Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New blogs and a video worth seeing

There are two new blogs on my links list to the right. First is Linkon Avenue, which is run by Dr. Sherry Linkon, an English Professor at Youngstown State and Co-Director of the Center for Working-Class Studies. She now has her own radio program on WYSU titled 'Lincoln Avenue' (pun intended). The blog generally has followup commentary to her radio pieces.

The other new blog is written by Lou Yuhasz and is titled 'Steel Valley Outdoors'. He has posted a great video and commentary on the demolition of a paper mill in Burgess, New Hampshire and the planned future use for the space. The loss of manufacturing and planned use of space is something that should sound familiar to a few of us.

New leaders, new business, and a new way of getting things done.

The Youngstown of 2007 does not resemble the Youngstown of year's past. In the last several years, three decades of complacency and failed action have been countered with sweeping changes which have resulted in Youngstown turning from a rusting dead city into one with future and promise. These changes come as the result of people of action, tired of waiting for someone to make the first move.

In 1977, as the reality of Black Monday set in, just at the time that far-away company presidents and board chairman began spending overseas the profits made in Youngstown, efforts to fix a broken town were stymied, would falter, or just plain fail. Our few working class heroes such as the late Bishop James Malone or Staughton Lynd labored to prevent the closing of the steel mills in the Valley. Their efforts were noteworthy, even valiant, but could not stop the loss of jobs and urban decay that the next thirty years would enough. Unfortunately for Youngstown, their moral authority wasn't near enough.

It is not hard to see that while some of Youngstown's political leaders of the 70's, 80's and 90's were both honest and hardworking, there were those individuals who still saw a struggling community as their playground – their place to bask in the sun and line their pockets. A congressman, judges, attorneys, county sheriffs and others in authority helped keep the Valley in the throes of recession and their shadow still haunts. But that is merely a chapter in the tale of this city and certainly not the end of the story. It is yet to be written.

While Youngstown has a long way to go to overcome the legacy of Black Monday, there are things happening in this Valley that we only dreamed of a few short years ago. We have a resurgent downtown with a new arena, new restaurants and clubs, a thriving technology incubator, new traffic patterns, and a group of professionals ready to take this city into the future. Three of these people have a unique perspective as leaders in the economic and social fight in which the city is engaged. This is the redevelopment of Youngstown through their eyes.

Jay Williams, Standard Bearer
A work in progress. It defines not just this city today, but a way in which to see it's future. The mayor of Youngstown has been at the center of the revolution in Youngstown long before he succeeded George McKelvey as this city's 47th mayor. As the city's director of economic development, he laid the groundwork for the Youngstown 2010 plan and continued that leadership as mayor.

And that plan doesn't end in 2010. Williams sees the Youngstown 2010 plan merely as a stepping stone into the future and something the city needs to continue to evolve. He only half jokes when he says that city leaders have done such a good job marketing Youngstown 2010 that pushing Youngstown 2020 is that much more difficult.

Regardless in the name of the plan the success of Youngstown, Williams said, is the transformation of attitudes within the city residents, especially the younger generations, who have lost the wait-and-see mentality to become a people of action.

"There has been a change in focus towards where the younger generation has been looking." With younger leaders such as Williams, state senator John Boccieri, and others now in office, this generation has a larger voice to get their message across.

To the naysayers, who don't see the progress in a redeveloping Youngstown, Williams argues, "look at any other area across the country and see how the condition of that central city has around the surrounding area." Youngstown as the core city and surrounding area, rise and fall together.

Allen Hunter, Innovation Ecologist
When it comes down to it, YSU chemistry professor Allen Hunter believes economic development in Youngstown is about the people.

“We’ve got a great framework, but we need to get more people at the ground level interacting,” says Hunter. That’s exactly what he tries to do while working with local business leaders to create the ideas of today that become tomorrow’s business models.

Hunter has been actively involved in projects throughout Youngstown emphasizing workforce development and expanding grant opportunities to local business in an attempt, he states, to expand Youngstown ‘innovation ecology.’

Innovation ecology, a term Hunter coined, is individuals and companies bringing their experiences and innovations together to create a sustainable marketplace. Hunter believes that is a realistic goal but is a point that Youngstown has not yet reached.

Hunter took his experience writing grants in the science field and, with the help of several colleagues, developed CEATIS Consulting, which has proven to be a successful tool in tapping into the state and federal funds which otherwise were not reaching the Mahoning Valley. This money allows for further research and development, provides workforce training, and funds other human services within the area.

Hunter’s goal is to just make the Youngstown area a better place to live, something he echoes each time he speaks on economic development by challenging his audience to ask themselves, “What have you done this week to make this better?"

Sarah Lown, Bridge Builder
Revitalizing the land which yesterday was a steel mill and is today a brownfield is just one of the many tasks which lay before Sarah Lown.

Lown, as the Director of Economic Development for Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, is responsible for facilitating the process by which area leaders can plan for transportation, economic development or environmental improvements.

Within Eastgate, Lown’s goal is to identify projects that would successfully be funded through the U.S. Economic Development Administration (US EDA). One of her most recent projects is the construction of the Walton Avenue Bridge in 2005. That project gave access to 800 acres of brownfields in Youngstown, Campbell and Struthers to enable new development to occur.

For the past several years, Lown has concentrated her efforts on revitalizing former industrial areas --brownfields-- along the Mahoning River corridor, which is the heart and soul of the Valley. She is also the current president of the Mahoning River Consortium, which is working to clean up the River and the land along its banks.

Lown grew up in New England and moved to Youngstown 15 years ago. Two things helped revitalize the New England town she grew up in.

“What I saw work was two things: artists, who saw the beauty of the New England landscape and its low cost historic homes, and industrial consortia to attract economic growth. Revitalization has to take place on many fronts like that in order to be sustainable and attractive to new investment.”

