Wednesday, December 30, 2009

ITC Steel Pipe Ruling

Breaking good news for Greater Youngstown:

The Commerce Department is likely to issue an order Jan. 14 for U.S. Customs offices to collect duties that would counteract the subsidies, [International Trade Commission spokesman John Greer] said.

Seven U.S. producers of steel piping that is used in oil and natural gas wells, along with the Downtown-based United Steelworkers union, filed a trade complaint in April, claiming the subsidized Chinese products have hurt the industry and resulted in the loss of about 2,400 steelworker jobs.

The Business Journal has some additional information you can find here. Again, I'll point out that this steel product is important to the booming natural gas industry centered in Pennsylvania and New York. The close proximity to the Marcellus Shale Play is likely a key factor in V&M Star's decision about where to expand operations. I would speculate that the imposed duty makes the investment more likely, but doesn't necessarily privilege the Youngstown location.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Youngstown in Buffalo

As a blogger, I often stumble upon curious and unexpected facts. Youngstown is a part of the Buffalo (New York) region. I'm not referring to the great steel city on the Mahoning River. I gather Youngstown is a suburb of Buffalo. When I'm searching for stories about the Youngstown in Ohio, every so often the place in New York pops up.

Yesterday's blog post afforded a similar serendipity. Youngstown Pride chimes in with an anecdote about immigrants improving a Buffalo neighborhood. Then, Defend Youngstown offers up PUSH Buffalo as a relevant neighborhood redevelopment model.

The very act of creating the blog post you are reading now yields the following find:

As a snow plow trudged its way over Delaware Park — designed from 1868 to 1874 by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the vision behind Central Park — Mr. Akauola, 53, warmed up in his black Ford Escape. He had walked only two laps — about 3.6 miles — in the park. “Normally, I go three to four rounds, but today it’s hard on your feet,” he explained. “You don’t want to mess up your ankles.”

A native of Tonga, Mr. Akauola, who works in construction, estimated that he is one of a very tiny number of people from the South Pacific living in western New York. (The two climates, of course, could not be more different.)

Mr. Akauola lived in Hawaii, where his two sons and daughter were born, from 1980 to 1985. His wife’s sister, who lived in the Buffalo area, suggested that the family settle here.

“When our first son was born, she gave us the idea,” Mr. Akauola recalled. “Buffalo was an affordable place to put your kids in school.” The three children are grown now. The younger son, who graduated from Rutgers University, lives in New Jersey; the daughter, an alumna of Arizona State University, works for an oil company in Houston.

This unexpected migration to Buffalo could just as easily occur in Youngstown. Missing are the folks who might encourage it. Why not Youngstown?

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.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Spotlight on Warren

All the natives won't move back to the Mahoning Valley, but there is more value in the expatriate community than just numbers. Those who leave have an easier time seeing a bigger region. Where you went to high school is still important, but not to someone born and raised in California. From far away, the fate of Youngstown and Warren are obviously intertwined.

The rapidly evolving story of the Warren advance-energy incubator should interest everyone in the entire TechBelt. Enter Rebecca Bagley, the CEO of NorTech (Cleveland):

Bagley, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-17 Ohio, state Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-32 Hubbard, state Rep. Tom Letson, D-64 Warren, and Mayor Michael O’Brien, outlined their vision Monday of what such an incubator might achieve in the fields of “advanced energy and flexible materials.”

Long on optimism and short on specifics, the four expressed hope the incubator will rejuvenate manufacturing in Mahoning Valley through infant enterprises that one day produce parts for windmills, geothermal, solar and nuclear energy plants and sources of energy other than petroleum, coal and natural gas.

You can find out more about Bagley's vision for Northeast Ohio here. You can also read more about NorTech's plans here. The effort dovetails nicely with the big energy sector push going on right now in Pittsburgh.

Warren could play a key role in the growth of this industry. That's good news for Youngstown and the entire Mahoning Valley. The bad news is the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania. NorTech covers Northeast Ohio, not the entire TechBelt. How Cleveland and Pittsburgh can work together is still a mystery.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Global Green Youngstown

The greening of the Rust Belt is a big part of the vision for this megaregion's future. The primary reorientation is turning to face all the lakes, rivers and streams that used to serve as a dump for all the industrial waste. Green manufacturing is supposed to help along this transition:

Thursday in Copenhagen, U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan announced what he's calling a ''transformational partnership'' between Youngstown and a national environmental group to foster green job creation and development in the rust belt city.

