Friday, October 30, 2009

Global Youngstown

Next month is dedicated to global themes and international migration. I'm helping my friend Richard Herman promote his new book, "Immigrant, Inc." I share Richard's passion for immigration issues and I'm a strong believer in what foreign born talent can do for local economic development. I also advocate taking advantage of globalization forces, as opposed to merely weathering the storm. That's why I am delighted to see this story in today's Business Journal:

Officials with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber are heading to the Far East this weekend for a two-week trip to establish business ties in China and Taiwan.

The trip is part of a strategic plan to forge a “global footprint for the Mahoning Valley,” chamber officials report.

Comprising the local delegation for what chamber officials describe as an “unprecedented trip” are Tom Humphries, Regional Chamber president and CEO, Eric Planey, vice president, international/national business attraction; and Florence Wang, a member of the chamber’s board of directors and its senior advisor for Asian markets.

“This is the beginning of a coherent international strategy for the chamber and the Mahoning Valley,” said Planey, who was hired by the chamber in July. The goal of the two-week trip is to put the Youngstown-Warren area on the radar of Chinese corporations looking to expand into overseas markets “as a logical destination for their American operations,” he said.

Coherent international strategies are few and far between in the Rust Belt, particularly at this scale. Much of this development is catalyzed at the state level, mostly as a result of the dominant political geography. However, globalization opens up new avenues for dialog and metro-to-metro exchanges make more sense. In other words, don't wait for Ohio or your folks in DC to get the conversation started.

There are plenty of grassroots opportunities for international relationships. Audrea Cika sent out an e-mail that nicely illustrates this point:

The Kosciuszko Foundation is seeking area teachers and university students to participate in its Arts Enriched English Camp in Poland in July 2010.

The innovative three-week program brings together American teachers with Polish youth to enhance their knowledge of conversational English through instrumental, performance and visual arts experiences. College and high school students who are at least 18 years of age may apply as Teaching Assistants in this unique cultural exchange program. Last summer 44 elementary and 48 high school Polish students participated.

Polish ancestry and knowledge of the Polish language are not required, but participants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Selected participants receive FREE room, board, a weeklong follow-up tour and a modest stipend. Airfare is discounted because group flights are arranged by the Foundation. Teachers who are parents of teenagers can bring their children to serve as Peer Tutors to the Polish students.

Rev. Joseph Rudjak, pastor of Youngstown’s Sts. Peter & Paul and Our Lady of Hungary served as dance and performance arts instructor at the camp last year. He will be joined by Mary Kay Pieski, the program's creator, when the Polish Arts Club of Youngstown hosts an informational session on the program and the opportunities on Sunday, November 15th at 1:30 PM on the 6th Floor of the Maag Library on the campus of Youngstown State University.
The public is invited.

I studied and taught in Poland during a three-week intensive course on transnationalism a few years ago. Poland was set to join the European Union and we were looking at how the border region between Poland and Germany might change. Poland is a country on the come with a number of great investment opportunities. Really, the exchange described above is no different than the Regional Chamber touring China and Taiwan. Business moves along the paths of relationships and Polish cities are strong partners for a revitalized Youngstown. You needn't be Eric Planey or Tom Humphries to engage in your own coherent international strategy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

V&M Star Rising in Youngstown

Imagine Youngstown as a destination for a number of people conducting business globally. What would they see during their visit? V&M Star has already thought this through:

Earlier this year, V&M officials approached representatives of Lien Forward Ohio Regional Council of Governments, an organization that takes tax-delinquent land and matches it up with new owners who can redevelop or landscape the property, and asked if they would help organize a cleanup effort.

“Our intent is to work with Lien Forward in the demolition of vacant housing, making green space and taking areas that are blighted and turning them into areas similar to what you see on Market Street,” Johnson said, where landscaping efforts have cleaned up some of the entranceways into downtown.

Among the first blighted items to go was an unsightly chain-link fence that ran along a portion of the Route 422 thoroughfare. The city recently removed the fence. The city is also planning to raze a former office building of Youngstown Sheet & Tube by the end of the year. The dilapidated building is located at the entrance to the V&M Star plant.

V&M Star attracts visitors from all over the country and the world who do business with the Youngstown plant, and the company wants to clean up one of the city’s most visible gateways, said Debra Flora, Lien Forward’s executive director.

