Friday, September 05, 2008


By way of contrast to my pessimistic reaction to Ohio's myopic approach to economic development, I offer Youngstown and its steady stream of policy innovations:

Mahoning Valley native Gary Wakeford was offered the presidency of a start-up medical equipment company and he agreed to take the job — but only if the company headquarters moved to Youngstown.

It took only a month to sell Norwich Ventures of Massachusetts on the idea, Wakeford said.

The Youngstown State University alumnus said he refused to leave the Valley, and bringing the company, Syncro Medical Innovations, here “made good business sense.”

Elected officials and others involved in economic development are very helpful and supportive, and there are incentives to locating a business here, he said.

That type of regional loyalty and recognition of what the Mahoning Valley has to offer is what U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, hopes to capitalize on in a newly launched “Grow Home” campaign.

The goal is to reach YSU alumni entrepreneurs outside the Mahoning Valley who may be contemplating a business start-up or expansion, Ryan said as the program was unveiled at YSU on Thursday.

The effort is being conducted in conjunction with YSU’s Centennial Celebration and in partnership with the Regional Chamber. The plan is to give YSU alumni an inside track to benefits the Valley can offer new and expanding businesses.

It’s an effort to encourage successful YSU alumni to invest in their home community, Ryan said, noting he frequently runs into people living in Miami, Chicago or Cleveland who tell him Youngstown will always be their home.

“This is an opportunity for those people to play an active role in our future economic success and to reverse our community’s brain drain,” Ryan said.

Dr. David C. Sweet, YSU president, said Wakeford’s story is an illustration of the concept of what a “tech belt” might do, a reference to Ryan’s description of the Mahoning Valley’s being at the center of a tech belt developing between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

The failures of Ohio and Northeast Ohio to see beyond state lines are not constraining the efforts of Youngstown. Cleveburgh needn't wait for politicians in Columbus or Cleveland to get a clue. Youngstown is where progress is possible, even as Ohio clings to the scraps left over from an era long gone.

I still see the political impasse as opportunity. Vivek Wadhwa points to India and the entrepreneurs who are finding the talent they need despite the barriers thrown up by the government. We should stop waiting for better leadership and get busy fixing things.

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