California-based Global Green USA will help speed along planning efforts in the city by building on the Youngstown 2010 plan and putting into place citywide and neighborhood specific greening plans.

The move, Ryan said, could position Youngstown to be a model green city for other Midwestern communities by, simultaneously, reducing its carbon footprint and by doing so, becoming an economic engine in the growing green industry.

''We are leading the green revolution,'' Ryan, D-Niles, said. ''This innovative collaboration will help to elevate Youngstown, northeastern Ohio and the Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh tech belt - opening us up for global investment in cutting edge green energy technology and sustainable development in our district.''

Not to diminish the gratuitous TechBelt reference, the Global Green USA partnership imagines a green city that serves as a redevelopment model. Youngstown is to be a test tube for sustainable urban design. Helping to fund this initiative is a member of the Youngstown Diaspora:

Jack Scott, a former Youngstown resident who runs a technology company in the Salt Lake City area, and the Raymond John Wean Foundation each contributed $25,000 to this program.


Abraham credited YSU alumnus Jack Scott with being the driving force behind the conference.

Scott earned a degree in mechanical engineering and worked his way up to become president and chief operating officer of Parsons Corp., a California-based engineering and construction company that has $3.4 billion in annual revenues.

Scott said he has a passion for sustainable energy, but he wanted to hold the conference in Youngstown because of his love for the Mahoning Valley and its people.

“One of the greatest assets of this area is the work ethic,” he said. “We hire people from all over the world. You can always tell people who were hired from this area.”

Scott said the forum has to produce action to be a success. The goal is to link researchers with innovative ideas to people who can bring those ideas to market, he said.

Discussions are to be held today on how to continue the collaborations, he said. Also, he and other organizers will meet Wednesday to review the effort and talk about the future.

The issue of sustainable energy is critical for the nation, Scott said. The nation needs to rebuild its manufacturing base to remain an economic power, and a new opportunity is to produce parts for wind turbines, solar panels and other new forms of energy, he said.

The nation should not rely on other countries for these forms of power as it has done with oil, he said. The U.S. sends nearly $1 trillion a year to Saudi Arabia and other oil-exporting countries.

“It’s the single biggest transfer of wealth in the history of the world,” he said.

Scott is an archetype for the region's diaspora economy. One needn't reside in the area to benefit the Mahoning Valley. Scott's success and expansive network are assets for his hometown.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Blog Release: Round Two of EfficientGovNow to Offer $330,000 in Grant Awards to Government Collaboration Projects in Northeast Ohio

The Fund for Our Economic Future, a collaboration of philanthropic entities working to strengthen the region's economic competitiveness, introduced EfficientGovNow earlier this year to encourage greater government collaborations and engage the public to advocate for change.

EfficientGovNow is a competitive grant awards program that encourages and accelerates government collaboration and efficiency by providing rounds of funding to government collaboration projects as selected by YOU, the residents of Northeast Ohio.

The first round of the program, held in early to mid 2009, attracted more than 255 local governmental entities to submit ideas for collaborative projects. Collectively, the projects estimated one-time savings of nearly $40 million and anticipated annual savings of more than $22 million – dollars that can be used to grow and/or attract businesses, provide more education and training, or spent in other ways that grow the economy.

Equally exciting, you, along with nearly 13,500 other Northeast Ohioans, voted in support of the ideas. You participated in a way that motivated government officials to continue to seek ways to collaborate and become more efficient.

That is why, earlier this month, the Fund announced a second round of EfficientGovNow – this time offering $330,000 in grant awards.

RIGHT NOW is your chance to help get this round started. Check out 10 easy ways Northeast Ohioans can spur the second round of EfficientGovNow. Getting engaged is as easy as e-mailing a government official, following EfficientGovNow on Twitter or Facebook, or forwarding EfficientGovNow news coverage to a friend.

