Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Florida Foodie Eats Youngstown

Often, an outsider will help you appreciate local assets:

In line with the community's effort to change its image, the city government along with the university (Youngstown State University), has organized an urban renewal project titled Youngstown 2010, which makes this an up and coming city. Part of its redevelopment is to attract more business in the area. With the redevelopment in progress, small businesses are starting to develop.

Rosetta Stone Cafe and Wine Bar is just one of the new and upcoming restaurants in the heart of the downtown district. Offers a modern american cuisine and live music. My friends and I had a wonderful meal and the live music was a plus.

The blogger of the restaurant review lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, which just so happens to be a Greater Youngstown Diaspora hot spot.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Strategically Located: Youngstown

I've convinced that Pittsburgh is positioned for an economic boom. Part of the Pittsburgh advantage is its proximity to DC, along with the strong connectivity with that region. When talent leaves the Burgh, it tends to turn up in DC. Tyler Clark, one of Youngstown's urban pioneers, mentions the strategic geography of the Mahoning Valley:

Yesterday, however, was my favorite day. We host a semi-regular potluck at our house for friends and neighbors, and yesterday we welcomed a new couple to town. They bought a couple of duplexes (duplices?) on the West side and are fixing them up to rent out. They are coming from Berkeley, where they looked around the country for the most affordable and excellent places to live, picking Youngstown from their short list for its centrality to great locations like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago and New York.

Shrinking cities need to do a better job of understanding their geographic assets. Locational advantages are, by definition, unique. Youngstown could better leverage its proximity and connectivity to Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Congressman Tim Ryan articulates the opportunity for the Steel Valley:

The hope is that Forum participants recognize the talents and skills of the people in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, said Mayor Jay Williams. “There‘s no reason we can‘t play as prominent a role in the next emerging technology and this economy as we did prior, when it came to steel and manufacturing,” he said.

In his remarks, Williams envisioned a gathering of the Valley’s government, business and scientific community a hundred years ago, during which they discussed the industry that eventually came to define the area -- steel. A century later, leaders are gathering to discuss another industry, sustainable energy, that hopefully will come to define this area. “We know that we have the skill. We know that we have the talent,” the mayor said.

Ryan recalled a scene form one of his favorite movies, Apollo 13, when the contents of the damaged spacecraft are spilled onto a table and the head of mission control tells those assembled they must figure out “how to squeeze every ounce of energy out of that ship” so they can bring the astronauts home.

“That’s what areas like ours are doing, too,” Ryan said. “We are taking advantage of every ounce of energy that we have, from Cleveland to Akron to Youngstown to Pittsburgh, and we’re squeezing it out and we’re going to utilize it."

When I look at the map of the Greater Youngstown Diaspora, I see Cleveburgh. There is a lot of Youngstown energy in Akron, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. Those communities are part of Greater Youngstown. Time to throw a downtown party and invite them to come.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mapping Greater Youngstown Brain Drain

Many thanks to Chris Briem. As he did for Pittsburgh, he mapped the Greater Youngstown Diaspora. You can find the national map here. I've scaled it down considerably for easier browser viewing. If you prefer a more detailed version, then click here (.pdf). The bulk of out-migration is regional (.pdf). I'll add the more web-friendly map to this post:





















The top 10 destinations are as follows:

1. Pittsburgh, PA 27,476
2. Akron, OH 18,528
3. Canton-Massillon, OH 15,993
4. Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH 15,951
5. Columbus, OH 14,272
6. Ashtabula, OH 4,604
7. Meadville, PA 4,266
8. Weirton-Steubenville, WV-OH 3,872
9. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 3,496
10. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 2,738

When people leave the Steel Valley, most of them don't go very far. Which is all the more reason to support the Tech Belt initiative and consider all of Cleveburgh as one job market.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Youngstown Urban Policy Incubator

From Phil Kidd, the man behind Defend Youngstown:

We’ve committed to being a smaller community and our planning process is geared towards rightsizing our neighborhoods, so that’s lead to a very strong collaboration between the civic base and city hall. So those models, from a government or consolidation of service standpoint, those are things that larger communities can learn from, and also more importantly, we can do almost anything we want on the ground. So if it’s a really progressive deconstruction program or a question of how we deal with legislation, it’s almost an absolute incubator. We’ve created a situation where almost anything goes, and so you come to Youngstown to try almost any initiative that you want to try.