I'll make a wild guess and suppose that the above is one of the reasons V&M Star is so keen to have its expansion within the Youngstown city limits. I'm reminded of the cozy relationship between Big Finance and politicians in Charlotte that sparked a boom in the foothills of the Carolina Piedmont. I don't mean that as a critique, although there is a risk of over-dependence on one industry. It is indicative of the business friendly mindset of the Jay Williams administration and the forward thinking of the Regional Chamber. Things get done.

Youngstown has gone from brownfield backwater to an abundance of greenfield opportunities. Outside of Texas, there aren't many cities like it. In the Rust Belt, Youngstown may have no peers. In fact, I can think of only two cities in the United States that sport Youngstown-like assets: Tornado-ravaged Greensburg, KS and hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. I see New Orleans and Youngstown as kindred spirits. At least, the respective economic revitalization programs seem to be on a similar trajectory. Again, I'll remind you of the lessons from urban China:

Being near the coast is a help in China, because of access to external ideas and because coastal areas were permitted to experiment with reform first. An intriguing pattern is that governance is best in coastal cities that had very little industry when reform began in 1978. Shenzhen now has the highest per capita GDP in China. The same holds in Jiangmen, Dongguan, Suzhou--all were industrial backwaters in 1978, and responded to China's opening by creating good environments for private investment and learning from outsiders. Cities that already had industry tended to protect what they had and reform less aggressively.

In a nutshell, that's the urban frontier paradigm and what makes Youngstown so attractive to V&M Star. The missing piece might be the learning from outsiders, but the Phil Kidd story indicates otherwise. Youngstown leaders are remarkably open to new ideas.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cleveland Envy in Pittsburgh

The greatest beneficiary of increased connectivity between Cleveland and Pittsburgh is the Mahoning Valley. That's why the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber is promoting high-speed rail between the two big cities. That's why the driving force behind the Tech Belt Initiative is Congressman Tim Ryan. Youngstown is the capital of Cleveburgh.

But I would caution against highlighting all the similarities of the cities in this urban corridor as a way to breathe life into this economic region. Better to think of how they compliment each other:

I have a confession to make: I like Cleveland. Take it back, I love Cleveland. Maybe it's the New Girl in me and the inherent immunity to old rivalries with Pittsburgh, but I find the city by the lake to be charming and happening at the same time. Granted, some of Cleveland's assets do meet their equals in Pittsburgh: they have the Rock Hall, a terrific single-subject museum, but we have the Warhol, arguably one of the best single-artist museums in the world. While the Cleveland Botanical Garden has more colorful butterflies than we can shake a stick at, our butterflies at the Phipps flitted about the G-20 heads of state just last month and whereas the Ritz-Carlton Cleveland has received an impressive face-lift and is loveliness defined, we will debut a sleek Fairmont in a glass-walled tower come springtime. And while we best them in many areas, they have the Cavs with LeBron and Shaq, not to menton a Great Lake. Nothing we can do about that. So where is Cleveland really eating our lunch?

The point of the article is for Pittsburgh to learn from what Cleveland does well. I say just drive north and sample the delights. There is a lot of talk about emulating Pittsburgh's renaissance. But Cleveland must reinvent itself in its own way, leveraging its unique assets. I appreciate that I can get a different flavor in each of the Tech Belt cities.

What is the Cleveland model of revitalization?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Return to Cleveburgh

We're in the last week of the Greater Youngstown 2.0 project. One of the unintended consequences of the effort is a better understanding of how to lure talented expatriates back home. Israel is struggling with these logistics:

"What we need is a kind of a vacuum cleaner, to suck back all those Israeli brains from foreign universities," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week. One detailed plan proposed by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry was recently shot down by the Finance Ministry, citing financial concerns, amidst competing proposals to save Israeli academia.

"We've heard plenty of statements but I've yet to see a cabinet resolution to bring back the scientists," said Omri Ingbar, coordinator of the interministerial committee for absorption in science. "The brain drain problem is rooted in the lack of employment opportunities. The cabinet must spearhead a move to create new jobs, but it's trying to avoid the responsibility. The treasury wants solutions that don't cost money," said Ingbar, who heads the returning scientists unit in the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.

You can't call out to your wayward favorite sons and daughters if you don't have positions that need filling. Even if you do have jobs at the ready, interested members of the diaspora may not have the right experience. Youngstown is strategically located between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, which considerably expands the employment market. Cleveburgh makes for a compelling value proposition for boomerang migrants from all along the Tech Belt.