Your voice is essential to this effort. Help spur greater government collaboration -- help advance the economic revitalization of Northeast Ohio.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ragnarök Youngstown

Once again, Mahoning Valley misery is national news. You've seen the images a thousand times. If not in Youngstown or Warren, then in Detroit. The new round of photos don't look so fresh. They haven't for 30 years:

In this corner of northeast Ohio, from Warren to Youngstown, where the old steel mills along the Mahoning River stand like rusted-out mastodons in the weeds, the recession was a final cruelty piled on top of three decades of disappearing jobs. ...
... The road from Warren and Youngstown is a graveyard of silent machines behind chain-link fences. Near the Pennsylvania border, this 25-mile stretch along the Mahoning River was the world's fifth-largest producer of steel until the late 1970s, when more than 50,000 jobs vanished in a decade. The General Motors plant in Lordstown, which employed 14,000 in the 1970s, is down to about 2,500 workers.

Every time globalization goes into one of its funks, some journalist is grasping for the final nail in this region's coffin. The angle is the same, as are the images. It is cliché, the latest downturn providing another excuse to dredge the Mahoning River for the body of Industrial America.

The real story, if you can pry your eyes away from the urban blight, are the changes. The "final erasure" is the burial of the glory days, a blank slate. However, a writer can't look at the current pain without relating what happened in the late 1970s. This isn't the flaking gild of the Golden State or dramatic collapse of Motor City. Thus, everyone overlooks the transformation in order to provide another glimpse of a crumbling steel mill. It's supposed to be a sign of the times.

These aren't the last days of disco.

Rust Belt Porn

I figure most people are familiar the pejorative usage of the term "Rust Belt". The image is one of deep economic malaise and over-dependence on anachronistic industry. These shrinking and decaying cities are stuck in a permanent recession. The stubborn stereotype:

Pittsburgh was devastated by the collapse of the domestic steel industry, but reinvented itself through education and medicine, and has done relatively well in recent years. Local unemployment is now at only 7.7 percent, well below the national average. However, there are limits to Pittsburgh’s recovery, and the city’s many college graduates often move away in search of work.

The current Pittsburgh renaissance deserves an asterisk, but not for the reasons stated. When anyone thinks of a Rust Belt city they include population decline. That's still the Pittsburgh bugaboo, the dreaded brain drain. This is the most persistent element of Rust Belt mythology. It's also the most erroneous.


In late 2008, Youngstown was deemed by Forbes to be one of America's fastest-dying cities.

"It's not shocking," said Albert Sumell, assistant professor of economics at Youngstown State University. "Obviously, we haven't had good news in a while."

But, he says, the city is showing signs of life. While Youngstown is shrinking in size, it's embracing its smaller future, not just simply expecting it to come back. The city has set up a business incubator that is trying to encourage tech-oriented companies to get started there, and its downtown region is undergoing enough of a renaissance that The Economist magazine recently said it may have turned a corner.

"I think in some ways, our history is worse than our future," Sumell said. "I honestly believe our reputation, nationally, is worse than our potential."

Youngstown does have one Russell 2000 company in its metro area, Stoneridge Inc. (SRI 8.05, -0.10, -1.23%) , a maker of electrical components for cars, in suburban Warren.

But for now, the city is at least in the bottom third in all metrics, the bottom fourth in nine of 10 metrics and the bottom 10% of three. Its growth and job numbers are low, and the city struggled mightily to retain jobs during the past year; it was sixth worst in that metric.

The problem is in the methodology:

We also checked population growth since 2000 and measure job growth against population growth from the beginning of the decade to July 2008, the latest population data available.

In and of itself, population growth isn't a useful way of measuring health. A shrinking city such as Pittsburgh is still being punished for an exodus that happened 25 years ago. That out-migration still defines the city. Youngstown is similarly defined more by its past than the current state of affairs. The legacy costs are staggering. The ranking analysis also suggests the city is a victim of its own geography. The agglomeration economies of larger cities provide them with a comparative advantage.

Many of the metrics used strike me as outdated, a relic of the industrial economy. The booming population of Nigeria doesn't make it an economic power. Despite the loss of people, Pittsburgh is ranked 23rd on the list. So the supposed brain drain becomes the scar on an otherwise glowing review. A Rust Belt city can only go so far, so fast. But that is only a problem if the residents believe it to be true.

Youngstown, believe in Dream City. The measures you see above capture the past, not the future. Take it from someone who still hears the tired refrain, "At least we're not in Pittsburgh."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Myths of Brain Drain

As a Rust Belt refugee, I obsess brain drain policy. This preoccupation has developed into a successful blogging niche. I've been studying this issue for about 3.5 years and I continue to notice a steady flow of false information about a perceived brain drain problem.