Come to Youngstown and test your big idea.

An Economic Way Forward

Not that Youngstown should put all its eggs in any one basket, but I see great potential in the energy sector for a regional economic renaissance:

"We want to find ways to reduce this nation's dependence on oil by creating alternative and sustainable forms of energy using the skills and talents already possessed by local industrial workers,'' said Jack Scott, president and chief operating officer of Parsons Corp., California.

Scott, a graduate of Youngstown State University, said he sees no reason why a corridor or region including Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, Pittsburgh and Warren, could not become a leader in manufacturing ''Green'' technology.

''There is the intellectual capacity and the skills to make the necessary changes to turn the area around,'' Scott said Monday. ''We only have to better utilize the talents of people already here.''

Notice that Mr. Scott doesn't live or work in Greater Youngstown. He's an expatriate who still sees greatness in the Steel Valley. Pay close attention to his geography of redevelopment. It's not just the home to his alma mater. He's talking about all of Cleveburgh.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rebranding Youngstown

Geographic perceptions are tough to shake. Consider this story about how a couple from New York City ended up in Pittsburgh:

"One of my first impressions was it was so green. Pittsburgh was just off my radar. If I thought anything about it, I thought it was going to be more like Minneapolis, very concrete, dystopian post-industrial shut-down landscape." Instead she was impressed with its lush beauty. She had also gotten wind of Pittsburgh's verdant art scene, but that is not what she experienced first.

Pittsburgh tends to surprise most people who visit the city for the first time. The White House announcement of the G-20 summit to be held in Pittsburgh shocked the press corps. Pittsburgh? Why Pittsburgh?

Journalists tend to cling to folklore geographies, thus reinforcing stereotypes. But readers do need a point of reference, even if it means writing that Lordstown is near Cleveland. You might not be from Northeast Ohio, but you've likely heard of Cleveland. But Youngstown? Youngstown?

I was pleasantly surprised with Youngstown. I was shown the good, bad and ugly of the city, but there's a lot of potential for a vital core. That's how Pittsburgh reinvented itself. I could give a tour of the bad and ugly in Pittsburgh. There's plenty to find.

I love the Garden District neighborhood and Youngstown should aim to attract outsiders to live there. The proximity to Mill Creek Park and downtown is a tremendous asset and screams gentrification. Actually, gentrification is already happening and the downtown core is on the upswing, despite what the national press thinks:

Now, experts say Elkhart can look at the recession as an opportunity to make the necessary changes that cities like Youngstown didn’t, and avoid the devastating population declines that have hurt Youngstown so badly.

A little late for Elkhart to avoid Youngstown's mistakes. Whatever Elkhart can do now to improve, Youngstown can do. Both cities have the same opportunity in front of them. What's Elkhart like? Does anyone reading this post who knows Youngstown have a firsthand impression of Elkhart?

That brings me to my rebranding suggestion, which should get me into some hot water. Imagine a reporter writing that Lordstown was near Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is breaking through the negative Rust Belt image. Deserved or not, the Steel City is now on the radar. Youngstown can piggyback on this publicity, if it so chooses.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Greater Youngstown Attraction

Like every city in Ohio, Canton is fighting brain drain. And like every city around the United States, Canton is losing. The problem is that all the resources are aimed at retaining college graduates (from the article hyperlinked above):

A few years ago, the city put a lot of effort into keeping its young people here.

It hired Next Generation Consulting, a market research group out of Wisconsin, in 2006 with the hope it could stave off “brain drain.”

But three years later, a survey by the Washington-based Fordham Institute shows more than half the students in Ohio colleges plan to leave the state after they graduate. ...

... The Fordham study mentions some suggestions to entice graduates to stay in Ohio. These include: Increasing students’ community involvement; a state income tax credit for those who remain in Ohio for 10 years; money for a down payment on a home; graduate school scholarships and fellowships; and more co-op programs and internships.