But expanding the geography of the labor-shed isn't a solution, particularly when unemployment is high throughout the country. In fact, migration during the Great Recession is making a curious pattern. Charlotte (NC) and Portland (OR) are two metros hit harder than most cities. Despite the lack of jobs, people kept coming. I moved to the DC area under similar circumstances. While sleeping on the couches of friends, I pounded the pavement looking for a good internship. I would do whatever it took to make a go of it in Washington.

That happens all the time in global cities such as New York. Talent innovates in order to stick in place of high opportunity. Migration is a matter of motivation. So is entrepreneurship. In fact, the two often go hand in hand. Ironically, many regions see the incubation of a thriving startup culture as a good talent retention strategy. These policies are misguided: Great idea, wrong demographic.

Don't get me wrong. Natives still living in the area can make great entrepreneurs. But identifying the right people is an inexact science, to say the least. But finding small-business-owners-in-waiting is easy when you target the diaspora. Do you want to move home badly enough that you would be willing to create your own job? This is a pool of potential entrepreneurs yet to be tapped.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Brain Drain Chicago

When people leave, where do they go? If you are a Rust Belt native, then you immediately think of the Sun Belt. Perceptions of migration rarely match the reality, even at the policymaker level (which spells trouble for economic development). I submit for your consideration, South Carolina:

Lured by South Carolina’s beaches, lush green mountains and mostly snow-free climate, Ohioans and other northerners are moving here by the van load, right?

Not quite.

New population data show that most people who moved to South Carolina between 1990 and 2008 were from three southern states – North Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

North Carolina supplied by far the most newcomers during this period, with 393,935.

And Ohio? A mere 84,898 came from the Buckeye State.

Since 1990, more than 2.3 million people moved to South Carolina, while 1.9 million moved away, according to the state Office of Research and Statistics.

“We are a pretty mobile group of people,” said Jerry Mitchell, a geography professor at the University of South Carolina. But, he added, “most people don’t move far.”

Migration was one of my subfield specialties as graduate student in geography. That most moves are short was drilled into my head. The tendency is so typical as to not merit much study. Relocating over great distances is much more interesting. That's where global cities such as Chicago come into play.

Another popular myth is that the big cities somehow retain talent better than shrinking cities. You might be surprised to learn that most metros thought to be doing well are annual losers in the battle for domestic migration:

For years, Chicago lost its wealth and population as people with money moved out.

Some headed to the Sun Belt, and some to the collar counties for bargain homes.

Away they went, by the thousands each year, making it tougher for Cook County to pay its bills.

Nothing seemed to put a stopper in the drain, until now. Unlikely as it sounds, the recession has come to the rescue.

Brain drain Chicago. The picture is much more complicated than that, but the migration story is similar to that of Boston, New York City and even San Francisco. The idea that cooler cities are somehow doing better is a misrepresentation of the relocation data. However, big cities attract talent from further afield. The apple also falls further from the tree in places such as Chicago. Long distance moves away (or to) smaller cities are rare, as our map of Youngstown out-migration illustrates.

I'm amazed how many talent initiatives fail to grasp the above patterns. I think that is why so many efforts focus mainly on retention. We are trying to solve a problem that doesn't really exist. And that's why I feel so fortunate to be working with the movers and shakers of Greater Youngstown. While other cities recycle the same lame brain drain initiatives, I get to help create an innovative talent attraction initiative. This is a policy frontier. Only in Youngstown ...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Auto Industry Diaspora

If you are interested in urban policy, then you should be reading the Brookings blog at The New Republic. By way of introduction, a post published today concerns all the communities with strong ties to the auto industry. This group shares common economic struggles, particularly now:

Last week’s Conference on Automotive Communities and Workforce Adjustment, sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and held at the bank’s Detroit branch, understandably focused a lot on Detroit and southeastern Michigan. In my talk at that conference, though, I pointed out that the metropolitan areas that depend most heavily on the auto industry (including assembly and parts, foreign companies as well as the Detroit Three) aren’t just in Michigan, and most aren’t anywhere near the size of Detroit.

The implication for the Mahoning Valley is obvious given the dependence on the auto industry in Lordstown. The point I want to make is that we tend to paint with the broad brush of a state or, a bit finer, a large region within a state. The economic geography is a lot more complicated than that. Worse is the stereotypical landscape of "Rust Belt" and "Sun Belt". There are many Rust Belt cities within the Sun Belt megaregion.