The other two sectors to enjoy significant growth have been education and health. Yet these fields do not seem to generate the broad-based economic growth needed to boost the overall economy. The region most often favorably linked with the "eds and meds" economy, Pittsburgh, has produced only modest, below-average job growth over the past generation. In fact, Pittsburgh has looked successful largely because the region has continued to hemorrhage its population to other regions, and it attracts few foreign immigrants.

To be frank, the above assessment is bogus. The analysis barely scratches the surface of the demographic story. Pittsburgh did "hemorrhage its population to other regions" back in the early 1980s. But the overall population decline over (at least) the last decade is a result of an aging population dying off and an anemic replacement rate (that does connect to the lack of immigration). Joel Kotkin's claim is wrong and he should know better. I gather he hasn't digested the articles I have written for his website.

Kotkin is in good company. Jumping to brain drain conclusions is the rule, not the exception. Few seem interested in drilling down into the numbers to get a better idea of what is going on in the region. A recent study of rural brain drain is an excellent example. Minnesota Public Radio recently tackled the issue and unearthed some surprising results:

Given this refreshed view of changing demographics, rural America needs to rethink its description of gains and losses. If rural America is losing high-school educated youth (the brain drain) and replacing them with those that at least have a bachelors, isn’t this a Brain Gain?

Indeed, this is brain gain. But Kotkin and others are too busy trying to shoehorn their preferred narrative to notice. The result is misguided policy and government waste, which is ironic given the dominant perspective of many brain drain fear mongers. The rush to judgment only serves surreptitious ends. Brain drain talk is a popular political football. Beware when politicians and pundits invoke the term.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Expatriates in the News

Occasionally, I see a story about someone successful who used to reside in the Greater Youngstown region. In Scranton:

As a senior executive for the Boy Scouts, Mr. LaPolla raises money, organizes new troops and packs, recruits volunteers and scouts. He has worked for the local council for six years, and worked for five years before that for Boy Scout councils in Colorado and Ohio.

"This is my last stop. My wife told me she'd divorce me if we had to move," he joked. "This area to me is thriving ... I'm not leaving here, I love it here and I want to make a difference."

A native of the Youngstown, Ohio, area, he and his wife, Jacqueline, moved to Scranton six years ago and are expecting their first child in February.

"I want to get more involved in politics in the state, with what's going on," he said. "Now that I'm established here in this area, and I'm expecting my first child, I want to make sure our state is on stable financial ground for my child and everyone else's child and their future children as well. Right now, I don't think our state's on that right path. I want to get involved and try to do my best to correct that."

Mr. LaPolla would fit our migration model in terms of ending up in another Rust Belt city. He also has made at least two moves since leaving Youngstown, which makes tracking the Diaspora difficult. I'd bet his first move was to another city in Ohio.

I also wonder if his wife is from the Scranton area. Couples starting a family often boomerang back to the expectant mother's hometown to be near her family. In other words, the trailing spouse is usually male. The better policy approach is to network female talent.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Mahoning River Salmon

On Wednesday, I mentioned the recent NEOtropolis episode about regionalism in Northeast Ohio. I managed to carve out some time to watch the show that night. Towards the end, the panelists briefly discussed "salmon".

Salmon are the people who left the area only to return, among other reasons, for spawning. I gather that the policy wonks are familiar with the boomerang migration trend, going so far as to highlight this demographic as prospective entrepreneurial talent. However, I think the idea was to lure back expatriates who are established entrepreneurs.

The words of the panelists encouraged me. There would seem to be some interest in the boomerang migrant incubator project. I'll remind you of the singular motivation of salmon to travel back to the place of their birth. Channel that energy towards economic redevelopment.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tim Ryan Hits Home Run

I've anguished over the location of the proposed green energy incubator. In my view, downtown Warren is the ideal place. This would mimic the economic geography of the Youngstown Business Incubator and serve as an anchor for the urban core. Another example is the Greensburg Business Incubator:

Gary Smith, who works in the Kansas office of the USDA, helped plan the Greensburg Business Incubator. Smith says the first step for planners is to ask, "What does the community have that they want to build upon?" In the case of Greensburg, it was the community's shared vision of rebuilding after its disastrous tornado. A traditional business incubator serving as a downtown anchor fit that vision. Additionally, the city was eligible for disaster funding to finance the incubator.

