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.

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