In this sense, our attempts at better policy are doomed from the start. Federal initiatives are funneled through the states. That is the legacy of our political geography. We try to work around this handicap by grouping states together that seem to share some common traits. (See the Great Lakes Economic Initiative) The economic geography reveals that we live in a Metro Nation. Chattanooga, TN and Birmingham, AL have a lot in common with Youngstown. I think this suggests that there should be a network of cities with similar economic development issues. The best example I know about is the Shrinking Cities Network.

Instead of thinking in terms of Ohio or Northeast Ohio or even Cleveburgh, remember the shrinking cities diaspora.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Congressman Ryan Calls Diaspora Home

As the Mahoning Valley quickly moves on from the spat between Youngstown and Girard over the V&M Star expansion, Congressman Tim Ryan shares his vision with the public:

“This is the beginning of a new era,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-17, as he addressed a crowd filled with elected officials and staff representing Youngstown and Girard’s city councils, Mahoning County and the office of Gov. Ted Strickland.

“We’re ready,” Ryan vowed. “We’re going to do business and have people come back to this community to raise their families.”

Congressman Ryan, we here at Greater Youngstown 2.0 are ready to help those people move back.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Disruptive Youngstown

I've got a big backlog of blog fodder. If I don't write now, then I'll likely never do it. Aaron Renn does a good job of framing the urban frontier hypothesis here and here. I'd like to add to this burgeoning narrative the thinking of Ryan Avent:

I think Lee’s disruptive technology post offers us a glimpse at an explanation. When a metropolitan area has an old, successful, established industry as its economic driver, that area builds its infrastructure and institutions around that industry. These institutions are likely to be unwilling and unable to accomodate and support growth industries. We can think about legislators in a Rust Belt state who fight to protect old industries even when the protections they seek would undermine growth industries. Or banks in old manufacturing centers that are reluctant to invest in start-ups with sharply different practices from the old giants.

If you have a daring new idea, you don’t take it to someone who’s living fat off something which has worked for decades. You take it to someone who is hungry. Many of the Sunbelt boom towns which have sprung up over the past half century grew at the start by accepting what investment they could. I’m reminded of my hometown, where leaders were anxious to attract high-tech investments to their new Research Triangle Park. It was lack of better options that gave them the idea in the first place — something which might not have occured to leaders in a city where hundreds of thousands of people earned good union wages in manufacturing plants. And while leaders definitely wanted to craft a research environment, they took the investments they could get. Not having recently been on top of the world, they had the benefit of not suffering from wounded pride when less-than-glamorous operations came to invest.

I emphasized the relevant part of the passage. Youngstown may be the hungriest city in the entire Rust Belt. That's another way of framing an urban frontier opportunity. You can do in Youngstown what you can't do in Cleveland, a city "suffering from wounded pride".

When I imagine Richard Longworth's Midwest, I envision a landscape of wounded pride. We need a good psychiatrist. The collective psyche of Youngstown has moved beyond historical stature. That's why the Mahoning Valley is a good place for a daring idea.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Brain Drain Columbus

The brain drain story is almost always overstated. Reactions to various statistics verge on hysteria. But every so often a more measured assessment bubbles up in our local newspaper. Goodbye Columbus:

The Fordham Institute is a nonprofit organization based out of Dayton, Columbus and Washington, D.C., that lobbies for education reform at the state and national level. It became interested in brain drain issues—where college students leave after graduation and take their Ohio educations with them to help bolster someone else’s economy—as part of its effort to improve the public education system.

The report, released June 15 and titled “Losing Ohio’s future: Why college students flee the Buckeye State and what might be done about it,” was touted in the media as applying to all fields in the state, when in fact, it was developed out of a study meant for the education sector.

“We were looking at the deficit in the education field and how difficult it was to find dynamic new school leaders and teachers. So we ended up doing a study to get at why education students are leaving Ohio,” said Emmy Partin, director of Ohio policy and research for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “More specifically, we know there is a talent deficit (in education). It’s incredibly difficult to find bright people to run these schools. In the education sector, specifically, there is a brain drain.”

But it seems the report has sparked a sky-is-falling reaction in every sector.

Columbus had its share of brain drain hysteria in the wake of the report. But the actual migration numbers tell a different story:

Central Ohio, like the Cincinnati and Cleveland areas, reflected a move to the suburbs by residents of Franklin County, which experienced a net loss of 4,161 people to seven nearby counties. Nearly half of that loss came from Franklin County residents heading north to Delaware County, which in recent years has been ranked as one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.

