionally or not, Youngstown is moving in that direction. The trick is to entice as many businesses and residents as possible to pack into the city core. Save a big bump in birth and in-migration rates, density is one of two ways to tap into the knowledge economy. The other is diaspora networking, which deserves its own post.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Economy Youngstown

I would guess that since I'm a Pop City subscriber, hiVelocity thought I'd be interested in the publication. About hiVelocity:

hiVelocity tells the story of the new economy in Ohio. It's a narrative of creative people and businesses and what they are doing to create jobs for today and tomorrow. It's the story of a state on the move.

I've found Pop City to be a great news aggregator of the kind of information I'm seeking. But if you don't care for regional boosterism, you might as well skip it. I tend to focus on the progressive agents and hiVelocity looks as if it will deliver. There are already enough venues where I can find out about what is wrong. And anything that helps to connect like-minded people is a good thing.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

G-20 Youngstown

Thus far, the G-20 Summit has been a public relations coup for Pittsburgh. All that is missing is a landmark agreement forever remembered as the Pittsburgh Accord. The press seems quite smitten with Pittsburgh's transformation and some of the love is spilling over into the surrounding hinterlands:

Karl Leet, a resident of nearby Youngstown, says his home town is undergoing a revival of its own. But in many parts of the region 'they are still going through knocking down the housing and waiting for something to happen'.

The message to G20 leaders, says Tom Murphy, is that waiting around doesn't cut it. 'You have to be willing to take some risks.'

Youngstown is on its own path, but the transformation of the Mahoning Valley is no less remarkable. However, the area is being framed as a counterpoint to the gilding of Pittsburgh:

So, very close to Pittsburgh with its stirring symbolic story of regeneration and post-industrial prosperity lies this other America of the Mahoning Valley where they see the costs of globalisation in their closed-down factories and derelict buildings on Main Street.

One needn't go to Ohio to find the other side of the story. Pittsburgh is full of such places. As for Youngstown, the city is positioning itself to plug into globalization. It isn't a message of reform or an alternative approach. The handwriting on the wall is that the United States needs to be more export driven. In layman's terms, we need to make things.

The bet is on green manufacturing and clean tech. Obama is highlighting that very sector in Pittsburgh. In some respects, the result is a pro-globalization rally with Mahoning Valley residents leading the way:

To coincide with the global meetings, hundreds flocked to Point State Park for a rally on a hot issue expected to emerge at the meetings, the importance of clean energy jobs. United Steelworkers members already see the need. "We can created millions of jobs. Somebody's gotta build the windmills, put the solar panels on the roof, build the tubing for the thermal, that needs to be the steelworkers' union, American jobs," says Lee Geisse of United Steelworkers, Local 1046.

About 25 people from the Valley made the trip down, including some who used to work at Severstal Steel. They want to make sure leaders know local workers want to take on green jobs. "These are the things I want to see manufactured, not only in our country, but in our state because we have a strong manufacturing base in Youngstown. We have some of the most skilled workforce in the world and I'd really like to see my friends and neighbors back to work as soon as possible," says George Calko of United Steelworkers, Local 1375.

Beyond the rally, the fact that such a huge event is taking place in our own backyard has attracted attention, "This is a great moment in history that we can be a part of, and the Valley can show we're a force for change, and we really want to be a part of making the world a better place," adds Sheila Klasovsky, a supporter of clean energy jobs.

The G-20 isn't just about Pittsburgh. It's really about the entire Rust Belt and how places such as Youngstown are rising out of the slag heap. The world is looking for a way forward and Obama is holding up Pittsburgh. In my mind, he's admiring Youngstown too.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Youngstown: Hell of an Opportunity

My wife is a Pittsburgh native and she makes fun of my Youngstown efforts almost on a daily basis. The energy of a place is difficult to communicate. I'm left using obscure concepts such as "liminal" in an attempt to describe why I'm all in on Youngstown. Mostly, I borrow other voices so I don't sound so crazy:

As a venture capitalist in sunny (and smug) Santa Monica, who happened to often travel to Michigan, I'd heard every possible joke and put-down about the Michigan economy (you know, how it's cheaper to buy a foreclosed house in Detroit than a decent used car, but at least you can live in the car if you have to, ha ha ha.) Well, I'm not laughing any more. This summer, I decided to move my wife and three little kids away from the sunny beaches and new media millionaires of Southern California to -- you guessed it -- Michigan.