And what should the next step be for Youngstown? Lown believes there needs to be a continued effort to clean up the corridors going in and out of town which removes a tremendous psychological barrier to new investment. Further, and perhaps more importantly, a renewed emphasis on regionalism, more closely tying Youngstown, its suburbs and the surrounding areas together, perhaps in order to create the innovation ecology for which we should be striving.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Black Monday Events... time to remember

The Steel Museum will play host to an event to mark the 30th anniversary of Black Monday.

What: Remembering Black Monday 1977-2007
When: 7:00 p.m., Wednesday, September 19
Where: Youngstown Historical Center, also known as the Steel Museum, 151 W. Wood St.

According to the Vindicator, some of those who were directly involved with the closings and the efforts to save the mills will share their thoughts about what happened and why it matters.
The event is part of the 2007-08 Center for Working-Class Studies Lecture Series sponsored by the Mahoning Valley Historical Society Young Leaders' Advisory Board, YSU Center for Applied History and the Office of Social Action at the Diocese of Youngstown.

Monday, September 17, 2007


The meeting planned for the today to discuss the West Federal Street tree project has been postponed.

Who: YOU!
What: Yougstown City Council's buildings and grounds committee meeting
When: 5:30 p.m., Friday, September 21
Where: City Council Chambers, 6th Floor, 26 S. Phelps Street.
Why: Because we can't let those hooligans cut down our trees

Tyler, you get a second chance to attend this meeting after all.
And don't forget to use Virgin Mobile. Happy Arbor Day!


A few random things for the day. First, where did disappear to?

Second, on this date 25 years ago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted $2.8 million for refurbishing the Kimmel Brook Homes in Youngstown and Sheriff James A. Traficant Jr. met with famed Boston defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey to discuss the possibility of Bailey representing Traficant in his bribery trial.

The city has come a long way in 25 years. Kimmel Brook has been demolished with the new Rockford Village built in its place. Traficant is in jail and Bailey was disbarred in 2001. Of course, we all know Jimbo went on to defend himself without counsel and actually beat that particular rap (not so in 2002). This all comes from the Vindicator's "On this Day" column. There are some great historical tidbits in there.

Additional reading:
Will today's boomtown eventually go bust? - Campbell, Ohio, offers example of how fast trouble can strike (Atlanta Journal-Constitution 9/16/07)
Emerging from Black Monday (Tribune-Chronicle 9/17/07)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The real excuse

Even after I said a few weeks ago that I was going to regularly post, I only threw out two posts in the last two weeks. Well, I figured I should explain myself. Previously, I used the excuse that I wanted a two week vacation from the blog. Well, yes, but it was more deliberate than that. I just plain didn't want to look at this thing. I can't explain why, but I couldn't bring myself to open It's the same feeling one gets when you know your checking account is in the red and if you don't check your balance online it means you are okay (which isn't something I can speak directly to).

The last mini vacation is directly attributable to the fact that I am (well, actually, until the paperwork catches up, will be) a ProBoard-certified Firefighter I/II. After a 240 hour class on firefighting related topics and now a 40 hour course in hazardous materials, I can now run inside a burning building while the smartest people in the room are running out. It has become my life's passion and so with class four days a week while still spending 45 hours a week driving my desk for a living, I just haven't had the time to keep this thing up to date.

That all changed last week when an exciting opportunity presented itself. I can't share just yet, but there is more to come. Stay tuned.

Poorest city, schools, future, etc.

I like to report the good news about Youngstown, and why wouldn't I, but this one can't and shouldn't be avoided. Well, here it is... gulp... Youngstown is the poorest mid-size city in America. It is a real surprise that we are on this list? Not exactly. No one in Youngstown is flush in cash and there are enough dilapidated properties that we wouldn't be fooling anyone if we said we were a rich town, but it is sad to be at the top of this list. With a median income of just $21,850, it makes you realize that about 50% of the city lives on less than that per year. Even in Youngstown, with a wonderful cost of living, that isn't enough to support a family.

I first caught wind of this while reading the online edition of The Jambar, which does a fairly good job of covering not just YSU news but city news as well. While reading, something struck me. We (meaning the bloggers and the mainstream news) do an excellent job of tauting the wonderful progress made in the city and how a lot of that has to do with new local businesses such as M7 and Turning Technologies. Even with those successes, where is our bottom line? It's still at $21,850. And why? Because while we are providing new high tech jobs, how many of those jobs will employ the average city resident, who lacks the education and training to compete? I mention this because The Jambar piece mentioned the restructuring and revitalization of Youngstown City Schools as something which provides a glimmer of hope for Youngstown; something to push us down the Poorest City list and up the Progressive City list.

I hope that may very well be the case. In 2007, you can't do much without education, and we need to look in our own backyards and educate our city residents, starting with those kids at Harding, Taft, Paul C. Bunn and the others, before this city can claim any success in its efforts to revitalize itself.

In other news:

BTW: I stopped using the "redevelopment" tag on articles. Almost every article was getting that tag and since that is one of the major focuses of this blog, it seemed silly to tag articles that way.

P.S. (Blog Post +4): Four hours later I am realizing this is one of the most rambling posts I have written. That's what I get for a little stream of consciousness writing. Also, I ran across this link to the Mahoning and Columbiana Training Association's website. This is the sort of stuff which gets at what I was trying to say.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Demolishing Our Way Toward Tomorrow

I found another article on our shrinking city worth reading. MuniNetGuide describes Youngstown as a mini-metropolis, but it includes a magnificant history of where we are and how we got there, going back to the steel era lost 30 years ago.

“Maybe Bruce Springsteen will have to write some new lyrics to his song.”