What sets 1.1 million-resident Franklin County apart from Cincinnati’s Hamilton County and Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County is the fact that migration gains from elsewhere in Ohio are more than offsetting residents’ flight elsewhere in the region. Franklin County booked a net gain of 4,260 residents from areas outside Central Ohio.

“Even within Ohio, Franklin County attracts people from across the state, providing evidence of Central Ohio’s relative economic health,” the report said.

Community Research Partners published a useful look at "Ohio Population Migration Patterns". I think the maps would surprise most people. Probably the biggest relocation problem in Columbus is the move to the suburbs, hollowing out the city core and undermining municipal fiscal health. A more sober look at migration issues would help the state to avoid wasteful policies such as the Grads for Grants program.

Ohio Metro Success Stories

I have a more detailed post over at Burgh Diaspora discussing Midwestern/Rust Belt metros doing surprisingly well. These cities offer strong opportunities and hit well above their weight in the urban hierarchy. The good news in Ohio:

Now for a look at the rest of the Midwest. Site Selection asked [Richard Longworth] to name a city or two in each of the states he includes in his definition of the Midwest that he considers to be bright spots, leaders in their states' economic turnaround or, at the very least, worth site selectors' attention in 2009 and beyond. ...

... "Columbus is doing well and not losing population. Akron is interesting. It's taking its old base in rubber and is working hard on a new polymers industry. Wooster has a good local college, an ag branch of Ohio State and a beautiful downtown. It's a thriving town."

Wooster is a city that has been on my radar for a few years. Every so often, I read a story about innovative approaches to economic development going on there. I think Wooster would be a good model for Steel Valley cities to emulate.

As for Akron, I also find the city "interesting". I need another visit to get a better sense of the transformation going on there. Both Wooster and Akron are off the mental maps of outsiders. Figuring out how to better appeal to talent in other cities should be priority one for Tech Belt stakeholders.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dying Cities Paradigm

The infamous Joshua Zumbrun, the author behind the Forbes list of dying cities, expresses skepticism about good news Youngstown gracing the pages of this week's Economist newspaper. Industrial decline would seem to be an intractable problem. I think the issue is the lens (growth paradigm) we use to assess city health. We're fixated on the population numbers and focus on reversing the trend (e.g. plug the brain drain). The trick seems to be thinking about all the perceived liabilities as an asset, a competitive advantage.

Yesterday, I was speaking on the phone with one of the Youngstown Vanguard (the architects of Dream City). He had met with a group of the foreign-born students at Youngstown State University. How did they end up at Youngstown? The answer surprised him (and me). All of them mentioned that YSU was the most inexpensive place to earn an American college degree. They were employing geographic arbitrage, a key component of the Mahoning Valley opportunity landscape.

In order to unleash the geographic arbitrage advantage, the region must mitigate or reduce legacy costs. As we begin to develop shrinking city planning techniques, dealing with these legacy costs should be priority number one. Joshua Zumbrun should come and see for himself just how Youngstown has done this.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Stubbornly Stuck In Place

The big news in the Mahoning Valley is, of course, the deal struck between Girard and Youngstown that will allow for the expansion of the V&M Star site. I'm still fixated on the Mayor of Girard. In my opinion, he walks away from this looking like a parochial jackass:

The agreement was reached after a marathon bargaining session in downtown Youngstown, mirroring a similar session Aug. 24, when the sides reached a tentative agreement on the land.

''I guess we were all going to turn into pumpkins if we didn't (reach a deal),'' said Girard Mayor James Melfi.

Melfi is mocking the sense of urgency expressed by Youngstown officials, the Regional Chamber and Congressman Tim Ryan. Furthermore, Melfi refused to speak with The Business Journal:

About two months ago, Girard Mayor James Melfi criticized the plan to annex the Girard Land to Youngstown, resulting in several weeks of discussions. Only days ago, Melfi had said he did not believe a deal was close. ...

... The Business Journal has been unable to secure any comments from Melfi. The newspaper has criticized his actions in an online editorial and satirized his position in a political cartoon. ...

... A formal signing ceremony is being planned for Wednesday, and a V&M official is also expected to be on hand for the event.

“It’s a very good day for the Valley,” Girard City Council President Reynald Paolone said Thursday evening. Based on discussions he has had, he does not foresee any problems with his council’s vote.