Yup, we bought a one-way ticket to Michigan. Five of them, actually.

What was I thinking? Don't worry, you're not the first to ask. For several months I've been explaining my decision to friends, family and work colleagues. Why walk away from good weather and a sweet gig investing in new media companies for a cold, Rust Belt state that's been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for decades?

Quite simply, because I believe it's a hell of an opportunity -- despite the jokes, the put-downs, or the perceptions of Detroit as a lost city -- I wouldn't be moving to Michigan if I didn't.

The passion for home is obvious and most people understand that motivation. Less discussed is the hearth that has forged visionaries who left in search of bigger things. The Midwest is supposed to be parochial and stale, risk averse. Nonsense. The exodus from the Rust Belt is a measure of the enterprising nature fostered in the industrial leviathan. The innovative spirit that so many lament is long dormant simply moved somewhere else to build the likes of Charlotte and Dallas.

The Sun Belt boom is over. California Dreaming is now more about getting in touch with your inner Okie. Rust Belt refugees, such as myself, are looking for the next big thing. That's Detroit. That's Youngstown.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Right-Sizing Youngstown

There is a different brand of Youngstown making its way across the country and even around the world. To be sure, the economic devastation of the Mahoning Valley is still prominent. But the innovative vanguard is making waves and even inspiring new corporate strategies:

Wangler believes the term “right-sizing” may have new relevance for the strategic thinking of truckers these days – and for one, he does not believe that if you can‘t make companies bigger, they‘re on a path to extinction.

He pointed to the revitalization of Youngstown, Ohio, as an example – an American steel town that with a population of 168,000 in the 1950s that seemed destined to grow forever, with city leaders back then envisioning the city being home to a quarter of a million people by the end of the century. Instead, by the 1980s, the steel industry had gone into a tailspin. Today, only a single, large steel mill is left and the city’s population is half of what it was in 1950.

While most of the mills have been torn down, the city has thousands of empty buildings and it still has 535 miles of roads that need to be maintained and kept free of snow and ice all winter. Like other Midwestern cities in similar straits, Youngstown tried to find some big employers to replace steel, such as prisons (both private and public), while also re-developing some of the former steel-mill sites into industrial parks. Yet none of those efforts ended up replacing jobs that vanished along with the steel industry.

Then in 2005, Youngstown elected Jay Williams, a former city planner, to be their mayor. He addressed the city’s problems with a radically simple concept –if the city removed its unused buildings and large chunks of un-needed infrastructure, it could then focus on improving its services and better align its expenses with tax revenues.

By reducing its obsolete infrastructure, the city could position itself for a much more sustainable future, one that might include a new era of growth, but not one that desperately needed growth to ensure its survival.

“Youngstown‘s approach to a future without foreseeable population growth is controversial,” said Wangler. “Accepting that a city is going to shrink, and even planning to help it shrink seems like a rejection of the American idea of progress, where a bigger city means more jobs, more tax revenues, better education, and better services.”

Yet he stressed that the “carrying capacity” of a city, or its ability to sustain its residents, is ultimately determined by its tax base, with the infrastructure needs of businesses and residents have to be balanced against available tax revenues.

“For decades, professors of urban planning have taught that the inability to grow a city‘s population is a terminal condition; all city planning strategies must revolve around growth, and city leadership should focus on stimulating that growth,” Wangler explained. “So is Youngstown just preparing for its extinction, or is it emphasizing quality over quantity? Well it‘s early in the new ballgame, but … it’s choosing an improved quality of life for its citizens by seeking creative alternatives to conventional growth.”

This idea of shrinking instead of growing in order to be more profitable is something that must wend its way into trucking, Wrangler believes. “Typically, [trucking] companies thrived for years by putting as many trucks on the road as possible and working to keep every truck on the road every day,” he said. “Unfortunately, declining freight volumes meant that more and more of those road miles were empty and unpaid miles.”

What, exactly, is the "new ballgame"? Demography is a big part of it. Shrinking cities are a global phenomenon. The wealthiest countries are aging and some are even beginning to lose people. Such realities demand a new economic paradigm.