I like downtown Warren, but so much more could be done to revitalize it. A strong city center can do wonders for the entire region. Consider Wooster:

Invest in downtown. Town centers are the communal heart. Too many Midwestern towns let their main streets go to seed. More than anything, this reveals a community that just doesn't care anymore. Who wants to invest in a town with a slum at the center? Columbus, Pella and Wooster look like the good places they are. Wausau may have economic problems, but you'd never know it from its beautifully rehabbed downtown.


The officials said they want to bring the kind of benefits downtown Youngstown has enjoyed from the Youngstown State University’s proximity to the central business district. Ryan said the campus would tie in with the “green” energy incubator being developed in downtown Warren.

“This is the catalyst,” he remarked. In the future, this will be the day that people point to when they ask when did Warren change, he said.

The campus would be located somewhere on Courthouse Square, Ryan said.

That kind of vision is a game-changer and positively plugs Warren into globalization. The ideal location of an institution of higher education is downtown. Innovation thrives in dense areas of face-to-face interaction. Pack it all in as tightly as you can. Let the proposed community college campus house the incubator, introducing students to green entrepreneurial opportunity.

Downtown Warren is now positioned for a jump start. Kudos to Ryan and Governor Ted Strickland for realizing downtown's potential.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Greater Youngstown Includes Cleveland and Pittsburgh

Via the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission blog, NEOtropolis tackles regionalism for Northeast Ohio. That issue finds an echo in the latest edition of PopCity (Pittsburgh):

We can still diss the Browns and cheer for the Steelers, but Pittsburgh and Cleveland simply must work together on economic development and that's what the Tech Belt Initiative is all about. Replicating the Research Triangle in North Carolina and Silicon Valley, Congressmen Jason Altmire (PA-04) and Tim Ryan (OH-17) established the Tech Belt Initiative and its 134 miles of economic opportunity between Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Over the past several years, the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, BioEnterprise in Cleveland and a host of other organizations have repeatedly joined forces to draw more venture capitalists to our area and to facilitate collaborations between research firms in both states.

The Tech Belt covers 7.2 million people, making it the 4th largest industrial/technology region nationally, with a potential economic impact of more than $1 billion in annual academic R&D. Currently, 700+ companies employ over 25,000+ in bioscience enterprises alone.

Who were the key drivers? Top of the list is John Mancini, President of the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse along with various foundations and organizations include the McCune Foundation, the Raymond John Wean Foundation, Allegheny Conference and the Pittsburgh Technology Council.

I recently heard a rumble that the TechBelt Initiative is soon to take wing. To what end? That's a good question that Aaron Renn has tackled:

I’m willing to be convinced. I clearly see the benefits of regional cooperation on a metro or economic area basis. Even there, however, we’ve seen significant challenges operationalizing even that idea. To really justify significant time and effort being spent on mega-regionalism beyond the quick and easy idea exchange variety, I think a specific program of recommended actions and the type of results we should expect to see from them needs to be put forward. Otherwise I’m inclined to view mega-regionalism in the Midwest as dinosaurs mating. Rolling up a bunch of weak players won’t make a strong one.

As you might note, Aaron is looking at mega-regionalism. I think his critique applies equally well at a smaller scale such as the TechBelt. I don't agree with the "dinosaurs mating" simile. The issue is competing for a slice of a shrinking economic pie. When Cleveland sees Pittsburgh as a competitor, both cities lose:

To distinguish its red-carpet tours, Team NEO crafts attention-grabbing invitations. For the tour during the Rock Hall's induction weekend, invitees received small guitar cases with invitations tucked inside.

"We are competing for these jobs against Indianapolis, Detroit, Pittsburgh," said Team NEO's Carin Rockind, vice president of marketing and communications. "We have to break through."

The parochial barriers to cooperations are significant. The biggest loser in this pride tug-of-war is Youngstown. If Cleveland is fighting with Pittsburgh for "these jobs", then those positions are more likely to end up outside of the TechBelt. Whether they end up in Cleveland or Pittsburgh is of little consequence to Youngstown. That's why it makes sense that the TechBelt is Tim Ryan's baby.