Hiring Next Generation Consulting is a waste of money. Enacting the study's recommendations would be foolish. I track anti-brain drain initiatives around the country and throughout the world. After three years of research, I'm still looking for an actionable success story. Trying to keep talent from leaving the region is irrational. Anyone who claims he or she can do it is a charlatan.

The economic development game, in terms of people, is all about attraction. But the Rust Belt seems loathe to accept this. The wound of industrial collapse and subsequent exodus is still fresh. Greater Youngstown should take a page from the book of post-Katrina New Orleans:

Tim Williamson, president and co-founder of the Idea Village, a nonprofit that identifies and supports promising local entrepreneurs, agrees.

"New Orleans is attractive because there are lots of opportunities here and less layoffs than in other places like Boston or San Francisco," Williamson said.

In addition to digital media, Williamson said other hot sectors include green business, those ventures that pursue environmental sustainability, and urban redevelopment.

"Katrina reversed the brain drain, so you've seen an influx of new talent and capital coming in," he said. "If you're an individual looking to take on the most pressing economic and social challenges, there's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity here with entrepreneurship."

Young adults, particularly this generation, are nomads. There are legions "looking to take on the most pressing economic and social challenges." But shrinking cities do little to tap into this energy. Instead, they obsess out-migration, even when the numbers are relatively low.

Like New Orleans, Youngstown is offering the opportunity of a lifetime. Right now. If you are considering moving back. Do it. I'm doing everything in my power to return to the region. I want to be part of the Rust Belt revival. One reason is native pride. But my main motivation is the love of a great challenge and chance to make my mark.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Newfoundland in Youngstown

Newfoundland has its own time zone, one half hour off of the rest of Canada. I don't know if it is true or not, but a Newfie once told me that the butter in his home province must be yellow, by law. My point being that Newfoundland is VERY parochial, much like the Steel Valley. I think both regions can learn from each other. A good example is Canadian labor migration:

But in Alberta, where many Newfoundlanders came to find lucrative oil patch jobs, the Hibernia expansion provides only a fleeting opportunity for work - not nearly enough to persuade the island's diaspora to sell homes, uproot families and return home. Contrast that with Alberta, which yesterday saw the first flash of an expected reawakening of the oil sands - which could provide tens of thousands of jobs for a decade - as Connacher Oil and Gas Ltd. reinvigorated a small, stalled oil sands project.

That certainty is what's keeping Sean Wyatt in Alberta. Experience has taught him that the promise of returning home for a single project can easily be distorted into disappointment. Originally from St. John's, he left in 2001 to find work in Texas. Two years later, he returned to Newfoundland for a design job with Husky Energy's White Rose offshore field.

It was nice to be home, but that job lasted less than two years. Soon, he found himself chasing mainland work again. He moved to Calgary in 2005. He misses Newfoundland, and wishes he could be near his parents, who are in their 70s. But Hibernia South, which is promising few new jobs, isn't enough to pull him back.

The pull of home is strong and folks from Newfoundland tend to carry their identity with them better than others. Despite the skepticism, in-migration to the chronically struggling province is on the upswing. But this isn't a tide of newcomers, but one of natives boomeranging back. Newfoundland isn't for the faint of heart.

A few of us Rust Belt boosters see something similar going on in Youngstown. Apropos of Atlantic Canada, energy would seem to be the silver lining calling home expatriates. However, I can only blog about the handwriting I see on the wall. It will take something much stronger to lure skeptical expatriates back to the area.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Youngstown Disconnect

I WILL SHOUT YOUNGSTOWN poses two questions:

1 - how to explain the growing divergence between Cleveland and Pittsburgh?

2 - how does this divergence effect Youngstown, the place in the middle of the two?

The above two question are, in part, informed by one article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The City of Champions ranked 18th, which put it in the tier of the 20 economically strongest metropolitan areas.

The city was behind such places as San Antonio (first); Tulsa, Okla. (ninth); and Des Moines, Iowa (14th). It was just behind Harrisburg (17th).