The council president specifically wanted to thank officials with the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, which has been working with V&M on the project, as well as V&M officials for being patient, Youngstown’s administration and the city councils of both cities, and The Business Journal. “You guys were really positive on this thing,” he said.

Upon reading that, I had to laugh. This is far from subtle journalism. Here you have the Girard City Council President praising the newspaper that Melfi refuses to acknowledge. Melfi had no problem speaking to reporters of the Warren Tribune Chronicle. Of course, he's quoted as making a snarky remark.

I'm relieved that the Mahoning Valley was able to overcome all the obstacles that Melfi decided to throw down at the last minute. He acts as if his brinkmanship isn't obvious. His conduct is shameful and would make outsiders wary of investing in his city. Time for a change.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Rising Star of Youngstown

The Economist is in the midst of a love affair with Pittsburgh. The reviews of the city's makeover are glowing. Now, some of that attention is spilling over into Youngstown:

One developer is hard at work converting old downtown high-rises into stylish new apartments. And Federal Plaza, the once abandoned main drag, is now speckled with a few clubs and restaurants. On Friday and Saturday nights, twenty-somethings spill out onto the pavements. Now all Youngstown has to do is keep them.

No. Youngstown must attract more of them. Let Detroit and Michigan waste time and resources worrying about retention. Ignore Ohio's silly scheme to help college graduates buy homes in the state. In general, first-time homebuyer credits make for lousy policy. The legislation is a handout to real estate interests.

Youngstown's challenge is to get the word out about the tremendous opportunities available in the city. The article in the Economist highlights the geographic arbitrage advantage:

Jim Cossler, head of the Incubator, expects more growth as more start-ups join Turning Technologies and the 13 others currently there. He says he has convinced a software company from San Francisco to send some employees to Youngstown, not least because—according to him—the rent is 4% of what it would be in San Francisco.

I would stress the embrace of entrepreneurship and the very accessible Mahoning Valley powerbrokers. Youngstown might be the nation's startup garage. Tinker on the cheap along with all the other young, ambitious talent scheming and dreaming downtown.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

New Rust Belt Visions

When I write that Youngstown is at the front of a new economic paradigm, I'd bet most people think that I'm guilty of hyperbole. But after reading about ambitious self-starters re-inhabiting the homes of the economic titans of the city's past, I tend to think that I'm understating the transformation. Also, the creative vanguard is seeing the same thing I am:

“All of the projects draw upon the phenomenon of decay as a process of change affecting our built components,” Maher said. “We are each interested in transcending the negative … associations of decay, and in revealing neglect, abandonment and blight to be catalysts for extraordinary forms of regeneration.” ...

... “Most of the world’s older cities have been built again and again, layer upon super-imposed layer and our understanding of those places is based upon our glimpses in between the layers. But here in Buffalo, things are actually de-layering,” Maher said. “Rust belt cities are particularly interesting to me because we don’t really know where they are headed and because the vacuous nature of such places creates tremendous opportunities to invent new ways of living.”

To date, this is the best interpretation of urban frontier I've encountered. The suburbs used to be the place where this kind of innovation occurred. As California slides into the abyss, the sprawl paradigm is coming along for the ride. Tomorrow's greenfields (i.e. "vacuous nature") can be found in Youngstown, today.

Nowhere else are the barriers of entry so low. The best ideas truly have a chance to flower. You needn't be well-connected or sport an impressive résumé. Come to Dream City and live in the mansions that industrial riches built.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Polish Happy Hour at Lemon Grove Cafe

The next Polish Happy Hour Youngstown will be held on Thursday, Oct 8th starting at 5:30 PM at:

Lemon Grove Cafe

122 Federal Plaza W

Youngstown, OH 44503




Happy 1st Anniversary to US
It was a memorable year! We wanted to thank you by commemorating it by bringing in a special guest. We will be joined at this event by Andrew Bak, brand manager of the popularBison Grass Vodka and official sponsor of He is flying in from New York to teach us all about vodka infusions, the latest way to enjoy Poland’s most popular export. In fact, he is having his chemists make up a couple of special formulas just for us!

Of course we want you to make it even more fun! inviting you, our guests, to participate in our first Infusion Challenge: whip up your own vodka specialty flavor this week, bring it with you on Thursday and we will judge them at the party! Compete for a fun prize!

Here are some links to inspire you:

I put mine together last night and can’t wait to share it!