When people consider an uncertain future, some of them are looking to Youngstown for a way forward. I would add that we need to embrace out-migration just as we make peace with a declining population. Ignore the handwriting on the wall at your own peril. Youngstown is one of the few places assessing the situation with open eyes. The world awaits the next round of civic entrepreneurship.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Learning From Youngstown

I'm going to break my promise and bring up James Traficant. I do so only to reference an interesting use of Youngstown as a model of best practice:

In America, a similar situation existed in Youngstown, Ohio, which in 1963 was described by the Saturday Evening Post as "Crime Town, U.S.A."

Youngstown "exemplifies the truism that rackets cannot survive without two basic conditions -- the sanction of police and politicians and an apathetic public," the Post wrote. It went on to say: "The time now has come for action on the part of the whole citizenry. Until each honest man is aroused, the cesspool will remain. And Youngstown will remain a shame to the nation."

A culture of corruption continued to infect the Youngstown area well into this decade. Its congressman of 17 years, a bombastic Democrat named Jim Traficant, went to federal prison in 2002 after a jury in Cleveland convicted him on 10 counts of bribery and racketeering. Traficant was released from prison two weeks ago.

Residents of Youngstown who wanted to change the culture -- and to stop electing politicians such as Traficant -- went to Sicily to examine how people in that country attacked the mafia.

The suggestion is for Juárez, Mexico to look at how Medellin, Colombia tackled its corruption problem just as Youngstown studied Sicily. Despite all the fretting about Traficant's release, the dominant image for a journalist in El Paso is how Youngstown put a stop to all the insanity. It is a story of success, not the past coming back to haunt the Mahoning Valley.

That's the Youngstown I know, the one on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine. As for the Saturday Evening Post, that is long gone. Crime City, U.S.A. is now Dreamer City, U.S.A.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mahoning Valley Hidden Delights

Today's blog post from i will shout youngstown takes us inside an urban secret garden. The Mahoning Valley is full of such treasures. I argue that this is the essence of Rust Belt Chic, but every region has under-appreciated assets. The point is that there is a lot more going on in a shrinking city than an outsider would think and those strengths deserve celebration.

Another example is Just Pizelles, a cookie boutique that was recently featured on The Rachel Ray Show. There is nothing more authentic than a family run business, particularly when it comes to food:

It would not be possible without the help of my amazing family...from physically helping to 'drizzle', package, and do shows with me (my mother/partner); creating efficient ways to produce my products and develop ideas for multiple uses for pizzelles (my father/research & development); giving me ideas for new flavors and helping me set up my booth at shows (my husband/labor assistant); willing to monitor the quality of my creations (my brother/quality control); helping with fundraising activities, brainstorming about other markets to explore and fun flavor creations (my niece/marketing). My friends also make a huge contribution with their devoted support and the extraordinarily "hard" task of taste-testing my new "concoctions"!!!

Just Pizzelles is a relatively new and growing small business in an area that most people perceive as dead. Liminal Youngstown incubates ideas and risk taking. Geographically independent ventures are particularly robust here. If it doesn't matter where you do your thing, there are few places as advantageous as the Mahoning Valley.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Nanette Lepore Opens Boutique In Youngstown

There's a crisis in the fashion industry. London is fretting over losing young designing talent. In New York, the very existence of the Garment Center is threatened. (Nanette Lepore is a blogger!) The economic geography of fashion may be in a state of flux. That's where Youngstown comes in:

Retailers and their customers are asking for color these days, and that's right up the design table alley of Youngstown-native Nanette Lepore. For Spring 2010, her swinging dresses, feminine tops and sassy shorts shone in a tropical palette of blue, orange and mustard yellow, with a few khakis and deeper blues to calm things down a bit. Prints were plentiful, stripes and florals often in the same outfit.

The passage above is from the Cleveland Plain Dealer. What outsiders don't know about Cleveland, Pittsburgh and (dare I say it) Youngstown is just how cosmopolitan many of the residents are thanks to growing up in close proximity to world class cultural amenities. That Nanette Lepore is from Youngstown isn't some bizarre random occurrence, an anomaly.