Pittsburgh bested New Haven, Conn., edging out the home of Yale University, which came in 19th.

What the authors of the "MetroMonitor" found is that areas hit by declines in manufacturing and the bursting of the housing bubble are feeling more pain in the current recession than areas that are strong in health care, education and government.

Hence, Detroit (100th); Toledo, Ohio, (92nd); and Youngstown, Ohio, (90th) are mixed in with other of the weakest performing metropolitan areas such as Las Vegas (89th); Fresno, Calif., (94th); and Bradenton, Fla. (99th). Las Vegas and Bradenton and Orlando, Fla., (79th) have each experienced the one-two punch of the bursting of the housing bubble and the weakening of the tourism trade.

I'll augment all of the above with a quote from friend of the show and blogger at The Urbanophile, Aaron Renn:

Richard Florida just issued a call in this month's Atlantic Monthly to build "rail connectivity within the mega-regions. There are the fast trains along the Boston/New York/Washington corridor that have allowed Washington, in effect, to become a commuter suburb of greater New York. But how about a place like Detroit? If Detroit were better connected to Chicago, one could imagine Detroit having a better reason for existing. Or Pittsburgh. If Pittsburgh were better connected to Chicago or even to Washington, D.C.—it’s only a four-hour drive—that could spur growth." I won't use his example cities, but will assume in our example that we've got high speed rail between Chicago and Milwaukee and Chicago and Indy that provides a terminal to terminal journey time of 90 minutes. In the case of Milwaukee, this is actually already true - future rail upgrades will only shave that time down even further.

At issue is not only the economic disparity between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but Youngstown and Pittsburgh. How can Pittsburgh rank 18th and Youngstown 90th when the two cities are practically right on top of each other?

The answer is the lack of connectivity between them. Better passenger rail would help, tremendously. Furthermore, just say yes to Western Reserve Road widening. Lastly, get behind the Regional Visioning project. Mayor Jay Williams is already on board. You should be, too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Energy Jobs

I had beers last Saturday afternoon with a Youngstown State University graduate. He's originally from Akron, but came to know Youngstown while attending college there. I was telling him about Pittsburgh's burgeoning energy economy and he expressed disbelief. That's a common theme in my interactions. Most people don't have any idea of what is going on right next door.

For example, take Cranberry, PA and the recent opening of the new Westinghouse campus. As I WILL SHOUT YOUNGSTOWN remarks, that's a major employer right on the doorstep of Greater Youngstown. I'm talking about well-paying jobs within easy commuting distance. I'm pointing out high-income households in the Youngstown market.

When people leave the Steel Valley, they tend to end up in three places: Cleveland/Akron, Pittsburgh, and Columbus. News in those three metros should be news in Greater Youngstown. With Pittsburgh touting its energy economy, we all should pay close attention. There's no reason why the Cranberry boom shouldn't benefit Greater Youngstown.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Social Capital Economics

Even in a Flat World, face-to-face interaction is still king. But that's a huge problem when business is global. Many African nations have learned that lesson the hard way:

"You can't out-local a local" said Alemayehu, who emphasizes that there is no substitute for finding local talent. He is tired of seeing technology companies try to run their operations from afar when there is a skilled labor pool waiting for them. Pohl weighed in that global ideas are needed but it takes a local presence to translate them properly.

Second, the panelists agreed that supporting locally-developed innovation is vital to their work. How do you do that? Alemayehu's answer is money and mentoring. He called for the Diaspora of these countries to contribute funds to get ideas moving. Camara is trying to find the superstars and support their work. If you have limited funds to finance SMEs, he says you've got to fund the innovators in their field.

Samuel Alemayehu is an advisor for ZebraJobs, an agency that links diaspora talent with African jobs. There's a recent National Public Radio interview with the founder, Yusuf Reja, of ZebraJobs if you would like to learn more. The innovation is understanding that "locals" might live all around the world. This is a business network that can work around what I call the "proximity problem" or "proximity rule".