Our featured vodka will be the stylish Bison Grass. Known in Polish as Żubrówka, this brand of wisent -flavored vodka is distilled from rye and mixed with a tincture made of grass grown in Eastern Poland’s Bia 2;owieża Forest. The rich flavor qualities of this unique vodka will be highlighted in our signature drinks, the Bison Apple Martini and the Cranberry Bison Cocktail. Our beer offering will come from Zywiec.

By your request, we also will have NEW chic Polish Happy Hour Shirts on red and as well as brought back the popular black with its cool back design. It is a short run so you may want to reserve yours in advance. They are available to purchase online or at our events. Order one NOW!

As always there will be authentic Polish Hors’douvres, Zywiec beer and drink specials, music, door prizes, 50/50 raffle and more!

Stick around to hear the sounds of acoustic specialist 60 Year War!

Poland 2010

Many of you have filled out the survey on our website expressing interest in traveling to Poland next summer with us. It is very exciting! It is also time to start making our dream into a reality. As such our friend Mitch Benia, owner of Kniola Travel in Slavic Village, Cleveland, will be on hand Thursday with some more information on our itinerary and dates for our planning meeting. No obligations necessary yet, just a willingness to share in the dream!

The Krakowiaki Polish Folk Circle will participate in Zata 4;czmy: a Celebration of Polish Folk Dance on October 18th at Magnificat High School in Rocky River, OH. Tickets for this six –group concert are on sale now. More info available HERE.

It’s a Girl Thing: Your night of relaxation and inspiration

Tuesday, October 27th 6-9 PM $5 pp

Five Points Wine & Bar, Western Reserve Road

Featuring presentations, demonstrations and tastings by Five Points, Dove Chocolate Discoveries and Pampered Chef.

Before the rush of holidays start, treat yourself to a relaxed night out full of elegant ideas you can implement this season while entertaining at home!

Proceeds to benefit the Krakowiaki Polish Folk Circle costume fund.

The Artistry of Wigilia: A Polish Christmas crafts and traditions workshop

Saturday, November 14th 1-5 PM $5 pp

Featuring demonstrations and hands-on workshops of by noted Slavic folklorist Lawrence Kozlowski

Polish Advent and Christmas practices, rituals foods and folk crafts will be covered.

Items available to create and take home as well as merely to purchase.

Proceeds to benefit the Krakowiaki Polish Folk Circle costume fund.

******** About Polish Happy Hour **********
Polish Happy Hour Youngstown brings together those who hold any interest in Poland or Polish culture to have fun and meet new friends. All persons are welcome, including Polish language speakers and non Polish speakers. Part of a national organization, the group will host a gathering on the second Thursday of every month in downtown locations. Each time the event will respond to the venue by changing the selection of imported Polish beer, vodka special and music selection. We welcome everyone! Check for information on our organization.

If you are interested in hosting or assisting future Polish Happy Hour events, please write to

Monday, October 5, 2009

Warren Incubator Geography

Tim Ryan's advanced energy initiative is beginning to take shape. The hub of innovation will be in Warren. The exact location is still up in the air:

Anthony Iannucci, director of Warren Redevelopment and Planning Inc., spearheading the drive for a business incubator, said nearly $3 million already has been earmarked for the project, including $500,000 from the Ohio Department of Development and more than $2 million from the federal Department of Energy, which should be available in the next 30 days.

It's unlikely the incubator will be located in downtown, but Iannucci said it will be within city limits. A site cannot be chosen until the incubator's niche is determined, he said. ...

... "We have been talking to Northeast Ohio Energy Partners, the Fund for Our Economic Future, Jumpstart and NeoTech on the state level. But I also have been in touch with venture capitalists who come to my office about energy issues. Some of them are from Ohio and some are from places like California. We will seek the expertise of those involved with the Youngstown Business Incubator. I think all of these relationships will save time and trouble down the road,'' Ryan said.

He said the Youngstown Business Incubator was primarily focused on software and did not require a large amount of space. He said here, space is needed for companies to build prototypes so a site with manufacturing capabilities is needed.

Ryan said this area has a strong manufacturing base, along with resources at universities such as Youngstown State University, Kent State University, Case Western Reserve University and the Great Lakes Energy Institute.

"I want our incubator team to be a real blend of local strengths and local input, but we also need that venture capital on a national level to make things happen," Ryan said.

