Monday, December 28, 2009

Youngstown Immigrant Innovation

Richard Herman passed along to me a link to an op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about the weak investment in the Fund for Our Economic Future. The Cleveland Foundation's hasty retreat is a mystery. Is the Fund not Cleveland-centric enough? One critique of the Fund, found in the op-ed, is a lack of leadership on the immigration front.

The Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber should keep that in mind as it campaigns for a renewal of the Ohio Third Frontier program. Anything good can always be better:

Regional groups have told [Richard Herman] ''internationalization was not a top priority,'' he said. ''Immigration is kind of a dirty word here, and organizations don't want to use it.''

For instance, until a year ago, an Ohio Third Frontier-funded program for interns specifically excluded those who weren't citizens from participating.

''That was a bright sign saying, if you're an immigrant, don't come to Ohio,'' Herman said.

One regional mover and shaker who seems to get it is Rob Briggs, president of the Akron-based GAR Foundation, Herman said. He credited Briggs with some of the ideas in the book.

Briggs once convened ''the top believers in the region and asked them to produce an international talent blueprint,'' Herman said. Aspects of that effort are beginning to emerge around the region.

He pointed to the EB-5 Regional Center in Akron and Wooster (which speeds up the visa process for foreign investors of American businesses), an international welcome center being discussed between Cleveland State University and the Jewish Community Federation, and increased activity around international student recruitment and business recruitment (such as Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic's missions to lure foreign companies into launching American operations).

If the Mahoning Valley doesn't have an international talent blueprint, it better craft one ASAP. The Regional Chamber took a strong step in that direction when it hired Eric Planey. The trade trip to China is an impressive undertaking. What about an analogous workforce development strategy?

The "America First" mentality that James Traficant represents is alive and well in Greater Youngstown. Congressman Jason Altmire, TechBelt co-conspirator, has pandered to the anti-immigrant sentiment of his constituency on more than a few occasions.

Being tough on illegal border crossings and putting America's prosperity first don't preclude immigration as an economic development strategy. Too often, we throw that baby out with the bathwater. The debate is polarized as closed borders versus open borders. Or, you are either anti-globalization or anti-American jobs. These are difficult waters for politicians to navigate, but the issue is mission critical for a struggling region.


  1. Jim,

    Ironic that you posted this today. Today's New York Times has a small article on how Latinos and other Asian immigrants in the Lower West Side of Buffalo that have revitalized parts of that neighborhood. I mentioned it on my blog,

  2. Joe,

    Great find. I'll post a link to your post about the article.

  3. Thanks for the addition, Jim. I appreciate it.

  4. By the way, I've really enjoyed reading your blog. I'm also a member of the LinkedIn group. I grew up in Youngstown, went to college at John Carroll and today live in Sterling, VA. I am very much a part of the diaspora, although I always called it a brain drain. I hope to move back to Youngstown, if not Northeast Ohio, within the next five years.

  5. Jim: Good post (per usual).

    I spoke with the Mayor this week regarding finalizing a date for a trip to the White House with Special Assistant to the President Derek Douglas regarding all things Youngstown (a story/blog post in and of itself...more details to follow). Anyway, I mention this because our date had to coordinate in conjunction with his return business trip from Israel...

    P.S. Joe's post is a good one. As a side note: there is a very good organizing project that deals with immigration transition on the West Side of Buffalo (PUSH Buffalo). The organization primarily focuses on traditional housing and poverty issues for new immigrants but also has community development status as well, teaching new immigrants "green job" trades in housing deconstruction and vacant lot repurposing & management. I didn't have a chance to read the NYT article - perhaps they are mentioned.