To urbanists, the proximity rule is a good thing. This forces people to live in high-density environments where the exchange of knowledge is most efficient. I think of the proximity problem as something to overcome because this human need limits the geographic scope of markets and innovation. One great exception to the proximity rule is diaspora networking. Along these relationship lines can travel local knowledge. A good example is the Indian Diaspora. Likewise, could be the Greater Youngstown Diaspora.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rust Belt Talent Shortages

Unemployment continues to rise and the prospects of recovery are pushed to 2014, or later. On the other hand, some employers are still struggling to fill open positions. Given the gloom and doom dominating the news, writing about talent shortages might seem strange. Yet, it's a problem, even in the Rust Belt.

If you are considering moving back to where you grew up, then you should consider three possible job strategies:

  1. Telecommuting
  2. Entrepreneurship
  3. Workforce Demand

Telecommuting allows you to leverage geographic arbitrage. What kind of jobs are location independent? I live in the Front Range of Colorado and I personally know quite a few people who are California real estate refugees. Many still retain their Bay Area salary while managing a Fort Collins cost of living. Conceivably, one could return to Youngstown and have a job in tow. Your primary residential consideration would be ease of access to a major airport.

Entrepreneurship is creating your own employment. This path is only for the highly motivated. If you don't see any other way to live where you want, then you are forced to be your own boss. Folks in this category are the ideal boomerang migrants, creating more jobs in a region sorely in need of them.

Workforce demand highlight the disjuncture between the skill of labor and the needs of business. Often, the unemployed must undergo retraining in order to land a new job. When looking for openings in your hometown, figure out where the talent shortages are. There little sense competing against able local labor when Westinghouse is sounding the alarm about unfilled positions or energy is emerging as a major growth industry. Position yourself to take advantage of these opportunities.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cookie Table Diaspora

Update: More cookie table tales!

While Youngstown is in Ohio, I contend that the city has more in common with Pittsburgh than Cleveland. That's a bold claim and I can imagine the passionate rebuttal. A common cultural tradition is the cookie table:

Liz Nohra, curator of a cookie-table exhibit at the local history museum in Youngstown, Ohio, traces the custom back to immigrants—mostly Italians, Eastern Europeans, and Greeks—who worked in the steel mills and perhaps couldn’t afford a wedding cake. As to where the custom originated—Youngstown or Pittsburgh—no one is certain. ...

... There are wonderful tales of the angry aunt whose specialty wound up at the back of the display and a bride’s family fallen into disgrace when store-bought cookies turned up in the mix. But most of the lore surrounding the cookie table is about happy times. “It’s a way of bringing people into your celebration,” says Nohra, “sharing a heritage of family and food.” And the cookie table is spreading; she has tracked them not only to weddings but also to anniversary celebrations, graduations, showers, and baptisms as far away as West Virginia, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. I can vouch for one turning up in Connecticut. When I got married there last summer, my Pittsburgh relatives staged a cookie table full of our family favorites. The wedding cake made quite a splash, but it was the cookies that stole the show.

In a diaspora location such as Connecticut, the cookie table is a common experience between Youngstown and Pittsburgh natives. Extending the metaphor, expatriates with a similar wedding reception ceremony enjoy a greater sense of trust. Each person, whether from Youngstown or Pittsburgh, believes the other sees the world in the same way.

The cultural diffusion of the cookie table defines an expanding economic geography of opportunity. Those who keep such traditions despite leaving one's hometown represent an alumni network. They've never really left.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Calling Northern Ireland Diaspora

Picked up this article at The Emigrant Advice Network blog:

I know from decades of experience in the tech industry in the USA, that without clear vision and bold leadership, many brilliant opportunities are left fallow.


In Northern Ireland it is particularly true; it’s not from lack of talent, ideas or from wanting to succeed. In many cases it is simply because it is not clear how to progress those opportunities and how to see ambition and visual success. In the past six months I've seen some world-class opportunities that “just don't fit” into a standard envelope, requiring cross-functional this, or cross-organisation that, or didn't have the right boxes ticked. Northern Ireland is too small to waste opportunities like this. You know what they say, when one door closes another bangs shut. I’m tired of hearing slamming doors — it’s time to jam them open. ...