Even the Mahoning Valley has a long way to go concerning regional thinking. Need I remind you of Girard v. Youngstown? The turf war didn't benefit either city. That is what is at stake with the TechBelt Initiative.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Geographic Arbitrage Revisted

The Business Journal Daily relates a story about Youngstown being a good place to get the best bang for your buck. Unfortunately, cost of living advantages have had little influence on talent migration. On the contrary, people continue to cram into global cities with little regard for price. (Via TechBurgher) That trend may be changing:

A lot of our uncertainty revolves around money, and our realization that we can't afford to buy a home here. That fact, rightly or wrongly, has become a touchstone for other uncertainties -- about finding a neighborhood we can stay in for the long term; about having good school options for our two-year-old daughter; about making enough money to afford the high cost of living without giving all of our waking hours over to work.

As in many distressed relationships, there's a third-party involved. In this case it's the seductive call of some smaller, more livable city.

I'd note that the article looks at a particular adult life stage demographic, when career opportunities begin to play second fiddle to other concerns (e.g. quality of school district). The typical migration is to the wealthy suburbs of Big City. But the place swap described is a downgrade in the global urban hierarchy. I think this aptly describes the ideal boomerang migrant that would return to Youngstown.

Regarding the coveted young and educated adult demographic, I wrote a post recently about it. The quote of note is from a Christian Science Monitor article:

Demographics will drive change, too. Cities that have expensive housing may find themselves at a disadvantage in attracting young people. “We’re going to be facing what I call the third civil war – it’s going to be a war between cities and metro areas over where young people will settle, because we’re going to have to fill a lot of jobs,” says Barry Bluestone, an economist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Many of these young workers will be going to places where they sense a think-outside-the-box culture. “It’s hard to be a dynamic economy if you’re a culture that does not tolerate risk,” says Susannah Malarkey, who heads a trade group, the Technology Alliance, in Seattle.

Everyone knows that Youngstown is an inexpensive place to live. What few people realize is the risk-taking culture that has taken root downtown. I don't think this would appeal to graduates fresh out of college, but it could attract young talent looking to accelerate a career after cutting their teeth in Big City.

Again, the migration trends overwhelmingly favor attraction strategies. Trying to keep graduates in town or in state is foolish. The research continues to support this critique. The game is to understand how relocation strategies are changing and then position your region to take advantage of them. Building a wall around Ohio is not the answer.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Promoting Rust Belt Chic

Phil Kidd and Defend Youngstown receive a nice plug in a recent post over at Rust Wire. The personality and hospitality of the Mahoning Valley vanguard is one of the area's greatest draws. Daniel Denvir makes a reference to another regional asset:

The news format of these articles did not allow me space to describe a lot of what I liked so much about these cities. My time in Cleveland was too short, so I can’t say I really got to know it. But my visits to Detroit and Youngstown sparked some real affection for these struggling locales–along with their bars and delis. In Youngstown, this was all due to the unparalleled hospitality offered by Defend Youngstown impresario and Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative organizer Phil Kidd–really enough reason in and of itself for my sure to be soon return visit. And the next time I do this trip, I’ll have to do a series on Rust Belt bars. Because on a personal note, they were amazing. And microbrews like Youngstown’s Rust Belt Brewing Company certainly qualify as a creative and delicious alternative.

The emphasis added is my doing. There is an curious tension within the group that seeks to revitalize America's industrial heartland. Some see the term "Rust Belt" as a pejorative and reinforcing negative stereotypes holding back so many shrinking cities. On the other side are those who celebrate the same world Anthony Bourdain explored in Baltimore, Detroit, and Buffalo for his show "No Reservations":

I think that troubled cities often tragically misinterpret what's coolest about themselves. They scramble for cure-alls, something that will "attract business", always one convention center, one pedestrian mall or restaurant district away from revival. They miss their biggest, best and probably most marketable asset: their unique and slightly off-center character. Few people go to New Orleans because it's a "normal" city -- or a "perfect" or "safe" one. They go because it's crazy, borderline dysfunctional, permissive, shabby, alcoholic and bat shit crazy -- and because it looks like nowhere else. Cleveland is one of my favorite cities. I don't arrive there with a smile on my face every time because of the Cleveland Philarmonic.