I make mention of the Cleveburgh disposition because of a recent conversation I had in Youngstown. The idea discussed was Ms. Lepore opening a store in her hometown. But who would shop there? Obviously, people from Cleveland who read about fashion in their local paper. I'd bet plenty of folks in Pittsburgh recognize the Lepore brand.

Perhaps the Pittsburgh market doesn't justify a shop. Nor would an exclusive Cleveland location. But combine the two cities and you have critical mass for an economic niche found only in the likes of London and New York. Dream even bigger and imagine the Garment Center in Youngstown, appropriating declining manufacturing space as it did in Manhattan.

Super models strutting through the Mahoning Valley? Believe it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mahoning Valley Green Jobs Campaign

At the Greater Youngstown 2.0 LinkedIn website, Sheila Klasovsky links to a letter to the editor in the Warren Tribune Chronicle:

Lastly, like our representatives in the House that already have supported the American Clean Energy & Security Act, we need the Senate to get behind this ''green energy'' initiative that wind power offers us, and in doing so help businesses grow in Ohio, including many in the Mahoning Valley area.

Regarding the above action item, Sheila offers an opportunity:

Letter Writing & National Call In Day to Urge Our Senators to Pass Clean Energy & Climate Protection Legislation THIS YEAR!!!!

Please Join Us:
~THURSDAY September 17, 2009~ Anytime btwn. 6:30 & 8:00pm
@ Lemon Grove Cafe & Lounge 122 Federal Plaza W, Youngstown, OH 44503 (check calendar of events)

Use the POWER of the pen to Repower America!!!!

I would encourage expatriates who would like to return to Ohio to lobby all four relevant US Senators. Regarding the Ohio two (Brown and Voinovich), be sure to make the point that more green jobs would bring you back home. Also, keep an eye on the developments in Pittsburgh, a city poised to become America's number one energy hub. That includes all types of green industry. Come to think of it, lobby the PA US Senators as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tech Belt Buzz

The Tech Belt Initiative isn't dead. I see the name mentioned in the news, here and there. The latest invocation:

If you live in the Northeast, or have an interest in high-tech entrepreneurship, you may have heard rumblings of a new Cleveland-Pittsburgh Technology Corridor.

The initiative, according to collaborators, “is an economic development strategy designed to reinvigorate the region by building on its unique civic, educational, healthcare and industrial institutions.”

The corridor would encompass Cleveland, Youngstown and Pittsburgh, which share common traits. Because all of these cities were built on a foundation of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation – and their success depends on their ability to generate new products, technologies and wealth – the idea makes a lot of sense.

Click here for a bit of Tech Belt resonance in Columbus. Stay tuned ...

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Detroit Dreams Youngstown

In just the three years I've been blogging, I've seen Pittsburgh go from the punchline of a joke to a city that everywhere else is trying to emulate. Believe it or not, Youngstown is going down the same road. The word from Detroit:

At the time of "Driving Detroit," the plans by Youngstown, Ohio, to shrink itself smartly was starting to get attention. Youngstown is a much smaller city, but I realized then that Detroit needed to do the same thing. Two years later, I'm even more convinced that Detroit should become the nation's biggest city to "right-size." ...

...The next steps are complicated and largely uncharted. Moving residents into more densely populated districts has legal and moral implications; it must be done with care and the input of those who would be moved. And what do you do with the empty space? The city is already dotted with big vegetable gardens, and one entrepreneur has proposed starting a large commercial farm. Some people advocate bike paths, greenways, and other recreation areas. Surrounded by fresh water, and buffeted by nature reasserting itself on land where factories used to be, Detroit could someday be the greenest, most livable urban area in the country. A city can dream, can't it?

The city title of "Dreamer" is already taken.

Detroit is at a crossroads. As suggested, it might look to Youngstown for inspiration. Another model is Pittsburgh. I think Detroit is too big to pull a Youngstown. In terms of area, it might be too big to pull a Pittsburgh. The city needs its own redevelopment paradigm. And perhaps in a decade, or two, people will talk about pulling a Detroit.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Moving To Youngstown

Among those interested in returning to the Steel Valley there are lots of questions about where to live and how to manage the move. One of the issues concerns access to the amenities enjoyed at the current expatriate residence. That's a difficult riddle to solve. However, a better focus is on the opportunities that a Youngstown residence might provide. Some advice from a family who left the Mahoning Valley for Chicago:

Motivations vary from person to person and family to family, but often it's a mix of factors involving lifestyle choices, emotional comforts, health-care decisions and economic concerns. Thomas says her primary motivation was simple: "I was by myself too long." Having been widowed 13 years ago, she found herself living alone in her large Youngstown home, and each of her four daughters had left Ohio after graduating college. With two of her children settled in Chicago and another in Naperville, the choice to move here made sense.