... Aggressively reach out to the diaspora. Invite them in. Listen to them. If you are reading this anywhere on the planet and you have a connection (or even feel you have a connection) to Northern Ireland, you are invited. If you are in Northern Ireland and can provide time, resources or expertise then you are invited. It’s no good just cheering (or sneering) from the sidelines anymore.


Go read the story and then imagine Greater Youngstown following his advice.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Youngstown Sustainable Energy

I've written before about the potential of the energy industry in Pittsburgh to boost the regional economy. Greater Youngstown could tap into that cash flow by improving the connectivity infrastructure between itself and Pittsburgh. The upcoming Sustainable Energy Forum is an example of how this bigger geography could work:


Forum combines national perspectives with a regional economic development focus on specific initiatives in the Ohio/Pennsylvania/West Virginia tri-state area.

One of our goals of Greater Youngstown 2.0 is to expand the scope of what counts as Youngstown. The Steel Valley is an obvious landscape. Much less so is the diaspora who left the area in search of economic opportunity. Where these natives currently reside is also part of Greater Youngstown. But its the Cleveburgh Corridor that will drive the redevelopment of Youngstown and set the Mahoning Valley on the path to prosperity.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Youngstown Eats

I'm on vacation, visiting family in South Carolina. I apologize for the sparse posting this week. Just a quick note about the blog Youngstown Eats:

Pittsburgh is one of my favorite cities, and Pittsburgh’s South Side is one of my favorite places to go when visiting Pittsburgh. This is the Carson Street corridor. Many of you are not familiar with Pittsburgh and shy away from its confusing streets. But most of you are familiar with Station Square, which is located at the Smithfield Street Bridge and Carson Street. Just keep driving southeast on Carson Street past Station Square. You don’t have to drive very far to reach this eclectic neighborhood of head shops, funky clothing stores, and old bookstores. It is closed in; it is claustrophobic; and it is old Pittsburgh. It has been resistant to gentrification succeeding in “keeping it real.”

"Northeast Ohio" and "Western Pennsylvania" serve as the foodie geography of Youngstown. So, I'm not the only one who thinks Cleveburgh makes sense.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Shrinking Future: Who Will Move to Youngstown?

Fastforwarding to 2025, Rust Belt population decline is projected to continue. The ranking drop will be steepest in Cleveland and the numbers look dire in Pittsburgh, as well. An aging demographic is a big part of the problem. But the biggest issue is the lack of people moving to shrinking cities:

NCR Corp., a Fortune 500 company, will move its corporate headquarters from Dayton, Ohio, to Duluth, Ga., adding clout to metro Atlanta’s technology reputation. ...

... Relocating to Atlanta — the commercial capital of the Southeast — makes sense for the company.

Four of the cities in Ohio — Youngstown, Canton, Dayton and Cleveland— are among the top 10 dying cities in America, according to an August 2008 report in Forbes.

“They [NCR] can’t recruit talent to move to Dayton, Ohio,” the source said.

It's not just Ohio cities. Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, has trouble shaking the image of industrial wasteland. Companies are following the migration patterns of skilled labor and places like Dayton just aren't on the map.

Unless the Rust Belt can figure out a way to attract workers, the regional economy will continue to erode. In the short term, the best prospects are expatriates. These folks know that there is more to Youngstown than empty homes. But boomerang migration won't be nearly enough, unless the returnees help create jobs and evangelize the opportunities to their contacts.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rust Belt Myths: Youngstown

Perhaps some of you might help this woman out with her question:

Is Youngstown really as bad as it is said to be?

My husband and I are thinking of moving to Ohio because my parents just moved up there due to my dads job which is near Toledo. My husbands grandmother owns a home closer to Youngstown on a lake and has said that we could live there if we wanted/needed to. I have done research and was shocked by the things I have read about Youngstown. Is a place like 20 miles away from the actual city of Youngstown much safer than being in Youngstown? I currently live in SC so even though Youngstown is 2.5 to 3 hours away from Toledo it is better than 14 hours.

I'd suggest that the safest part of the region is downtown, about as close to the actual city as you can get. But a house on a lake sounds rather nice.