Sunday, May 18, 2008

Interurban Economics

Contrast Youngstown with Allentown. The economic histories of the two cities are similar. However, Allentown is now thriving and Youngstown is still struggling to make the postindustrial turn. What's the difference? A Youngstown Vindicator article offers up the proximity rationale:

Youngstown, like Allentown, is close in proximity to major cities. “But unlike Philadelphia and D.C., Cleveland and Pittsburgh are also [depressed] rust belt cities,” [Bill Lawson, the Mahoning Valley Historical Society’s executive director,] says. “They just don’t have the economic power to influence Youngstown.”

I don't entirely agree with Mr. Lawson's assessment, but I understand his point. There isn't enough economic development in either Cleveland or Pittsburgh to spillover into the Mahoning Valley. I think this shortcoming highlights the need for inter-regional cooperation. If Cleveburgh cities could act in concert, instead of competing, then Youngstown could make the economic transition more quickly.

Youngstown State University (YSU) is the keystone to economic connectivity between Cleveland and Pittsburgh:

YSU is constantly looking for ways to offer added value to products made by local manufacturers, he said, pointing to ties with the local aluminum extrusion business, one of the largest in the country, as an example.

The university is also looking to step into the “tech belt” between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, a goal being pushed by U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, Humphries said.

YSU opened its College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics last fall, developing the STEM program as a way to address the future economic well-being of the region, state and nation. School officials said at the time that it was important to align academic programs to address those growing fields.

If the fortunes do indeed flip for the Cleveburgh Corridor, the Allentown lesson teaches us that cities such as Johnstown, Erie, and Buffalo would benefit. And what NYC and Philadelphia are doing for Rust Belt cities in Eastern Pennsylvania, Chicago is not doing for Rust Belt cities in Eastern Ohio. In fact, I suspect that Washington, DC asserts a greater positive influence. I recommend splitting the Great Lakes Union into two mega-regions: Upper Great Lakes and Lower Great Lakes. I believe Cleveburgh could be the center of the Lower Great Lakes Economic Initiative. Chicago is the obvious center for the Upper Great Lakes Economic Initiative. But that's merely my Cleveburgh-centric perspective.


pjkobulnicky said...

Two comments:

The first is that you will see a much greater involvement in the MV from YSU in the near future. Stay tuned.

The second is that the key to the future is to plan for the future ... not for the recent past or the present. This is not the standard argument of Y'town wanting to recreate its past. It is an argument that we have to seriously consider what life will be like in 10-15 years and plan NOW for success in that environment. This is difficult but it is essential.

Paul Kobulnicky
Director, Maag Library

John Morris said...

I think the biggest factor in spillover and synergy is transportation. From what I can tell, cities in Germany's Ruhr Valley play off each other well and the key is transport integration.

Luckily, the geography of the midwest lends itself to easy transport options which are stating to develop with the Milwaukee, Chicago rail link.