"My kids wanted me to be by them in case I needed anything," she says. "Before, I saw my grandchildren two or three times a year. Now I see them, like, every other day. I go to their games. I'm part of their life now."

The move also provided an opportunity to downsize, which made economic sense. "I don't have to worry about taking care of the house and the grounds. I had a big Colonial house and an awful big yard in back," she continues. "I was paying taxes on it, and the upkeep . . . I'm better off here. It's cheaper."

I'm sure this tale of Youngstown out-migration strikes the reader as strange. But there are a couple of points worth emphasizing. First, extended families are trying to get back together. Wonderful if all your kids end up in the same place (more common than one might think), but the ties to mom and dad often encourage those who left to return home. There's an excess of large and inexpensive housing stock in the Rust Belt well suited to intergenerational living arrangements. The economics of boomerang migration could be a compelling value proposition if leveraged in the right way.

A second point is the matrilineal nature of diaspora communities and the return home. In most nations, women are seen as the bearers of culture. This is reflected in contemporary citizenship law. The typical tradition is that the men leave, but the women stay to maintain the thread with the past. If a couple from two different locales marries and looks to be near family after having kids, the woman's hometown usually wins.

In other words, keep track of where the women of Youngstown go.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Green Youngstown

Youngstown oriented blogs are doing a good job of getting the word out about this Saturday's Grey to Green Festival. The event is a perfect place to network with the people moving the community forward and plug into the energy transforming the Mahoning Valley:

Organizer Atty. Debra Weaver says this year’s festival will include more exhibits and activities, and will also feature a nationally-known speaker. The festival runs Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Wick Park. ...

... Weaver adds that Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-17) will make opening remarks at 10:30 a.m. in the Wick Park Pavilion. ...

The Grey to Green coalition, as she likes to refer to it, is made up of members from the following groups and organizations: Youngstown State University, The Raymond John Wean Foundation, Grow Youngstown, Art Youngstown, Youngstown CityScapes, Defend Youngstown, Treez Please, the Green Team, Oakland Center for the Arts, Youngstown Litter Control and Recycling, Commonwealth Inc., the Northside Farmers Market, TCT Renewable Energy, Lien Forward Ohio, The Villa Shoppe, Mill Creek Metroparks, YSU SMARTS, Children’s Center for Science and Technology, Animal Charity, the Alliance for Climate Change, TimeBank Mahoning Watershed, the Audubon Society and other environmental organizations and businesses.

Count Greater Youngstown 2.0 as a member of the coalition. We will have a table at the festival manned by Mr. Peanut.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Steel Valley Innovation Cluster

When Youngstown grows up, what kind of innovation hub will it be? Ohio has a bunch of cities (too many?) competing for scarce resources. Ideally, each region focuses on a specific economic strength. Dayton has staked its claim:

“Ever since the Wright Brothers cemented Dayton’s place in aerospace history by inventing the airplane here, we have been creating an economic base built around invention, creativity and originality,” added the mayor of Dayton, Rhine McLin. “Today’s Hub designation further solidifies the strong relationship we have forged between such institutions as the University of Dayton Research Institute, Tech Town, and Wright Patterson Air Force Base. These relationships have helped create a powerful knowledge center that attracts talented professionals and technical expertise worldwide.”

Cleveland should have the edge on biotech. Toledo with its budding solar panel industry looks like a lock for green technology. I'm not sure what Cincinnati would chase. How the Mahoning Valley fits within Ohio's Hub initiative is anyone's guess.

I don't think Youngstown needs Hub love. A place at the public trough is always nice, but the aims of the program are redundant:

To be designated an Ohio Hub, a region must identify core strengths and develop a strategic plan for urban revitalization. A Hub designation is a commitment from both the state and region to work collaboratively and target development efforts toward building upon those identified strengths, the governor noted.