Bourdain's post is the best description of Rust Belt Chic I've encountered and aptly characterizes Denvir's fascination with Rust Belt bars. It's about an authenticity of place taken out of context by a younger generation with little to no connection to the world that produced the social environment.

In Youngstown, Rust Belt Chic exists in the relics of the steel industry. It is in the ethnic food from countries that no longer send immigrants to the area. It's captured in ruin porn or on display during a local high school or college football game. Most importantly, Rust Belt Chic is a brand that can attract Generation Y talent.

Like Bourdain, I'm perplexed as to why no place has cashed in on this marketing opportunity. Instead, we obsess the negative publicity misrepresenting our city or chase the title of the next Silicon Valley. Where else can you buy a Daniel Burnham designed building for under $150,000? Is there a better place to headquarter an initiative to revitalize America's great industrial cities?This is a tremendous opportunity, not an indicator of how far Youngstown has fallen. Of course, that depends on how you feel about the term "Rust Belt".

Friday, December 4, 2009

Mahoning Valley Diaspora Economy

GlobalErie has a motto, Putting Erie's Brain Drain to Use. What does it mean? I interpret those words as a way for a region to benefit from the talent that has left to explore opportunity elsewhere. Today's news from the Mahoning Valley provides an excellent example of the practice:

As he stood among business and civic leaders on a cold Thursday afternoon in his hometown, Warren native Mark D. Marvin discovered one essential he will need to do business here -- a coat.

“I live in New Mexico and it’s typically sunny there,” he said at an outdoor media event to announce that his company, Reinforcement Solutions Inc., would build a new manufacturing plant on West Market Street. Marvin, a 1983 graduate of Warren Harding High School, is president of The Marvin Group Inc. and owns Reinforcement Solutions.

The company, now based in Allentown, Pa., makes resistance-welded wire reinforcement, which is used to reinforce concrete structures, said William C. Gallenz, Reinforcement Solutions president. “Anything from highways, tunnels, high rises -- any concrete structure you see” could potentially use the company’s product, he said.

“We did a lot of research and kept coming back to this area and saying, ‘Why not?’” he affirmed. “We know there’s good labor here,” which was another “big factor,” he added.

New Mexico is a long way from Warren, Ohio. As our research shows, rare is the individual who moves so far from home. As other research demonstrates, she or he who moves so far from home tends to make an excellent entrepreneur. Finding and networking these talented expatriates for economic development in the Mahoning Valley is the mission of Greater Youngstown 2.0.

I have no doubt that the native connection was instrumental in making this deal happen. There are a bunch more deals like it if the region is willing to connect with its Diaspora. Put Youngtown's brain drain to use.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Brain Drain Policies

Given the high rates of unemployment across the nation, now would seem to be a strange time to worry about brain drain. But that's exactly what California is doing. The alarm isn't about what most would expect. The issue is a looming talent shortage. There won't be enough qualified people to fill all the expected job openings and businesses are willing to move wherever they can to find an ample labor pool.

I don't think Ohio's leadership is making the problem clear enough for residents. I'm sure the latest proposed policy to plug this state's brain drain won't work:

Ohio college graduates who stay in the state would be eligible for 10 years of income-tax breaks under legislation introduced in the Ohio Senate.

Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, offered Senate Bill 198 with hopes of keeping more science, technology, engineering and math degree holders in Ohio, to whom the incentive would be directed.

“We all know that brain drain is a major problem facing our state today,” Schiavoni told members of the Senate’s ways and means committee. “I’ve seen it firsthand as many of my friends, neighbors and former classmates decided to pursue careers in other states. Some of our best and brightest leave Ohio and never come back.”

I won't bore you with my usual sermon about the folly of trying to keep graduates from leaving. The idea is to provide incentive to stay. Look at the legislation from a cost-benefit angle. All the qualifying students who would have stayed regardless of the tax break will cash in on the opportunity. The numbers of those who stick around often surprise the casual observer. Typically, more stay than go and state is proposing to pay all those people in hopes of getting more to seek employment in Ohio.

The proposed policy amounts to nothing more than a tax cut for a fiscally strapped Ohio. It won't generate or attract new business and jobs. And graduates will continue to leave the state at roughly the same rate. In fact, the exodus might get worse before it improves.