WRAP previously purchased a building in Courthouse Square to house an incubator, but as the focus changed to green technology, WRAP began to rethink locations, and the building was sold, Iannucci said.

I first heard about the incubator plans while in Youngstown last August. At the time, all signs were pointing towards downtown. I was skeptical enough to request a tour Warren, as well as the strip of development stretching between the two cities.

Warren's town square reminds me of New England. The buildings and homes are aesthetically pleasing and the hotel there is a great anchor. There's a river walk and a bandshell, which was active with music during my visit. It was Friday evening with the sun still up and downtown was closed. On the way to Warren, I noticed all the activity along the highway in the strip development. Restaurants were packed. Downtown Warren keeps banker's hours.

Contrast that with Youngstown, the downtown full of energy well into the night. The Youngstown Business Incubator has a lot to do with that. The geography of innovation is ideal. Startups are in city center. The university and the Butler Institute of American Art are a short walk up the hill. I experienced firsthand the spillover potential. Walking around the city, we had one chance encounter after another. Knowledge and ideas are exchanged, schemes hatched.

Warren doesn't have the core assets that Youngstown has, but the hotel and river access distinguish it from the rival down the road. (Very interesting political history between the two cities) I hope the parties concerned will reconsider a downtown location. The need for manufacturing space makes sense. But the production site could be separate from the office work (e.g. marketing and design). I recognize that throwing Warren a bone is necessary, but the pigeonholing of the incubator project is a concern.

I'm thinking about this issue from the perspective of talent attraction. Your engineers will appreciate being able to jog along the river and walk to work from one of the beautiful homes adjacent to downtown. While drinking coffee, idea can meet up with financial capital. Political issues? Just visit the next table over from you. This will revitalize the core and better plug into economic globalization.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Tech Belt Advanced Energy

I'm still trying to connect all the dots, but there is some movement on the Tech Belt front:

The U.S. Department of Energy is looking at establishing “a handful” of advanced energy research commercialization centers around the country, said Chris Thompson, director of marketing for the fund, which has put more than $1 million into regional advanced energy initiatives.

The Fund for Our Economic Future is a Cleveland-based group of philanthropies collaborating on efforts to promote growth in northeastern Ohio.

This summer Ryan, D-17 Ohio, secured $2.2 million for the Warren Technology and Business Center for Energy Sustainability proposed for downtown Warren.

Mayor Michael O’Brien, who also traveled to Washington recently along with representatives of the Regional Chamber and the Youngstown Business Incubator, reported that an economic adviser to President Obama said Warren could also receive funds from the automobile task force to establish the incubator. Companies represented at that meeting involved in the energy incubator concept nationwide “were interested in what Warren has to offer,” he said.

“We need to make sure that the [proposed] Tech Belt between Cleveland and Pittsburgh gets one of those labs,” said Thompson, who filled in for Whitehead at the breakfast, sponsored by the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber. Fund officials believe that advanced energy represents a big opportunity, and has the potential to enjoy the same kind of growth as the bioscience industry.

The story here is the coordination of key actors in the Mahoning Valley (sans parochial Girard). There exists a potent mix of doers and thinkers who are all on the same page. It is remarkable, particularly for the Rust Belt. For the record, these same vanguard actors are still on the margins in Pittsburgh. I'm a big Pittsburgh booster, but this is one of the area's shortcomings.

Entrepreneurship reigns supreme in the Mahoning Valley. Let Dayton have its aerospace cluster. If you want to start a business, then move to Youngstown.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Battle For Clean Tech Jobs Begins

The Brookings Institution has the scoop on the US Senate version of the Waxman-Markey bill:

Equally or even more important given our concern for metropolitan and national economic restructuring, the new bill calls for investments in energy innovation. On this front, the Kerry-Boxer bill tracks both the Waxman-Markey proposal and the Department of Energy’s FY2010 budget request by proposing the creation and funding of a string of energy innovation hubs.

This matters a great deal to Greater Youngstown thanks to the tireless efforts of US Congressman Tim Ryan to secure an energy innovation hub in the Mahoning Valley. This also highlights the importance of the Tech Belt Initiative, which would integrate the entire Cleveburgh corridor with Pittsburgh's emergence as a global energy center.

The stakes couldn't be bigger. This is an economic development bonanza and Greater Youngstown cannot afford to be left out of the national program. Now is a good time to get organized and lobby your senators. Repower America: Ohio Chapter is a place to start.