Youngstown 2010 is a strategic plan for urban revitalization and the Youngstown Business Incubator, among other entities, is developing an innovation cluster that fits nicely in that framework. Dayton isn't there yet. You might even notice some Youngstown-envy in Columbus. In some regards, the Ohio Hub program is an attempt to replicate Mahoning Valley success throughout the state.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Geography Of Globalization In Youngstown

What does a local geography of globalization look like? One obvious example is evidence of an international workforce. One neighborhood park in the city of my residence has a cricket pitch, indicative of all the South Asians with jobs at companies throughout the region. But there is a more important pattern that reveals the lack of integration into the global economy:

Gene Krebs, co-director of the anti-sprawl group Greater Ohio, said Columbus' growth has created an illusion that everything is fine when the city's core continues to hollow out with vacant and abandoned houses.

This regional doughnut shape is a lousy interface with globalization and the dominant knowledge economy. Thus all the interest in revitalizing downtowns. I don't think greater numbers of urban dwellers is all that important. On the other hand, the more bodies in the central business district the better. This is why I think you should consider Eric Planey's vision for Youngstown:

The reason I want to discuss my quality of life position is twofold. The first of which is that it is important for many to understand that certain intangibles in a community matter for economic development. And this certainly includes a flourishing arts community and a pedestrian-emphasized downtown corridor. It includes items such as bike trails that can connect New Castle to Lowellville to downtown Youngstown to Mill Creek Park to Canfield. I am amazed that in New York City, a city of 15 million people in a closed-in space, there are more bike-only dedicated trails than there are in the Valley. Connecting YSU, downtown Youngstown, and Mill Creek Park would create a golden triangle that other cities could only dream of having. Having bike trails in place is the most cost-effective and immediate bridge to such a connection. How cool would it be to get on your bike in Austintown, hook a left into Mill Creek Park, and to work up a thirst for an ice latte that can be quenched at an outdoor cafe on Federal Street? It is possible.

Youngstown has a number of remarkable assets that predispose the city to take advantage of the opportunities that globalization offers. The university is a stone's throw away from a compact and surprisingly active downtown. Mill Creek Park is truly an urban treasure and only lacks connectivity with the central business district. What Eric is proposing would increase the concentration of brains in the city core and more effectively plug Youngstown into the international community, a gateway to the Mahoning Valley.

Friday, September 4, 2009

James Traficant Diaspora

This is my last post on the return of James Traficant to the Mahoning Valley and then I'll leave well enough alone. My perspective is how this story resonates throughout the Rust Belt. This occurred to me while reading an editorial about Traficant in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

His crimes reinforced Youngstown's reputation for corruption, a huge deterrent to outside investment. His rants in Congress ensured his isolation and embarrassed his district. Worst of all, his embrace of angry victimhood -- his and his district's -- as a political strategy gave his struggling constituents an excuse not to face the realities of a global, knowledge-based economy.

That last sentence describes, in a nutshell, why so many urban industrial powerhouses are now struggling. Most shrinking cities are keen to play the victim instead of figuring out how to take advantage of a new political-economy. Aaron Renn (The Urbanophile) touches on this theme in his admonishment of the worst of Midwestern culture:

This sort of attitude is so self-defeating because it is toxic to talent attraction. The Midwest requires that anyone who lives there surrender his ambitions, or else be subjected to endless questioning, discouragement and ridicule. Who is going to sign up for that except someone with some pre-existing roots or connection there? Not very many people. Locals seems to recognize this and don't even attempt to market to the world at large, focusing all efforts on retention of home grown talent and boomerangers.

There's a counterculture movement going on in Youngstown and Traficant's return offers a benchmark that measures how far the city has come. The Plain Dealer editorial is a thinly veiled shot across the bow of the Cleveland leadership. We see a similar epic playing out in Detroit. Hat tip Politics and Place, the rumblings out of Johnstown, PA should seem familiar to those who abhor what Traficant did. Ironically, most of the Rust Belt is now eating Youngstown's dust. While the world celebrates Pittsburgh, it would be wise to head west on the turnpike and take a gander at the Mahoning Valley Miracle.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tech Belt Expatriate Talent

(Hat tip Null Space) Pittsburgh graces the cover of the latest Site Selection magazine. Skimming the article, a passage catches my eye:

As Labor Day approached to end the summer of 2009, 20th Century Fox was approaching Pittsburgh to film its $90-million action thriller "Unstoppable," starring Denzel Washington, thanks in part to an incentive program to attract such activity to the Commonwealth. But it also came thanks to having a new place to do its work: Mogul Mind Studios, which is investing $30 million to renovate the former Pittsburgh Flat Roll complex in the Strip District along the Allegheny River.

