Richard Idem Somiari exemplifies the new type of businessman Johnstown can attract.
He looks at the slow-paced town he lives in today and longs for his Nigerian hometown Port Harcourt, where oil refineries spew smoke alongside peddlers hawking wares from headborne baskets.
But then he recalls the $1.8 million in low-interest loans, grants and aid he received from Johnstown to bring his promising ITSI Biosciences company to the city's business district. He thinks of the money he is saving running his enterprise from Pennsylvania's Laurel Highlands rather than from London or New York.
"In Chile and Brazil ... life science businesses are located in three-bedroom flats. Some of them you think they are not companies, they don't have signs. They're churning out millions," Somiari said. "That's the kind of role Johnstown can play.''
In the seven years Somiari has been in Johnstown, he has watched the slow transformation.
Somiari's world view is the perspective required to rebuild the Rust Belt. Johnstown is not competing with DuBois, Erie, Pittsburgh, or Cleveland. The comparative advantage concerns the landscapes of alpha world cities and developing countries such as Brazil or Chile. The Postindustrial Heartland must offer substantially reduced opportunity costs for innovation. Places such as Youngstown can become home to America's informal innovation economy.
One more lesson from Johnstown: The game is to attract human capital, not retain it.
Update: Null Space beat me to the punch.