Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Social Media And Economic Development: Youngstown Case

Over the past year, I've had the opportunity to learn a little about the world of economic development. How professionals become practitioners is a post for another time. Today, I want to explore the social media frontier:

The survey results clearly indicate that social media is still a "new thing" for economic developers. While 57 percent of respondents use social media in their organization's communications efforts, most of this use has only begun in the past year. In fact, of those using social media, only 37 percent of respondents have used social media for longer than one year. As DCI President and Chief Creative Officer Andy Levine noted, "Economic development groups are just getting their feet wet with social media. We're in the very early days of this work." ...

... The survey results suggest that social media is going to be a core part of future communication programs for economic developers, and this shift will require a new mindset. As Levine notes, "Social media requires a quick response, and moving quickly means some loss of control. Some economic developers are uncomfortable with this shift." He expects that social media will play an especially important role in crisis response. To date, no economic development group has faced a major public relations crisis akin to that facing corporations such as JetBlue's flight delays in winter 2007 or Wall Street's financial firms responding to criticisms of exorbitant pay packages. But, if an organization does face a major crisis, social media will have to be part of an effective crisis control effort.

Finally, Levine expects to see a lot of innovations in the use of social media. For example, he envisions that communities could create "digital ambassadors" to discuss the benefits of living and working in a certain region or community. These ambassadors, people who have many Facebook followers or LinkedIn connections, would serve as a very credible advocate for local economic development efforts. He expects to see lots of experimentation and new approaches over the next several years.

I wouldn't characterize myself as an expert in either of the fields of economic development and social media. However, I do consider myself to be one of the pioneers at the intersection of the two trades with a bit more experience with the social media community:

Rust Belt Bloggers
The meet and greet was Friday (7/11) at the BrewErie. It was a good icebreaker to hang out over fine craft beverages with Dale Hannah, Jim Russell, Chris Briem, Michael Mahler, Locobone and Justin. Saturday was the main event and in addition to the Friday night crew, we were joined by Phil Kidd, Janko and Hunter Morrison (Center for Urban and Regional Studies at Youngstown State University) from Youngstown and our Pittsburgh blogger in podcamp crime, Cindy. Most of the meeting was giving our introductions and a brief overview of who we are, our backgrounds and what we’re looking to accomplish. I was hoping that Erie would have had more of a presence since they played host but I also understand people were called away for the weekend. eh, it’s the first one, they have time to redeem

The surprise of the summit for me was the pitch thrown out by Youngstown. Yeah I know, you’re thinking “wtf, Youngstown? Isn’t that a haven for mobsters“. That was my thinking also until I talked to these guys. I was 100% sold that I need to get up there and check things out. The youth movement (40 and under) have taken over the city and it’s now a hot bed of untapped resources to make a viable force. Did I mention they’re opening a new brewery too Listening to how passionate they are about Y-town I was ready to go that day. Again, that is saying A LOT for me!

Overall I think this was a great starting point for those of us in the Rust Belt to get moving forward (and… DRINK). The key item is that it doesn’t turn into another “yeah, we had this idea once” and then bask in the gloriousness of that weekend. It did show me that I have an interest in redevelopment, just a matter of finding out how to use my skills to be effective.

The Rust Belt Bloggers Summit was a humble yet inspiring experience. My interest shifted from Pittsburgh to Youngstown, the hotbed for social media informed economic development. Social media initiatives are a dime a dozen. In Youngstown, it made (is making) a big difference.

For years the city spent time casting around for the next big company to come and save it, hoping that it could regain its former glory.

But new leaders like Mayor Williams have decided on a new way forward, with a strategy called Plan 2010.

“We have accepted that this is a smaller city and have embraced that,” said James Cossler, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator, which has focused on bringing in business-to-business software companies and currently has 28 firms in its portfolio.

Crossley said that the incubator has already encouraged many younger former residents, who have been leaving for decades to look for work, to come home again.

The new plan also involves painful decisions for a city that has some 4,500 vacant homes and neighborhoods that have been coming apart at the seams for years. With limited resources to cover fewer residents, the city’s leadership and other have come to the conclusion that some neighborhoods simply don’t have enough people left to remain viable.

“We are aiming to focus on the neighborhoods that can be saved,” said Phil Kidd, a community organizer at the nonprofit group Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative. “But we have to accept the fact that we are going to have to wind down some neighborhoods gracefully.”

The MVOC is trying to organize residents to form into groups and drive much of the change themselves because the city cannot afford to do everything itself.

“We’re all in this together, so we’re going to have fix our problems together,” Kidd said.

I highlighted the part of the passage where I come in ("Cossler" not "Crossley"). But the focus should be on Phil Kidd and the Defend Youngstown crew. While I'm late to the party, I know a good thing when I see it.

There is a great deal of interest in channeling the social media revolution towards productive ends. If you want to see what that future looks like, then go to Youngstown and look up Phil Kidd. There are other people who should be celebrated, but Phil is the face of the movement. Not to take anything away from Cossler, Mayor Jay Williams, and Congressman Tim Ryan; Phil is the spoon that stirs the cauldron of innovation that is the Mahoning Valley.

Youngstown is the most exciting place I've visited this side of Berlin. I believe in what they are doing there. Time for the American Planning Association to figure out what is going on in the Yo.


Janko said...

Youngstown Nation said...

Thank you for the kind words, Jim. Much appreciated and quite humbling (especially since they come from someone such as yourself who is so widely respected).