The tracks that used to carry raw material for steel products now carry the locomotive at the center of that film's storyline. John Yost, a Pittsburgh native and CEO of Mogul Mind, hopes the runaway train is a perfect metaphor for the growth potential of entertainment production in the region. ...

... 2008 saw 11 productions with a $50-million economic impact come to southwest Pennsylvania, drawn in part by that 2004 film incentive program offered by the state. Yost says he'd like to see the $75-million program remove its cap: "If it was unlimited, we'd literally take all of those runaway projects from Canada and bring them here," he says, pegging the cost advantage over a Hollywood production at between 20 percent and 30 percent – "It will be 30 to 40 percent when I'm done," he says.

Asked if he looked outside the area for his site, Yost said, "Never. I'm a kid from Pittsburgh. I lived in New York and in Germany, but I'm a kid from Pennsylvania. If I were to run for president, my attitude would be 'America first.' So here's my attitude – Pennsylvania first. We have a tremendous brain drain, with wonderful minds leaving our state to find jobs."

He says he's received a lot of queries from expatriate talent since his project first got going in summer 2008, people who "would love to come home."

From Cleveland to Pittsburgh, a lot of smart people want to return. But there isn't one place an interested person could turn. Greater Youngstown 2.0 intends to address this shortcoming.

Regardless, regional workforce development initiatives would be wise to direct more resources towards talent attraction and boomerang migration. What's the best approach to helping expatriates come home? We should think more about how to tap these Rust Belt refugees.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

NEO Energy Economy and Talent Shortages

Good news from the Fund for Our Economic Future. $2.2 million will be invested in NorTech and the Regional Talent Network (RTN) to help fuel the expected growth in the energy industry in Northeast Ohio. More about RTN's mandate:

The Regional Talent Network will use the funds to support the development of the network, an employer-led effort to strengthen the talent development system across the 16 counties of northeast Ohio. The network is in the formative stages and the fund’s grant dollars will be distributed as it achieves milestones, including developing an organizational structure and conducting an assessment of the trends and gaps in the supply and demand for talent in the region, officials said.

I'm concerned about the region's ability to meet the coming talent demand. More than local labor mobility and workforce development are needed. I propose diaspora talent network, which can locate skilled workers wherever they may live.

I live in the Front Range of Colorado. The "talent development system" here is already oriented towards the energy sector. Like any other community, college graduates tend to leave the area. Many of them could end up in Northeast Ohio if we establish the pipeline. I hope both RTN and NorTech will keep this geography in mind as energy businesses begin to grow and the scramble for talent begins in earnest.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Liminal Greensburg, Kansas

Perhaps my most popular post at the Burgh Diaspora blog is titled "Liminal Youngstown". I won't bore anyone with the social theory behind the term liminal space. Suffice to say, Youngstown is a place where the cultural fringe can thrive. This is where new ideas find expression.

[Greensburg Mayor Bob Dixson] also said something that really resonated with me. He said that Greensburg was lucky to have the entire town destroyed, as opposed to only 50 percent of it. The storm did not divide the town into the haves and the have-nots; everybody lost everything. According to Mayor Dixson, that's one reason why the rebuilding efforts have been so successful. The entire community owns the process.

A tornado practically wiped Greensburg off of the map. The disruption opened up liminal space that allowed the unusual suspects to lead the way for remaking their home. Katrina did the same thing for New Orleans. For Youngstown, it was Black Monday. In today's Detroit, it is the Great Recession.

But why did it take so long in Youngstown for the liminal space to appear? Ironically, Black Monday didn't do enough damage. There were still enough spoils for the likes of James Traficant. His criminal conviction was the last tie to the old way of doing business. When the feds put him behind bars, Liminal Youngstown was born.